Efforts by the Police and other security operatives to rescue the four Nigerian Journalists kidnapped and their driver yielded positive results as the adduction saga came to a dramatic end precisely seven days after the crime took place. The four journalists and their driver were herded on four motorcycles by their captors and taken out of their hideout in the jungle and dropped in a village market square.
Land and airborne police patrols combed the entire jungle hideout of the criminals that was located deep inside the forested part of Obingwa local government area of Abia State in South East Nigeria. This put much pressure on the kidnappers who, apparently disturbed by the imminent final assault into their hideout, finally capitulated and freed their victims. They vanished soon after.
Officers of the State Security Service had supplied intelligence to the Nigeria Police and used tracking equipment to locate the area of forest the journalists were being held.
A day before the journalists were freed, I drove with the Police in one of their Armored Personnel Carriers (APC) into the jungle to observe their operations. We drove for an hour from the capital city of Umuahia through the old Aba road to a junction town called Ohanze where all the different personnel and equipment for the operation were assembled.
[protected] There were officers from the State Security Service (SSS), the Anti Terrorists Squad (ATS) of the Nigeria Police, the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police and various squads of the Mobile Police (MOPOL).
Ohanze was the take off point for all the respective teams. It took an hour for my team to drive through the difficult terrain in order to reach the assigned area of operation. The forest was dense and unfriendly, the heat was intense and as the police moved farther into the jungle on foot, I took cover inside the only APC available as sporadic gunfire erupted from the jungle.
This particular team overran the operational base of some criminal elements that we had initially thought belonged to the kidnappers.
However, we later discovered that it in fact belonged to a then unidentified gang of armed robbers/kidnappers who escaped just minutes before the police got to their hideout. Five stolen vehicles were recovered – one 4×4 jeep was riddled with bullets and other personal effects of victims.
Akin to the other teams searching that day, our efforts to find the kidnapped journalists proved fruitless. The subsequent days also turned up few results despite intelligence SSS reports suggesting that we were in close proximity to the hideout.
House to house searches were conducted while the local community continued to keep mum, refusing to volunteer any information to the police for fear of reprisal attacks from the criminals.
A commercial motor cycle operator we accosted expressed grave fear, claiming that their local chief was murdered by criminals who felt threatened by his cooperation with the police. This was actually corroborated by the police who also confirmed the killing of two police informants just two days before the journalists were released.
The journalists, WAHAAB ALABI OBA, ADOLPHUS OKONKWO, SYLVA OKEREKE, SHOLA OYEYIPO and their driver YEKINI AZEEZ were ambushed and kidnapped by gunmen while returning to Lagos from Uyo, Akwa Ibom State in South Nigeria where they attended the National Executive Council meeting of the Nigeria Union of Journalists.
The incident occurred not very far from the commercial city of Aba in South East Nigeria where gunmen opened fire with rifles on the two unsuspecting vehicles of the Nigeria Union of Journalists. The car in front, belonging to the Delta State Council of the NUJ, was hit by bullets but fortunately none of the six occupants of the mini bus was wounded. All the occupants of that vehicle managed to escape into the bush.
However, the story was different for the second car. It was blocked by the attackers and was to an unknown destination. Here a call was put through to the union demanding for a ransom of N250million, an equivalent of US$1.7million.
This zone of crime, located within the South Senatorial District of Abia State, is home to the three notorious local government councils of the state. Most notable are the regions of Obingwa, Isialangwa North and Isialangwa South. This area is the hub of crime in the entire South Eastern Nigeria.
Viewed with suspicion by all the other component areas of the state and mistrusted both at home and abroad, these local government areas have not only a domineering attitude but they have been known for the pursuit of illegitimate business.
These communities are not only renowned for the illegal manufacture of arms, munitions and other ballistics, but are also noted for currency counterfeiting (and various similar scams -especially 419), ritual killings, illicit trade in human body parts, and trafficking of humans. And while the militants in the Delta region were engaging in international bunkering of crude oil, the various criminal elements in these areas were into bunkering of refined petroleum products through breaking of oil pipelines.
Armed robbery is the order of the day while kidnapping has assumed an alarming dimension.
These three local government areas have now held the entire state hostage as rich citizens who acquired wealth through legitimate means now live in the Diaspora for fear of being robbed or kidnapped, while criminal elements who have acquired wealth through criminal activities now hold sway. Industries in the hitherto bustling commercial city of Aba have mostly closed down while decent citizens live in perpetual fear.
But for how long will these criminals and criminality continue? Only time will tell , but what is certain is that the recent abduction of these journalists has brought to fore the dangerous dimension acts of criminality have assumed in Abia State, but with it, a renewed determination to wipe it out.
by Shuaibu Usman Leman
Shuaibu Usman Leman is an active board member for New Africa Analysis. He has an extensive career in journalism and provides us with fresh, first-hand accounts on events in Africa. [/protected]