•Operations against them have just begun, says Onovo •Incident should serve as a wake-up call on governments, security agencies – NPAN •Stand up against criminals, pay no ransom, says Akunyili •NGE recommends harsh example for kidnappers •Orji urges journalists to use experience to fight for freedom •Gwandu unveils plans to end kidnapping
President Goodluck Jonathan on Sunday said the release of the kidnapped journalists was a big relief to the Federal Government. While commending the police and Nigerians for their efforts in pressuring the criminals that led to the release of the journalists, the president charged Ogbonna Onovo, inspector general of police, to ensure that the criminals were apprehended at all cost. Wahab Oba, the chairman of Lagos NUJ; Adolphus Okonkwo of Voice of Nigeria; Sola Oyeyipo of PMAN and Sylvester Okereke of Champion Newspapers, kidnapped with their driver, Azeez Yekini, in Abia a week ago, were released on Sunday.
Ima Niboro, special adviser on media and publicity to the president, noted in a statement that President Jonathan said the criminal act must be uprooted once and for all in Nigeria. President Jonathan extended warm greetings to the freed journalists, their families and the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), saying “even as we celebrate freedom today, let us insist that this spate of criminality must stop. In every way possible, we must say no to these vices, and assist the authorities to expose perpetrators and bring an end to these vices as quickly as possible.”
Similarly, the inspector general of police, Ogbonna Onovo, said on Sunday in Umuahia that police operations have just started against kidnappers with the release of the four kidnapped journalists and their driver. Onovo while handing over the rescued journalists to Governor Theodore Orji of Abia, said that “the releasing and handing over is the first stage,’’ while “the second stage is to go after the kidnappers.’’ He said that stage two would not be easy, pointing out that “while going after them, we will inconvenience some innocent people living within the area.”
Onovo appealed to the kidnappers to surrender themselves and their arms in their own interest to avoid bloodshed, saying “if they refuse, we will have no option than to confront them headlong.” He explained that policing in a democratic state required a lot of care, but warned that “our care not to hurt innocent people should not be taken for weakness.”
Narrating how the police handled the situation, Onovo said that after combing the area on July 11, the police re-strategised and were able to locate the hide-out of the kidnappers in Obingwa. “I deployed a contingent to start combing the bush, house to house search and with a charge to rescue the journalists alive because if there is confrontation, we don’t know who will survive the assault,” he said. Onovo said that a police helicopter closed in on the hide-out of the kidnappers but exercised restraint to attack because “our primary aim was to rescue the journalists alive.”
He said the police resorted to sensitising the people, adding that the strategy paid off because everybody could feel the tension that the kidnap of the journalists showed that none was exempt from the act. He commended the State Security Service (SSS), the Army, NUJ and other groups, as well as the state government and the police in particular for their gallantry during the one week search for the media men. Onovo said that security was paramount and should be regarded as the business of all, adding that armchair critics believed that they could gloat over the situation.
He appealed to all to join hands to fight crime in Nigeria. According to Ajibola Ogunshola, president, Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN), “We hope that this incident, though unsavoury, would serve as a wake-up call on governments at all levels and the nation’s security agencies, that our security requires structural reexamination and greater diligence and commitment from all stakeholders.”
He congratulated the family of the chairman, Nigeria Union of Journalists, Lagos council, Wahab Oba, and the families of his three other colleagues and their driver, on the release of their loved ones who were seized by kidnappers in Umuafor Ukwu in Abia State on Sunday, July 11, on their way from the National Executive Council meeting of the union in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. The association also acknowledged the efforts of the NUJ, other media stakeholders, the security agencies and the general public that culminated in the release of these journalists. “Stand up against criminals, pay no ransom,’’ an elated minister of information and communications, Dora Akunyili, told Nigerians on Sunday following the release of the journalists.
Akunyili told newsmen that payment of ransom had encouraged kidnapping which has now become an industry. “I just feel so happy that our brothers are safe and no one succumbed to the threat of the kidnappers who are criminals that go about torturing people emotionally,’’ she said. In his reaction, the president of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), Gbenga Adefaye, recommended a harsh example be made of deviants to put an end to kidnapping. “We hope government will put an end to these incidents of kidnap that embarrasses us all and makes Nigeria look like an uncharted jungle.
“We hope the president will take a strong step on security and reassure everyone that Nigeria is a safe place peopled by decent citizens. “We also hope that journalists will not be afraid to perform their duties, as enshrined in the constitution,’’ Adefaye remarked.
The national secretary of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Leman Shuaib, said Nigerians should resolve to make the recent episode, the last of kidnap saga in the country. He said that it was time the nation got rid of the menace of such despicable and embarrassing act. Governor Theodore Orji of Abia has urged the four journalists released by their abductors on Sunday, to apply their experiences in captivity to fight for freedom. Orji made the statement in Umuahia on Sunday when he received the journalists with their driver shortly after their release.
Orji said: “Now that you have tested the other side of life, it becomes imperative that you apply your experiences to educate the world and fight for freedom.” He said that the incident of the last week had been a challenge to the state government and the police, adding “that is why we attached seriousness to it.” Meanwhile, with the rising and worrisome trend of kidnapping in the country, Bashir Gwandu, the acting executive vice chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) on Sunday in Abuja unveiled some measures to reduce the menace using telecommunications devices.
Drawing from one of his short, medium and long term plans to move the telecom industry forward, which he presented at a meeting with chief executives of telecoms operators in Lagos recently, Gwandu said one of such plans could significantly curtail or even eliminate the menace of kidnapping in the country.
He said while SIM card registration offers significant solution to the issue of kidnapping, another project that could complement SIM card registration is a plan to issue subsidy to operators to install equipment on every mast and tower that could be used for triangulating between sites in order to identify real-geographical location of both GPS and None GPS-enabled Mobile handsets. Gwandu said in addition to the triangulation project, all GPS-enabled handsets could also be tracked by low earth orbit satellites. He further stated that there are other equipment that could be deployed to track and identify the locations of handsets being used to solicit for ransom.
According to Gwandu, once ownership of numbers can be identified, handsets can be tracked, and their geographical location become identifiable, then, any call made to solicit for ransom will help to locate the kidnappers.