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Monday, 9 November 2015

FEATURE/REPORT

Nigeria: Kidnappers demand huge money from lecturers

Stock Photo - Teacher cup cakes. Fotosearch - Search Stock Photography, Print Pictures, Images, and Photo Clip ArtKidnappers demand millions of naira from lecturers in Nigeria whereas minimum wage of a worker is N18, 000    A roomful of lecturers of higher institutions of learning in Nigeria are often kidnapped for ransom by suspected gunmen. Many of the lecturers meet threats of murder by their abductors and subsequently are killed, while many others come back alive. In most of the cases, police are rather tired to find those that effect the kidnappings, but resort to flippancy excuses. Odimegwu Onwumere reports:


Dr. Paul Erie was kidnapped in his native home of Igbanke in Orhionmwon local council of Edo State. He was Associate Professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Extension, Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Edo State, till his abduction on June 16, 2015.

His seizure affected lectures and the examination of part time students that were ongoing as at the time he was kidnapped. They were suspended.

Opening conversations with the family members, the abductors tagged a ransom of N30 million, which was later reduced to N12 million, before he could be released. The members of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) swarmed into action to trace his whereabouts, which yielded little or no result.

After a severe search for 105 days, Dr. Erie did not make it back home alive. His decomposing remains were exhumed in the forest between Orhionmwon and Igueben Local Councils, on September 30 2015.

That was achieved by a tipoff after the arrest of persons alleged to be in connection with the hijack, who were from his community. They included Stephen Usiagwu alias Finish and Go, Jeremiah Amayo, Eboigbe Monday aka Yawa and Ejime Oyakhire.

They were in the Police custody.

While the examination of the confessions of the suspected criminals were made in the presence of Police and journalists on how the lecturer died, the Commissioner of Police, Chris Ezike, flummoxed thus: “This is a day of mixed feelings to us, it is a breakthrough but our hearts will go out to the families of late Professor Paul Erie. As you are aware, on the 16th of June, he was kidnapped, these bad people took him away and since June he has not been seen despite the fact that they collected ransom from the family. Many thanks to the dexterity and passion for excellence of the detectives on this job and with the help of technology, today, we do not only have them in our net but we have been able to successfully exhume the remains of the erudite scholar where they buried him.”

He promised that other suspects at large would be arrested and brought to book.

A bombshell came from the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) through its National President Michael Olukoya in Ado Ekiti on October 5 2015, during the World Teachers Day celebration, stating that 600 teachers were killed by suspected Boko Haram terrorists in the insurgency Northeast of Nigeria and 19, 000 others, were among Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the region.

The confessions by the apparent kidnappers of how the university don met his death were that he was shouting in the night and one of them identified as Lucky delegated one of them to muffle his mouth for the fear that his groaning might attract the attention of passersby, especially hunters hunting in the night.  

It was after the lecturer was perceived not to be making a noise that the person who tied him was sent back to untie him around 2:00 am, only to establish out, and broadcast that he was not making any sign as one who was alive.

 “After his death, we left the place and started consulting among ourselves what should we do with the body, then Arikpo suggested that the body should be deposited by the roadside but Lucky Umeh opposed it and said the best thing was to bury him. He now sent one of us to go bring tools to dig the ground and before he came, it was already 6:00 am and we dug the grave and buried the man,” part of the reports made available to newsmen reads.

It was gathered that the Police Public Relations Officer, Mr. Stephen Onwochei, said, “He (one of the suspects) volunteered and led police pathologist, forensic experts, detectives, family members and the press to a bush at Igbanke where a shallow grave was identified and successful exhumation of the suspected remains of Prof. Paul A. Erie was carried out. Items recovered from the grave and scene are consistent and suggestive that the remains are indeed that of Prof. Paul A. Erie as identified by family members.”

When Prof. Erie was in the kidnappers’ den, his colleagues took to a peaceful protest in Ekpoma, on Friday, July 3 2015. They chanted songs of solidarity and raised placards in condemnation of the kidnappers’ deed and lodged official complaints with the Nigeria Police and the Department of State Security (DSS).

The Chairman of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), AAU Chapter, Prof. Fred Esumeh, said that in an environment where fear was heightened, it would never be easy to learn in such an environment.

“Teaching and learning cannot take place in an environment where fear reigns supreme and insecurity is the order of the day. We believe that this ugly trend has become pervasive and almost a normal thing because little or nothing has been done to apprehend the hoodlums as they seem to be having a field day in their nefarious business,” Prof. Esumeh told newsmen.

While Dr Erie did not make it, it was not the fate with Dr. Femi Omisore, a lecturer in the Environmental Design Department of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, who was kidnapped on Saturday May 9 2015 in Ado-Ekiti, the Ekiti State capital.

Although, the inglorious activity was fatal as the driver of the lecturer did not make it in the journey Omisore was, on his way to a funeral ceremony, at Oye, Ekiti. The driver was killed in the incident by the gunmen, after the bullet-riddled-fuel-tank of the car the lecturer was being driven in had no fuel to power the car.

Confirming the incident to newsmen, the Chairman of the OAU chapter of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, Dr. Caleb Aborisade, said: “It is true. He was taken away and his driver was killed. His car was also burnt.”

But Dr. Omisore was not later found in the grave and exhumed like Prof. Erie; he was publicized to have been rescued alive by vigilantes at Esure, Ekiti, in the early hours of Saturday, May 23 2015. Alongside the preceptor, nine others were rescued and taken to the palace of the Elesure of ‎Esure Ekiti.

Across the country, kidnapping of lecturers for ransom was fad. On March 16 2013, the University of Uyo (UniUyo) was thrown into mourning and helplessness as Dr. Ime Udotong was kidnapped by unknown gunmen on her way from work.

Dr. Ime Udotong who’s a lecturer in the Department of Biochemistry was later released as was briefed by a press statement signed by Mr. Nwachukwu Anyim, the Chairman of the UniUyo Branch of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and made available to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Thursday, March 21 2013.

Anyim did not field if a ransom was paid before she was released when journalists inquired. He rather said, "The family would not want to be dragged into that now. What we can say is that we are happy that she has regained her freedom."

In many of the kidnappings, the union of universities staff across the country known as and called Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) never slept on its oars without protesting the kidnap of its members.

Inscriptions on the members’ placards while on a protest mainly read: “ASUU Say No To Kidnapping; Kidnapping Is A Crime Against Humanity; ASUU Demands Unconditional Release of Our Members” and “Ensure Safety of Life and Property.”

But that never deterred the activities of kidnappers against its members or their cronies. Mrs. Hamdallah Ettu, wife of a lecturer in the Department of Biology at the Tai Solarin University of Education, Ijebu Ode, Mr. Gbenga Ettu, was kidnapped on April 3, on her way home from her shop, where she sold daily needs.

She, however, regained her freedom on Tuesday, April 7 2015, after the sum of N20m as ransom was demanded by the kidnappers. On May 18 2015, ASUU was rattled when kidnappers demanded N210million ransom for the release of its three members in Ekiti State University.

"Five lecturers were initially abducted by the criminals who later released two of them to source for the money to secure their colleagues’ release. This was disclosed by the union yesterday when its members staged a protest in Ado-Ekiti, the state capital over the incessant kidnappings of its members in Ekiti State," reports Raphael Ogbonnaiye, a journalist in Ado-Ekiti.

Ogbonnaiye further said, “ASUU lamented that five of its members had been kidnapped at various locations in the state within two weeks, of which two had been released to look for N210 million being demanded as ransom for the release of other three hostages, describing the scenario as frightening and disturbing.”

Frightening and disturbing as kidnapping of lecturers had become, Mr. Tobi Benson, a middle aged man, who’s a senior lecturer at the Delta State-owned polytechnic in Ogwashi-Uku, was kidnapped on Monday September 28 2015, at his residence along Assemblies of God Church Street of the state, and the abductors demanded the sum of N100m to make his release.

That was the same case with Dr. Tunji Akinlabi, a lecturer in the Department of Meteorology of the Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA), Ondo State, in September 2011.

Security agents said that he was kidnapped by gunmen numbering about six and they later demanded for N15m ransom from the family of the lecturer.

That was the same fate that befell a lecturer with the University of Port Harcourt, Mrs. Awala George, on March 3 2015, but was freed on March 11.

The Rivers State Police Command confirmed the incident through Mr. Ahmad Muhammad, a DSP, and the Public Relations Officer of the Command thus, “Following credible information about criminal hideouts in an uncompleted building along ABC/Rumuola bye pass road in Port Harcourt, Police patrol teams immediately stormed the scene and rescued Awala George. Awala was kidnapped at her residence at Ozuoba by four armed men on March 3.’’

Professor James Bolarinwa Olomo who’s a Professor of Nuclear Physics of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife was declared missing three days later after he lodged into Hotel Farlem situated at 8, Archibong Street, Afaha Ukwu, Eket, in Akwa Ibom State on Thursday, October 17 2013.

His missing came after he was kidnapped ten years ago and was released. The National Association of Nigerian Students on Sunday, January 12 2014 felt that the authorities had not done enough to find the whereabouts of the lecturer; hence the group ordered the Akwa Ibom State Government under Mr. Godswill Akpabio, the police and other security agencies to find the missing lecturer.

The Coordinator of the NANS in the South West, Mr. Sunday Ashefon said in a statement, “We are using this medium to remind our slumbering authorities at all levels, who are saddled with the primary responsibilities of protecting the lives and property of the citizens, to wake up from their deep slumber and begin to take actions necessary to safeguard the people. We wish to state that Nigerian students across the South West, and indeed the entire country, shall hold the Government of Akwa Ibom State responsible for whatever happens to our much revered professor.

"We wish to remind them that state governors remain the chief security officers of the states they govern. The government of Akwa Ibom, as a matter of compulsion, must ensure that Prof.  Olowo is found within 14 days. Failure to do so will attract serious actions from all Nigerian Students across the South West. Equally, we wish to call on the Nigeria Police Force and every other security agencies to intensify efforts at ensuring unconditional release of Prof. Olomo from wherever he may be.”

Till the time of filing this report, Prof. Olomo was not found. A lecturer with the Federal Polytechnic, Mubi, in Adamawa State, Mr. Faluyi Isaac, was found dead in his farm outside Mubi town in June 2008.

While the kidnappers stroll to the banks happy, it was obvious that the Minimum Wage of a civil servant in Nigeria is N18, 000 ($100) a month. That was coming after the Nigeria Labour Congress dished out notice that it would join on a three-day warning strike beginning July 20 2011, when the authorities were lackadaisical to increase the Minimum Wage.

The warning was to register a protest that both states and federal governments should employ the new wage law passed by the National Assembly before that year's general election. It was in media reports that "Nigeria's minimum wage of 7500 naira was one of the lowest in the world. Because they are poorly paid, workers in the public service are usually indolent and corrupt, with many of them almost always demanding bribes to provide services for which they were hired."

It was after the warning by the NLC that Nigeria's 36 state governors appeared from a long-winded meeting on July 16 2011 and announced that they were all-set to pay the new N18000   minimum wage to workers in their relevant states

"On the issue of minimum wage, the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) resolved to comply with the provisions of the Minimum Wage Act and further agreed that individual states should commence implementation modalities," the NGF chaired by then Governor Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State stated in a three-point communiqué released at the end of the meeting in Abuja.

Nevertheless, while Police would always tell the unsuspecting citizens that ransom was not paid whenever a snatched victim was freed, they were not lucky this time as a lady seemingly disclaimed the Police supposedly report that no ransom was paid to free the 10 victims of kidnapping in which Dr. Femi Omisore was involved. She also rebuffed the claim that they were rescued by vigilantes.

The lady, whose name was given as Seyi Olaoluwa, said: “It’s a lie. They were not rescued by anybody. The vigilante did not rescue them; we paid ransom. Everybody paid ransom before they were released.”

She claimed that her brother was the one that took the ransom to Benin Road, when the kidnappers said the family members should come to Akure. She added that her family members were asked to come towards Benin Road, when they got to Akure.

“They used the phone to trail them until they got to somewhere near Benin. They directed them towards a forest before Benin, where they showed them the money some of the victims’ relations had paid. They were so confident that they said everybody must pay before the victims would be released,” she said.

Professor Esumeh, FUTA, Deputy Registrar, Information and Protocol; and Omololu Adegbenro at Federal University of Technology, in their respective messages while condemning what their colleagues suffer in the hands of kidnappers, said, “It’s worrisome and unfortunate”.


Odimegwu Onwumere is a Poet/Writer; he writes from Rivers State

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