The recent release from captivity of a prominent Lagos-based businessman (name withheld for security reasons) by his abductors has, once again, thrown the densely populated Festac Town and Amuwo-Odofin areas into fear.
The 45-year-old businessman of Igbo extraction, who resides in Festac area with members of his family, spent virtually six months under the close watch of his abductors who ignored all entreaties by his friends and family to free him.
This was after they released huge sums of money requested as ransom by the kidnappers in different occasions to them, yet they refused to set him free. Their grouse, according to family sources, was to ensure that all the millions of naira he realised from his business ventures were exhausted else he would pay the supreme prize.
In addition, his abductors were said to have reprimanded members of his family for getting security agents involved in the matter hence they decided to ‘punish them’.
Freedom turns into nightmare
Unfortunately, the freedom being enjoyed by the embattled businessman has turned into a nightmare to his millionaire friends and associates.
They are anticipating renewed attacks by the abductors as information gathered revealed that their foot soldiers are already on the prowl, in search of fresh victims.
The situation has degenerated to the extent that most of the businessmen have restricted their movements especially at nights. They now sneak into their respective clubs without much fun fair unlike in the past when their entry was heralded with praises and back slapping.
Lapse in security
Worse still, the respite enjoyed at the height of the kidnapping saga with security agents in fierce battle to trace their whereabouts has elapsed. These days, according to one of the businessmen, “there is a noticeable lapse in security in both Festac and Amuwo-Odofin areas where the abductors hold sway and, we are afraid that they may soon strike.”
“Our worry”, he continued, “is that security agents are supposed to know where these criminals are coming from; their kingpins, foot soldiers and modus operandi yet, they are allowed to freely operate and get away with their victims. Can you imagine somebody being kept in seclusion and captivity for six months, family members are forced to pay millions of naira as demanded by his abductors, in this Lagos, yet security men could not free him or discover their hide out?”
However, one of the victims who vehemently refused to be quoted told Crime Guard: “I was kept in a one-storey building along Ago Palace Way for the period of two months they abducted me. I was kidnapped while driving into my close in Festac extension by gun-toting young men who escaped after shooting sporadically into the air to scare on lookers. They blind folded me but because I am very conversant with the area, I felt they were moving towards Ago Palace Way.
That was before the road was constructed. Suddenly, I felt bumps and also overheard voices speaking in Igbo language. We ended up in one of the buildings there and after they removed the cloth covering my eyes and tied my hands behind my back, I noticed they were not the sole occupant of the building. I spent my days there in solitude but I was constantly listening to conversations between other occupants of the building but I was afraid to raise alarm because two of them were on guard with guns, threatening to ‘waste me’ if I open my mouth. So, I am convinced that they use some buildings as their hideouts along Ago Palace Way and I expect security agents to move into action and smash them,” he stated.
Residents petition authorities
Crime Guard gathered that at the height of the abduction which saw many of the prominent businessmen in kidnapper’s net earlier this year, residents of the area forwarded a strongly worded petition to the relevant authorities including President Muhammadu Buhari, National Security Adviser, Senate President etc, condemning the brazen effrontery of criminals in the area and called for instant halt. The petition titled ‘S.O.S. OVER POLICE CRIMINALITY IN FESTAC TOWN, LAGOS’ signed by N. A. Chinedu Esq., LL.M, decried the attitude of security agents in the area over the rising cases of kidnapping and called for ‘definite answers to the menace.’
According to the petitioners: “It is further our intention to inform you sir, that rich and comfortable businessmen and traders residing in Festac Town and its environs pay huge sums of money running into hundreds of thousands of naira and even millions to get Police protection, while the super rich who own posh hotels within Festac Town, Lagos and Amuwo-Odofin Estate give out free of charge, suites and chalets in their hotels for amorous activities of these policemen. It should be noted that over N3 billion has been paid to kidnappers at various stages as ransom by victims who are afraid of police betrayal. Notably, the events of last week after school girls were abducted at Ikorodu, Lagos, and the swiftness with which the kidnappers were fished out, speaks volumes about the connivance of the authorities and negligence of similar crimes in Festac and its environs. It is heart-rending to observe the glaring discrimination in the war against crimes in our area while every available force was concentrated on a recent similar crime even when many had been forced to part with their hard-earned billions in Festac without security authorities blinking an eye lid.”
“We hereby suggest that the only way crimes can be checkmated within this zone and also Nigeria as a whole is that where criminals inhabit a lot, like Festac Town, Lagos, it is the most appropriate thing to effect mass transfer of all officers of the Nigeria Police Force in the area. Permit us to further inform you that with the influx of criminals into Festac Town where they have found as comfort zone, kidnapping, resurgence of armed robbery, pipeline vandalism, ritual killings and child abduction must continue to increase in a very frightening tempo with its multiplier effects taking tolls on the citizenry who are already living in fear, excruciating pains and agony.”
How it all started
It will be recalled that the spate of kidnapping in the area was triggered off in 2011 after the decomposing body of a Lagos-based wealthy business man, Chief Uzodike (not real name), who was earlier abducted in Festac Town, was mysteriously discovered in a far-away remote village, close to his home town in Anambra State. Nobody envisaged that it would be a veritable signal to an emerging dastardly trend in kidnapping that would later envelope and threaten the area in Lagos.
Desertion by bizmen
The sordid spectre of the gruesome and cold-blooded murder of the 62-year-old, amiable and very successful businessman that owned numerous plazas at the popular Alaba International market, Ojo, Lagos, triggered off series of uncountable kidnappings and virtually turned Festac Town into a terror zone. The situation got so bad that prominent businessmen, mostly of Igbo extraction who have turned the area into a permanent abode, started deserting it. Innumerable number of victims paid millions of naira as ransom to these dare-devil kidnapping gang whose criminal outreach and operational methods dwarfed security agencies. More worrisome are also allegations of connivance and negligence levelled against some officials of security agencies going by the carefree manner, lack of purposefulness and positive efforts to curtail the rising ugly trend.
Kingpins, gang members revealed
Investigations revealed that the deadly kidnapping gang is headed by very wealthy individuals who have criminally perfected the art of using the teeming unemployed youths and apprentices as their hit men. They also co-opted some members of cult groups, both within and outside Festac, into their gang and they are handsomely rewarded from the proceeds of their operations.
It was learned that so far, the kidnappers have reaped millions in foreign currencies from their victims. Sources said they usually insist that ransom be paid in dollars or pounds, ranging from $1m – $1.5m. Some even paid $2m before they were set free.
Data of victims
Security sources hinted that some members of the gang arrested by the police and charged to court intimated that they have names of almost all the businessmen at Alaba International Market and Trade Fair Complex together with those of members of their families. According to the sources, “They revealed that they are paid according to their ability to monitor their victims closely and give useful information that will yield positive dividends in cash. They claimed also that they were forced to swear to blood-oath of secrecy never to disclose the identities of their kingpins and that it will be very difficult to break their tentacles as all the kidnappings are masterminded and perfected by the kingpins who hail from a particular town in Anambra state. They are stupendously wealthy and they have wide contacts,” the sources stated.
Security expert speaks
However, a security expert who pleaded anonymity fiercely countered allegations of connivance with security agencies. “The problem is that of misplacement of information by the victims and people around them. When they expose certain information about themselves to certain people around them, they make them believe that they have money and that is the attraction to criminals. The criminals are not far from the victims. They are close to the police and understand the way they operate. They plant people at police stations and the police, unfortunately, are poor in information management. What is going on in Festac is more of collaboration with business associates who have dirty deals.”
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