Exactly six days after three female students were abducted from Babington Macaulay Junior Seminary (BMJS) in Ikorodu, Lagos, by a 12-man gang, they were finally rescued and returned to the warm embrace of their parents Sunday morning.
The three girls — Olusa Oluwatimilehin, Popo-Olaniyan Tofunmi and Akinayo Deborah — were in high spirits after being reunited with their respective families.
This is just as the police were able to arrest three members of the gang, including the kingpin, 37-year-old Emmanuel Arigidi, who in an exclusive interview with THISDAY divulged their modus operandi.
The traditional doctor, turned kidnapper, with a previous record in armed robberies, also confessed to the role he played in last year’s robbery of First and Zenith Banks in Igokoda area of Ikorodu.
Arigidi, who admitted that he was the one that ferried the robbers in their getaway boat, said he made N100,000 from that particular deal.
Speaking on his role in the Ikorodu kidnapping, the unmarried father of one said they were contacted by one Lami Ami for the job with the promise that they would rake in money.
He said they had first attacked the school two months ago and were able to abduct one of the female students, but she escaped to safety.
Going back to the drawing board, he said they restrategised and this time came back with more men, who were detailed on their specific duties.
He identified the entire gang including Felix, aka Tradition (the contact man), Lami Ami (the informant), Abokin, Ekpokeme, aka Ekpos, Gift, aka Bayelsa, Prieye, Owe and Godfrey.
Having mapped out their plan, he narrated how they struck the school this time with seven canoes, using the Adamo creek as their getaway.
This was contrary to earlier media reports that the gang had stormed the school in seven sports utility vehicles (SUVs).
He also told THISDAY that they attacked the school after they had parked their seven canoes on the edge of Adama creek.
He said they escaped from the school using the canoes since the water was too shallow for their speedboats to ply on.
According to him, “We entered the school from the back fence and we carried away the girls. We did not wear any masks or charms. Some of us were inside the school while others were outside waiting for further instructions.
“When those that went inside brought the girls, they passed them to us outside and we bundled them into the canoe and left via the creek.
“It was Felix who bought another set of clothes (jeans and tops) for the girls to change into after they got to the creek. We fed them well too.”
Asked why they targeted and abducted the girls, he said he could not readily explain, insisting that while the girls were in their custody, they were not harmed.
The suspect, who was arrested by the officer-in-charge of the Inspector General of Police (IG) Special Intelligence Response Team (SIRT), ACP Abba Kyari, said the gang leader and his team were later taken to the Lagos State Police Command.
Kyari was called in by the IG, Mr. Solomon Arase, to fast track the release of the girls when Arase had on Thursday deployed the SIRT to complement the efforts of the Lagos State Command.
On how the girls were released, the state Commissioner of Police, Fatai Owoseni, said Arigidi was arrested from Adama creek when he came out to buy food.
He said they had earlier infiltrated the gang and detained their parents in a bid to force the hands of the kidnappers, adding that one family had two of their sons in the gang.
After Arigidi was arrested, the father of the two other gang members, who are still at large, was called in to speak with him and he gave them directions to the creeks.
When he got to the creeks, the septuagenarian was said to have appealed to their baser nature, informing them that the police had arrested one of their gang members.
He also told them that if they did not release the girls, the police had stationed their helicopters for aerial bombardment of their hideout.
Seeing no other way out, the suspects, it was gathered quickly took the girls to Igbo-Okuta Bridge, Imota, dropped them there and called the police anonymously before they fled from their hideout. Owoseni, who had spent the night at the drop off point last night, immediately stormed the bridge, took the girls away to safety and reunited them with their parents.
He confirmed that they were found at Igbo-Okuta, a suburb of Ikorodu, after the pressure they put on the gang yielded results.
He also said the command was able to arrest two other members of the gang, identified as Henry and Seun, whose duty was to register the different SIM cards used to negotiate with the families.
He added that the students were in good health. “They are very well. They are stable. The police medical team tested them just to ascertain their health conditions.
“As we picked them up, one of the questions we asked the girls was whether they were molested in any way. All of them stated unequivocally that they were not molested in any way,” he said.
Owoseni also insisted that no ransom was paid, stating: “It is unfortunate that we keep on talking about ransom. When you talk about ransom in cases like this, you are glorifying kidnapping.
“We should not be talking about ransom anymore in this country because if you do, you are telling others that kidnapping is viable and enouraging people to collect money from kidnapping.”
He provided insight into the arrest of the kidnappers, noting that the students were rescued through the application of intelligence-led policing using technology, partnering with members of the community, and pressure applied on the kidnappers.
He acknowledged the role of other security agencies, explaining that the security operatives went after the family members of the suspects including their mothers, fathers and children.
According to him, with that pressure, they found out that they could no longer hold on to the girls and “that was what led to the success we recorded in rescuing the girls”.
Owoseni said despite the fact that some of the gang members had fled, efforts were on-going to apprehend that and get them to face the wrath of the law.
He also explained the command had decided to release their respective parents and siblings who were in police custody.
When Thisday visited the school at about 10.34 am yesterday, parents and residents were seen in clusters, some dancing and basking in the euphoria of the rescue.
Attempts to access the church inside the school where the girls were during the church service, proved abortive, as one of the prelates stopped this newspaper’s reporter in front of the administrative office of the school.
He pointed out that the reporter was not a member of their church, insisting that the principal would address the press at the end of the sermon.
The school’s security guard later came to escort the reporter outside on the instruction of the police and school authorities.
Whilst heading back to the state police command for the parade of the suspects, this reporter was able to catch a glimpse of the girls in celebratory mode.
In a convoy of seven cars led by a police patrol team and followed closely by their respective parents in their individual cars, the girls were seated in the middle of a white bus belonging to the Anglican communion.
The girls were seen laughing and talking among themselves as they were sped away to an unknown destination, as Thisday lost the convoy in the traffic snarl at the Ikorodu roundabout.
The suspects were later taken to the Lagos State Government House at Alausa, were Governor Akinwunmi Ambode and his entourage were waiting.
While addressing the press, Ambode said the state government was very pleased to announce that the three students were rescued successfully by security forces.
He said: “The Lagos State police Command, the Department of State Security and the armed forces worked tirelessly round the clock in the last six days to secure the release of the children. I thank them for a good job.
“The three girls have been safely re-united with their families and the government wishes to assure Lagosians that their security is top priority and it will not relent in ensuring that Lagos remains safe and secure.
“I am reliably informed that one of the suspected kidnappers, one Emmanuel Arigidi, was arrested during the operation to secure the release of the abducted children.
“Let me warn that the state government will not tolerate kidnapping or any form of crime in the state.
“Our position is clear and unambiguous, Lagos State has the capacity and the will to go after every form of crime and criminality in order to safeguard lives and property in the state.
“As our daughters are re-united with their mothers and other members of their families, I would like to seize this opportunity to wish all mothers in Lagos State and Nigeria at large a happy Mothers’ Day.”
All attempts to speak with the parents of the abducted girls proved abortive. (Thisday)