A 67-year-old, Rivers State-based businesswoman, Obianuju Uwakwe has given a chilling account of how suspected kidnappers, clothed in military uniforms and armed with AK-47 rifles, held her hostage in the bush for six days before she was released following the payment of some ransom by her relatives.
According to her, on February 7, 2019, she was abducted by the men, after they accosted her few metres away from her apartment at Rumuobiakani area of Port Harcourt, shooting indiscriminately to scare away residents of her neighborhood.
Her story: “After I was abducted, the kidnappers slapped me severally. One of them rested his legs on my head, almost crushing me under the driver’s seat. They told me that they had been trailing me since 2008 and beat me up seriously. I was begging them to allow me to breathe as I was almost suffocating. Our presence was celebrated when we arrived an area and two more boys took me from them and we trekked a long distance crossing a lot of woods and palm trees. They made us cross swampy waters that is waist-high and when we arrived in a thick forest, I was given a mat where I slept until the following day. They started interrogating me about the amount of money they wanted as ransom. They flogged me severally with a twine and rubber, then one of them used a hammer on my forehead. At that point, I informed them that my family could raise the N80 million they demanded and they opened negotiation with them. Three days later, I was released.”
How the suspects were arrested
As soon as she was released, the Inspector General of Police, Adamu Ibrahim, received a petition about her kidnapping and directed operatives of the Intelligence Response Team (IRT), to investigate the case and bring all the suspects involved to book.
IRT operatives later made a breakthrough when they received intelligence report from the Port Harcourt Maximum Prison, that a notorious kidnapper, Sorbari Apollos, a.k.a. Blackie, who was arrested and later taken to the Port Harcourt prison over cases of kidnappings in 2016, had been released.
He was then arrested at his hideout in Kono-Bowe community, in Khana Local Government Area of Rivers State and he confessed during interrogations that he took part in the kidnapping and got the sum of N350, 000 as his share of the ransom. Blackie also provided information that aided the operatives in arresting three other members of the gang identified as Daniel Johngbo, Harridon Barryira and Lebara Tobia, in different parts of Rivers State. They all confessed their roles in the operation.
Blackie reveals his involvement in this and other kidnappings
In the course of interrogation, Blackie, a self-confessed cult member, told the police that it was pressure from the lawyer who bailed him from prison that prompted him to go back to the business of kidnapping as to get involved in the abduction and fleecing of the businesswoman.
His words: “I am a member of the De-Gbam secret cult and I was initiated in the year 2011 through one of my friends known as Tambake Tax, who is the unit head of the confraternity in my community. I am just a floor member because there are several other members of the secret cult group in our community. I am a kidnapper and I was introduced into the business by one Ayapsi Tubag, alias Gbenena and one Gboma from Eleme. We all carried out the February 7, 2019 kidnapping of Mrs. Obianuju. I did that job because I needed money to pay my lawyer who helped to secure my release from the prison in September 2018. I was arrested over a kidnapping case in the month of March 2016. I was yet to pay my lawyer his balance, and he threatened to send me back to prison. Out of desperation, I approached Gbenena for financial assistance and I offered him my farmland in exchange for the money but he refused and said he has a kidnapping job that would be more profitable for me.
“On February 5, 2019, one of Gboma’s friends who have been monitoring our target came to Gbenena’s house and told all of us that the job was ripe and we can go after our target. Gboma also informed us that he has made arrangement for an army uniform that would be used by the driver of any vehicle that will be used for the kidnapping so as to beat security checkpoint on our route. On February 7, 2019, I got a call from Gbenena to come to his house and when I arrived I met Gboma, his brother with the army uniform, a Toyota Corolla, his driver, Barriyra and two AK-47 rifles.
“Before we left, Gbenena poured libation with a hot drink on his shrine and he prayed for a safe trip and we moved out. I took one of the AK-47 rifles, while Gboma’s brother in the army uniform, had an English pistol with him. We got to market junction around 6 pm that day and we drove straight to Nwogu Street, parked close to our target’s house and started waiting for her.
“Few minutes later, Gboma instructed the driver of our vehicle to block an incoming Toyota Sienna Space bus and when he did, we all came out of the car and I started shooting into the air. The driver of the Sienna ran for safety leaving a woman behind, then Gboma’s brother took over the wheels of the vehicle. We drove through Aba Road, beating all the check- points and took the woman to Kono Bowe Community and showed the woman to Gbenena before moving her into the forest. It was Gboma and Gbenena that did the ransom negotiation and both of them were also the people who collected the ransom. I got N350, 000 as my share of the ransom and I do not know the exact amount that was collected from the woman’s family as ransom. I also do not know the person who gave out the woman’s information to Gboma, but I suspect the person is an Igbo man residing on the same street with the woman.”
According to Blackie, he joined the kidnapping business in 2015. “My first job was the kidnapping of an Ogoni man, whose name is Marco, and he is from Bori. We kidnapped the man along the road while he was returning to his house and we took him to the house of one of our gang members, known as Anderson, in Nyorkwe community. We kept the man for five days and we collected a ransom of N800, 000. I got N150, 000 as my share. Anderson was later arrested and our master, Solomon Nigbara, went and begged the victim and he refunded the N800, 000 back to the man.
“We also did another kidnapping job, in the month of March 2016, at Ogboro Village. Three persons and I went for that operation. We kidnapped the man from his pharmacy store and on getting to Wimpey junction, he jumped out of the vehicle as we approached traffic and all gang members jumped out of the vehicle, leaving only me struggling with the door of the vehicle. I was there until the police came and arrested me and recovered the AK-47 rifle and three magazines that I had with me. I was taken to Kala Police Station before I was transferred to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, where I spent six months before I was charged to court.
“I was in prison from March 2016 to September 2018 before I was released by my lawyer. The rifle I used for that operation was given to me by Gbenena, but my boss remains Solomon Ndiagbara, who controls over 200 boys serving him in his camp inside the forest in Yege community and he has over 30 AK-47 rifles and assorted arms and ammunition in his camp. It is practically difficult to reach him in his camp.”
Second suspect tells own side of story
The second suspect, Daniel Johngbo, a native of Wekwere Village in Khana Local Government area of Rivers State, who alleged that his only responsibility was to ensure that their victim is well-fed.
“I am a kidnapper but I didn’t go out with the gang on the day they kidnapped the woman but the wife of our gang leader, Gbenena called and gave me N1500 to buy fried rice and chicken from a fast food joint in Bori. I bought the food. Gbenena took me on his bike and we went into the bush where I met the woman that was kidnapped and I handed over the food to her but I met four other members of our gang guarding the woman at the camp and they constructed a tent with palm fronds, which they covered with a mosquito net. I spent the night at that camp and the next day Gbenena gave me the sum of N3000 to buy an asthmatic drug for the woman.”