For members of a notorious kidnap gang operating in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, nothing could go wrong, but Wednesday, October 12, 2016 was the day the long arm of the law caught up with them.
The afternoon raid led to the arrest of Daniel Gabriel (33), Alaso Igodo (25), Akeodi Aselemi (34), Ayibinmotei Livinus (25), Anikuroka Marshal (33), Biebele Elijah (34) Efiye Anda (34), Daniel Lessor (31) and Isaac Reuben (27), all living within the Port Harcourt metropolis.
The police said the gang was responsible for most of the kidnappings that took place within GRA Phase 2, Port Harcourt, Borokiri General Area and YKC axis of Woji in Rivers State.
Saturday PUNCH learnt that the string of events which led to the apprehension of the nine suspects started with the abduction of a woman identified as Mrs. Okotie, who was kidnapped few weeks ago opposite the Royal House of Grace Church in Port Harcourt.
The gang was said to have abducted her in the Mazda car they used as operational vehicle.
The victim told the police that she had told the suspects that she was not feeling fine but they did not listen to her.
Fortunately for Mrs. Okotie, the car broke down along the way and the leader of the gang named Blackie, called for another vehicle, a Nissan Primera, which arrived shortly after.
“But they did not know that we had got information about them. They were on their way to the Ornage Waterside when we intercepted them. As soon as they saw us, they fled and abandoned the woman in the car along with one of their rifles,” the source said.
Few days after the botched kidnapping of Mrs. Okotie, IRT operatives who were following up on a lead, arrested Gabriel, a taxi driver, around 2.pm on October 12.
When Gabriel, an Akwa-Ibom indigene living at Navy Market Borikiri, Port-Harcourt was taken in for questioning, he confessed that he had personally been involved in 15 kidnaps in the last few months in the state.
He then led the police to his house where five members of the gang were already planning another kidnap.
“When we got to his house, we arrested five of his gang members and from there, we proceeded to Enugu Waterfront where we arrested Anikuroka Marshal, the gang’s armourer. The suspects also identified Diobele Elijah and Akodi Aselemi as their spies who go around town scouting for victims. They confessed to have three AK47 rifles, two pistols, which they use in their operations,” a police source said.
Saturday PUNCH learnt that in one of the kidnaps carried out by the gang, on August 10, 2016, a pastor, Mrs. Luis Ubah and one Mr. Chika Ezenwa were abducted. The same day, the gang kidnapped a business woman, Mrs. Ubah in her store, they also grabbed another victim identified as Ezenwa who was with Ubah at the time.
The four victims were taken by the gang to the Indoki Estate Waterfront.
The source explained that while on their way to the waterfront, the gang encountered a police team and instantly opened fire on the policemen.
“Inspector David Ijosi and one Corporal Dike Ledee were injured by bullets in the attack. One was hit in the leg while another was hit in the neck and the kidnappers escaped into the Isaka creeks in Okrika,” the source said.
Soon after, the gang made contact with Ubah’s husband, Bishop Prince Ubah, from whom they demanded a N50m ransom for her freedom.
During the ensuing negotiation, the ransom for the release of the bishop’s wife was reduced to N2.8m and a place was agreed on for the family to drop the ransom.
But in a dramatic turn of events, when two brothers of the bishop, Onyeka Ani and Pastor Okezie Akara, took the money to the agreed place on August 25, 2016, 15 days after Mrs. Ubah was kidnapped, the gang members decided to release her along with Ezenwa but kidnapped the two brothers instead.
The police said they then demanded another N1m ransom from the bishop for his brothers. But N750, 000 was eventually paid for their release.
Police investigation also showed that in August 2016, the gang kidnapped one Nkechi at YKC Junction in Woji Town, Port Harcourt, and she was transported to the Woji Waterfront where they ferried her by speedboat to Kula community in Akukotoru Local Government Area of Rivers State.
The woman was reportedly kept in captivity for two weeks and was released after a ransom of N2m was paid by her family.
In September, a victim identified as Coachie, who was abducted around Number One Stadium, Port Harcourt, was released after a ransom of N2.5m was paid.
In his statement, Gabriel explained that he came to Port Harcourt in 2015 and worked as a taxi driver but when things became difficult for him, he moved his family back home and joined his first kidnapping gang.
He said, “I met the members of the gang in March 2016. I was plying the Aba Road looking for passengers one day when they stopped me and entered my taxi. They asked me to take them to Borikiri in Port Harcourt.
“When we got there, I was surprised that they paid me more than I demanded and I told them that I wanted to know more about them. The leader who sat in front passenger seat then gave me his phone number and said he would like me to work with them.
“Few days later, they invited me to a hotel in Borikiri and told me what they did. In April, Blackie, the gang leader, called and asked that I should meet him in his hotel. When I got there, I met other members of the gang preparing for an operation. They showed me two bags containing guns and put it in my car. I then drove them to GRA in Port Harcourt.
“When we got there, the gang’s informant said we had missed the target, a woman, who had just left the place. While leaving, we saw a man driving a nice car and we kidnapped him. He was taken to the Indoki Estate Waterfront. We put him in a speed boat and took him to a camp across the river.”
Gabriel said they carried out many kidnappings and that in August 2016, when they kidnapped Mrs. Okotie, it was like God just wanted them to be caught.
According to him, he had no idea what happened to his car, which he converted from a taxi cab to the gang’s operational vehicle.
“When we were intercepted by the police that day, we left one gun in the car while escaping while Blackie escaped with one other rifle. He gave it to one of our boys, who normally kept our rifles. But after I was arrested, I took the police to the boy and they recovered the rifle and my cab,” he said.
However, in his confessional statement, Anda, a speed boat operator, said he got N200,000 each time he ferried the kidnappers and their victims to their camps across the river in his speed boat.
The suspect, a Bayelsa State indigene, said he was involved in pipeline vandalism and oil theft before the military destroyed the camps in which they “cook” the oil, referring to the numerous makeshift oil refineries that dot creeks where oil militants operate in the country.
“When I became jobless, my friends invited me to Port Harcourt to join the kidnapping business. I became their boat operator. Apart from the transport duty, I was also in charge of buying food for the gang members and the victims. I bought a speed boat with the money I have made so far,” Anda said.
Marshal (the gang’s armourer) on the other hand, said he was paid N40,000 per each operation.
The suspect, who is an indigene of Opobo-Nkoro Local Government Area of Rivers State, said he usually kept the guns in an abandoned bus parked inside the Baptist Church field in Borokiri.
“I did not usually go out with them for the operations. My job is to keep the guns,” he said.
Another suspect, Elijah, a native of Okrika in Rivers State, said he was lured to the gang by his boss, whom he identified as Elvis.
According to him, his role was to assist Elvis to monitor the movement of their targets.
“There was a time I followed Elvis three times to spy on a woman we wanted to kidnap. We could not carry out the operation because our leader, Blackie did not come on time. I was also with him in GRA where we kidnapped the woman who was rescued by the police. Elvis had only been giving me little money since I started working with him. But he loved to buy me a lot of drinks,” he said.
The police said investigation on the scale of the operations of the gang was still on and that they were making efforts to arrest other members of the gang who are now underground.