11 long days in kidnappers’ den
When some staff and students of the Turkish International College in Ogun State were kidnapped, they never bargained for the physical and emotional trauma they went through not with the huge ransom demanded by their kidnappers. OLUYINKA OLUKOYA reports the whole kidnap saga.
WITHIN the past five months, kidnappers had abducted several students in schools across Lagos State, including the adjoining Ogun State. Two schools, privately- owned Babington Macauley Girl’s College, Ikorodu and the government-owned, Model College, in Lagos, had been visited by the hoodlums. The most recent attack was on Nigerian-Turkish International College (NTIC), located in a swampy area of Isheri/Ifo Local Government of the state.
Just like the earlier abductions, there was a media frenzy surrounding it more so because of the very high ransom demanded by the kidnappers.
Following public interest in the criminal act, security operatives soon swung into action. Knowing that kidnappers often threaten to kill their victims if relatives reported to police, media report was all that the police needed to swoop on the school located at about one kilometre from the Ogun State end of the Lagos-Ibadan expressway.
Immediately the story broke, scores of parents had besieged the school that fateful day to see things for themselves. While some came just to take away their childrenuntil adequate security system were put in place, those whose children were kidnapped wore mournful looks. A parent, Mrs. Funmi Tijani, expressed her displeasure about the development. She berated the school management for not providing adequate security arrangements which include proper illumination around the school premises.
The state deputy governor, Mrs Yetunde Onanuga and security chiefs in the state also paid on-the-spot assessment to the schools few hours after the incident and were conducted round by the school principal, Yunus Emre Dogan and security adviser, Stephen Adewunmi.
Unhappy with the incident, the state governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, met with the parents of the victims and the school management. During the meeting held in his office in Abeokuta, Amosun assured them that his administration would ensure the safe return of the abductees. He called for calm and urged parents not to withdraw their children from the school intimating them of the interest of the Federal Government in the incident.
The abduction was well-planned. One of the kidnappers a fisherman named Okada had dreamt of making a big break by catching a whale worth N1.2 billion. But who would buy such a big fish from him, he had wondered. Was there a whale in the small river behind a school attended by sons and daughters of foreigners that could haul at him the once-in-a-lifetime chance?
As he toiled, as usual, towards the end of December 2016, the noise of students of Turkish International School during their break time jolted him. Why not kidnap some of these rich and spoilt students, he thought to himself. To him it was a big opportunity.
Okada knew the area very well. He could pull this off, but a bigger worry was how to catch his ‘fish’ as hooks baited with worms would not do the job. Kidnap them? ’Yes,’ he probably said to himself. Why not? In a country where kidnapping has become a thriving enterprise, and with most kidnappers getting away with the crime, who knows? He might be lucky to get away with the crime too.
Determined to make a break from the back-breaking job he had been doing for years, Okada decided to up the ante by targeting high networth baits. Around 9.20 pm on Friday, January 13, 2017, five days after schools had resumed for the second term academic session, Okada and his crew struck.
It was easy for them to gain entry into the low-fenced school, located on Prince Kayode Odedina Crescent, about 1 kilometre away from the expressway, but right behind Okada’s fishing route, which is not bordered by any buildings, and is one of 17 of such colleges in the country. The school fence is not too high; it is surrounded by water due to its swampy nature. The scanty attention to security made it easy for Okada and his gang to get in.
It was not difficult for the gang to break through the back fence before accessing the school premises. Nobody challenged them as they set to work. The gang cared less about the CCTV gadgets mounted around the school as they shot sporadically into the air to scare everyone. At the end, eight persons were abducted including three female students, a Turkish national, who is equally a Mathematics teacher, a cook and three supervisors.
After successfully completing their mission, they whisked the victims away. In their hideout, the eager billionaires-to be kidnappers demanded a sum of N1.2 billion from the relations of the victims before they could regain their freedom.
Immediately the kidnap was reported, efforts to rescue the captives unhurt by security agencies became a task that must be done, though it was a herculean one. Security efforts soon paid off as two members of the gang were apprehended about the fifth day after the operation. Yet the whereabouts of the victims were unknown. Despite the development, the school management did not stop academic and administrative activities.
When the pressure became too much for the kidnappers, they caved in and returned the captives to the back of the school where they could easily be found, on Tuesday night at about 7.36 p.m. The earlier arrest of two members of the gang was kept from the public so that it won’t disrupt police’s plans. Despite that, most parents of the kidnap victims were still apprehensive, as the whereabouts of the victims were still unknown.
Not long after, news filtered in that the victims, kidnapped on January 13, 2017, had been released by their abductors, after 11 nights in captivity. Parents of the abducted students, including staffers, quickly stormed the school to ascertain the authenticity of the news. The anxious parents, during the long but lonely days, were assured twice by the kidnappers that their children would be freed, but they never did.
As many of the parents hastened to the school, they must have been praying silently that the news would not be a hoax
Expectedly, on sighting their children the parents burst into joy. The victims, under heavy security, were later taken to an undisclosed hospital at Ikeja area of Lagos State for medical check-up. They were later taken from the hospital to the state Governor’s office at Oke-Mosan, Abeokuta in a white school bus at 11.00 am in company with the state commissioner of police, Ahmed Iliyasu; the Director of Department of State Security (DSS), Kabiru Mohammed and the Brigade Commander, 35 Artillery, Alamala, Brigadier General Basil Adonkie.
Distraught, the victims were initially reluctant to alight from the bus on noticing the number of cameras mounted by journalists to capture their arrival. Though some of them covered their faces, it was clear that they appeared healthy. Among them was a 10-year-old girl who was extremely elated to be reunited with her family as they were officially presented to Governor Amosun by the police commissioner, who stated that their release was made possible, based on the synergy that existed among the security agencies.
Iliyasu expressed appreciation to the IGP for deploying agents to fish out the perpetrators. One of the parents, Mr. Steve Nwosu, commended all security agencies, especially men of the Department of State Security Service, just as Governor Amosun assured the school management and parents that the remaining accomplices would be arrested in no time. He described the state as a safe haven for investors and residents, insisting that the issue of security would continue to be paramount for his administration.
However, a recent report had it that one of the victims involved her relatives in the kidnap saga. It was discovered that each time the police met with families and relatives of the kidnapPED victims, he always made phone calls to an unknown individual. After monitoring the man, who allegedly made 20 calls to the same number in a day, the Intelligence Response Team decided to set the man up. They suspected that he must be passing information to the kidnappers. It is believed that the unnamed relative among the kidnappers was the fisherman.
Meanwhile suspects behind the abduction had been arrested namely: Philip Joel Kakadu a.k.a “General Kakadu,” who is also a militant leader; Romeo Council a.k.a “Raw” and Totki Okoda, who lived in the creek behind the school and provided information about the victims to his gang, were trailed and arrested at different locations in Delta, Ogun and Lagos states.
Investigation and sustained pursuit of the matter by the Intelligence Response Team, led to the arrest of Bekewei Agbojule a.k.a ‘Prince Yellow’, a principal suspect and one of the key members of the gang on Wednesday.
A police statement which confirmed this said that the suspect, who is an Ijaw from Arogbo town in Ondo State, was arrested after he came out of the creeks to enjoy his loot.
It said that his N1.2m share of the ransom, was recovered from him.
The statement noted that the four suspects confessed to the crime, while volunteering useful statements to the police investigators.
According to the statement, concerted efforts were being made to arrest the remaining suspects who are at large, even as all the suspects would be arraigned in court on completion of investigation.