Police and doubtful feats in kidnap rescues
The Nigeria Police Force prides itself as one of the best in the continent, based on exploits in international assignments. Sometime ago, the former Under-Secretary General of the United Nations, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, even rated the force as the best in the world, in terms of peacekeeping operations. But the same cannot be said about their performances at home. While they appear to be so wonderful abroad, they look very doubful at home.
At the moment, it appears the force is lagging behind in the area of rescue operations, considering several cases of unresolved kidnapping, murder and other related criminal activities, which put a question mark on the force’s credibility.
What appears to have further weakened the credibility of the police is the recent kidnap of elder statesman and former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Olu Falae, and three female students, which resulted in claims and counter-claims by the victims, their families and the police on the eventual rescue operation.
Abductors of Falae, who was kidnapped at his farm near Akure, the Ondo State capital, had demanded N100m ransom, but later reduced it to N90m. Four days after the abduction, Falae was freed on September 24, 2015. The police, which ruled out payment of any ransom for the release, said its personnel, in an operation coordinated by its boss, the Inspector General, Solomon Arase, rescued the former All Peoples Party (APP) Presidential candidate in the 1999 General Election.
The Force Public Relations Officer (FPRO), Ms. Olabisi Kolawole, blew its trumpet thus; “The rescue of Falae was made possible, as the Inspector-General of Police, Arase, coordinated both aerial and land operations to ensure the freedom of the former presidential candidate of the APP.
“The operation, which started in the early hours of the aforementioned date, combed every nook and cranny of Ondo State till success was achieved in Owo.”
But on September 28, Falae confessed that his family paid ransom to his abductors, noting that the kidnappers freed him after they received payment. Contrary to police claim, Falae said he trekked 15 kilometres before the police in Owo picked him up, several kilometres from Akure.
The former minister’s disclosure rubbished the claim by the police that no ransom was paid before his release.Another one was the incident of February 29, 2016, when gunmen kidnapped three female students of Babington Macaulay Junior Seminary (BMJS), Ikorodu, Lagos-Timilehin Olosa, Tofunmi Popoolaniyan and Deborah Akinayo. They were abducted at about 8pm from their boarding school located at Agunfoye-Lugbusi village in Ikorodu area.
The abductors, numbering 15 heavily armed men, who reportedly dug a hole under the fence surrounding the school, started sporadic shootings and overpowered the security personnel in the premises.
Initially, the kidnappers demanded N100m for each of students, but they later succumbed to passionate pleas of parents and the school and reduced it to N20m before it was finally reduced to N10m.
On Sunday, March 6, the police confirmed the rescue of the abducted schoolgirls. They also claimed to have apprehended three suspects in the course of the rescue mission. According to them, the girls were rescued at the Igbokuta area of Ikorodu, unharmed and were not molested by their kidnappers.
The State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Fatai Owoseni, boasted to the world then, that no ransom was paid to the kidnappers before the rescue operation, insisting that the police utilised intelligence reports.
“When you talk about ransom in cases like this, you are glorifying kidnapping. We should not be talking about ransom anymore in this country, because if you do, you are telling others that kidnapping is viable and you can go and kidnap people to collect money.
“But I want to also say that what was employed in rescuing the girls is more of application of intelligence-led policing, using the platform of technology, partnering with members of the community and pressures on the kidnappers, because what we have done is that we also went for members of the kidnappers’ families, including their mothers, their fathers, their children and with that pressure they found out that there was no way again for them to keep on keeping the girls and that was what led to the success we recorded in rescuing the girls.”
But a few days after the purported police rescue mission, parents of the abducted children confirmed that ransoms were paid to aid the release of their children.
When The Guardian spoke with the father of one of the victims, Mr. Toyin Popoolaniyan, on phone, he refused to make any comment on the issue. He directed our reporter to the school authorities.
But a parent, who doesn’t want his name, mentioned told The Guardian that the sum of N10m was actually paid to the kidnappers, after serious negotiation with the school. “The school actually negotiated for their release and we already knew that they would be released that day, because the ransom was already paid. The parents provided N5m, while the school also gave N5m. They were supposed to be released on Saturday, March 5, after the negotiation, that was why the school sent text messages to all parents, but it wasn’t possible that day. We were sure they’d be released unharmed.
“The negotiation was through the father of one of the culprits. The father mounted pressure on the kidnappers, which yielded the result. When the girls were released overnight, they were given N5, 000 each for transportation, but they were stranded, it was there the police saw them, took them and started making noise that they had rescued them. It was just a false claim.”
Despite the parents’ position, the police insisted that no ransom was paid. According to the PPRO Zone 2, Command Headquarters, Onikan, Lagos, CSP Adebowale Lawal, who spoke with The Guardian on phone, he disclosed that the police is not aware of any ransom paid, adding that it was after the arrest of the suspects that the students were released.“Nobody paid any ransom to anybody, and if they paid we are not aware, the police is not aware, we made the arrest and rescued the girls.”
This has not only confused Nigerians, it has also cast aspersion on the image of the police. Those who spoke with The Guardian unanimously claim that the propaganda of the police will not in any way assist the image they are struggling to build. They added that in their own interest, they should have stated what actually happened instead of taking credit for exploits they do not merit.
The same situation played out when a 10-man kidnap gang seized Professor Mabel Kamene Titi Okonjo, mother of the former Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Finance, Dr. (Mrs.) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, at Ogwashi-Uku, Delta State.
The 82-year-old retired professor of sociology, University of Nigeria, UNN, Nsukka, was released, Friday morning, by her kidnappers in Benin City, Edo State, after collecting some ransom.
Prior to the release, speculations were rife that Mrs. Okonjo’s abductors had made various demands, including an initial demand for about N1billion, which they later reportedly reduced to N200 million, claims the police said they were not aware of.
It was gathered that between N10m and N11m ransom was before she was released. It was after the kidnappers satisfied themselves that the Okonjos kept their side of the bargain that they released the family’s matriarch. Though, police denied the report of any ransom being paid.
The latest was the abduction of a former minister, senator Iyabo Anisulowo, who was kidnapped on Wednesday, April 27 on the Sawonjo-Iganokoto road in Yewa-South Council Area of Ogun State. She was released on Tuesday, May 3, exactly one week after she was kidnapped.
As usual, the State Police Command said it was responsible for her rescue. According to a statement issued by the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Muyiwa Adejobi, in Abeokuta, he said Anisulowo was rescued at about 7.p.m. at Gbegbelawo village, near Olorunda town in Abeokuta North Council Area, noting that two suspects were also arrested.
Before the said rescue, the state Commissioner of Police, Abdulmajid Ali, and other senior officers of the command claimed they had relocated to the local government where the woman was abducted, but she was rescued at the state capital.
The state governor, Ibikunle Amosun, who received the senator in his Isale-Igbehin Government House, commended the security agencies, which deployed their personnel and equipment in the rescue effort. He said though the abductors demanded a ransom of N200m, nothing was eventually paid.
As at the time of filing this report, the victim is yet to open up if any ransom was actually paid.But a Security expert, Deacon Sunday Solanke, differed on this, saying if any ransom was paid, the police would never own up to it, since they were not part of the negotiating team.
Solanke, who is the Coordinator of Community Policing Partnership Association of Nigeria (CPPAN), said not all efforts in life always end in positive note, stressing that the police really made effort of rescuing victims, but maybe, because of fear and desperation of families members, they are forced to pay ransoms, which make the police look ineffective.
“There is no where in the world that the police system is perfect, they cannot eradicate crime, they can only bring it down to a minimal level. But the fact that they set out to rescue is a credit, you cannot say they are not working, they will not accept that it was the ransom that led to victims’ release, its human
“Anywhere in the world, if you are not part of the negotiating team, you cannot come out and own up. It is not official, it is illegal, and it is not acceptable. There is no institution that will accept that, the police will never own up,” he said.