Enugu Metro checks show that governors actively suppress news of over 300 kidnapping cases along Enugu – Port Harcourt highway. The victims who are villagers and travelers along the Enugu-Port Harcourt highway spoke on their ordeal.
The bandits currently operate recklessly, seemingly oblivious of numetous army and police security checkpoints mounted along the highway.
Evidence from those who agreed to speak show that hoodlums extorted over N350million from victims’ families. This figure represents kidnap ransom paid since January 2022. The bandits are in operation for about two years now.
The victims we spoke to and those whose stories were verified include police officers, clergymen, and Nollywood actors. Others were villagers of Umunneochi, including their LGA workers, and scores of passengers and motorists.
The kidnappers stepped up their operations from May 2022, seizing a Methodist Bishop and his two priests, two Catholic priests and a seminarian, and four nuns. We also interviewed other priests who told Enugu Metro of their lucky escape from the bandits.
Targeting the clergy?
Yesterday’s kidnap of four Catholic nuns brings to 10 the number of clergies abducted by hoodlums in two months.
The nuns include Sisters Johannes Nwodo, Christabel Echemazu, Liberata Mbamalu and Benita Agu. They are of the Sisters of Jesus The Saviour Mission, Elele, Rivers State, Zita Ihedoro said in a statement.
Sister Zita who is Secretary-General of the Congregation said they are in “great pain” at the turn of events.
“The sad event occurred around Okigwe-Umulolo. The sisters were on their way to the thanksgiving mass of a colleague,” she said.
Sister Zita asked the public to join in “intense prayer for their quick and safe release. May Jesus the Saviour listen to our prayers and may Our Mother Mary intercede for the unconditional release of our dear sisters.”
The latest abduction occurred a couple of days after kidnappers released another clergy, a Catholic priest along same highway.
They seized Fr. Chinedu Nwadike and a seminarian at the Umunneochi axis of the highway. Nwadike is deputy registrar at the Spiritan University Nneochi (SUN).
Family relations said the duo were driving to Enugu on official duty when the bandits struck. They demanded N50 million ransom for their release.
The Red Zone
Highway bandits daily intercept hapless villagers, passengers, and motorists along this highway. They force them into bushes to torture until their relations meet ransom demands.
The black spots are in the belt between Lokpanta and Okigwe along the highway. It is in this location that yesterday’s latest kidnap happened.
Methodist Archbishop of Okigwe, Most Rev. Biereonwu Onuagha, described that belt as a “money-making center for kidnappers and other criminals.”
In a particular show of force, the bandits once mounted a dastardly operation on the highway in June, burning an army van and abducting passengers.
Eyewitnesses said over 30 passengers were seized from three buses in the operation. The incident occurred between Leru junction and Ihube (Okigwe) axis of the highway.
Youth leader of Ummunneochi LGA, Prince Divine Uche also reported incessant abduction of youths,and women molested and raped in their farms.
Uche told Sen. Mao Ohuabunwa that they also suffer the menace of herders along the stretch. Cattle herders used to rape women going to farm but have graduated to raiding the villages to hunt for women to take to the bushes and raped, he said.
Gov Ikpeazu’s assurances
Abia Governor Ikpeazu visited Ummunneochi LGA in June after the Methodist prelate’s kidnap incident.
The Governor gave assurances that he will address the matter of kidnapping in the area. He equally vowed that kidnap of the Methodist Prelate marks the end of kidnapping in the area as his government will no longer “treat the matter with kid gloves.”
IIkpeazu asked Ummunneochi stakeholders to identify and submit the kidnap flashpoints along the highway to enable his government take action.
Our investigations however show that rate of kidnapping escalated rather than abated after the governor’s visit.
Bandits subsequently seized more than 50 villagers, motorists and passengers after the governor’s assurances nearly three months ago.
Governors suppress news of kidnapping
The attacks continue unabated in recent times as Southeast governors of states along the highway allegedly suppress the news.
Authorities are also frantically playing down suggestions that military checks on the highway are at best ineffective. There have also been suggestions that military officers look the other way as citizens are seized by bandits.
We interviewed 10 persons who successfully escaped from the kidnappers trap on the high way. All of them reported that the military failed to act when they heard of incidents near where they were accosted.
Following the kidnap of a police divisional crime officer, simply known as DSP Dickson, an embittered police officer finally opened up to newsmen.
He alleged that governors suppress information on the rate of kidnapping along the Enugu-Port Harcourt higheay.
A senior police officer at Nneichi specifically called out the Abia State Governor for allegedly downplaying the seriousness of the problem.
“They’re saying all those things (that their states are peaceful) because we the affected police officers are not speaking up.
“There are serious security challenges all over Abia state, especially the Umunneochi/Isuikwuato axis.
“I don’t understand why the authorities are playing politics with reality. Why can’t they accept that there’s a problem and call for help?
“What’s happening all over the country is also here, but our own is suppressed and underreported,” he said,
Reported Cases in 2022
We found the following 66 cases of kidnapping reported in the press since January 2022:
|May 2022||Bishop Kalu Uche and 2 other clergy||Leru – Umunneochi,||3||Abia||Released after N100m ransom payment|
|30 passengers, army van burnt||Leru – Ihube axis||30||Imo||No update on whereabouts|
|Aug 2022||Rev Father Chinedu Nwadike and a Seminarian||Umunneochi||2||Abia||Released N50m ransom demand|
|Aug 2022||Reverend Sisters||Okigwe- Umulolo||4||Imo||In captivity|
|Aug 2022||Nollywood Stars||Four-Corners||2||Enugu||Released, no ransom paid|
|May 2022||Ebonyi Govt House Cameraman||Umunneochi||1||Abia||Demanded N50m ransom|
|Chuks Onuoha, journalist||Umuahia axis||1||Abia||N10m ransom reportedly paid|
|Jul 2022||Passengers from same vehicle||Lokpanta, Ummuneochi||4||Abia||No further information|
|Aug 2022||Police DCO||Umunneochi||1||Abia||No information|
|Jun 2022||7 Villagers from||Lokpanta, Ummuneochi||7||Abia||4 released to source for ransom|
|Feb 2022||Ummunneochi LGA council workers||Leru, Ummuneochi||11||Abia||N25m ransom demand|
Governors actively suppress news of over kidnapping cases in Southeast