The suspects were hunted down across three states – Ondo, Ogun and Delta states – after they got a N12m ransom to free the landlords.
Five suspects – Natei Okunna, James Akegbe, Thank-God Jegede, Trust Bourdillon and Timi Inomi – who carried out the kidnap of four landlords in Isheri North area of Lagos State on September 17, are now in the custody of the Inspector-General of Police Response Team.
PUNCH had reported that the landlords, Kennedy Ucheagwu, Dr. Omololu Bello, Fidelis Esang and their trainer, Olalere Olawale, were jogging around their area when they were abducted at gunpoint by the suspects.
A police source said Akegbe (A.K.A JJ) was the first to be arrested in his hometown of Ore in Ondo State, while the leader of the gang, Okunna, an ex-Niger Delta militant also known as Osama, was trailed to his hideout in Sapele, Delta State.
The IRT operatives trailed the other three suspects to various hideouts in Ogun and Lagos states.
After their arrest, more details emerged about the abduction of the landlords, which netted the kidnappers N12m after many days of negotiation and reduction of the N1.2bn they initially demanded.
For instance, the suspects stated that the landlords were kept in the creeks of Ikorodu, Lagos, an intricate network of hideouts used by many criminal gangs in Lagos as a result of the fact that the area is largely inaccessible to security agencies.
But the police said the most important victory about the arrest of the suspects is that it stalled the plans of the suspects to kidnap the traditional ruler of Ibeju Lekki, Oba Rafiu Salami, whom the suspects said they had already perfected plans to abduct.
A police source explained that the suspects already sent out scouts to monitor the movement of the monarch, but had yet to choose a date to grab him before they were arrested.
It would be recalled that kidnappers suspected to be Niger Delta militants had on August 7 kidnapped another Lagos monarch, the Oniba of Iba, Oba Goriola Oseni, who was only released after a ransom of N15.1m was paid.
The police said the Inspector-General of Police had mandated the IRT to ensure that no such abduction occurred again.
Okunna, 29, said in his confessional statement that an informant brought them the job and told them that the security around the Ibeju-Lekki king was lax.
“We sent him to watch the oba’s movement and tell us how often he comes to the waterside. Our informant gave us a positive result, but we have not chosen a date yet,” the suspect said.
Okunna said he stopped being a militant when he became a beneficiary of the presidential amnesty for Niger Delta militants.
He said as soon as the amnesty office stopped paying his monthly stipend, he went back to his old ways.
He said, “During the amnesty programme, I was trained as a marine pilot in South Africa, but when I returned to Nigeria, I could not get any job and was only surviving on the stipend they were paying us monthly. The stipend stopped in 2015 and I relocated from my hometown in Warri North Local Government to Lagos to join some of my friends who are into pipeline vandalism in Ikorodu area of Lagos State.
“When I arrived in Lagos, a friend, Vickar, accommodated me and showed me how the pipeline operations were being done. It was when the pipeline operation stopped that we went into kidnapping. We had a camp in Ishawo, Ikorodu but when the Army started bombing us, we fled and set up another camp inside the creek at Ajegunle, around Ikorodu.
“We had carried out many kidnappings before the job of the landlords came. When my boys went to kidnap the landlords, I did not go with them because my rank was higher. I was like a boss. I sent one of the boys to do surveillance on the landlords till we chose a day to strike.
“I was in the camp when they brought the landlords and I instructed them to ensure that they did not go hungry. But I was not the one who negotiated the ransom.”
Okunna said he left the camp three days after the landlords arrived and lodged in a hotel with his girlfriend. He said he was there till the ransom was paid and N500,000 was brought to him.
“I was assured every other member of the gang had got their shares. The plan to kidnap the Oba of Ibeju-Lekki was already on before we even released the landlords,” he said.
Akegbe who was arrested in his house at Ore, said he was a fisherman and a native of Arogbo, Ondo State.
He explained that when his fishing business became unprofitable, he decided to join the kidnapping gang.
Speaking about the kidnap of the Lagos landlords, he said the gang’s informant told them the exact time the landlords usually came out to jog in the morning.
According to him, seven of them arrived Isheri through the waterways in one boat, armed with five guns.
He said, “Four of us stood by the roadside with guns waiting for them. When they sighted us, they got scared and tried to run away. We pursued them, shooting in the air until they lay on the ground, shaking with fright.
“After we took them to our camp, it was Julius and Senior-Man, who negotiated and collected the ransom from where it was dropped in Ajegunle. My share of the ransom was N300,000.”
The third suspect, 27-year-old Jegede, who is a kinsman of Akegbe, said he worked as a cleaner in a hotel in Isheri North.
Jegede revealed that his step-father, a man he identified simply as MB, was the one who brought the job of kidnapping the landlords to the gang.
The police are still on the trail of the step-father.
Jegede said, “My step-father did not tell me about the plans. One of our gang members whom we call Trust, was even the one who told me about the kidnap plans. Trust also told me that it was my step-father that brought the gang. The man married my mother and they had four children together. He is a fisherman and hunter. He normally hunts inside the Isheri bush and he lives inside an uncompleted building within the area with my mother.
“After I heard about the job, I told the gang I was interested and I was told all I needed to do was monitor the movement of the landlords and alert them anytime I saw them jogging. When we eventually got the ransom, I got N300,000 while my step-father got N500,000.”
Twenty-eight-year-old Bordillon on the other hand, said his role in the kidnapping was ensuring that there was food in the camp to feed the captives.
He also admitted that he and Akegbe led the landlords out of the camp and dropped them where they found their way home after the payment of the ransom.
“I sell foodstuff with my wife at Ikorodu. I have been involved in a number of other kidnappings with the gang. I was taught how to shoot by our leader (Okunna). I went with them to kidnap the landlord and was one of the people who shot in the air when the landlords were trying to run away,” Bordillon said.
He also said he got N300,000 as his share of the ransom.
The Force Public Relations Officer, Don Awuna, who confirmed the arrest, said efforts were on to arrest other members of the gang who are still at large.