They call him NseNse Otu Bassey, aka ‘The Lion.’ For about three years, ‘The Lion’ and his gang of kidnappers roared throughout the length and breadth of Calabar municipality, striking fear into their victims and relatives, in their kidnap enterprise. They kidnapped, tortured and, sometimes, raped their victims where they happened to be female.
In those years, he operated with the impunity and fearlessness of a lion-king. But on August 20, 2020, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad of the Cross River State Police Command in a joint operation with the Intelligence Response Team (IRT) operatives attached to Federal Investigation Bureau (FIB) decided that enough was enough and brought his criminal reign to an end, along with that of his five-member gang. They cornered and got them arrested. Having been so caged, “The Lion” suddenly turned into a lamb begging for his life with a promise to be of good behaviour henceforth if released from the strong arm of the law.
Victims of their kidnap business
In their criminal career that spanned nearly three years, they were said to have kidnapped over 20 victims. Foremost among them is Mrs. Ekwele Ignatius Agube, wife of Justice Ignatius Agube, a Court of Appeal judge. But if the woman who was released after 15 days in their captivity was lucky, not so her aide, one Mrs. Glory Akpama, who lost her life in the process.
Others similarly kidnapped by Bassey and his gang include a couple, one Mr. and Mrs. Archibong, two businessmen at one instance, another two businessmen, in another instance and more than six female victims. From all these victims, they collected money running into millions of naira. The operatives’ termination of their career on August 20, was long in coming as they had been on their trail since they were declared wanted about two years ago.
In February/March, 2019, the gang kidnapped two female passengers and demanded millions of naira as ransom. But with the assistance of Police detectives, they were rescued when they abandoned them in their hideout and escaped as they discovered that security operatives were closing in on them.
In July/September 2019, he and his gang stormed Calabar to kidnap the Archibongs. As usual, they demanded for ransom money running into millions of naira but their relatives could only raise N500, 000. Because of that they refused to release them as they demanded for more. However, during a police raid, the victims were rescued as the kidnappers abandoned them along the Calabar Expressway and escaped from the scene as operatives, following a tip-off, mobilized to their hideout.
In October/November 2019, the gang kidnapped a businessman in Calabar and demanded for N3 million. They tied up his legs and hands and called his friends to pay up or they will waste his life. Some money was raised and sent to them. But they insisted on collecting more. While waiting for it, the police stormed their hideout. But they escaped and abandoned, in the process, not only their victim, but also some arms and ammunition.
In January/March 2020, the gang carried out an operation in which they kidnapped another set of two businessmen in Calabar metropolis and kept them in their custody while they negotiated their ransom running into millions. But they received only N350, 000. In anger and frustration, they beat them up and tortured them before they could release them. In April/May 2020, the same gang attempted kidnapping a victim in Calabar. But the SARS operatives foiled it. They escaped from the scene and went into hiding but only for a while.
How we caught them – Police Commissioner
The Cross River Commissioner of Police, Mr. Abdulkadir Jimoh told Saturday Sun that their days became numbered when he assumed duty as the Commissioner of Police in the state. “I discovered that the command has declared the notorious gang leader wanted for over two years. So I have to map out strategies with my police detectives and immediately went after him with the SARS operatives. That was how we were able to nab him and his gang in August. The men of SARS raided his hideout and arrested him and his five-gang members. They are: Edet Ebe, 29; Christopher Effaeyo aka Starlite, 28; Bassey Effion aka Dragon, 30; Etim Effiong, 30 and Loius Otu Bassey, 35. Apart from arresting them, we also recovered from their hideout pump action guns, cartridges, AK-47 rifles, 40 rounds of ammunition and charms. The six suspects have confessed and are in police custody.”
Suspects admit, confess evil deeds
When NseNse Otu Bassey spoke to Saturday Sun, he said: “We kidnapped over 20 victims. We raped some of our female victims in our camp when we didn’t receive their ransom money on time. We are the ones who kidnapped the wife of the Judge, and killed one of her aides. We demanded 10 million naira ransom and were waiting for that when police detectives opened fire on us and we abandoned her and ran for our lives. That was how she was rescued.
“I also kidnapped two businessmen in Calabar with my gang. Except in few cases, we don’t usually kill. Instead, we terrorize victims until we are able to collect money from their relatives before releasing them. Before we were finally arrested, we and the detectives have had several encounters in which some of our members were killed. But each time we would re-group and replace those killed with new members and form a new gang. We terrorized Calabar area for years. I hail from Calabar Municipal Local Government Area of Cross Rivers State. I attended secondary school in Calabar but dropped out of school and joined a robbery and kidnap gang. I regret what we did. I have confessed and I am assuring the police we would be of good behaviour if they release us.”
Christopher Effaeyo, his gang member, collaborated some of his statements when he added: “We have kidnapped over six female victims. We didn’t kill any of them. Rather, we raped them when we waited for ransom from their families and nothing was forthcoming. We have to rape them. We tied our victims and collected ransom. I always called the victims’ relations to bring the ransom to us. Most of the victims are from Calabar area because it is easier to get paid when you kidnap people from that area.”
Victims share their experiences
Saturday Sun gathered that some of the victims kidnapped by Bassey and his gang were sent for and were able to identify them as the ones who kidnapped and tortured or raped them. In a conversation with this correspondent, some of them relived the ordeal they passed through in their hands.
One of them, Okon Etim said: “I am a businessman. It was a terrible experience that I don’t want to talk about. I was beaten into coma. They initially demanded N3 million ransom from my relatives but after negotiation they sent N500, 000 to them before I was released. I spent three days in their custody after being beaten to a pulp.”
A female victim who identified herself as Ini said: “I came in from Uyo that fateful night and the bus dropped me in Calabar at about 8:00pm. I saw what I thought was a taxi with some men inside. I called the direction I was going and it stopped to pick me. I didn’t know they were kidnappers. They zoomed off and took me to an unknown destination inside the bush. They collected my luggage and my ATM card. They withdrew a sum of N100, 000 after demanding and getting my pin number. It was when they threatened to rape me while demanding for more ransom money from my parents that I knew I was in trouble. I spent two days before they took me and abandoned me within Calabar. I was excited when the new Commissioner of Police came to Cross River and arrested the notorious kidnappers. Today, criminals in Calabar have started relocating and some of them have been arrested. Calabar is now safe. We are happy. We don’t panic anymore.”
Despite their plea for leniency, Jimoh said the six suspects will soon be charged to court to face the wrath of the law.