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 23 August, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika, ordered investigation into the alleged involvement of two soldiers in the kidnap of Mr Michael Obi, father of the football star, Mikel Obi. The elder Obi, kidnapped in Jos, Plateau State, on 12 August, was rescued by the police in Kano State on 22 August.
The order followed the report by the Commissioner of Police in Plateau State, Mr Dipo Ayeni, that two soldiers – Sergeant Victor Essien with service number 96NA/43/11213 and Private Jaduwa Thloma with number 03NA/54/5527 – had been arrested in connection with the kidnap.
Briefing newsmen in Abuja, the Director of Army Public Relations, Brig. Gen. Raphael Isah, confirmed that two soldiers attached to the Special Task Force (STF) in Plateau State, had been held in Jos, in connection with the incident.
He said, “We view this seriously, especially the mention of soldiers of the Special Task Force Jos, as suspects by the victim. This brings to the fore the fact the Army in itself is not insulated from the kind of criminal activities that we see and hear from the larger society”. However, Gen Isah quoted the Chief of Army Staff as saying he would not tolerate such an abhorrent act of indiscipline, as the allegation of criminal complicity in the abduction issue.
The Army spokesman said the Military Police had already commenced investigation “to verify this serious allegation”. He said the Army “will not hesitate to deal with any soldier who would want to throw away the core ethics of the profession, by engaging in such criminal activities as kidnapping, robbery and the like”.
He promised that: “The outcome of these investigations will be made public as soon as the Military Police conclude their investigations”. He further said the Army would ensure that any soldier or soldiers involved in the case, if found guilty, will be sanctioned in accordance with military law.
On 23 August, the Plateau State Police Command confirmed that the eight persons arrested so far, in connection with the abduction of Pa Michael Obi, father of football star, Mikel, included two serving soldiers and two women.
The Commissioner of Police in Plateau State, Mr. Dipo Ayeni, identified the two soldiers as Sgt Victor Essien with service number 96NA/43/11213 and Private Jaduwa Thloma with number 03NA/54/5527.
Addressing newsmen in Jos, the Police chief said the soldiers were originally of 2 Battalion, but currently on temporary posting to Plateau State, as members of the Special Task Force (STF) known as Operation Safe Haven. The STF was deployed to maintain security in Plateau State, following the surge of ethno-religious violence between various communities in the state.
The Police chief also disclosed that two of the suspects were women. He identified them as Hajiya Awa Abubakar and Nkechi Osai.
The other suspects were four men identified as Ifeanyi Hyacinth, Ndubuisi Friday, Basil Chukwuma and Sule Ibrahim. Ibrahim is a national of the Republic of Niger.
The police paraded the six civilian suspects before newsmen, but said the soldiers were in the custody of the military police. There had been no reaction yet, from the Army headquarters in Abuja or the STF headquarters in Jos.