Abductions: Panic in Lagos’ posh areas

•Gunmen kidnap six in 24 hours •IGP sends intelligence team over AVM Smith, other victims

THERE is a security alert in Lagos State following the abduction of six residents within 24 hours. Lagos Island is particularly witnessing a flurry of upgraded security measures where most of the victims were kidnapped. 

Beyond the neighbourhoods of wealthy residents of the state, there is a general sense of apprehension among residents after a security company, Eons Intelligence, released another advisory asking the residents to look out for the red flags in their daily interactions. 

The advisory specifically asked residents to rely more on technology in finding their ways round town rather than seek help from human beings who might turn out to be kidnappers on the prowl. 

The intelligence officers behind the public-spirited guide also gave hints about daily movement. The advisory has gone viral, although the state police command is sounding reassuring. 

As communities grapple with the unfolding security reality, Saturday Tribune also learnt that the Inspector General of Police, Usman Alkali Baba, has directed the special intelligence team attached to his office to commence immediate collaboration with the state command for the rescue of those still in captivity of the kidnappers. 

The unit, known as Inspector General of Police Intelligence Response Team, is headed by Mr Tunji Disu, an assistant commissioner of police, who replaced celebrity cop, Abba Kyari, who has been suspended following his indictment for money laundering in the United States. 

An officer on the team confirmed the development to Saturday Tribune, although he said he was not authorised to speak about it publicly. 

Lagos State may not be new to of kidnapping occasional cases incidents but happenings in the last one week have given many residents a cause to worry. 

The height of the kidnapping incidents was the abduction of a retired Air Vice Marshal (AVM) Sikiru Smith, cousin to a former Inspector General of Police, Musiliu Smith, who currently heads the Police Service Commission. 

Smith, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Double Wealth Ventures Limited, had on Monday gone to supervise dredging activities of the financial institution in the Ajah area of the state, when hooded gunmen invaded the area and abducted him. 

The driver to the abducted military top brass, Corporal Odiji, who revealed the incident in a Save-Our-Soul message, said that the masked men arrived at the scene of the abduction in a speed boat and fired sporadic gunshots to scare workers at the site before going for their target. 

Odiji said: “This is an emergency. I am Corporal Odiji attached to Air Vice Marshal Smith. They just abducted him from the site where we were working. Some gunmen who were wearing masks just came and snatched my boss. 

“They shot everywhere. I was near where I was fixing my boss’s vehicle. As I was coming, I saw them leaving in a boat but I wasn’t armed. So, I just ran to his site. I saw his glasses and where he struggled with them. Please, pass the information. It is an emergency.” 

The abduction of the retired AVM occurred less than 24 hours after a man, Ogbuagu Kingsley, was abducted in the auditorium of a church in the FESTAC Town area of the state. 

The armed abductors were said to have arrived in a Lexus Sports Utility vehicle, forced their way into the church and abducted their target. 

Kingsley’s friends quickly launched a viral online search for him with celebrities like popular ENDSARS campaigner, Rinu Oduala and others retweeting the report of his abduction. Days after, the state police command said he had been rescued and reunited with his family. 

There were no details of his rescue and no words on whether ransom was paid. 

Also about the same time Kingsley was picked up, a yet-tobe identified man was also reportedly abducted, by another gang of masked men along Admiralty Way in the Lekki area of the state. 

Worried by the spike in kidnapping rate in the state, Eons Intelligence released some security tips for residents of the state in an attempt to guard against kidnapping and other forms of crime. 

The company stated that apart from AVM Smith, Lekki and FESTAC abductions, there was another incident where a pastor, his wife and their driver were abducted by some hooded gunmen in the Dopemu area of the state. It was gathered that the gunmen later abandoned the driver and took the pastor and his wife away, demanding N100 million. 

They were said to have later released the wife and reduced the ransom to N50 million. The released wife was to go and coordinate the ransom payment. 

The police later confirmed the abduction of the pastor, promising to secure his release soon. Nothing was mentioned about the demanded ransom. 

Scorched-earth response? 

Obviously still smarting from the loss of one of its officers to a recent mob attack, the state police command has gone all out to battle the uptick in kidnapping in the state, leading to the killing of two suspected kidnappers during a raid in Ikorodu early Thursday. 

The police said it was a burst operation that resulted in exchange of gunfire. While another member of the said gang, Peter Thomas, 25, was arrested, the state Commissioner of Police, Hakeem Odumosu, said some suspects were equally arrested in connection with Smith’s abduction. Their identities remained under wraps. 

Odumosu said: “The long arm of the law has caught up with a notorious kidnap gang as operatives of the Lagos State police command smashed the gang in its criminal hideout in the deep forest in Imota/Emuren area of Lagos State. 

“The forest has been notorious for keeping their victims and collection of ransom for which one Lukmon Onabanjo, alias Bugon, was a victim in recent past. The successful operation started at about 23:30 hrs on 29th September, 2021 after days of intelligence monitoring on the gang. 

“The recent kidnapping incident in the state further invigorated the determination of the command not to allow the criminals turn the state to a theater of kidnapping. On sighting the police operatives, the daredevil armed kidnappers engaged them in a shootout that lasted for some hours. 

“In a determined and courageous spirit, the operatives returned the heavy fire. In the ensuing gun battle, two of the suspected armed kidnappers were fatally injured but later gave up the ghost, while being conveyed to the hospital for medical attention. 

“One was arrested alive. Other members of the gang escaped with bullet wounds. Manhunt and security onslaught have been emplaced for their arrest.” 

Living in denial? 

But the command won’t agree to the conclusion that kidnapping is on the rise in the state. Earlier, the spokesperson, Adekunle Ajisebutu, had said: “The Lagos State Commissioner of Police, CP Hakeem Odumosu, wishes to assure residents that Lagos State is safe and that they should not panic on account of the viral post or the recent security infringement in Ajah where AVM Sikiru Smith (rtd) was abducted on 27th September, 2021. 

“The assurance becomes imperative in view of the unnecessary alarm and concerns being raised on the social media about isolated security infractions in some parts of the state. 

“The victim, who was kidnapped in FESTAC on Sunday, 26th September, 2021, has been rescued and reunited with his family. Operatives of the command are being tactical so as not to jeopardise the lives of the AVM and the pastor. Concerted efforts are ongoing to rescue them and arrest their abductors in due course.

“The Commissioner of Police wishes to state that the isolated incidents notwithstanding, Lagos State is, and will remain, one of the safest states in Nigeria. To allay the fear of the people, therefore, the command has re-strategised to provide watertight security for all law-abiding residents of the State.” 

He added: “The Commissioner of Police has given standing order to all field commanders, tactical unit commanders and other uniformed and plain-clothed police officers to intensify visibility policing, vehicular patrol as well as intelligence-driven raid of all flashpoints/black spots and identified criminal hideouts to smoke out men of the underworld hibernating in them. 

“The CP also wishes to state that the police command is conscious of its statutory duties of protecting lives and property among other duties, and would not for any reason or at any time abdicate these important duties. 

“While still pleading with members of the public to believe in police’s ability to protect them at all times, the Commissioner of Police once again solicits the support of the public, sister agencies and other strategic partners by giving prompt but actionable intelligence that would further decimate criminal elements and their nefarious activities in the state.” 

A crisis foretold? 

In September 2020, Saturday Tribune published an exclusive report on an armed youth from Northern part of the country spotted with branded security uniform in Lekki with the inscription ‘Gallant Vigilante, Makoko Division’. 

He was immediately declared an impostor by the authorities and security agencies in the state but the man could not be fished out despite the reported manhunt launched for him and his group. An eyewitness, a resident of Lekki, who posted the troubling image on the social media, claimed that he traced the youth to an uncompleted building where about 50 of his kind gathered. 

Here is excerpt from the story: “I took a bike from Tantalizer to Elf Estate. When we got to Oba Adenekan Estate, there were five Northern guys with the rider, making six of them. They spoke Hausa and my okada rider opened a plastic bag and brought out a vest with an inscription ‘Galant Vigilante Makoko Zone’ and wore it. The rider dropped me off and then turned back. 

“However, I took another bike and traced them back to an uncompleted building by Zenith Bank around Elf Estate. The gateman and the first bike rider were conversing and that was when I took the picture posted above (referring to a picture of an okada rider in a security man’s vest). It seemed he showed the gateman an ID and he was let in. There were at least 50 people in that building. 

“Why would someone wear a Makoko Vigilante shirt and be in Lekki? The first rider had a tear gas and a knife on him and another okada rider had a pistol. Makoko is far from Lekki, and they are all in Lekki holding a meeting. That means that they are throughout Lagos. Let us all be careful.”

The viral photo obviously caught the attention of the state police command which empowered the War Against Indiscipline (WAI) in the state, led by Adetayo Kehinde and Vigilante Group of Nigeria (VGN), to fish them out and apprehend the members wherever they are found. Nothing was heard about them again. 

A resident of Ajah who identified himself simply as Obafemi, while speaking on the Admiralty Way abduction, said: “We have raised the alarm on the activities of criminals in the Lekki area of the state for some time but the police and other security agencies have not listened. 

“With what we have witnessed in recent times, this (abduction) may just be a tip of the iceberg. There are signs that more ugly criminal incidents may be recorded in this area. The police must allow their presence to be felt. There is a strong need to deploy more men and equipment, especially to riverine areas. 

“The state government should see this as a wake-up call. They should go after the abductors to give a strong warning to others, who may be anticipating similar things in the state. If these ones are allowed to go scot-free, that may embolden other criminals, who (used to) see the state as a no-go-area.” 

‘Ask Google’ 

Eons Intelligence, the private security outfit, which posts regular updates on the security situation in the state, has come out with fresh warning and red flags. In the latest advisory released on the social media, it said: “Kidnappers are on the prowl as Lagos witnessed three kidnapping incidents on 27 September, 2021: An Air Vice Marshall, Sikiru Oladimeji Smith (rtd), was kidnapped at a worksite near Blenco Mall in Ajah circa 6pm and taken away in a speedboat towards Ikorodu. 

“Another victim was kidnapped at Admiralty way Lekki on his way from work and whisked away to an unknown destination, while a prominent RCCG pastor and his wife were kidnapped while returning from a function at Dopemu-Agege, and whisked away in their car. 

“The gunmen later released the wife to source for a N50 million ransom (brought down from the initial N100 million demanded). 

“The above are sequel to the kidnapping of Mr Kingsley Ogbuagu at the Roman Catholic Church of Visitation, FESTAC Town, on the previous day (Sunday). 

“Situational and personal awareness and high level of alertness is very strongly advised. When driving in Lagos traffic, keep your windows up and doors locked. Do not pick or stop to talk to strangers. If you must ask for directions, enter a secure public place to ask, e.g., fuel station or shopping mall. Alternatively, use Google Maps to get directions.” 

A security expert, Dipo Kehinde, told Saturday Tribune that the spike in kidnapping was expected for many reasons. 

Kehinde said: “Entering into the ember months, under a harsh economic climate and increasing lawlessness, one should expect a spike in the crime rate, especially kidnapping, which is the in-thing in Lagos, Nigeria’s leading urban centre, commercial nerve-centre and economic honey pot. 

“It is the largest city in Sub-Saharan Africa with over 23 million people. The city is a magnetic field attracting a vast multitude of jobless people from every part of the country without necessary control or documentation. “The present development is not coming as a surprise to me. But I think the police should take more proactive steps to stem the tide of the rising crime or, better still, nip it in the bud with intelligence-led policing strategies. “Already, the Lagos State police command has launched the highway patrol units. It is coming a bit late but it is better late than never.” He, however, urged residents of the state to be more conscious of their security and not expect the police and other law enforcement agencies to do it alone.

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