A suspected kidnapper, Isaac Michael 37, has revealed how COVID-19 lockdown caused him to take crime, leading to himself and his gang members abducting Gift Gani Topba, wife of the leader and spokesperson of a pressure group, Conscience of Ogoni People, Chief Gani Topba, in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
The suspect was arrested alongside his two cronies, Leera Barisua and Tigidam Bright, who is a former personal driver to the activist.
The gang was busted by operatives of the Force Intelligence Response Team, led by a Deputy Commissioner of Police, Abba Kyari.
Michael, who is married with two children, introduced himself as a cyclist.
He said he went into kidnapping in July 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown.
He explained that his major business was in using his motorcycle to take children and adults to schools.
He said after schools were shut down, he lost his only source of livelihood.
He had no passengers to carry.
As life got tough and feeding tougher, he had to frantically look for ways to survive.
When his friend mooted the idea of kidnapping, it sounded appealing and Michael grabbed it.
He recalled: “One of my friends, Mark, was the person that introduced me into kidnapping.
“I met him through another of my friends called Barisua.
“Barisua is a commercial bus driver.
“We formed a four man gang.
“We had two guns, which belonged to Mark.
“Our first operation was in July 2020 and it was Mark’s car we used to kidnap a pastor at Elelenwo area of Port Harcourt.
“On our way to our camp, the pastor started pleading, saying he had no money.
“We freed him.
“As for me, I was particularly scared that God would punish me for kidnapping a man of God.”
Mrs. Topba was kidnapped on August 25, 2020 on her way home by Michael’s gang.
The men grabbed her estate’s gate in Port Harcourt and took her into a forest in Kaani Community in Khana Local Government Area of Rivers State.
Topba would later petition the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, after the kidnappers asked for a N100 million ransom.
The kidnappers threatened to kill Gift if the money was not paid.
The IGP drafted IRT Operatives to investigate the abduction and rescue the woman.
Police said: “While negotiation for the payment of the ransom was ongoing, Topba followed all the instructions given to him by the IRT operatives.
“The kidnappers reduced the money to N500,000 and his wife was then released unhurt.
“This was after she had spent some days in the kidnappers’ den.”
The Police said some months after she was released, operatives of IRT, who were still investigating the matter, arrested the user of a mobile phone.
This particular phone line was used by the kidnappers for ransom negotiation.
The information provided by the user aided in the arrest of Micheal and Barisua.
Police further revealed that the gang, after abducting victims, takes them to Kaani Community in Khana Local Government Area, where the victims would be kept in captivity until their families cough up the ransom.
During interrogation, Michael and Barisua told the operatives the roles each played in the abduction of Gift.
They also fingered Bright as the mastermind of the abduction.
Following the allegation from Michael and Barisua, the operatives went after Bright.
He further narrated: “Some days later, we went for another operation.
“This time, we kidnapped a woman at Rumuporisi area of Port Harcourt.
“We took her to our camp in Kaani-Community, where she spent three days with us.
“We released her after payment of N2 million ransom.
“I got N300,000 as my share.
“My last operation was the abduction of Gift and it was Bright that brought the job.
“He was also the person who pointed Topba’s house out to us at Port Harcourt.
“He also told us the make and colour of Gift’s car.”
Bright recalled that Gift was kidnapped on August 25, 2020 and that his phone, which he had since discarded, was used for the ransom negotiation.
He noted that the sum of N500,000 was paid for her ransom and he was given N100,000.
He added: “I know Chief Topba.
“He’s from my community.
“He’s also one of the people fighting for the rights of the Ogoni people.
“It was his former driver, who claimed that Topba ill-treated him that made us kidnap Gift.”
Barisua, 37, a graduate of Electrical Engineering, Rivers State Polytechnic, said he went into kidnapping because he couldn’t secure a good job after losing his job with an oil Industrial Service Company in the Trans Amadi area of Port Harcourt.
He denied being part of the gang members that abducted Gift, stressing that he had no quarrel with Topba.
He said: “I joined the gang because I lost my job and there was no way I could fend for my family.
“It was my friend Mark that sold the idea of kidnapping to me.
“I accepted and joined him because I felt it would fetch me enough money to set up a business.
“I’m the gang’s driver and I was part of the gang that kidnapped the pastor.
“Our targets were usually people that drive exotic cars.
“I got N200,000 from the kidnap of the second victim.
“I got infuriated with the amount I got because I wasn’t part of the ransom negotiation.
“They gave me what they liked.
“I had a fight with Mark and broke his head.
“It was due to that altercation that they didn’t inform me about the plan to abduct Topba’s wife.
“I would have discouraged them.”
He narrated that it was after operatives arrested Michael, the latter led the police team to his house to arrest him.
He further said: “Michael called and asked me to meet him at a popular junction in our area.
“I got there and the police arrested me.
“They asked me questions about the kidnapping of Topba’s wife.
“I told them I wasn’t part of it, but I learnt his former driver and one notorious kidnapper, Wisdom, masterminded the kidnapping.
“I also saw his driver and Wisdom drinking together in our community at the time the woman was in captivity.”
Baritua further revealed that Bright was too close to all the known kidnappers in the community.
He recalled telling Topba and Police that since his wife was abducted in Port Harcourt, which was too far from their community, it means someone close to her must have given out information on her movement and location.
Baritua said it was based on this hypothesis from him that the operatives went after Bright and arrested him.
Bright, however, denied masterminding the abduction of Gift.
He admitted telling his friends that Topba sacked him after he had worked with him for eight years.
He said his friends promised to deal with Topba.
He insisted that he didn’t know his friends would kidnap Topba’s wife.
He accepted that his friends gave him N100,000 after collecting ransom on the woman.
He said: “I worked with Topba for eight years and when the COVID-19 pandemic started, everywhere was shut down.
“Chief was in Abuja and he asked that his Port Harcourt office should be shut down.
“I dropped his keys with his secretary.
“Chief paid my one month salary, but after the lockdown, Chief refused to take me back as his driver.
“I tried all I could to get back the job, but it wasn’t possible.
“I then learnt that the Chief was angry with me because I took a business from him to someone else.
“I heard that was why he fired me.
“But that wasn’t true.
“I didn’t take any business from him.
“I tried to talk to him about it, but he refused to listen to me.
“In August 2020, I travelled to Khana to visit some of my friends and they asked if I was still working with the Chief, I told them that he had fired me over an unfounded reason.
“They vowed to deal with him for me.
“I didn’t know that the plan was to kidnap his wife.
“I learnt that she was kidnapped and after she was released, I was given N100,000.
“I took the money because I was scared of my friends.
“I didn’t tell anyone about the matter because I was afraid of my friends.
“I didn’t want them to kill me.”