Monday, December 7, 2009

Christmas: Wealthy Igbo Rush To Move Aged Parents Out Of Kidnappers Reach

As Christmas approaches, wealthy Igbo rush to move aged parents out of kidnappers’ reach

By Chux Ohai, Published: Saturday, 5 Dec 2009
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Luxury buses waiting to take people home for Xmas

East and west, as the saying goes, home is the best. But it seems that this timeless proverb may hold very little attraction for many people of Eastern Nigerian origin that are living and working outside their home states, this Christmas. Saturday Punch investigations have revealed that some rich and influential Igbo may have decided to shelve the yearly ritual of celebrating Christmas in their home towns and villages for fear of being attacked by kidnappers.

Apparently scared stiff by the recurring incidence of kidnaps across the eastern states, some of these people have started moving their loved ones, mostly the aged and invalid, from their home towns and villages to the relative safety of bigger and more secure towns and cities. One wealthy Igbo businessman, who owns a three-star hotel in the Ojodu area of Lagos and declined to disclose his identity for security reasons, told our correspondent that a recent experience had compelled him to rush home and bring his aged father to the city.

He said, ”I was the negotiator in a kidnap incident that took place in the month of May. My brother, it wasn‘t a very pleasant experience.”

According to him, the mother of his friend living in Spain was abducted from her home town in Ukwa East Local Government of Abia State just as she was returning from her farm. He continued,”The kidnappers demanded a ransom of N10 million. They threatened to kill the woman if her son failed to give them the money. They felt that since he lived abroad, he should be able to part with that sum of money without sweat. But my friend didn‘t have that kind of money. He was so scared to come home that he asked me to negotiate on his behalf.”

”All the while, I communicated with the criminals on the phone. It was a very tedious process. I told them that my friend was struggling to survive abroad and wouldn‘t be able to afford to pay them N10 million. After a while, they scaled down the ransom to N4 million. At this point, I had to let them know that I was going to pay the money from my own pocket and that I couldn‘t afford that kind of money. When they asked how much I could afford, I told them I had only N500,000. The result was that they went mad and warned that they would eliminate their victim if we failed to pay N4 million within a certain period.”

”I went on to beat the sum to N1 million, but they refused to accept it. I had no other choice than to link them up with my friend on the phone. My friend asked to speak with his mother and they gave her the phone. At this point, they were getting worked up. My friend was already worked up, too. He got angry and decided to call the bluff of the kidnappers. He told them that they could go ahead and kill his mother, if that was what they wanted. When his mother pleaded on the phone that he should give them what they wanted, he said to their hearing that they should do what they liked with her. At that point, the criminals understood that her son wasn‘t as rich as they thought and they had no other choice than to settle for N1 million”.

The victim, Saturday Punch gathered, was 75 years-old and her son was emotionally disturbed during the period of her ordeal. ”My boss had very little money when his mother was kidnapped. He had to borrow some money from his friend to pay the ransom” one of the aides of the man, who was given the task of delivering the ransom to the kidnappers in Port Harcourt, told our correspondent. Immediately after the she was freed, he added, the woman was flown out of the community by her son to an undisclosed destination where she is currently staying.

Similarly other Igbo businessmen across the country have begun to sneak their aged parents out of their various communities. Another Igbo businessman, an indigene of Anambra State resident in Lagos (name withheld), confessed to Saturday Punch that he had to bring his mother to Lagos because he feared that kidnappers might sieze the opportunity provided by the current political situation in his home state to strike this Christmas. ”Everything is becoming so dicey that it will be unwise to let her stay in my home town any longer. You cannot tell what will happen next, especially now that Christmas is approaching and everybody is desperate to make more money” he said.

For Chief Kennedy Adiele, a prominent lawyer and businessmen, from Owalla Asa community in Abia State the kidnap scare has reached the point where the federal government will have to intervene. According to him, kidnappers have laid siege to his community such that every well-to-do son of Owalla Asa and neighbouring villages and towns had taken their aged parents and relatives outside the state. He said, ”I tell you, the terror is so real that an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty currently pervades my community. As I am talking to you, my uncle‘s wife is still being held by kidnappers. There is a man, an indigene of Ukwaland who was abducted from the church where he worshipped. This man owns about seven petrol filling stations in Port Harcourt. The day they took him away, we learnt that they practically forced him out of the church and beat him so much that blood started gushing from his nose and mouth. Nobody has seen him for the past two months‘.

Adiele revealed that the situation had forced him to move his parents from Owalla Asa, but declined to disclose where he was keeping them at the moment. For him and several others, the joy of reuniting with his extended family at Christmas will have to be forgone. ”It is painful, but I have no choice” he said. Every year most Igbo men and women and their families journey home, not only to celebrate Christmas; but to mark the traditional New Yam festival, as well. Unfortunately, most people will miss this year‘s celebrations, which is usually accompanied with much fanfare.

The impact of the incidence of kidnapping on the economy and social life of the Igbo across the River Niger is, no doubt, enormous. ”Nobody wants to invest in Igbo land at the moment. As a result, no money is coming in. Everybody is scared” Adiele lamented. To worsen the matter, he added, the law enforcement agencies have not done much to stop the kidnappers.

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