Operatives of the Operation Zenda Unit of the Benue State Police Command have arrested suspected armed robbers/kidnappers who they claim have been making life difficult for residents of the state.
The suspects are said to have a special passion for abducting Reverend Fathers for ransom. It was gathered that the gang had kidnapped several priests and many others at different times in the state..
But it was the abduction of one Rev. Father Joseph Barnabas that gave them a bloody nose, according to the police. They reportedly kidnapped the priest and demanded ransom from his family, but were intercepted and arrested during a stop and search operation by the police at the front of Benue State University, Makurdi.
Benue State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Wale Abass told Saturday Sun that the three suspects were arrested on February 2, 2022. He said while they were conveying Father Barnabas in a vehicle, they got to a police checkpoint where the victim raised the alarm and called for help. Subsequently, one Patrick Tarka Ayatse, 35, and Sunny Dollar, 30, the driver of the vehicle, were arrested. The police recovered from the two one locally made pistol, the police boss informed.
The commissioner said one of the suspects, Raphael John, had gone to withdraw money at an ATM while other gang members forcefully took the victim away in his own vehicle. They robbed him of his phone and money and were driving him to an unknown destination where they threatened to keep him hostage until such a time that his family would raise the money for the ransom. But the gang members were intercepted by the police.
CP Abass explained further that the police had also invaded the hideout of the gang at Lafia Garga North Bank, Makurdi where they arrested a member of the syndicate, Mohammad Ibrahim, 35. He said after searching the house, the police recovered two locally made revolvers with 41 live ammunitions and household property suspected to belong to victims.
He said the same gang also stole a Lexus 330 worth N2 million and a cash sum of N140, 000 at gun point at GRA in Gboko on August 2, 2021.
“Our police operatives of ‘Operation Zenda’ on January 5, 2022 arrested three of their gang members namely, Sunday Shiekuma Sirande, 37, Mani Yaasa, 40, and Kar David, 30. They were arrested in connection with the theft of a victim’s Lexus 330 vehicle and two other Toyota Corolla cars recovered from them,.” the commissioner said.
CP Abass said one of the syndicate members, Anyogo Mnguor was intercepted by “Operation Zenda” within Sahara area.
“The suspect, Anyogo Mnguor and 38-year-old Tsaaga Aku Lahan, during interrogation, confessed to have been involved in armed robbery and kidnapping. The ammunition, which they used for their operation, was recovered. This includes one G3 rifle with 42 rounds of live ammunition, one pump action rifle, one locally made pistol and four AK 47 magazines,” the police boss said.
One of the victims, Rev. Father Joseph Barnabas prayed that God should change the kidnappers to decent men. “Thank God I am still alive. I was rescued by the security agencies even though I paid ransom. I am free from the hands of the kidnappers. I heard some of the kidnappers were arrested. I want to tell them that they should go and sin no more. I believe one day, God will change them,” he said.
A female victim, Mrs. Janet Aloy told Saturday Sun of her experience with the kidnappers. “It was a terrible ordeal. I was kidnapped and robbed of my Toyota Corolla vehicle along the Benue State University, Makurdi. They pretended as we reached the police checkpoint. They robbed me and kidnapped me along with the Rev. Fathers until they took us to their hideout and my family members sent them N1.5 million, while the kidnappers demanded N5 million as ransom until I was released. I left the Rev. Fathers in their hideout.
“I’m impressed that the police detectives arrested some of the suspects and they recovered some stolen vehicles from them. I want to check whether my vehicle is part of those that were recovered.”
Another victim, Rev. Father John Maduka said. “We experienced the kidnapping of Rev. Fathers in Makurdi in 2021, when two priests were kidnapped while coming back from their morning mass. They took them outside Makurdi to another town and demanded a ransom of millions of naira. But the police had an encounter with the hoodlums and they abandoned the kidnapped Rev. Fathers and left, and the victims were rescued.
“The suspects arrested should face the wrath of the law. Once a Rev. Father is kidnapped, the kidnappers believe that church money would be used to pay ransom for their release. It is terrible when Rev. Fathers are in the hands of kidnappers,” he said.
In his own narration, another victim, Isaac Inalegwu, from Makurdi, Benue State noted: “I was kidnapped in September 2021 at Makurdi towards the Makurdi/Jos expressway. They took me to the forest and blindfolded me before demanding N10 million as ransom. I am a businessman. They collected my ATM card and withdrew over N1.5 million. They still told me to send some money and warned that they would kill me if I did not. I had to call my elder brother and explain things to him. He sent me another one million naira. He came and dropped the money to them in the bush.
“I didn’t call my wife because she would be panicking and might not be able to stand it. I didn’t tell my brother to report the case to the police. The kidnappers threatened me that if I reported to the police, they would kill me. I had to play along and I stayed with the kidnappers in the forest for five days before they released me. It was a terrible agony. They would prepare rice that was half cooked for me to eat in the evening. It was hell.”
One of the suspects, Patrick Teikaa Ayatse told Saturday Sun about his life as a kidnapper and robber. His words: “I hail from Benue State. I have been involved in several armed robberies and kidnappings. We specialise in kidnapping of Rev. Fathers in Benue State, Jos in Plateau State in Kaduna as well as in some other states. We target Rev. Fathers because we believe they can easily raise money for ransom. We have robbed several innocent victims of their valuable items, including cars which we use for our operations. Later, we would look for buyers to purchase them. We would kidnap victims, take them to our hideout and demand ransom. And immediately the ransom is paid, we release them. But we never release their cars for them. We normally look for buyers after using the vehicles for operations to rob or kidnap other victims.
“We have robbed several people along the Makurdi Expressway of their valuable items. On the Nasarawa/ Benue Highway, we robbed victims day and night. We kidnapped Rev. Fathers and other victims and immediately any of them paid their ransom, we would release him. We didn’t attack any Rev. Father that we kidnapped. We don’t touch them; we only let them call their fellow Rev. Fathers or leaders of their congregation immediately for ransom. And when the ransom is paid, we release them. We usually told the Rev. Fathers to pray for us. Once the Rev. Father has prayed for us, we believe our sins have been forgiven from that moment. We don’t kill our victims. We only collect their belonging, cars and money and we allow them to go,” he said.
Another suspect, Mohammad Ibrahim also spoke with the reporter. Said he: “I hail from Kaduna State. I am a cattle rearer, I joined armed robbery and kidnapping in 2021. We have robbed several victims along Kaduna/Jos Expressway, Makurdi/Jos Expressway and kidnapped many people, including Rev Fathers and other victims. The police operatives along/Abuja Expressway have encountered us and killed some of our gang members. We also regroup and form another gang. We robbed several innocent victims. We don’t kill them but only collect ransom from them. We have terrorised the Makurdi axis. My role is keeping arms and ammunition which we always use for our operations. After I was arrested, I have taken the policemen to where we keep our ammunitions and they have recovered it from us. We have over 25 gang members, and we do operate within Makurdi and Jos expressway”. He said.
Yet another suspect, Anyogo Mnguor stated: “I hail from Eggor Local Government Area of Nasarawa State. I also keep the arms and ammunition which we use for operations. Wherever we kidnap Rev. Fathers and other victims, I am the one who look over them and give them food until ransom is paid by the family of the victims. We do share the ransom among ourselves because we are so many in the forest.”
Commissioner of Police, Mr Abass praised his officers for arresting the suspected armed robbers and kidnappers. “I also thank the public for giving useful information which assisted the policemen to flush the bandits out of the state. The suspects will soon be charged to court,” he said. – The Sun.