On 23 August, the Plateau State Police Command reported that the gang which had held Pa Michael Obi, father of football star, Mikel, had demanded a staggering ransom of 4 billion US dollars, which converts to about 616 billion Naira!
This amount may enter the Guiness Book of Records as the highest ransom ever demanded for release of a kidnap victim, worldwide.
Mr Obi was abducted in Jos, Plateau State, on 12 August, but rescued through a brilliant police operation in Kano, on 22 August. While he was in captivity, members of his family and the representatives of his soccer-star son, had issued conflicting reports about contacts with the kidnappers and their demands for ransom.
His wife, Mrs Obi, had said there were no contacts and no demands; Mikel’s representatives, Sport Entertainment and Media (SEM) Group, had said the kidnappers were demanding “a sizeable amount”, without being specific; Mikel’s brother, Ebere, had further confirmed that the kidnapprs were demanding an amount exceeding the figures of 130,000 USD or 20 million naira that were being reported in the mass media; but he too did not say how much more.
However, following Pa Obi’s release and the arrest of eight suspects, the Commissioner of Police in Plateau State, Mr. Dipo Ayeni, revealed to newsmen that: “(The kidnappers) asked him to give them 4 billion USD”. He said the kidnappers had said the amount was “chicken change to Mikel Obi and his club, Chelsea”.
The amount the kidnappers demanded is staggering by every measure, enough to buy 13 Boeing 747 jumbo aircraft at about 300 million USD each. As one commentator observed: “It was the classic case of the saying that: those the gods want to destroy, they first make mad”.
For Mikel, who earns 5.8 million USD annually, according to Forbes magazine, gathering the amount the kidnappers demanded would have required him to play soccer continuously, and earn his current fee steadily, for about 690 years!
Within Nigeria, the amount dwarfs even the most outlandish demands which any local gangs had ever made for releasing abducted Nigerians. The highest amount recorded as the opening figure for negotiating the release of one captive is probably one billion naira (about 6.5 million USD), tabled by the gang which kidnapped Mrs. Lakshmi Tombush, Principal of ExxonMobil’s elite Pegasus Schools in Eket, Akwa Ibom State, in October 2010. However, at the end of negotiations, some sources reported that the gang ended up getting about three per cent of the initial amount.
In the international arena, the amount Pa Obi’s kidnappers demanded is no less bewildering. It is more than 700 times the largest ransom ever paid to the notorious Somali pirates, which is believed to have been the 5.5 – 7.0 million USD paid for release of an oil-laden tanker that was hijacked near Seychelles islands on 29 November 2009.
It certainly exceeds, by far, the highest ransom ever actually paid for the release of any kidnapped person anywhere in the world. In July 2008, the French news agency, AFP, had reported that the highest ransom ever paid to free a kidnap victim was about 77 million US dollars. That amount was paid by Ms Kwong Siu-hing, 79, chairperson of Sun Hung Kai Properties in Hong Kong, for the release of her kidnapped son, Walter Kwok, himself one of Hong Kong’s richest tycoons. However, the gangster, Cheung Tze-keung (also known as ‘Big Spender’), who collected that record booty, soon met his dead end: he was tried and executed in mainland China in 1998.
As the Obi family did not actually accede to the kidnappers’ demand, this case may be considered for entry into the Guinness Book of Records as the highest ransom ever demanded by a kidnap gang anywhere in the world!
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On 17 August, there were conflicting reports over Mr Michael Obi, father of the Chelsea mid-fielder Mikel Obi, who had been missing since Friday 12 August. While the wife of the missing man said the kidnappers had made no contact with the family, Mikel’s representatives and his brother confirmed that the kidnappers had called and made demands.
Mrs Obi: No contact yet, media reports untrue
In an interview with the Lagos-based Daily Sun, Mrs Obi confirmed that her husband’s car, a Mercedes Benz, was recovered around Kwall Falls, in Riyom Local Government Area of Plateau State. But she said the kidnappers were yet to contact the family and that media reports that they had done so were false.
She said: “We have not been contacted and do not know his present location. We have only recovered the car through the assistance of somebody who saw it and reported to us. As it is now, we are still expecting a call from the kidnappers, but we are yet to get any”.
Mikel’s representatives, SEM: Kidnappers are in touch, discussions continuing
Contrary to Mrs Obi’s position, however, a statement issued by the Sport Entertainment and Media (SEM) Group, which represents Mikel, said: “We confirm that Michael Obi has been abducted and that the kidnappers have been in touch with the family and representatives of the family and that discussions for Michael’s safe release have begun. A sizeable demand has been made but, for security reasons, we are unable to release details of the amount”.
The statement added that: “SEM advises that reports from Nigeria of an £80,000 ransom demand for the return of John Obi Mikel’s father is not true”.
Ebele Obi: Spoke directly with kidnapped father, confirms ransom demand
In a similar statement, Ebere Obi, another footballer son of the missing man, confirmed to brilafm.net, that the kidnapprs had contacted the family. He said: “My father is in good health, I spoke with him but I still wonder why anyone has to keep an old man. He is an old man”.
He also confirmed that the kidnapprs had demanded for money; but he said their demand in fact exceeded the amounts that had been making the rounds in the Nigerian media. He said: “They did not demand $130,000 and I can confirm that to you; they asked for more”.
Ebele said that Mikel’s agent, John Ola Shittu, had been contacted and had also spoken with the kidnappers. He said: “Mikel’s agent (John Ola Shittu) has been contacted and he is in touch with the men holding my father and they are still negotiating”.
On 15 August, authorities in the federal capital, Abuja, said the police had started intensive investigation into the disappearance of Mr Michael Obi, father of football star, Mikel Obi. However, the police said they were still investigating the case as that of a missing person, not yet kidnapping, as no person or group had called the family or anyone else, to demand for ransom.
According to the Force Public Relations Officer, Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Olusola Amore, the Obi family had reported on 12 August, that their patriarch had not been home after he closed from his office and drove off in his Mercedes Benz car.
Following that report, the Police in Jos, the Plateau State capital where the Obi family lives, called his phone, which rang initially, but was not picked. Subsequent calls got the response that the telephone number was no longer reachable.
Amore explained that, for now, the police could not assume that the elder Obi was abducted as no individual or group had called either the family or the Police to claim responsibility or demand for ransom. He said unless those conditions emerged, the police would continue to investigate the case as that of a missing person, not yet as a kidnap or abduction.
The police spokesman however expressed the hope that with the cooperation of the family and members of the public, the riddle over the elder Obi’s whereabouts would soon be solved.
Also on 15 August, the Chelsea midfielder, Mikel, appealed for the return of his father. He said: “I’ve always tried to help the country, this is the time for the country to help me. Whoever knows where my dad is should please contact me”.
On 12 August, Mr Michael Obi, father of Chelsea midfielder Mikel Obi, failed to come home at the end of day and has been missing since then, in Jos, Plateau State.
The online source KickOffNigeria.com reported that the senior Obi, who runs an interstate transport company, did not return home from work on Friday evening and has not been seen since then. Calls to his cell phone were unanswered all of Friday. By Saturday, the phone was no longer reachable. The player’s manager, John Shittu, said it is not yet clear whether this was a case of kidnapping or something else.
Shittu said: “At the moment, we have not heard from Mikel’s father, or anyone else, so we don’t know what it is. At this point, we only consider him missing”.
Reports say Mikel was informed on Saturday morning, shortly before traveling with the Chelsea squad for the Premier League match with Stoke on Sunday 14 August. Shittu said delivering the news to the player was a tough decision. He said: “We were not sure whether to tell him before the game” but that after some consultations, “we agreed that he had a right to be informed of such a serious incident”.
Although Mikel played all through the 90 minutes of the match against Stoke, which ended in a 0-0 draw, Shittu said the 24-year-old player is “totally devastated”.
Nigeria has seen a surge of ransom kidnappings in recent years, but the incidents have been concentrated in the states of the Niger Delta and the south-eastern zone. On 5 July 2008, Norum Yobo, older brother of the Everton defender Joseph Yobo, was snatched at gunpoint with three other men as they made their way home from a nightclub in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. They were released after 12 days in captivity. It was never certain if any ransom was paid to the kidnappers, or how much.
[THIS REPORT WILL BE UPDATED AS FURTHER CONFIRMATION AND MORE INFORMATION BECOME AVAILABLE].