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Escape from daredevil kidnappers

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A section of the car showing bullet holes. Inset IGP.

The day was January 2, 2018. Prince Innocent Eleogu, a food chemicals and additives importer, who does business in Lagos, had travelled to Azunchai in Ariam­-Usaka community, Ikwuano Local Government Area, Abia State.

The homecoming was for the burial of Chief Ibezim, the father of his brother-in-law, Mr. Ferdinand Ibezim, and also to celebrate Christmas.

With wife and five children, Eleogu left Azunchai for Ichida, Anambra State, to attend a friend’s house-warming event. It was already late when they set off.

Had he not been scheduled to have a meeting of his Ariam-Usaka Development Initiative (AUDI), a platform of professionals dedicated to the development of the 15 villages that make up the community, and of which he is the vice chairman, the family would have passed the night in Ichida. With their three-month old baby, they began the ill-fated journey.

Eleogu was not conversant with the route, and he went in the wrong direction. Confused at an intersection, a motorcyclist appeared and offered to help.

It was only then he realised the family was somewhere in Arondizuogu in Imo State, instead of being along Okigwe, the route to Umuahia according to plan.

The motorcyclist directed they turn left and on to a rustic road. Less than 10 minutes after the detour, three men emerged from the bush and opened fire on the family’s 2016 Ford Explorer SUV.

Eleogu had to think fast. He stopped the car in order to save the family, but not until the vehicle had received 30 bullet holes.

The assailants ordered the family to lie face down on the road, hitting them with the butts of their guns. They ransacked the car and took all the money -N170,000 and $470.

They also grabbed all the jewellery his wife had taken along for the Christmas trip. They dragged the family further into the bush and blindfolded everyone except the little baby.

Eleogu’s wife had ironically thought the jewellery would be safer in the car rather than at the house where an unscrupulous visitor might have pinched them.

After stripping the family of its possessions, the armed men dropped the bombshell: “WE ARE KIDNAPPERS!” Eleogu and his family knew they had been thrust into a sinister ordeal. They had heard stories about people getting abducted. Now, they had become victims.

The kidnappers disclosed their price: a N20 million ransom. At this point, the family discovered there were also two other victims in the bush, a man and his daughter.

At about 10:00 p.m., the kidnappers decided to let go of Eleogu’s wife and four of the children, leaving behind father and first child, a boy.

But there was no way the released persons would have made the journey, having been stripped of everything. Graciously, the kidnappers gave her N10,000 for a fare.

Fate smiled on the family. The kidnappers released the other victim, who was allowed to leave with his car, having had part of his ransom paid. They kept back his daughter, until he would turn up with the balance. It was this man that eventually helped Eleogu’s wife and children to get out of the bush.

Mother and children then trekked a long distance until she met some men drinking by the roadside. There, she charged her phone’s flat battery, and thereafter luckily found a vehicle that took them to Umuahia.

At about midnight, the abductors drove their victims to another location. Eleogu noticed that for security reasons, the men never used their own phones to make calls, preferring to use his instead.

Eleogu’s very good friend, Obi Adibe, brokered the negotiation. He had once suffered similar fate and was best suited to undertake the delicate bargain.

“They shifted from N20m down to N5m. Their strategy was to keep the phone line open, so that negotiators and fundraisers would be monitored.

They had nothing to worry about, since it was his phone they were using. That meant that they were fully aware how friends, associates and family were raising the ransom.

“They threatened to move me into another bush. This was even after N1.6m had been raised. They vowed to increase the sum, if they move me on account of failure to complete the money.

Anxiety peaked. And so, at about 5:00 p.m., the second day, N2.8m was gathered. The kidnappers insisted I must make the ransom N3m. Fortunately, God used another friend to complete the amount.”

Having gathered the money, the kidnappers reeled out a list of demands: the money must be delivered that night; the bearer must not drive to the location where they would receive the money; the bearer must come to Okigwe Park; he must be careful lest he falls into the hands of the many robbers on the road and Eleogu’s friends and family be forced to begin gathering the money all over again.

The bearer, Chigozie Nnochiri, is Eleogu’s bosom friend. He opened communication with the kidnappers and was directed to Okigwe Park.

When he arrived, they were incensed that he drove a car with tinted windows. They called the men where Eleogu was held; warning that the bearer acted suspiciously and the deal could go wrong.

So infuriated were they; a command was given that Eleogu should be shot.

Immediately the order was given, “The guard behind me cocked his gun in readiness to shoot. But God used one of them to save me. He shouted at the guard not to try it, saying that is not how the job is done. Sensing danger was about to befall me, he pushed the guard with the gun away.

The weapon went off. Immediately after the gun fired, another order came from where the ransom was being awaited that I should not be shot because they had met with the bearer and the situation was under control. I would have been killed.”

Tension peaked when a bank credit alert suddenly appeared on Eleogu’s phone, exposing his current balance. This made the kidnappers to step up pressure; convinced he was rich enough to pay a better ransom.

The man that saved Eleogu from being shot picked interest in the prince and in his business appeal. He began to unveil his personal challenges. He told the prince how he had left his family in South Africa, hoping to raise some money for business and thereafter settle down. He almost divulged his telephone number to Eleogu but changed his mind, saying: “You know this our line of business. I don’t really need to give you my contact. But I believe someday we shall meet.”

The kidnappers could also have killed Eleogu for another reason. Shortly after the abduction, they discovered he was a police spy. They saw different police insignia around him, including on his vehicle’s number plate.

They concluded they would finish him off after the ransom had been paid, in retaliation for the death of their colleagues at the hands of the police.

Delivering the ransom was tortuous. The bearer was being ordered about in the thick of night. At Okigwe Park, they instructed him to walk down the road. Later, they asked him to take a bike. A rider appeared, who asked for N600 as fare.

A short while later, he was asked to stop and walk on a bush path on the right hand side of the road. This led to a swamp. Overcome by fear for his life, he contemplated abandoning the rescue.

Then the men called and ordered him to retrace his step further up the road.

Soon, he saw the motorcyclist. Again, he was taken back to the very point where the entire mission started.

There, they asked him to drop the ransom on the same right path and retreat quickly. The motorcyclist immediately drove him a distance and demanded N1000.

The bearer commenced frantic efforts to ascertain the abductors had picked the ransom. But it was to no avail. They had severed communication. He became gripped by apprehension.

He recalled the kidnappers’ warning about robbers and wondered if some other criminal gang had picked the ransom. It was unthinkable.

“At this time, they were counting the money to confirm the total because they didn’t want to be beaten to the game. They took time to ensure its accuracy.

Then they shared it. All the while, their names were coded, so you would not know who was involved. At some point, a quarrel broke out over the sharing formula. But they quickly resolved it.”

Some people who participated in the entire action without being in the bush also received their shares. The motorcyclist was most probably a part of the team, given his suspicious role.

After they had shared the money, the bearer was asked to return to the point where he dropped the ransom and pick up the prince and his son.

“And so, at about midnight, they took us there. They also gave me N10,000 to pass the night in a hotel, since it was late and dangerous to head for home.

They told me to proceed to a place called Amaraku on the way to Owerri, off Okigwe Road, where I would pick my car at a junction,” Eleogu recalled his last conversation with the abductors.


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