.Gov. Ambode has abandoned us- Residents, family cry out
By Our reporter
THE families of two Igbo businessmen who were kidnapped recently in Amuwo Odofin Local Government area of Lagos State are undergoing trauma. This is because, more than two months after paying over N490 million to secure their release, their abductors are demanding another half a billion naira. These payments have left their families perplexed and frustrated.
A notorious gang of kidnappers has in recent times, refocused their attention on Igbo businessmen in the area and other residents as well. The gang, which appears to be far ahead of security operatives going by their modus operandi, has been raking in billions from their victims, most of them, multi-millionaire Igbo businessmen at ASPAMDA, Trade Fair Complex, Lagos. The latest victims who were picked in January are still in the den of the kidnappers after their families had paid half a billion naira as ransom.
One of them is Frank Umeh, a multi-millionaire industrialist who was kidnapped on January 28, 2016 in front of his house in Raji Rasaki Estate, Amuwo-Odofin. He is yet to regain his freedom after the family was said to have paid N190 million to secure his release. His abductors were said to have told the family that he would be released as soon as the family is able to pay the current naira equivalent of $1million, which is about N320 million.
Another victim identified as Cosmas Ojukwu Anayo, who was also picked few days before Umeh is also with his abductors. His crime: Ojukwu’s family, in an attempt to secure quick release of their breadwinner, quickly paid $1million dollars in less than a week. Their prompt payment irked his abductors who decided to double the ransom. They assumed that since the family could afford such amount within a short time, that means that they were worth much more than $1million.
Gang’s modus operandi
The police authority suspects the same gang is behind the repeated well co-ordinated kidnapping cases in Festac and Amuwo Odofin that became common in 2015. Their leader is suspected to be Evans, one of the richest criminals in Nigeria and at the moment, the most wanted kidnapper in the country. His reach and operational methods have so far defied security agencies. Family members of the victims are either instructed to transfer money to an account in South Africa, or made to travel to Anambra or Bayelsa states and drop the money in a location beaccount in South Africa, or made to fore their victim can be released in Lagos.
So far, the gang is known to always ensure the victims are alive no matter how long it takes the family to raise the ransom money. Although Lagos State Police command has improved its security network, their major setback has been that families of victims do not come forward to report any of the incidents. Police authority insists that most of the kidnap cases are read on the pages of newspapers adding that if the family members refuse to alert them, there is little or nothing they can do. They simply observe from a distance and later go after the suspects when their victims have been released.
Saturday Sun gathered that the police might have narrowed its search to the activities to Evans, an indigene of Anambra State. Police sources described Evans as the most notorious kidnapper operating in Lagos at the moment, stating that he has over 20 boys working for him in Lagos alone. Investigation revealed that Evans has perfected the art of using the teeming unemployed youths and apprentices as his hit men. He has also co-opted some members of cult groups within and outside Festac into his gang and they are handsomely rewarded from the proceeds of their operations. Their operational strategies, according to investigations include firstly, identifying targets who must be a wealthy businessman and those about to make huge money from their business transactions. Their victims have their business interests mostly at the popular Alaba International market or Trade Fair complex where billions local and foreign currencies exchange hands daily.
Apprentice members of the vicious gang are saddled with the task of fishing out such victims and identifying the size of their pockets including trailing them with a view to having intimate knowledge of not only their residence and members of their families but their social outings.
Once they complete their surveilance, the cultists and other members of the gang will swing into action based on a plan cleverly drafted by their leader.
On Evans’ nefarious activities, it was gathered that as far back as 2014, the Lagos command had been on his trail after members of his gang were arrested. He was said to have fled to South Africa with his wife and children.
According to a police source, when the hunt for Evans and his gang started in January 2015, detectives attached to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), Ikeja command thought they were making meaningful progress when they arrested several persons allegedly linked with Evans.
“After it became obvious that he was part of the gang members that attempted to kidnap the chairman of Young Shall Grow motors, a manhunt was declared for him. Several persons who had links with him were mopped up, but the police met a brick wall when it was discovered that almost everyone who was invited for interrogation had a link with Evans but could not account for his whereabouts. That very link was made during negotiation with family members of his victims.
“When they were interrogated, they said that they did not report to the police. Evans and his team normally ensure that they have details of their targets including family pictures. He threatens the family of his victims that they have people amongst security agencies who would alert them if they make any mistake to report the matter to the police. Most of their victims were traced back to 2011 and they were mostly based in the South Eastern part of Nigeria, more especially Anambra. So far, we got across to not less than 10 of them and they claim that they paid hundreds of millions as ransom. While every member of his gang was arrested, Evans relocated to South Africa and gradually recruited another set and returned to Lagos,” the police source said.
Evans resurfaced but this time, he concentrated his effort on Festac Town where the most successful businessmen from the eastern part of Nigeria reside. Gradually, rich men where silently picked up and Festac town gradually degenerated to easy route for Evans and his gang.
On their inability to stop a single attack, a source at the Festac police command lamented that the criminals who are normally heavily armed cannot be a match for the security setting on ground. “Go round and observe, even if there was an alert, the people on ground cannot match these guys. They are well co-ordinated; they can only be stopped if they are taken unawares. And no one should go around alleging that someone amongst us is giving them information. If it is true, they would have arrested one of us since police has been picking up his members in the past.
“Changing area commanders will not solve the problem, the gang is very smart and we only hear of kidnaping in this area on the pages of newspapers. None of the family members of the victims cared to report the matter to the police and I do not blame them. We do not have the capability or arms to withstand them, so do not blame any policeman who prefers to run for his dear life,” he said.
Victims, residents cry out
Residents who spoke with Saturday Sun on their plight called on Governor Akinwunmi Ambode to declare a state of emergency in Amuwo Odofin area of the state.
A businessman at the trade fair complex who simply identified himself as Chief for safety reasons said that he has since relocated his entire family out of Nigeria for fear that he could be next. “I am gradually running out of business. I can no longer drive a good car for fear that anyone will point at me as a possible target. As we speak, my house in Festac is up for sale and I am willing to give it to any buyer that can pay me just the cost of building the house.
“I was actually born and bred in Festac, so, I will be happy if one day, we can move around with ease. I am calling on the governor to help us. He is a great man and so far, I can see that he has invested heavily on security. I guess his security advisers have refused to draw his attention to Festac town and Festac extension which are both in Amuwo Odofin Local government”, he lamented.
A mother of four, Chinwe who claimed that her brother was picked in the past lamented that the media has refused to draw enough attention to their plight.
“When the school girls were kidnapped in Ikorodu, everyone was on that case. I was even told that the Commissioner of Police slept in Ikorodu for so many days before the children were finally released. Ambode has not asked the Commissioner of Police why they have not restored sanity in Amuwo Odofin Local Government. We are tax payers and I believe that we have the same right as those who are living in the supposed safe areas. Do we need to protest before our voices will be heard?
“If you take a closer look, you will find out that the successful men have all relocated from Festac and Amuwo Odofin. Any unusual rich man you see still hanging around, know that such a person is either a fraudster or into drugs”, she added.
Another resident at 7th Avenue who identified himself as Ifeanyi alleged that the Area Commander and DPO in the area are not interested in the welfare of the people. “The security operatives here are tired of us, they simply wait for another person to be picked before they storm the area and pick innocent persons. The same thing goes with the Local Government Chairman, whose major concern is to collect tax and go back to his office. The big boys who are showing off their wealth are into one illegal thing or the other. I want to use this opportunity to call on the governor to help us. He should write to Buhari to send help our way. Chief Umeh has spent more than two months there and no one is talking about it. The man has sold so many things to raise $1million to pay these criminals”, he lamented.