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Abiriba: Kidnappers' new London

By The Citizen
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Until soldiers were deployed to Abia state on September 30, 2010, Aba, the commercial hub of the state was the den of kidnappers, now it has moved to Abiriba. The city became the unofficial headquarters of kidnapping because a dreaded kidnap kingpin at the time, Obioma Nwankwo a.k.a Osisikankwu, hailed from and operated in the zone. Travelling to Aba was like going to Golgotha while Osisikankwu reigned because apart from the spate of kidnapping, women were raped in most the brazen manner and in many cases, in the presence of family members.

Somehow, the state government seemed helpless. Thanks to the arrival of soldiers, Aba now enjoys relative peace. But unfortunately, Abiriba community in Ohafia Local Government Area of the state has acquired the ugly tag dumped by Aba. Suspected kidnappers dislodged from the commercial city appear to have found a new haven in the community popularly known in the state as 'small London.' In the past few months, no fewer than 10 persons had either been killed or abducted by the rampaging kidnappers.

In a particular case, a 79-year-old woman, Mrs Martha Oyediya Kalu of Ndi Okocha Ogbu, Amaogudu, who was kidnapped in August 2012, was yet to be set free as at the time of this report and five months after her son paid ransom to her abductors. It is the first time kidnappers would renege on their promise to release a victim after relations had paid the demanded ransom in the State.

The grandmother was kidnapped from the residence of her son, Kalu Gabriel Eke, at Agba Ogbu, Amaogudu in Abiriba on August 10, 2012 at about 2am by a five-man gang. Due to the heavy iron security protector at the main entrance to the building, it was difficult for the hoodlums to have access to the house. However, the kidnappers reportedly gained entry into the inner rooms when they broke the ceiling from outside, climbed into the old woman's room and took her away.

It was gathered that shortly after the incident, her abductors contacted the septuagenarian's son who promptly paid the ransom with the hope she would be released immediately as promised by the hoodlums. But five months after the kidnappers confirmed the receipt of the ransom, they neither released the woman nor contacted her family. A similar thing happened somewhere in Obingwa local government area where an elderly woman was kidnapped and after payment of the ransom, she died in the hands of her abductors and her corpse was dumped near a bush path.

However, Mrs Kalu's case is different. Her abductors had collected the ransom but they have refused to set her free - dead or alive. The questions on the lips of many are: Why would the kidnappers not release their victim months after family members had paid the ransom placed on her? Could it be that the amount paid was not enough to secure her release or has the woman died and her body dumped somewhere? Could it be that somebody who has scores to settle with the woman's son decided to kidnap and put the elderly woman out of circulation without trace? Did the kidnappers decide to kill two birds with one stone - abduct the woman, collect ransom from her relations and kill her for ritual purposes as it is common in that part of the country? So many questions begging for answers!

A journalist with an Aba-based cable television and a relation, Mr Oji Ogba who spoke on behalf of the woman's son, Eke, said the family had suspicions. 'From the way the woman was abducted, we suspect there must be an insider in the whole game. Otherwise, why kidnap a 79- year-old woman and still keep her after ransom had been paid? What are they going to do with her? The family did not waste time in paying the amount the kidnappers demanded and the question of whether we paid a paltry sum does not arise because we never paid a dime less than they demanded. 'After some days, agreement was reached with the abductors on the ransom to be paid; the relations immediately raised and sent the money in full to the kidnappers.

But to the family's greatest surprise, the abductors refused to release our grandmother. Instead, they switched off all the phones they (kidnappers) used to communicate with us and now, we don't know the woman's fate,' he said. Ogba stated that moved by the incident, the traditional ruler of the community, Eze Kalu Ogbu, ordered the youths to search the entire adjoining bushes. That was done, yet no trace of the woman. In the same vein, both the Army and the Police have combed the forests in the area to no avail.

This has fueled the family's fear that the abductors may have killed their mother. In his appeal to the kidnappers, Ogba said: 'We (family members) want our grandmother to be released whether dead or alive.' As if these kidnappings including that of the mother of late Chief Dike Udensi (DUBIC) were not enough, the people of the community woke up on the morning of January 6, 2013, to an apparently bad new year gift. They discovered that a prominent son of the area, Prince Iroeke, and two of his security guards had been gruesomely murdered and two of his daughters abducted.

It was gathered that the hoodlums numbering about four, stormed Iroeke's compound in Amamba area of the community, and killed two Bakassi Boys who were his bodyguards before gaining entry into the inner chambers of the house where they shot him dead. Thereafter, they abducted two of his daughters. The girls were later released after spending about five days in the kidnappers' den but no ransom was paid. Iroeke was reported to have taken part in the last Ime Uche ceremony (retirement from active communal service) of the community held in December before he met his death.

Following the incident, a dusk-to- dawn curfew was imposed on the community and the major entrances cordoned off by security personnel while vehicles were not allowed in or out of the community before 6am and after 6pm. Palpable fear now pervades the entire community as some people who went home for the yuletide holiday hurriedly returned to their various bases. The three bodies have since been deposited in a mortuary in the area while police investigations are in progress. It was reported that some suspects including relations of the deceased have been arrested in connection with the incident.

For now, there are two versions to the attack. Some people suspect that the killers were on a revenge mission while others attribute it to assassination. There was an unconfirmed report that as Iroeke was travelling home for the last Christmas, he engaged the services of two Bakassi boys who went out of their way to arrest some perceived bad boys in the community. Nine of such boys were rounded up and handed over to an unnamed officer of the organization at Umuahia who later released four of them.

Sources alleged that the freed boys regrouped and launched the attack, believing that late Iroeke purposely brought in the Bakassi boys to deal with them. There was yet another version that Iroeke might have been a victim of the tussle for the headship of his extended family. When Sunday Sun reporter visited the community, a female relation of the deceased said she could only speak on the issue if their traditional ruler, Eze Ogbu, permitted her to do so.

To see if the necessary permission could be obtained, this reporter accompanied the lady to the palace of his royal highness, but the traditional ruler said his subjects would not speak to the press on the issue, which he said was still premature as not to impede police investigation. Some of the natives who spoke to our correspondent on condition of anonymity urged the state government to do something urgently to arrest the security situation in Abiriba.

They said it was wrong for the government to boast that Abia was one of the most peaceful states in the country while one of her communities boils. When contacted on telephone, the State Police Command Public Relations Officer (PPRO) said he was not aware of the incident because he was attending a conference in Abuja. (The Sun)