NIGERIA: Judges As New Targets Of Kidnapping

Chioma Iheme-Nwosu, Judge Court of Appeal.

With the recent abduction of Justice Chioma Iheme-Nwosu, a judge of the Benin Division of the Court of Appeal, it might have become profitable targeting judges for kidnapping, Davidson iriekpen writes

After two weeks in captivity, a judge of the Court of Appeal in Edo State, Justice Chioma Iheme-Nwosu, who was kidnapped in Benin City, the state capital, last Wednesday, regained her freedom. Information reaching THISDAY said the judge was released in the city in the dead of the night from where she made her way home.

The Edo State Commissioner of Police, Mohammed Danmallam, who later confirmed the release of the judge, said she had reunited with her family.

All efforts made by THISDAY to get members of her family to give details of how she was released, and if any ransom was paid to set her free failed. But a close family member, who spoke to THISDAY, said they were happy that she was released unharmed.
“I don’t have that information you are seeking now. All I can tell you right now is that we are very happy that she is back and safe,” the source said.

Justice Iheme-Nwosu, who is one of the justices of the Court of Appeal in Benin City, was attacked by gunmen at about 11.30am, along the Benin-Agbor Highway on her way to an assignment on October 30.

Unfortunately, Inspector A I Momoh, who was her police orderly was gruesomely killed by the gunmen while the driver sustained serious injuries in the process.

It was gathered that the gunmen numbering four, had trailed her from the Ramat Park end of the Benin-Agbor road in their Toyota Voltron car and intercepted her vehicle around Christ Chosen Church of God International.

Justice Iheme-Nwosu served for several years at the Imo State High Court in Owerri before her elevation to the Court of Appeal. She is known to be Nigeria’s first female judge to study law up to the Ph.D. level, specialising in the law of intellectual property.

The news of her abduction had sparked outrage from lawyers in Imo and Edo States, who boycotted courts for three days, and used the occasion to call on the federal government to intervene and rescue her alive.

Also, the Imo State Council of Traditional Rulers had demanded her unconditional release. The council specifically called on President Muhammadu Buhari, state governors, and security operatives, among other relevant stakeholders to do everything possible to find a permanent solution to the security challenge in the country.

Justice Iheme-Nwosu’s abduction took place just days after a Federal High Court judge in Akure, Ondo State, Justice Abdul Dogo, was freed by kidnappers, who abducted him at the border villages between Edo and Ondo States.

Dogo, reports stated, was kidnapped, when he was returning to Akure from Abuja by unknown gunmen. Even though till date the police have not availed Nigerians with information on how the judge was kidnapped, sources narrated that the bandits waylaid his vehicle on the Okene-Ibilo-Isua-Akoko expressway before abducting him.

It was later gathered that few hours after the abduction, the hoodlums contacted his family and demanded N50m ransom. THISDAY reliably gathered that his family eventually paid N10million to secure his release.

Though Edo State Commissioner of Police, Danmallam, did not give details of the circumstances that led to Justice Iheme-Nwosu’s release, and if any ransom was paid, many know that her family must have millions of naira to secure her release, as was the case with other abductions.

The reservations expressed by those who spoke with THISDAY centred on the way and manner the police managed information on the incident throughout the period the judge was in captivity. They also expressed sadness on how less important police treat lives.
For instance, two days to Justice Iheme-Nwosu’s release, while lamenting her continued captivity, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) had described as disheartening and distressing the fact that after 13 days, not a single word was heard from relevant government agencies or any of the security and law enforcement agencies on efforts to secure her safe release.

In a statement signed by NBA President, Mr. Paul Usoro (SAN), the association stated that if it were in other climes, the incident would have been treated as urgent national issue with security and law enforcement agencies daily releasing bulletin reports.

It wondered if policemen in the developed countries Nigeria is striving to emulate could do this to their ordinary citizens, how much more for a senior citizen and more importantly, person like an Appeal Court judge.

But on the pretext that “it will jeopardise investigation,” the police and other security agencies cover up their incapacity and ineffectiveness as if they were working discretely.

In same Benin City on August 26, the Chief Medical Director (CMD) of Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital, Prof. Sylvanus Okogbenin, was kidnapped in broad daylight. THISDAY gathered that he was only released at Ogwashi-Uku, in Delta State, after 10 days of parting with about N40million as ransom.

Like Justice Iheme-Nwosu, Okogbenin’s vehicle was ambushed at the Ramat Park in Benin City on August 26, a development that is becoming a pattern.

Quickly, two policemen in his convoy were killed. It was gathered that CMD was on his way from Irrua to catch a flight in Benin City for an urgent meeting in Abuja, when the gunmen accosted him. According to eyewitnesses, the attackers after shooting the policemen shot into the air to scare people before making away with their victim.

Since it is becoming a pattern that these kidnappers now lay siege at Ramat Park for personalities, many are wondering why the Edo State Police Command has not combed the entire area in order to fish out these criminals, instead, it prefers to cover up its inefficiency.

For instance, when Justice Dogo was kidnapped in the border villages between Edo and Ondo States, rather than swiftly swing into action to secure his release, the two state police commands were embroiled in blame game over whose jurisdiction should have taken responsibility for his safety and release.

The Ondo State Police Command had claimed that the Isua-Ibilo spot where the judge was kidnapped was outside its jurisdiction. Its spokesperson, Femi Joseph said, “Much as we empathise with the family of the victim, we want to make it clear that the incident did not happen anywhere in Ondo State.

“The incident actually occurred in Ibilo, Edo State. However, we are working with our colleagues in whose jurisdiction this incident occurred to ensure that the judge is rescued unhurt and also apprehend the perpetrators. We appeal to anyone with useful information that could lead to his rescue and the arrest of the culprits not to hesitate to let the police know.

But the Edo State Police Command too fired back and disputed the claim, insisting that according to their findings, the judge was kidnapped in Ondo. Spokesperson for the command, Mr. Chidi Nwanbuzo, revealed that they were not to blame.

“I would meet the OC in charge of Anti-kidnapping but let me state that the jurisdiction is not part of our command. It’s the Ondo Police Command that should be responsible for it, because it happened in Ondo State,” he said. This, to many Nigerians, is one of the tricks by the Nigerian Police. They wondered if important persons like judges could now be picked up on the streets and highways with no resistance whatsoever, what then is the fate of the ordinary Nigerians?

To many Nigerians, nothing best described the disorderliness in the country than what a human rights lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, said in a passionate appeal to the kidnappers of Justice Iheme-Nwosu.

Ozekhome had said her abduction in broad daylight in Benin City showed how unsafe the country had become. He equally lamented that while Nigerians were being mauled down across the nooks and crannies of country, the politicians, who are supposed to take drastic action to address the issue are busy politicking and cutting deals, feeling unconcerned.

“The abduction in broad daylight in Benin City of Justice Iheme-Nwosu is the saddest reminder of a beleaguered nation in the asphixiating throes of death by installment. That her police orderly that accompanied her was brutally killed and dismembered in the process, in a most horrific manner, sends the chill down our spines.

“While Nigerians are being mauled down across the nooks and crannies of the country, the politicians are ever busy politicking, instead of spreading democracy dividends. While the ink is yet to dry on paper as regards the February 2019 general election, mindless politicians are already busy, strategising and plotting for 2023.”