Edo State became the centre of attention on January 7 following the abduction of 20 passengers at the Igueben train station.
The passengers were waiting at the station lobby to board the train coming from Itakpe to their various destinations but ended up spending over one week in the captivity of their abductors.
Findings by Daily Trust Saturday indicate that all the kidnapped victims have regained freedom while 11 suspects have been arrested in connection with the attack.
Following the abduction, the Police, Department of State Services (DSS), Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Edo State Security Network, vigilante and hunters relocated to the area for bush combing, which resulted in the rescue of the kidnapped victims.
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Six of the victims – two elderly men, including a retired police officer, a nursing mother and her baby, two and three years minors, were the first set of victims to escape from their abductors.
Twelve others were rescued after eight days in the kidnappers’ den while the remaining two, who were said to be staff of the Nigerian Railway Corporation, were rescued a few days later.
The police and the Edo State Government claimed that no ransom was paid to get the victims released but relatives of the kidnapped victims and residents in the area said ransom was paid for the release of the victims.
Speaking with journalists at the police cottage hospital where the 12 rescued victims were receiving treatment, Governor Godwin Obaseki, said the victims were rescued by a combined team of security operatives in collaboration with hunters and vigilantes.
He said no ransom was paid to secure the release of the victims while no life was lost in the rescue operation.
“The security team tracked and intercepted the kidnappers in their hideout. They were tactful in their approach to ensure that no life was lost in the operation,” he said.
Obaseki blamed traditional rulers in the area, who he said flouted government’s decision to ensure that grazing opportunities were not given to herders in their forests.
“We got information that some traditional rulers, particularly in that area, are not respecting government’s decision not to give grazing opportunities to herders in their forest.
“I have instructed that the matter be investigated and anyone found to be harbouring people they should not harbour in their domain would have questions to answer. We don’t have this incident in communities that have cooperated with us on the directive,” he added.
Meanwhile, the commissioner of police in the state, Muhammad Dankwara, who also declared that ransoms were not paid, said the victims were rescued at Udo forest by his men.
“We got an intelligence report that the kidnappers were roaming about in Udoh forest and the security forces laid an ambush. And in trying to move the victims from one location to another, the security intercepted them and the kidnappers abandoned their victims.”
Arrested suspects charged
Eight suspects, including two traditional rulers, the Onojie of Udo, Friday Ighedujiemu and the chief of Eko-Ibadin, Ibadin Hamilton, were initially arrested in connection with the attack.
Other suspects were Ighoko Odion, Okojie Ewa, Okie Patrick, Halilu Umaru, Aminu Ibrahim, and Isah Aliyu.
Daily Trust Saturday learnt that additional three suspects were also arrested, bringing the total number of arrested suspects to 11.
However, eight of the suspects, namely Ibadin Hamilton, Ighoko Odion, Okojie Ewa, Okie Patrick, Friday Ighedujiemu, Halilu Umaru, Aminu Ibrahim, and Isah Aliyu, have been charged to court.
The suspects charged included two traditional rulers, three local vigilantes and three herders.
A source within the community who spoke to Daily Trust Saturday in confidence said, “The information we had about the arrested traditional rulers is that the governor gave directive some months ago, that all traditional rulers and local government directors should not allow herders to camp in their domains and should also clear all the forests of herders.”
“The traditional ruler of Udo is said to be guilty of allowing herders in his forest to continue grazing cows.
“According to the information, they found two cows in the palace of Eko-Ibadin traditional ruler and the government is alleging that the cows were given to him by herdsmen.
A source with knowledge of the case also disclosed that the three local vigilantes were discovered to be informants for the abductors.
“The vigilantes, according to what we gathered, were alleged to be informants to the kidnappers,” the source said.
Daily Trust Saturday also learnt that there had been several petitions against the traditional ruler on alleged shady deals.
Charges against suspects
The police had charged the eight suspects to court, seeking an order to extend their detention in police custody pending the conclusion of investigation.
According to the charge sheet filed by the police on January 17, the suspects were charged for criminal conspiracy and kidnapping.
The document revealed that Odion, 62; Ewa, 58; Patrick, 42; Ighedujiemu, 51; Hamilton, 59; Umaru, 28; Ibrahim, 25; and Aliyu, 25; all male, conspired to kidnap the victims with the expectation of getting N20million from their relatives as ransom for their freedom.
Part of the charge sheet reads, “That you, Ighoko Odion, Okojie Ewa, Okie Patrick, Friday Ighedujiemu, Ibadin Hamilton, Halilu Umaru, Aminu Ibrahim, Isah Aliyu, and others now at large did conspire amongst yourselves to commit felony, to wit: kidnapping and thereby committed an offence contrary to section 5 and punishable under section 2 (1) (2) of the Kidnapping Prohibition (Amendment) Law of Edo State, 2013.”
“That you, Ighoko Odion, Okojie Ewa, Okie Patrick, Friday Ighedujiemu, Ibadin Hamilton, Halilu Umaru, Aminu Ibrahim, Isah Aliyu, and others now at large, at the Nigerian Railway Station, Igueben, Edo State, in the Benin judicial division, while armed with guns and other dangerous weapon, did attack and kidnap passengers inside the train to an unknown destination till now with intent to receive ransom payment of N20million before releasing them from your captivity, and thereby committed an offence punishable under section 2 (1), (2) of the Kidnapping Prohibition (Amended) Law of Edo State, 2013.”
Controversy over ransom payment
The Edo State governor, Obaseki and the commissioner of police, Dankwara, at different occasions, said the victims were rescued without payment of ransom.
Dankwara said, “To the best of my knowledge, the kidnapped victims were rescued by my men and no ransom was paid.”
On his part, Governor Obaseki told journalists that the victims were rescued by a combined team of security operatives in collaboration with hunters and vigilantes
“No ransom was paid to secure the release of the victims, and no life was lost in the rescue operation,” Obaseki said.
But a relative of one of the victims who only gave her name as Favour disagreed with the governor and the commissioner of police.
Favour, who hails from Ebudin in Esan Central Local Government Area and an elder sister to one of the victims, told journalists that they paid N2million to get her sister released.
“They demanded a ransom of N20m and my brother told them that we didn’t have such money; but we gave them N2m,” she said.
A resident of the area who spoke to Daily Trust Saturday on the condition of anonymity corroborated Favours narration.
He alleged that the state government and the police were economical with the truth as ransom was actually paid for the release of the victims.
He said, “The families of the 12 supposed rescued victims paid N2m each for the release of their loved ones. Also, the two last released victims, the station manager and booking clerk, paid ransom.”