By Chioma Okezie-Okeh
They call themselves Agbeta Community Youths. They hail from Eleme Local Government, Rivers State. And, as able-bodied youths, they constitute the core of the community’s vigilance group. They help to protect the community from criminal elements like armed robbers and kidnappers and from external aggression. Nothing bad about that!
But somewhere along the line in their self-assigned or voluntary security work, the lure of money or wealth, caused them to derail from their original goal. Having been so turned into a Franskestein Monster, they began to unleash terror on their community and neigbouring communities. Blinded by the inordinate quest for wealth, they continued in their criminal activities until they kidnapped and killed a police officer. And that marked the beginning of their downfall or end. As you read this, many of them have been rounded up. And, while in the custody of law enforcement officers, they are now singing like a canary.
Their heinous activities was brought to the attention of the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, when a serving Superintendent of Police, who doubles as the Divisional Crime Officer (DCO) of Afam Police Station was kidnapped and killed despite payment of ransom. The deceased was said to have been abducted by five heavily armed men along Obiama Pipleline Road while returning from church in the company of his cousin-pastor on July 21, 2020.
Armed with the phone number of the person that negotiated the ransom, detectives attached to the Force Intelligence Response Team (IRT) tracked down the suspects who all admitted that they participated in the kidnap and several others that took place within the axis. Their total number: nine.
Those arrested during raid were identified as: Philemon Barifaa, Isaac Aforji, popularly known as Angel Boy, Okechukwu Emmanuel, Emeka Chukwuma, Prince Zopkara, Onyemechi Francies, Lucky Teeage, Barriston Gbara and Pius Kpala. Tombare said to be the president of the youths group and believed to be their ringleader is said to be currently on the run.
According to a source, in the course of investigation it was revealed that the late DCO who was driving a Lexus SUV at the time of his kidnap before he was later taken to a camp known as Oshogbo in Agbeta community under Eleme LGA area of Rivers State.
Two days later, they contacted his wife and requested for N50 million ransom. But the family only managed to raise one million. And, this was handed over to them on July 31, somewhere at Ogale Pipeline Road around 6pm. But thereafter, they immediately cut off all lines of communication with the family. On August 2, they allegedly killed him and dumped his body in an abandoned well.
During interrogation, the suspects confessed killing the DCO as a revenge for allegedly leading an operation that saw to the arrest of wife of Isaac Aforji. According to them, they were also in the process of perfecting plans to abduct one Inspector Christ who they claimed manhandled Angel Boy’s wife during the arrest, before they themselves were arrested by operatives of IRT. The plan was to assassinate him at the venue of his birthday party.
Why we killed our victims – Suspects
In his confession, one of the suspects, Philemon Barifaa, 23, alleged that most of the kidnap operations were known to members of the youths especially the executives. He also gave an insight into how they turned from being protectors to predators. “I reside in Agbeta area where I serve the youth community,” he said. “It is our responsibility to keep the community safe but along the line we decided to help ourselves through kidnapping in 2016. We agreed that no member of the community is to be touched except someone like Alhaji Mohammed Abdulhaji who sells cow at Oyingbo market. The offence of the man was that his cows destroyed our crops and we wanted him to leave the community and the man said that our community should pay him the sum N7.5 million as compensation for his cows killed by members of our community.
“We consulted the Chief Priest and he said the best way to deal with the problem was to kill the man. During one of our youth meetings, we agreed to kidnap him. The Youths secretary who knows much about him provided all the information needed. Three days after his kidnap, we were paid N3 million through our secretary. We had already decided that he must die. So after sharing the money, we killed and buried him. We raised money and gave the Chief Priest to consult the oracle and make sure that the matter died a natural death. We did not allow his family access to his body so that there would be no proof that he was kidnapped in the community.
“After two months, we regrouped again and started kidnapping but none of the victims were from our community. We simply picked them and hid them in our community. Since we did vigilance work for the community it was easy to know the best place to hide someone. As for the DCO, I never knew that the man was a policeman till we received the ransom. It was Angel Boy’s decision to kill him because he was angry with him.”
Isaac Aforji, 34, a semi-literate popularly known as Angel Boy claimed that he was introduced into kidnapping by the youth leader of their community after failing to make headway in other ventures. Married with three kids, he said: “I was able to attend only primary one before my grandmother withdrew me from school due to her inability to pay my school fees. At the age of nine, she sent me to learn to repair tyres (vulcanizing). After some years, I was able to start my workshop but few months later, I lost everything during a fight.
“The only option left was oil bunkering and it was how I made money to marry. Unfortunately, there was a fire incident and I was badly burnt. I spent all my savings treating myself. Our community youth president, Tombare, learnt about my story and promised to help me. The day he invited me, I saw one of the persons that they kidnapped. Although I was not part of them, he gave me N30, 000 and told me that I would make more money if I joined his gang. I was broke and I saw it as the fastest way of making money.
“The first kidnap that I participated was that of a man with Lexus. We got N200, 000. The second person was a woman and her child. They paid us N300, 000 and I got N30, 000 while the third kidnap was in May and we kidnapped a man known as Lotto Man.”
On why they killed the policeman after collecting ransom from his family, Angel Boy claimed that after the kidnap of Lottoman, someone told the police that he was part of the gang. “They came to my house and arrested my wife. They detained her for nine days and later released her when I did not show up. I sent a lawyer to help me bail her out. He was the one who told me it was the DCO at Afam Police Station and one Inspector Christ that refused to release my wife.
“I was bitter and told our gang members that he should be our next target. We monitored him for weeks and finally got an opportunity when he was coming back from church with his cousin who is a pastor. After some days, his family raised N1 million. I told them that the DPO must die because he was the one that made my family know that I am a kidnapper. One of our gang members known as Teddy shot him and threw his body into abandoned well. We asked him to take his Lexus jeep as a gift because no one agreed to kill the DCO. The next target was Inspector Christ and our informant had already informed us of the hotel where he was planning to organize his birthday celebration. The plan was to storm the area, cause commotion and in the process kill him.”
Okechukwu Emmanuel alias Ezeruwa said that he initially started as an informant but decided to participate in kidnap operations when he realized that others were shortchanging him.
He said: “I am from Abia State but reside in Oyingbo. I am married. At the age of 13, I was sent to Benin Republic to serve one of my kinsmen. He was a notorious womanizer. He destroyed his business because of much money spent on women. I had no choice than to return to Nigeria and met Angel Boy who I had earlier met in Aba before I travelled out of the country. He was driving a Lexus jeep and he told me how he made his money.
“I started by giving him information about people that I was sure had enough money to pay. I gave them about three names and was paid N100, 000 for each person. I complained and Angel Boy told me that I was not doing the hard job with them. So I decided to join them and the first one was that of the policeman. I was shocked when I learnt that they killed him after collecting N1 million from his family.”
Lucky Teeage who is reputed to be the Chief Priest of his community claimed that his job was to provide spiritual covering or protection for the gang. “I am the Chief Priest of the community,” he said. “Tombare, their leader usually comes to my shrine and since he was aware that I could expose them, he decided to be giving me part of the ransom. The first was in 2017 when they kidnapped one Alhaji in our community; his family came to me for help. I discovered that it was one of my customers that picked him. I called them to release him and they asked me to wait a bit. I was in my house and they brought N380, 000 and gave me. This was how they started telling me about all their operations. I warned them that if they kill the policeman, they would be arrested. You can see where we are now.”
The secretary of the community, Kenenth Lemon whose job is to collect the ransom, gave the reason he is the man for the job. “I can speak English fluently. And I am smart,” he said. “That’s why they gave me the job of collecting ransom. Although we are youth leaders, one has to survive one way or the other. But I was not part of those who kidnapped or killed the policeman.”
Pius Kpala alleged that Alhaji was kidnapped because his boys rearing his cattle destroyed the community farms in 2014. “They destroyed our farms and because he was very rich, the police did not do anything about it,” he said. “About 17 communities were affected, so he deserved what happened to him.”