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As kidnappers take over: Wealthy Igbo sons and daughters shun the South East

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…abandon country homes, shun eastern ceremonies ad engagements 

FORGET whatever lame excuses they are still putting up, the five eastern states of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo are now in the firm grip of kidnappers.  And with their brazen and brutal reign, travelling to the villages have become a taboo for most wealthy and well known sons and daughters from that part of the country.  The only exceptions are perhaps those with enough money to pay to ‘special security.’

The Igbos, by the way, enjoy journeying to their villages, especially during festive periods.  One is to spend time with their kith and kin who they sometimes see only once in a year.  And two, to sleep in their superlative country homes which they rarely savour their comfort and confines, in spite of all the millions they gladly spend on them.  The reason, unfortunately, is the emergence of kidnappers who seem to have become uncontrollable and unmanageable for the policemen and soldiers.

A prominent Anambra son recently lamented that he just completed his country home, but because of these enemies of progress has not been able to sleep there.  Not even for one day!  Apostle Anselm Madubuko, the General Overseer of Revival Assembly Church in Ogba, Ikeja, Lagos had this to say about the ugly trend: “The government should do something about it because it is their responsibility.  They should do whatever they have to do to stop it.  They have to crack down on it.  It used to happen in South Africa, but the government cracked down on it and it stopped.  Our government should also stop it here.  It is their responsibility.”

Also embittered by the actions of the kidnappers, respected columnist and public commentator, Okey Ndibe, lamented that: “The Igbo have never faced a more serious challenge than the current blight of kidnappers…Igbo land is beleaguered, dangerous close to becoming a no-go area.”

Lending his own voice, Prince Emeka Obasi, the publisher of Business Hallmark and one-time Commissioner of Information in Abia State summed it up as ‘horrible.’  Adding, “But we are planning to do something more fundamental about it.  The whole thing boils down to lack of empowerment.  Moreover, it has been demonstrated that under deprived conditions, human beings cannibalise each other and that is what is happening in the east.  They are resorting to cannibalism in the absence of gainful employment.  Again, once a government does not insist on principles, you have problems.”

The leader of Obigbo, a socio-cultural group, Chief Charles Ahize, described it as condemnable and unwelcome.  “It’s not a good thing, it’s condemnable and unwelcome and all of us should join hands to see that it is eradicated.”  Tracing the genesis, another Igbo son who does not want his name mentioned revealed that it originated from the South South.  “The truth of the matter is that our people didn’t start this thing.  The South South did.  And they started by kidnapping the white guys that work for the oil companies and demanding ransom.  When the white people became wiser and more security-conscious, they shifted to their black brothers and sisters.  One of their biggest catch then was the wife of billionaire oil baron, Chief Lulu Briggs.

“It was from there that our brother inherited it. Don’t forget, the proximity of Rivers State to Abia and Enugu also helped.  Above all, you know our people, whatever they move into, they either mess up or do it better than those that were there before them. Our people simply bastardized it.

“And that is why in places like Abia today, nearly everybody is now into it and they have prices for different categories of people.  The whole thing is now becoming so annoying.  If they kidnap an okada rider, they take N5,000.  If they kidnap a ‘store owner’, they demand for N20,000 and above and if they get hold of a rich businessman, top politician or well known government official, the stake moves to a million naira and above.

“In fact, of all the places currently under siege, Aba and Nnewi are the worst hit.  Most likely because of the quantum of business activities that go on there.  Unfortunately, that of Nnewi was triggered off by some motorcycle dealers who were in competition. Out of envy, one caused the other to be kidnapped and subsequently fleeced of millions of naira. But can you believe that even as we speak, the law enforcement agencies who the matter was reported to have refused to do anything.  Especially because they were compromised.”

ENCOMIUM Weekly investigations revealed that it was because no action was taken against the suspect in the above case that emboldened others to also delve into the dirty business.  Now, the combination of greed and unemployment has worsened the whole thing. In fact, for the perpetrators of the obnoxious act right now, no place is exempted, including places of worship.  In fact, even men of God are no longer safe.  Only on Thursday, June 24, 2010, Rev. Fr. Justin Ikpongat, the Vice Chancellor of Veritas University, Obehie, Abia State, was kidnapped, forcing Archbishop John Onaiyekan of the Catholic Diocese of Abuja to cry for his release.  Months before, Mrs. Stella Odimegwu, wife of Eze Festus Odimegwu, the former MD/CEO of Nigerian Breweries, was also kidnapped at the Catholic Church in Asaa Obirinelem, Imo State.

Before her, star actors, Pete Edochie and Nkem Owoh got entangled in their nets in Anambra and Enugu respectively.  Other professionals, including children, have also fallen victims. One of them, Azubuike Orakwe, a Lagos-based businessman was kidnapped in Alaoji, Abia State on Tuesday, May 18, 2010.  He had gone to the East to attend the burial of Chief Jerome Udoji, whose son, Oscar, is a good friend of his.  Wanting to use one stone to kill two birds, he decided to see his sister and her family in Rivers State.  It was on his way to Anambra that he was taken hostage.

Recounting how it all happened, he said his Dodge jeep was flagged down by some supposed military men in camouflage.  Suspecting no foul play, he had pulled over, but was shockingly pulled out and marched into a bus tucked almost inside the bush.  With more people in their net, they were driven to a desolate house in Ukwa Ngwa (also in Abia) where negotiations commenced.  To quote him now: “The boys, I don’t know their number, paraded some of the most sophisticated arms and ammunition that I have seen in my life.  And from morning till night, they did nothing but go out, capture more people, bring them to the house, smoke weed, rape women and eat.

“My saviour, however, was that I lied that I was once into kidnapping myself and only quit after I had made some money.  I also joined in smoking weed. In fact, I levelled up with them, and they now assured me that no harm will come my way.  They also started giving me preferential treatment till I got in touch with my sister and friend who raised the millions they wanted, we paid (cash o!), before I was released.

“Now, do you know the funny thing?  After collecting the money, they told me the police station to go for my jeep, and when we got there, the jeep was there!”

On how exactly the money exchanged hands, he told ENCOMIUM Weekly that they asked his people to put it inside a ‘Ghana Must Go’ bag and bring it to a secluded path way in Abia.

“They described the number of times they will dim their light, but gave them the description of a wrong car.  Perhaps for their own security. I sat in-between two of them at the back, and they seriously warned me to tell my people not to act smart or…

“When they eventually collected the bag containing the money, they didn’t even count it before asking me to come down and go.”

For billionaire business mogul, Chief Emmanuel Bishop Okonkwo, the chairman of Ekulo Group of Companies, owners of Eva wine, Mcvities biscuits and so on, they trailed him too his Onitsha GRA home in Anambra, bamboozled their way in, took him hostage, squeezed him into a car’s boot and sped off.  But days later, after millions of naira had allegedly exchanged hands, the man breathed the air of freedom again.

Bemoaning the effects of the orgy of kidnapping, some Igbo sons and daughters enumerated dwindling economic activities, poor turnout at big time ceremonies and shrinking recreational activities as the consequences.

“People are now afraid to come home. Both those in places like Abuja and Lagos and even those abroad.  Those that manage to come only sneak in and sneak out.  The thing is now so bad.  And months back when one of my brothers had a major event, all my quality guest couldn’t come.  What they simply did was to send me money, with their apologies,” one of them lamented.  Corroborating that, actor Charles Okafor said: “My cousin also got married two Saturdays ago in the East, but I couldn’t go.  What I did instead was to send her a cheque.  I no want wahala, my brother.”

Suggesting the way out, Madubuko maintained that the madness must be stopped or those whose duty it is to guarantee our safety should resign, in the event that they can’t.  Barrister Okoh Nsidinanya, on his own, concluded that it is either the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Ogbonnaya Onovo, flushes these people out or also hand us his letter of resignation.  “And do you know the funniest aspect, it’s that the IG is also Igbo.  But all of them don’t have any shame whatsoever, otherwise they know what to do.”

Abia State PPRo, ASP Ali Okechukwu, however, told us that the State Police Command is winning the battle.  In a chat with us on Monday, June 28, 2010, he stated that a lot of victims have been rescued without ransom.  Okechukwu also used the opportunity to appeal to the media to help the police by doing objective coverage of the cases.  He further assured that kidnapping would be a thing of the past in the days ahead, given the current effort of the State Police Command and other law enforcement agents in the State.

 

THIS STORY WAS FIRST PUBLISHED IN ENCOMIUM WEEKLY ON TUESDAY, JUNE 29, 2010

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