Before now, Abual/Odua Local Government Area of Rivers State was hardly in the news. The area has of recent been in the limelight for the wrong reason; the raiding of a corpers’ lodge and kidnap of three corps members. When the kidnapped corps members were posted to the state, it never for once crossed their mind that they would one day be kidnap victims.
Precisely on Saturday June 29, 2013, the people of Ogonokom community in Abua woke up to discover that three of their guests; Ogochi Martins (male), Chijioke Richard (male) and Esther Nwachukwu teaching at Egbolom Comprehensive Secondary School had been whisked across the waterside. The hoodlums, it was gathered, had been monitoring their prey and took them by surprise.
A corps member, Raymond (not his real name), witnessed the invasion of the Ogonokom Corpers’ Lodge. He said the bandits came in 20 minutes after they had switched off the generator supplying the entire building with power. He stated that the four hoodlums were armed with local pistols.
Raymond explained that about a dozen of his colleagues, who were in the lodge when the marauders came in at about 12.30am, ran into the bush while four corps members were held and warned not to move. One of them, a young man, was able to escape from their hold and join his colleagues in the bush. The incident was said to have lasted about 15 minutes with no security in sight to save the situation.
“Though the entire place was dark because we had already put off the generator, we heard their voices as they forced the three corps members away. We learnt that they took them to the waterside, put them in speed boats and sped off. The waterside is very close to the school and it was easy for the kidnappers to come in and take our colleagues away,” a distraught Raymond disclosed.
He told Saturday PUNCH that the council chairman, Mr. Udi Odum, immediately directed that they should be moved to Ominima Central Corpers’ Lodge, some kilometers away from the riverside where Ogochi, Chijioke and Nwachukwu’s abductors came from. Sadly, for more than five days, nothing cheery has come out of the kidnappers den, except for the demand of N20m as ransom.
Another corps member, who preferred not to be named as a result of the standing rule barring them from speaking to newsmen, said they had been living in fear since that night. He expressed worry that the Ominima Central Corpers’ Lodge was more vulnerable than the one located at the Government Comprehensive Secondary where their colleagues were seized.
According to the Mass Communication graduate, the entire building at the Ominima Central Lodge has no fence and no iron protectors.
“You can see for yourself that this place has no fence. Even the doors and windows are without iron protectors. What we see at the front of the building are banana trees and this can only serve as a hideout for kidnappers. It is not a fence. Since three persons among us were kidnapped, we have not been able to sleep well for the fear of being attacked again. But we are praying for the affected corps members,” she added.
But an indigene of the community, who spoke with our correspondent, said kidnapping had become a ‘trade’ in Abua/Odual within the last five months. He said the kidnappers usually invade the area in speed boats from the waterside, drive a waiting car to the point where they get hold of their victims, return to the river shore and force their victims into standby boats before speeding off to an unknown destination.
The indigene, who could only identify himself as Uzien Daniel, said any successful person within Ogolokom and neighbouring communities was a target. Daniel recalled how one Opokazari, a nurse at General Hospital, Degema, was kidnapped in May. A ransom of N2m was paid for his eventual release.
Daniel said the funds for Opokazari’s release were borrowed as the initial amount contributed by his relatives was quite low. Today, though Opokazari, a native of Egbolom Opedan in Abua/Odual, is a free man, his experience in the den of kidnappers for three weeks would rather be forgotten.
Narrating how Opokaziri was seized, Daniel said four kidnappers drove straight to the victim’s residence in an old Toyota Camry car. Surprisingly, the hoodlums drove Opokazari to the riverside and forced him into a waiting 75hp speedboat. They attempted to set the car on fire before the police came after them.
“The Toyota car they used that day was red in colour. It was an old car and after they had driven the man (Opokazari) to the shoreline, they took him into their speedboat that was on standby, came back to the car and tried to burn it. But a team of policemen trialed them to the waterside and they (kidnappers) immediately abandoned the vehicle and left.
“Their reason for burning the car was simple; they did not want the police use the car to trace the kidnapping to them during investigation. Opokaziri was with the kidnappers for three weeks before he was released upon the payment of the ransom. The truth is that the cases of kidnapping are many here.
“Many have been kidnapped and ransom paid before they were released. The kidnapping of the three corps members is the latest and I don’t think this crime will stop because those involved in it have taken it as a business.” Daniel stressed.
Jane, another inhabitant of Abua, told Saturday PUNCH how a money lender from Okpokuma in Otaba clan known as Walter was kidnapped about two weeks ago. According to her, Walter is still with his captors because his family has not been to raise the sum of N3m demanded by the hoodlums.
The situation in Abua made it difficult for indigenes living outside the area to come back home during Easter for the fear of being kidnapped. Jane, who was also apprehensive while speaking with our correspondent, explained that apart from economic reasons, kidnappers were now combing the entire locality in search of perceived enemies for abduction.
According to Jane, such victims were always tortured and allowed to go with serious injuries.
Again, some members of the community have in the past received calls where unknown persons called them to take huge sums of money to certain hidden areas or risk being captured. Jane narrated how a school principal, Mr. Zasper Willy, received a threat from an unknown person who called him and asked him to provide the sum of N500,000 or be ready to be kidnapped.
Jane pointed out that Willy had been living in fear since them. Jane said though the school principal reported the matter to the police, security operatives could do little or nothing to protect him.
“Joseph Sokolo, a 75 year-old man, also had a terrible experience in the hands of kidnappers. For three weeks, the old man was held hostage. He was only released when members of his family living in Abuja and other parts of the country were contacted and informed about the development. We learnt that the sum of N6m was paid for the release of ‘Joso’ (as he is fondly called),” Jane further said.
On the absence of a fence and a burglary proof at the Ominima Central Corpers’ Lodge, the Public Relations Officer of the National Youth Service Corps in the state, Mrs. Violet Appolo, said the authorities would speak with the Zonal Inspector of the area for immediate action to be taken to ensure the safety of corps members.
When contacted, Abua/Odual Local Government Chairman, Mr. Udi Odum, said there were plans to erect a fence at the new corps members lodge to enhance their security. Describing Abua/Odual as a riverine area bordering Kalabari and Bayelsa, Odum prayed that the kidnap of the three corps members would be the last in the area.
He told Saturday PUNCH in a telephone interview that efforts were being made to ensure their release.
“We are planning to erect a fence and other necessary things that will ensure the safety of the corps members at Ominima. We had to move them from Ogolokom to Ominima so that they would be far away from the riverside. I pray to God that this (kidnap of three corps members) will be the last in the area.
“As I speak with you, we are consulting and talking to both security operatives and leaders in the area to ensure that the corps members are released. It is a pity that the people who came to assist us were kidnapped,” Odum said.
Also, the State Police Public Relations Officer, Mrs. Angela Agabe, said the command had intensified the search for the three corps members, with a view to ensuring their quick release. Agabe promised that no stone would be left unturned in ensuring that the corps members regain their freedom.
Read more: Punch Newspapers