It’s been months since a businesswoman, Obinanuju, 67, was abducted and beaten within an inch of life, but till date, she’s yet to get over the shock.
Obinanuju was abducted just as she was about to drive into her compound, located at Rumuobiakani area of Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
The kidnappers blocked her right at the entrance of her gate and shot sporadically into the air.
Obinanuju’s driver, petrified, bolted, leaving her at the mercy of the gun wielding men. The men, who were all in military uniforms, were armed with AK47 rifles and automatic pistols.
The abduction took place on February 7 as she was returning from church.
Recollecting the nightmare that had been dogging her sleep, Obinanuju said: “After I was abducted, the kidnappers slapped me several times. I was squeezed under the driver’s seat. One of them placed his legs on my head. According to them, they had been trailing me for long. The beating continued, while I repeatedly begged them to allow me to breath. I was almost suffocating under the car seat. When we got to a particular point, our presence was celebrated. I was handed over to two boys. We trekked a long distance, walking through many woods.”
On the day she was abducted, Obinanuju was whisked away in her Toyota Sienna Space Bus. She was held in captivity for six days and released only after an undisclosed amount of money was paid as ransom.
Obinanuju recalled that she was subjected to inhuman treatment. The kidnappers told her that someone paid them N40 million to kill her. She was going through severe pains and had to call and beg her family members to save her life by paying the ransom demanded by the kidnappers.
She said: “We crossed swampy waters that reached to our waists level. We finally reached a thick forest; I was given a mat, where I slept. The following day, they started interrogating me. They wanted to be sure how much to demand as ransom from my family. They flogged me several times with a twine and rubber. One of them used a hammer on my head. At that point, I informed them that my family could raise the N80 million they wanted. And then negotiation started. Three days later, I was released.”
After Obinanuju was released, the family petitioned the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu. He instructed operatives of the Special Intelligence Response Team, headed by a Deputy Commissioner of Police, Abba Kyari, to do everything within the ambit of the law to track the gang and smash it. The IRT operatives were deployed to Port Harcourt.
The operatives made a breakthrough after they received intelligence report from the Port Harcourt Maximum Prison. The information was that an alleged kidnapper, who had been in prison, identified as Sorbari Apollos, aka Blackie, recently released, was part of those that orchestrated the abduction of Obinanuju.
IRT operatives swooped on Blackie after weeks of trailing him. He was tracked down to Kono-Bowe community in Khana Local Government Area of Rivers State and arrested.
During interrogation, he said: “I was given N350,000 as part of my share of the ransom in the woman’s abduction.”
He provided information that aided the operatives in arresting three other members of the gang: Daniel Johngbo, Harridon Barryira and Lebara Tobia.
Recounting his life in crime and abduction of Obinanuju, Blackie said: “I’m a member of De-Gbam Secret Cult. I was initiated in 2011 through a friend, Tambake Tax. He is the unit head of the confraternity in my community. I’m just a floor member in the confraternity. There are several other members in our community. I’m a kidnapper; I was introduced into it by Ayapsi Tubag, alias Gbenena and Gomba.
“We all participated in the abduction of Mrs Obinanuju. I partook in that abduction because I needed money to pay my lawyer who secured my release from prison in September 2018. I was in prison for cultism and kidnapping. I was arrested in March 2016. I was yet to pay my lawyer his balance. I approached Gbenena for financial assistance; I even offered him my farm land in exchange for the money, but he refused. He told me that he has a kidnapping job, which would be profitable. On February 5, 2019, one of Gboma’s friends, who has been monitoring our target, came to Gbenena’s house. He told us that the job was ripe; that we could go after our target. Gboma also informed us that he had made arrangement for army uniforms, which would be used for the operation to beat security at check points. On February 7, 2019, I got a call from Gbenena to come to his house. When I arrived, I met Gboma and his brother with the army uniforms. A Toyota Corolla car, a driver, Barriyra and two AK47 rifles were also available. “Gbenena poured libation with a hot drink on his shrine. He then prayed for a safe trip. We moved out and headed straight to Port Harcourt. I took one of the AK47 rifles, while Gboma’s brother with the army uniform, had an English pistol with him.”
He further explained that the gang got to the Market Junction at about 6pm. They drove straight to Nwogu Street, parked close to Obinanuju’s house and waited.
Blackie narrated: “A few minutes later, Gboma instructed our driver to block an incoming Toyota Sienna Space Bus. We all came out and started shooting into the air. The driver of the Sienna car ran for safety, leaving the woman behind. Gboma’s brother took over the wheels of the vehicle. Gboma and I joined the woman in her car. We forced her to lay face-down. We drove through Aba Road, beating all security check points. We took the woman to Kono Bowe Community. We presented her to Gbenena before moving her into the forest. It was Gboma and Gbenena that did the ransom negotiation. They were also the ones that collected the ransom. I got N350,000 as my share of the ransom. I don’t know the exact amount collected from the woman’s family.”
The suspect explained that he started kidnapping in 2015, disclosing that his first job was the abduction of an Ogoni man, named Marco.
Blackie and gang abducted Marco on the road as he was returning to his house. The victim was taken to the house of a gang member, Anderson, in Nyorkwe community. Marco was held captive for five days until his family members paid N800,000.
He said: “I got N150,000 as my share. Anderson was later arrested. Our master, Solomon Nigbara, went to beg the victim. Nigbara also refunded the N800,000 to Marco. We also did another kidnapping job in the month of March 2016, at Ogboro Village. Three persons and I went for that operation; we kidnapped the man from his pharmacy’s store and on getting to Wimpey Junction, the man jumped out of the vehicle, just as we were approaching traffic jam. All other members also jumped, leaving only me behind, struggling with the door of the vehicle.
“Police later came there to arrest me. They recovered the AK47 rifle and three magazines that I had with me. I was taken to Kala Police Station, before I was transferred to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), where I spent six months before I was charged to court. I was in prison from March 2016 to September 2018, before I was released by my lawyer. The rifle I used for that operation was given to me by Gbenena. But my boss remains Solomon Nigbara, who controls over 200 boys. The boys are serving him in his camp, in the forest, in Yege community. He has over 30 AK47 rifles and assorted arms and ammunition in his camp. It is practically impossible to reach him in his camp.”
Another gang member is Daniel Johngbo (20), who confessed that he was the person that bought all the food Obinanuju ate while in captivity.
He disclosed that Obinanuju prayed for him before she was released. According to him, on the day that Obinanuju was abducted, he didn’t go with the gang for that operation.
Johngbo said: “On the day the woman was kidnapped, Gbenena called me; he gave me N1,500 to buy fried rice with chicken from an eatery. After buying the food, Gbenena took me on his motorcycle and we rode into the forest to give her the food. I met four other members guiding her. They had constructed a tent with palm fronds and covered it with a mosquito net. I spent the night at the camp that day. The following day, Gbenena gave me N3,000 to go and buy asthmatic drug for the woman. The woman later confided in me that three of our gang members: Tambari, Monki Bamy and Jaunte, had been beating her with sticks in order to force her to tell her husband and children to pay the ransom.
“I pitied her and decided to stay put in the forest so as to stop them from further beating her. On the third day, the woman prayed for me. She told me that she has a warehouse in Mile 4, Port Harcourt, where she sells children’s drinks. She promised to sponsor me to school because I was nice to her. She also gave me the address of her church at Rumuomasi Market Junction. She advised me to give my life to Jesus Christ.”
The driver of the gang, Harrison Barryira, 33, said he met Blackie and Gboma in January 2019, at Kono-Bowe community when he visited his wife, who is from the village. He became fast friends with them. They were always using his services as a cab driver.
On February 7, 2019, Blackie and Gboma called him. They told him that there was a job for him.
Barryira said: “When I got to their village, Gboma, Blackie and an army officer entered my car. They were with a bag that contained a long object. We drove to Port Harcourt, and on arriving at Market Junction, I drove into Nwogu Street. I stopped and we waited. I must have fallen asleep. Gboma suddenly shook me awake. He instructed me to block a vehicle behind me. At that point, I discovered I had flat tyre. Gboma and the guy on military uniform and Blackie, jumped out of my vehicle. They started shooting to scare everyone around. They kidnapped the woman and drove away in her vehicle. I managed to escape from the scene with my own vehicle. I drove to Salugter, where I parked it. I set to Gbenena’s house to confirm if they successfully took the woman to him. A few days later, he called and gave me N500,000 as my share of the ransom. He told me that N6million was paid as ransom. I wasn’t happy that I was given N500,000. It was too small compared to the role I played in the operation.”