A series of revelations detailing the habitual escape of kidnap kingpin, Chukwudumeme Onwuamadike, after several arrests until the police finally captured him in June brings to the fore Nigeria’s higgledy-piggledy justice system. Popularly known as Evans, the notorious kidnapper had bribed and manipulated his way to freedom following his arrest in 2006. He had also used his connections to secure freedom from the court earlier this year before the long arm of the law caught up with him. To correct the sham, we need a root-and-branch reform of the police, the prisons and the legal system.
Evans, whose escapades are still generating spine-tingling tremors, having kidnapped and ransomed a long list of wealthy Nigerians and trafficked drugs, was initially arrested by the police in 2006. That was shortly after his gang robbed a bank in Lagos. The sharing of the loot spawned a commotion in which a gang member shot Evans, according to the testimony of the then Iponri Police Station divisional officer. Through subterfuge, the Lagos Police Command was arm-twisted by his so-called sister police officer to release Evans to the Imo State Police Command. After this, the Imo command allegedly connived to release Evans, a dangerous absurdity that allowed him to re-launch his brutal criminal activities. Some of these compromised officers are still in the system.
Early this year, he was arrested and arraigned in Lagos again at a Magistrates’ Court along with his wife. By his own confession, he promptly bribed the magistrate to secure freedom. This calls into question a justice system, in which the police and the judges collude with criminals to pervert the cause of justice because of filthy lucre. Nothing short of a thorough investigation of those involved in the release of Evans in the police and the judiciary will stem activities of these vicious bandits.
However, Evans is just one among a slew of criminals who undermine the system by conniving with sneaky state agents. In January, gang members of Henry Chibueze a.k.a. Vampire, staged an audacious operation at the premises of the Owerri High Court in the Imo State capital. Vampire, who was being arraigned for murder and kidnapping that Friday morning, was violently rescued by his gun-toting confederates. In the mêlée, they shot five prison officials and freed scores of other suspects brought to court for trial. Two people reportedly died in the attack.
This banditry could not have succeeded without the active connivance of sly prison officials. Evidence of officers’ complicity was found in the police raid following Vampire’s escape, which netted 264 cell phones smuggled into the penitentiary through crooked Nigerian Prisons Service personnel. Another inmate was reportedly masterminding kidnapping operations on the major expressways in the South-East with the aid of mobile telephony in the same prison. It is shocking that the NPS has not stamped out this trend.
In March, Ibrahim Balogun, alias Small-Jpron, mysteriously disappeared from his cell after he was remanded in prison by an Ebute-Meta Magistrates’ Court in Lagos. Charged with murder, he had deployed his connections in the police and the judiciary to escape. Fatai Owoseni, the Lagos Commissioner of Police, said, “The circumstances surrounding his escape are being investigated. We are also investigating the complicity of two of our officials in ensuring his escape from the prison.” This speaks volumes about the widespread criminal collusion in the justice system.
Ahmadu Giade, a former National Drug Law Enforcement Agency chairman, had raised the alarm in 2015 that 197 drugs convicts, in connivance with court clerks and prison warders, escaped without serving their prison terms. They succeeded by bribing officials to substitute other people for them. Reports state that cartels of unscrupulous lawyers issue pre-signed bail papers to free convicts from serving their jail terms.
Sadly, the conspiracy of state agents with criminals is not limited to the police, prison system or the courts. It was evident in January when a Nigeria Customs Service patrol team intercepted 661 pump-action rifles and ammunition concealed in a truck on Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, Lagos. The consignment had been cleared by warped Customs officials at the ports. In May, another illegal consignment of 440 rifles was intercepted at the Lagos ports.
Our justice system should be sanitised. Criminals are overrunning the frail national security architecture because they have the resources to manipulate bent officers. The Minister of the Interior, Abdulrahman Dambazau, should earn his keep by retooling the NPS. The Federal Government should stop being distracted. The Ministry of Justice should have a well-trained special team of investigators that will unravel this unwholesomeness. The Evans case should be used to test the efficacy of the new Lagos State Prohibition Act of Kidnapping, 2016. Anyone found to have connived with Evans and his evil gang should be prosecuted.
Security agents should take no prisoners. In June, German police, in collaboration with Italian police, arrested 19 Sicilian mafia members who had fled Italy to Germany. Goods worth €4 million were seized in the operation. In 2016, Germany had equipped 300 police officers with body worn cameras and approved the wire-tapping of suspected criminals. This way, the police stay a step ahead of criminals. But in Nigeria, criminals dictate the pace.