Activist lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome yesterday said that kidnapping is a coordinated business that needs urgent attention from the Federal Government.
He spoke at his Lagos residence after his was released from the den of kidnappers three weeks after his abduction in Edo State.
Ozekhome, who recounted how the kidnappers brought in their doctor to cure him of Malaria and Typhoid when he took ill at the uncompleted building over four hours drive from Benin, said the kidnappers have vowed to unleash terror in the country.
He said the kidnappers told him that security agents can never track them because they do not make calls around the areas were their victims are kept.
Ozekhome said: “It is well organized business. We were eating once a day most of the time. They will bring eba and egusi or ogbono, rice be it jellof or white rice. We were locked up in a room in solitary confinement. The day the windows were opened on few occasions, a colony of mosquitoes invaded and feasted on us like barbeque in a buffer dinner.
“So, we preferred the heat to the colony of mosquitoes. I fell ill on two occasions. The first time, they brought their doctor who was also hooded and he give me some Malaria drugs. Then, the penultimate Thursday, when I was shaking because of the threats of death and the fear of horror, Maka Omoregbe that we were together started fanning me and pouring water on me.
“The kidnappers called their doctor on phone and said I should speak to him and they brought drugs for me. He came and gave me injections and to assure me, he brought out the syringe and showed me and said, SAN, look at it, we are not going to poison you.
“So, they gave me two injections, one on each side of my buttocks and they pierced my artery to give me an intravenous fluid. They treated me of Malaria and Typhoid and the next day I became better.”
He urged the FG to establish a foundation to carter for the welfare of the four slain officers’ children such that they will have secured education to university level, just as he prayed to God to console their loved ones.
Ozekhome said they had 24 hours guard at the building were they were held hostage, adding that even women and little children were also victims.
He decried the state of insecurity in the country, calling on the government to as a matter of urgency, offer amnesty to all kidnappers as well as declare emergency on security and youth unemployment.
The lawyer disclosed that his abductors did not profile him, as they only asked him information about him when he has been kidnapped. He noted that armed youths are angry with the system and have decided to take up arms against the state.
He disclosed that he was fed once a day and did not enjoy the comfort of fresh air because the place he was kept was mosquito infested.
He said: “My ordeal began on Friday August 23. I want Nigerians to know the danger we are into. I was not traveling in the night nor wee hours of the morning. I left Benin 2pm for my home town, having lost the wheel drummer of the Ozekhome family, Alhaji Yakubu Ozekhome . I also intended to see some friends and to go for an interview of the Knights of St. Molumba on Saturday and proceed to the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, and conference in Calabar, having paid my fees and booked my accommodation.
“I ran into the kidnappers some minutes past 3pm. It was my driver, Chinedu, who noticed that a vehicle had been used to block the road and he told me it is like those people were armed robbers. So, I told him to quickly turn but before he could turn, a gun was already on my head that if he moved an inch they will kill me.
“So, I told my driver to stay put. They dragged out of the car, dragged Chinedu out, shut the tire of the vehicle and locked him in the booth and pressed me to the ground. They said we should remain like that. As we were pressed, I heard them say, Police, Police, Police and they also said no retreat no surrender.
“I heard a staccato of bullets; it was like a war situation as they were firing continuously, I heard them say another car and the firing continued. And as they were firing, the car was moving and I heard them shout again, another vehicle, another vehicle. Then, they started another round of shooting.
“I heard them say, oh we have killed some of them, then tomorrow now, they will come out and lie that some of us were injured but none of his has been injured.
“The good news is that we have been delivered safe and unhurt. The bad news is that I was not profiled. We were never profiled or targeted, meaning that they merely operated randomly. It is bad news because it could have been any other person. Bad news because it was when we were in the car that they started asking preliminary questions like what is my name and I said Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN.
“They searched my pocket, took out the complimentary card and other things and held the card and asked me again what my fell names were and I told them. They said yes, that is what is written on your card.
“They said so, you are a lawyer, I said yes sir. They said how long you have practiced, I said 32 years. They said well even if you tell us lie, by tomorrow, we will know who you are from the press.
“We were driven through rough roads, through highways because we could feel it on the body on the kind of path we were, for about four and a half hours. We were taken far away from civilization and it was 24 hours guard.
“I am not talking of toy carrying kidnappers. They told me that they have cell units across Nigeria and reminded me about the kidnap of a footballer’s father, among others. They said they are everywhere.
“So, I asked them, with my face down, how did you know me then, they said they do not know me, that they just operated and caught me and that when they started reading of me in the media, they believed God allowed them to capture me so that international and national attention will be drawn to the issue of kidnapping.
“They advised me not to blame God but to glorify him because the things they have read of me are good things. Ofcourse they are always masked but even when they are talking; you dare not look up or at their direction.
“Death sentence was also hanged on us. The experience was horrific. We were psychologically and mentally tortured. We suffered from cyclical trauma and it was spiritually unnerving and physically delibilitating. It was the nearest thing to hell and if hell is worst than that, I pray that we never go to hell.
“The bad news is that any Nigerian, whether poor or rich could be a victim. In our unit where we were detained, there were others. There was a woman with her two little kids; there were two other women and their driver. We were about 13 in all. So, it shows that when they strike, they do not really care who you are but they know that you must have people out there they can deal with.
“We have in our hands, a national calamity, a clear danger, a situation that calls for urgent national rethinking and presidential intervention as soon as yesterday. Let no one deceive themselves that we are dealing with a little phenomenon. They told us that they cannot be caught by any security agency because their phones cannot be tracked and we asked why?
“They said can you see that we do not allow you to talk everyday? Can you see that you only talk once in three days? I said yes sir. They said that is because they make special preparations before we are allowed to talk.
“That where we were, before they speak to me, the person who will speak to me will have to travel across about four or five states outside our detention area and the person will be on a high way to make the call, after the person had made the call, they will connect me to the person that is representing me outside that they are in contact with.
They told me on one occasion that they are aware some security agencies went to Port Harcourt, Owerri to arrest innocent people.that they used all those ones as decoy because they cannot be so stupid to originate their calls from where their victims are detained.”
Continuing, Ozekhome described his abductors as well read people that speak impeccable English and talk philosophy.
He said while masked, the kidnappers discussed national issues with him including problems of the country and what they are fighting against.
He said: “They complained that the entire wealth of the nation has been cornered by less than one percent of Nigeria’s 170 million people while the vast majority eats from dustbin. One of them said he has been a graduate for over six years without a job, that if he had gotten a job of even N50, 000, he would not have taken up arms. They try to justify what they do so as to have some clean conscience. One said he has a brother who graduated 15 years ago with no jobs that they have to fend for their families and that when they make money from kidnapping; they also spread the money to help other people.
“I told them, I was also one of the marginalized. That I do not have money and have fought for the masses of this country all my life but they said well, we have captured you. Unfortunately, we did not know your name before now, else we would have called other cells and once they said yes, we would have dropped you somewhere.”
To Ozekhome, the government should as a matter of urgency, grant amnesty to kidnappers in order to bring us out of this national calamity.
“Because they have threatened that 2015 is when they will show their true colour, that the politicians have used and dumped them. That politicians were the ones who armed them with guns and so, they will not throw the guns and are ready for the politicians this time.
“As a matter of extreme urgency, the FG should grant amnesty for all kidnappers and institute an amnesty programme for all aggrieved youths to come out of the jungle, surrender their weapons and dialogue at a round table meeting.
“We asked them whether they will accept amnesty programme and they said if they are assured they will not be arrested or killed, that they will drop their guns and send their representatives.
“They said the predictions that Nigeria will breakup in 2015 may not be as corporate entity but that it will be unit by unit., that when armed gangs like them have been able to effectively take over some segments of the society, that is a breakup of those units.
“I want to suggest that FG should immediately declare a state of emergency on youth unemployment; lack of capacity; educational and infrastructural decay, which give birth to crimes such as terrorism and militancy.
“Another state of emergency on insecurity in Nigeria, which has made the security situation so porous that whether in the morning, afternoon or night we are unsafe.
“Having declared these emergencies, the FG should call on the National Assembly to amend the constitution under Section 9, to bring about state police. The argument against state police is primordial and arsenal. We must begin to have a police system as it is in the USA, such that if crime is committed in one state, the others will be contacted and they will act swiftly.
“Sections 214 and 215 of the constitution are now moribund and its provision too elephantine. We need to cry out loud because we are in a state of crisis. The FG must call a national talk shop, I do not care in whatever name it is called but Nigerians need to sit down at a round table and retool Nigeria. We need to reengineer the concept because Nigeria is still not one country. We are still not united.”
How my sons were kidnapped too
Ozekhome told all present how his son, Ilugbekhai Ozekhome and his adopted son, Dominic Ezerioha were abducted last Friday by same gang and kept with him till 7am yesterday when they were freed.
He said: “This is my son, Ilugbekhai and a junior lawyer in my Abuja chamber, Dominick, whom I also call my son because he is dear to my heart. Having given their numbers with my friend’s Benson Igbanoi, who was the chief negotiator, to the kidnappers, they said that they needed to negotiate with my children.
“They said they are the only people they want to step forward to negotiate with that they are the people they can trust. They called Benson and I told him to tell them and when he gave them the phone I told them I cannot deceive them that the kidnappers have said they want to negotiate with them and that I can only be released when they talk with them.
“As soon as the two of them came, they were also kidnapped and kept with me till this morning (Thursday morning).
“All of us in the camp were released and I believe they may disband the camp haven released us all.”
Ilugbekhai also narrated how they were abducted by four men, who he initially thought were policemen because they had bullet proof vests on.
He said the kidnappers had told him and Ezerioha to come to a particular place after they had asked them to drive through different routes within Benin City.
“They called us and asked us to stop there, somewhere around the bypass and less than three minutes after we stopped, four men wearing bullet proofs came to us and searched us to be sure we had no chips on. We drove through different route four about four hours with our faces down before we got to where my dad was.
How much was paid?
Ozekhome and his family denied disclosing the amount of money that was paid as ransom to the kidnappers. He said his family was in contact with the kidnappers and he does not know the amount that was given. He quickly remarked that a hunter does not narrate details of his encounters during his odyssey in the forest.
His best friend and chief negotiator, Igbanoi told The Nation that he made several offers to the kidnappers up to the tune of N30 million.
He said: “Yes, I was in touch with them, I offered them N10M, N20M and even N30M but they did not accept my offers. My duty was to negotiate and it was the family’s responsibility to carryon so, at a point, I stopped. I was still in touch with them but they neither accepted nor rejected my offer.
“Surprisingly, I was called this morning to pick up my friend by 7am in Benin, which I gladly did. So, I cannot tell you for sure what was paid or not paid. We are just happy they are free now. We did not arrive at anything, I kept making offerings. The strategy they adopted was such that they never got to a point of accepting or rejecting so we kept negotiating. As the chief negotiator, I stopped at a particular point it was exclusively the Ozekhome affair if a ransom was paid.
However, The Nation gathered from a source within the family that N15 million was paid as ransom to secure his release.
The source said: “Just like the Benin based activist who was kidnapped the same with Ozekhome, N15 million was paid for each of them to be released.
“Yes, the family had offered N10 million but they turned it down. By Friday, N15 million was given but was rejected for Ozekhome while the activist was released. So, it is a good thing that they have finally set them free.”
Ozekhome rededicates self to activism
Having successfully come out of the den of kidnappers, Ozekhome said he has void to continue his struggle for the common man. He said the kidnappers urged him not to relent in his fight for the marginalized.
“They told me not to give up the struggle that from all they have read about me, I should continue in my struggle for the oppressed. Because of that, I promised my God and Nigerians that I rededicate myself to the fight for justice and for the oppressed. I rededicate myself to the cause of the Nigerian masses, the rejected, denied, oppressed, marginalized and down trodden.
“I recommend to all of you to read Psalms 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 19, 91, 141, 142, 143, 145; Isaiah 54:14; Lamentation 3:37, Genesis 3:14… go and read the Bible, read the word of God.”
The gates to his Igando, Lagos residence were swung wide open, visitors trooped in and out as jubilants masked themselves with chalk and danced for joy in expectation Chief Mike Ozekhome, who was released yesterday morning from the den of kidnappers in Edo State.
At about 11:30am, Ozekhome was driven into his compound in a black jeep by a relative, Ibrahim Oseni, who had left earlier to pick him at the airport. He was dressed in blue jeans, blue and red t-shirt and a blue face cap. He looked unkempt obviously not had the opportunity to shave in the last three weeks.
Ozekhome, like others who were there decorated themselves with white chalk, which according to his elder brother, Dr. Francis Ozekhome, signified glorification to the Supreme Being.
Tears of joy ran down his cheeks and he joined his people to dance round his compound before proceeding upstairs to prepare for the briefing.
A cooling van was packed and drinks served to guests while people sat in clusters and wore happy faces.
While Ozekhome resurfaced hours later with his wife, he looked cleaner and was elevated by jubilants who carried him round his compound chanting praises to God.
Filled with emotions, the lawyer prostrated and prayed to God while tears of joy ran down his cheeks as he addressed newsmen.
He thanked all who stood by his family during their period of tribulations.
By Precious Igbonwelundu