From where he sat among his co-suspects, 33-year-old Ugochukwu Mbah’s expression portrayed him as very remorseful.
According to him, if he had not ignored his conscience, he would have quit kidnapping before his arrest.
But now, Mbah and four other suspects, Kenneth Levi, 32; Onyema Uzodinma, 31; Udochukwu Nwanguma, 37 and Nduka Nwankwo, 25, are in police net.
They were said to have confessed to a series of kidnapping within Imo and Abia states. They were arrested by the Inspector-General of Police Special Intelligence Response Team led by CSP Abba Kyari.
Speaking to journalists after his arrest, Mbah, a father of one, who hails from Mbaise in Imo State, hinged his foray into kidnapping on frustration, saying his previous ventures yielded no result. He said he had to take part in kidnapping on his friend’s suggestion.
He said as the only son of his father, who had three wives and 15 children, he faced many family problems. According to him, he was even forced to travel to Angola in 2012 in search of greener pastures after which he was deported.
Mbah said, “They said that I do not have up to N1m in my account. They said if I did not have enough money that I was likely going to commit crime. It was the Igbo community that conspired against me. I genuinely wanted to do business there but they refused. Back in Nigeria, I was broke and since all my efforts to live a good life were frustrated, I decided to survive by any possible means.
“The only person who gave me accommodation when I came back home was Richard (now in prison) and he was the one who brought me to Owerri. He told me what he was doing for a living and the need to return to Owerri for full time kidnapping. He introduced me to Nduka as a capable hand. I assisted them to raise money to buy enough equipment (guns) needed for the job.”
Having sold some stolen cars and got involved in many kidnapping operations, Mbah said he graduated from selling stolen cars to full time kidnapping.
He said in his statement that his first job was the kidnapping of a female teacher who was driving a Toyota Highlander. He said they were able to collect N17,000 from her while he drove the SUV to Abia State where he sold the car for N300,000. Mbah said the woman’s husband was a pensioner, who could not pay the ransom because he had not been paid by the state government.
Speaking about his last operation during which they made N1m from a Nigerian kidnap victim based in South Africa, Mbah said, “On January 7, 2016 when we were patrolling MCC Road, close to Toronto roundabout in Owerri, we spotted the man driving an exotic car. We kidnapped him. After many days of negotiation, his family paid the ransom of N1m.”
On what led to his arrest, Mbah recalled that a phone call from Richard was the beginning of his doom. He said Richard had called to inform him of an operation but he refused to pick the call because he was praying.
He continued, “I realised that God allowed Richard to call while I was praying with my family to use that to warn me to stop crime. I am destined to be a pastor; it’s just that I have not accepted my calling. Kidnapping was just a temporary job for me. Now, I preach to my co-inmates. Some of them have even given their lives to Christ.”
On his part, Nwankwo said he used to sell second-hand clothes in Aba before he was introduced to the kidnapping trade. He also explained that he told his initiators he was ready to do anything to make money and save himself from poverty. “After we kidnapped the South Africa-based man, I was just living my life when police came and raided our area. They found me with cocaine. I called Ugochukwu from police cell not knowing that they had arrested him,” he added.
Meanwhile, the victim of the kidnap, Victor Ogadinma, said he was in Nigeria during the Christmas period to see his family.
He said, “I was in the front of my house waiting for my family members to open the gate, when three heavily armed men accosted me and forced me out of the car to the back seat. It was around 7.30pm, and my wife came out while they were struggling to push me into the car but they pushed her down.
“I told them I had N220,000 and $2,000 and some European currencies. I was picked on January 7 and released January 10. They offered me food but I chose to drink only water.”
The suspect whose house was used to shield the victim, Nwanguma, said he kept the victim in his mother’s kitchen because she was not around.
He said out of the N70,000 he was given, he gave his brother N50, 000 and gave his wife N10,000.
“I pray that government should forgive me because of my children,” Nwankwo said.
Meanwhile, items recovered from the suspects’ hideout in Umuakpala village in Abia State, include two AK 47 rifles, two magazines, one Beretta pistol, one pump action gun and 52 rounds of live ammunition. A police source says efforts were still on to nab the remaining members of the group who are on the run.