By Emma Nnadozie, Evelyn Usman, Olasunkanmi Akoni, Ifeanyi Okolie & Monsuru Olowoopejo
LAGOS — The unmasking of the criminal gang that abducted the traditional ruler of Iba in Lagos State, Oba Goriola Oseni, three weeks ago, has also exposed how the gangs have cordoned off riverine areas of Lagos and Ogun states with seven camps manned by 800 members, all registered.
Each of the camps is led by a ‘General’ and his foot soldiers, all operating in a typical military hierarchy.
This revelation came as Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, yesterday, vowed to punish suspected kidnappers of the traditional ruler, stating that they would face the full wrath of the law.
The governor described the abduction as “a sacrilege and a complete desecration of Yoruba cultural values.”
Meanwhile, three other suspects were arrested by the Police, yesterday, after the initial arrest of two members of the gang on Saturday.
The suspects confessed that they were paid N15.1 million ransom to free the Oba.
So far, security agents have succeeded in recovering a register containing names of most of the vandals operating in the creeks. The list contains 800 names, with some of their pictures on display.
Leader of the gang, identified as Duba Furejo, popularly called ‘General’ Duba, as reliably gathered, was arrested by operatives of the Inspector-General of Police Special Intelligence Response Team, led by its commander, Abba Kyari, and those of the Special Anti -Robbery Squad, SARS of the Lagos State Police command at about 5pm on Saturday.
Duba, a native of Arogbo in Ese-Odo Local Government Area of Ondo State and leader of a militant camp in Ijegemo creeks, Isheri area of the state, was arrested at Iyana school, along Iba/LASU road, moments after the monarch was released.
He reportedly came out of the creeks after sharing the ransom among his members, with an intention to flee to his home town.
His second in-command, identified as Ododomu Isaiah, was arrested at about 6am, yesterday, at Iyana-Ipaja, while trying to board a vehicle to Ondo State.
Both suspects were paraded, yesterday, by Governor Ambode and Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Mr Fatai Owoseni, at the State House, Alausa.
However, three other suspected members of the gang were arrested, yesterday afternoon, in Igando area of Lagos State..
The suspects with undisclosed identities were arrested, following confessional statement by one of those arrested, identified as Isaiah.
Vanguard was reliably informed that the suspect arrested at Igando got N800,000 from the ransom paid for the monarch’s release.
Impeccable police sources revealed that N12 million was initially paid as ransom for the release of Oba Oseni, out of which ‘General’ Duba got N1m.
But he was said to have been angry, as he felt he was short changed. Rather than release the monarch as instructed by the leader of another militant camp, he (Duba) took the monarch to his creeks in Ijegemo, where an additional N5 million was demanded as ransom.
However, after much plea and persuasion from the monarch’s family, N3.1 million was reportedly paid for his release, out of which ‘General’ Duba got N600,000. His second-in-command, Isaiah, got N400,000, while the rest was shared among other members.
Military to the rescue
With the ongoing operation against pipeline vandals and militants in Arepo and Ikorodu areas of Lagos State, the militants, it was gathered, fled to Ijegemo creeks to seek solace. Some of them have, however, gone into hiding.
As at yesterday, fighter jets from Nigerian Air Force were sighted hovering round Arepo and Ikorodu areas.
Chairman of the operation, code named ‘Operation AWATHE’ and Flag Officer Commanding FOC Western Naval Command, Rear Admiral Fergusson Bobai, assured that the operation would be sustained.
Information at Vanguard’s disposal revealed that there are over seven creeks manned by militants in Arepo and Lagos State. Initially, the militants reportedly worked as a team with their head quarters and colony in Arepo, Ogun State. Military sources said four major camps, tagged “Target A, B, C and D”, are situated within Ishawo, Ibafo, Elepete areas and are interlinked.
Along the line, they dispersed into different groups, following arguments over sharing formula. It was gathered that the Arepo creeks were divided into four major camps. One of the camps located in Ikorodu is headed by one ‘General’ Ossy.
He oversees all creeks around Ishawo, Konu among others. Another leader, identified as ‘General’ Agbala, oversees all creeks around Elepete, Igbolomu and neighbouring creeks in Ogun state. Due to a disagreement among some of them, they spread their domain to Ijegemo, in Isheri area of Lagos where one TK was the head.
Unfortunately, for him,TK was killed during a cross fire with the police, during a robbery operation. Late TK’s second-in-command, with an undisclosed identity, was said to have taken over the Ijegemo camp. Another creek with over 12 camps is also located in Ijegemo area, headed by one Kakandu group.
Recovery of register
Military sources disclosed that the register used by the vandals have been recovered from their creek. According to the sources, we have recovered their register and they have about 800 members with a General commanding each of their camps.
“We also have some of their pictures. They categorized their ranks like that of the military. The camps are not easily accessible because of the swamps. That is why government should not spare any of the buildings in and around the creeks. They all have innumerable number of gallons used in aiding the illicit trade in oil.
“For a permanent solution, government should use swamp buggy in clearing the creeks and its surroundings. It is like a caterpillar but it operates on water. This is because we cannot keep our soldiers for more than three months inside the creeks. They are human beings. And, of course, if we leave the creeks, business will continue as usual. It is only by clearing the whole area that we can operate from any distance and stop their criminal activities.”
How I was freed — Iba monarch
The kidnapped monarch narrated to Vanguard how he regained freedom after three weeks in captivity.
He said: “I thank God for sparing my life in the hands of the kidnappers. My family, indeed, paid ransom to the kidnappers but I don’t know the exact amount. I was released at about 7.45 pm, on Saturday. They left me alone in a canoe from one of the creeks. Because I know how to paddle a canoe, I was able to navigate my way to Iba area. Having paddled for awhile on the water, I saw a man standing by the bank who told me I was in Iba and from there, I located my way back to the palace while clad in a boxer and singlet.”
Asked how he was treated, Oseni said,” I was well treated and fed.”
Meanwhile, the palace, yesterday, became a Mecca of some sort as well wishers continued to throng the place. Family members have also engaged in series of prayer sessions in gratitude to God for the safe return of the monarch.
A family source who preferred anonymity, claimed the state government did not assist with payment of ransom running into several millions. It was also gathered that the monarch suspected insiders’ link with the kidnap saga as there are acrimonies between him and some people in the community over certain issues.
We will punish kidnappers of Iba monarch–Ambode
Meanwhile, Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, yesterday, vowed to punish the suspected kidnappers of the monarch.
He said the kidnappers would face the full wrath of the law, even as he described it as “a sacrilege and a complete desecretion of the Yoruba cultural values.”
Ambode, while briefing newsmen at Lagos House, Alausa, Ikeja, on the release of the Oniba of Iba and parade of two suspected kidnappers through the state’s Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Adeniji Kazeem, noted that though kidnapping was an offence, abduction of an Oba was a sacrilege that should attract strict punishment in Yoruba land.
Suspects’ confession Isaiah Ofodumu
A member of the nine-man kidnap gang, who simply gave his name as Isaiah Dodomu, who hails from Ondo State, paraded alongside another suspect identified as Toba Forejo from Ondo State, said the monarch was kept for 21 days in the Ijegemo Creek, Igando, Ikotun Local Council Development Area, LCDA, a location where they had been engaging in pipeline vandalism.
They gave the names of other gang members still at large as: Godogodo, Mighty, Sam (the one who showed the kidnappers the route), Folly, and three others.
According to Toba, “I was arrested at Iyana-School bus stop by the security operatives.”
Explaining their profession before embarking on kidnapping, Isaiah said: “I was previously involved in pipeline vandalism. But since President Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in, it had not been business as usual. Understanding the impact of the administration on our vandalism business, our leaders directed that we should start kidnapping and we started with minor kidnapping.”