Monday, November 29, 2010

Nigerian kidnappers invade Cotonou

Fear grips Nigerian community as kidnappers invade Cotonou
…Cemetery is ransom’s collection point
Nigerians resident in Cotonou now live in fear following a rising wave of kidnappings in that city, which is the economic capital of neighbouring Benin Republic. No fewer than six incidents of abduction for ransom have been recorded in Cotonou in the last six months, and Nigerians have been fingered or outright proven to have been involved in these crimes.
The latest kidnap incident took place penultimate Sunday, 21 November, 2010; when two children of Mr. Mike Orji, Assistant General Secretary of the Nigerian Community Union (NCU), Cotonou; were seized from their home, while their parents were on an outing.
Although the captives were eventually released, five days later; on Thursday 25 November; their father had to cough out over CFA1.2million (at least N380,000) to get them back. The rogue elements had earlier demanded a ransom of CFA20million (over N700,000) for the children’s release but after “negotiations” they had settled for roughly 50 percent of the original sum.
Although an apparently distraught Mr. Orji would not take our calls, when we sought confirmation of the release of his kidnapped children, Ambassador Lawrence Akindele, Nigerian Ambassador to Benin Republic, revealed the captives were set free on the day in question. The Ambassador, however, called for caution regarding the nationality of any criminal in Benin or other foreign lands, pointing out that; until the suspected criminal’s screening and documentation were concluded, one could not be certain; where such characters hailed from.
Nonetheless, the Nigerian envoy went on to condemn kidnappers harshly: “They (kidnappers) must be condemned. Their activities are nothing but sheer wickedness. In fact, they should be made to face stiff penalties, as deterrent to others”, Ambassador Akindele charged.
It could be recalled that the Nigerian community in Cotonou came under some form of heat over the kidnap of a Lebanese in April this year. The victim (names withheld) had been seized by two young men and taken to a hideout somewhere in the sprawling city. Following negotiations, one of the kidnappers had gone to pick up the ransom. However, he practically walked into a police ambush and was made to lead the security operatives to where the captive was being held. There, the victim was freed and both kidnappers taken into detention. To verify their nationality, the Nigerian embassy had been called in, and a consular officer as well as a member of the Igbo community had visited the detainees in prison; whereupon it was confirmed that they are natives of Ahiazu-Mbaise.
Aside Mr. Mike Orji; Mr. Innocent Otuohan, who hails from Mbitolu, Imo State; had surrendered CFA2million (over N700,000) as ransom for the release of two of his sons seized by kidnappers, five months ago. In the same vein, another Igbo victim was forced to pay CFA300,000 (over N100,000) as ransom to recover his two children, too.
An emerging pattern is the abduction of not one, but two children here; however, apparently owing to fear; prominent Nigerians in Cotonou were wary of discussing any thing that had to do with kidnappings in this city.
It is also worth noting that in all cases of kidnapping in these parts, the criminals had asked for the ransom money to be dropped for them inside a cemetery in the town of Ouidah. Ouidah (pronounced Widda) is an ancient slave port settlement and lies west of Cotonou on the way to Hilla Condji. The use of a cemetery as collection point of ransom money has sparked speculations that the kidnappers could be connected to evil cults.
Reacting to growing rumours since October this year that a kidnapping gang from Nigeria had invaded Benin Republic, and worried that any criminal act traced to a Nigerian could poison the cordial relationship between the host Beninoise community and law-abiding Nigerians who had been living in Cotonou and carrying out legitimate business for decades; members of the Igbo community had called a meeting, where the matter was discussed at length.
Rising from that gathering, it was agreed that a circular be sent to all relevant stakeholders calling on every Igbo in Cotonou to be vigilant because, as it had been learnt; the visiting kidnappers avoid lodging in hotels to evade detection. Instead, they squat in the homes of some kinsmen from where they hatch their evil plots.
The memo had therefore warned that any one discovered to be habouring any kidnapper would be reported to the Beninoise security authorities. As the highest ranking member of the Nigerian community at that sitting, the lot had fallen on Mr. Orji to sign the circular; and, it is widely believed the kidnappers resorted to abducting his children as part of a grand design to intimidate the man as well as silence other prospective critics of their nefarious activities.
When contacted, NCU General Secretary, Pa Abdul Lateef Olujobi said he was not aware of the incidents and, therefore, could not comment. Expatiating, this scribe said he had only just returned to Cotonou after a visit to his home town, Ede in Osun State, Nigeria; where he celebrated the latest Eid el Kabir.
Similarly, comments could not be got from the Chairman of Igbo Union in Benin Republic, Chief Ebuka Onunkwo. Chief Onunkwo had personally experienced life as kidnappers’ victim, and we thought his views were important in this matter, even though he had been abducted in Nigeria and not in Benin Republic. However, we were told during attempts to reach him that Chief Onunkwo, who is CEO of Bukas International Sarl; was outside Africa for business transactions.


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