By David-Chyddy Eleke
I spent last Friday in a kidnappers’ den, and the experience is yet to totally leave me. It was a harrowing experience. The den was a dingy three-room affair in a dilapidating building that bore a brown roof, which told obvious stories of the age of the building.
If the rusty roof of the building confirmed its age, the cracked walls, which showed thorough dilapidation, were enough evidence that the building would come down on its occupants any moment.
The three rooms oozed with stench from blood, obviously those of kidnap victims killed in the rooms for refusing to pay ransom, for paying less than demanded or other reasons. The rooms were also filled with empty bags, female weave-on, all manner of shoes, clothes, and diverse items. All items are suspected to belong to kidnap victims who have at one time or the other been quartered in the den.
Most prominent of the items found in the den are charms used by the criminals to fortify themselves. They included a lot of scary looking objects. A corner of one of the rooms was used as an ‘alter’, consisting of various fetish materials, but within the compound, the criminals had another shrine, while a little away from the den, a bigger shrine could be found, decorated with white, red, and yellow pieces of clothing.
It was a disgusting sight, but I spent the day there. Was I kidnapped? No. Then, how did I spend a day in a kidnappers’ den? I will tell you now.
I received an invitation to come to the residence of Anambra State governor, Prof Chukwuma Soludo, on Friday morning for news coverage. I arrived at the Anambra Governor’s Lodge at 9am, hoping that by 10am, I would be out to attend to other duties. But when I parked at the car lot, I was rather ushered to a bus to join some colleagues, as the coverage was not at Soludo’s residence.
The bus drove us to a police annex in Awkuzu, Oyi Local Government Area. Anyone who knows police operations in Anambra and also hears of Awkuzu will know what it means. Awkuzu used to be the headquarters of the dreaded Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS), but with the disbanding of SARS, the state police command turned it into an annex, probably for covert operations.
Regular users of Enugu-Onitsha expressway, through Awkuzu, know the annex is usually deserted, except for snipers posing in high sentry, mounted inside the building, but visible to anyone on the expressway. There are also very agile men at the front of the annex, but there are never any visible activities going on around the annex. But on this day, as we parked at the annex, there was very visible and overflowing human presence of gun toting security men all around.
There was a crack squad of police operatives, mainly from Benin. There were also operatives of the Civil Defence, carrying their long riffles, a team of soldiers, all combat ready, and an overflowing number of vigilante operatives, under the name of SECAT (Security and Emergency Crack Team).
It was an intimidating convoy of close to 50 cars when the team eventually set out. All thanks to my beer habit, I had within the period of waiting for movement to commence familiarized myself my few security guys, mostly the police guys from SFU as we shared drinks. As at the time movement commenced, no journalists were sure where we were going, but from drinking beer with them, I was able to decode before other journalists where we were headed.
“As I dey here now, I’m sure of my promotion this year,” a sergeant among the SFU team told me. He continued: “We are going to Oba, to destroy the den of kidnappers. I was among the team that cracked that kidnap team. We killed their leader, Sampolo; arrested two suspects and also freed three kidnap suspects, who were waiting for their ransom to be paid by their relatives, so that they can be freed.
“One of the victims was a Reverend Father, and his car which was seized from him after he was kidnapped was parked just in front of the compound, so when we visited the den, we were able to rescue him and others. I serve in Benin. What we came for is a special operation, and since after the rescue, the names of those who participated in the operation have been sent to Abuja. My promotion go come this year be that ooo,” he happily told this reporter, who remained anonymous in the discussion.
Through other interactions with some operatives, with whoM we drank and waited for movement to commence, it was learnt that the aim of the day’s operation was to hit the den and find out criminals who may have converged on the den, and also to destroy it, in line with the state government’s policy of destroying any property used to hide criminals or keep kidnap victims.
Two of my colleagues who I told we were going to visit kidnappers’ den panicked and told me it was risky. Of course, it truly was, especially as we were invited without prior information of where we were going, while we accompanied gun totting security men, with bullet proof helmets and vests. For me, I have been desirous of such adventure. I have longed to investigate the insecurity in the state, but every possible account I have given in previous reportage was a third-party account.
In a previous report, I rejected invitation to speak to a man living at Ozubulu, Ekwusigo Local Government Area, but who works at Ukpor, Nnewi South Local Government Area, who was also willing to give information about operation of criminals in the area (who wants to go to Ukpor at a time like this?).
We arrived at Oba a little before noon, in a long convoy. Upon arriving at the earlier busted den, criminals shot at the team, but when security operatives replied with a torrent of bullets and physically pursued them, they escaped through their backyard.
Unlike stories that have been told of unknown gunmen living in the forest, the busted den was right in the centre of a village in Oba, with surrounding houses and neighbours all around.
Three suspects were however arrested from adjoining buildings, mostly for cases of complicity. While one was freed after successfully identifying herself, and her employers vouching she was their staff, two others, including a suspected native doctor who manned the shrines used by the criminals,.were taken away.
The team remained at Oba all through the day, combing the neighbourhood and profiling residents of the area to ascertain their identity. It was such a shock to some of us who have heard stories of the criminals, believing that they live in bushes, but here is a house right in the middle of a densely populated community being used to keep kidnap victims.
Apparently, kidnap victims kept in the place are kidnapped from other places and brought to the area and taken out upon payment of ransom in blindfold, accounting for the reason the victims never get to know where they were kept.
The highpoint of the visit to the den was the demolition of the house, but it took a long while for authorities concerned to bring a pay loader for the demolition, but while the pay loader was awaited, security operatives continued profiling. One African wonder that surprised all was when some of the fetish materials discovered in the shrines were to be taken away.
A small round local calabash which had ropes tied all round it was brought out for destruction to know what it contained, but the small calabash defied attempt to break it. First, some policemen used cutlass on it, but each attempt to hit it saw the cutlass bouncing back. An axe was brought in to destroy it, but for every attempt, the calabash simply shifted away from the hit.
Some security operatives decided they must destroy it by every means, and decided to use a riffle on it, but each shot at it saw the small calabash shifting position. It didn’t seem real at all that not even an AK47 riffle could burst open an ordinary calabash. One of the vigilante operatives then demanded to be handed the calabash. He turned his back on everyone and muttered a few words, dropped it on the ground and pointed his gun at it. He pulled the trigger, and immediately, the calabash shattered into pieces.
The pay loader arrived afterwards, and capped the operation with the demolition of the house, the shrines, and another house still under construction by the bandits. That capped a successful operation, as the team departed the area at about 7pm. What a day it was, right inside kidnappers’ den, but gradually hope is returning as Prof Soludo in conjunction with security operatives is gradually winning the war against criminals in Anambra.