Revered Father Michael Ifeanyi Asomugha, a priest of the catholic diocese of Okigwe, in lmo state was kidnapped on the evening of Saturday, April 15,2023. Father Ifeanyi from childhood, wanted to be a priest and was overwhelmed when he was ordained on September 18,2021 and posted as assistant priest of St Paul’s parish, Osu, lsiala, Mbane local government area of Imo state. But as fate would have it, he was kidnapped along Ofriagu- Obodo road while on his way back from a Diocesan Diaconate ordination. He was kidnapped while trying to remove a huge stone right in the middle of the road, an innocent act of a good citizen that could have cost him his life. His brother priest who was in the driver’s seat managed to escape and reported to his superiors and later to the police. It took some time to find the appropriate police unit to report to and of course in his words, l spent money. The Nigeria police reaction to the incident, was not like its counterparts anywhere in the world.
There was no sense of urgency. Rather than activate the system, first alert other police formations in the state, appoint an investigator or hand over the case to a team of experience crime busters like police in advanced countries would do, to begin to track the kidnappers, the Catholic Church was advised to ‘start putting money together’. Nothing more was done. As the church broke the news to the family of the kidnapped priest who had given his life to serve God through the church, it advised the family to start looking for money as the church of Christ, as a policy do not pay ransom. This perhaps is the marked difference between the Catholic Church and the Baptist whose Primate was rescued from captivity at the pricey sum of a hundred million Naira. Unlike governments around the world which occasionally pay ransom but denied paying, the Baptist church action in reveling the ransom paid to rescue its leader did not escape the attention of bandits and kidnappers operating almost throughout the country.
They couldn’t believe they have been so stupid over time asking for peanuts when they could make the big bucks and retire to live of luxury like our governors some of whom as state governors could not pay salaries to state civil servants but in retirement could donate N250 million at a book launch. No sooner thereafter, the Abuja- Kaduna train was attacked, captives taken and ramson of a hundred million demanded for each head in captivity. Families scrambled to pay to recue their loved ones, and so when the news of father Ifeanyi began to spread, the family practically got the same message from everybody including retired and serving police and intelligence officers, army generals, friends, and coworkers, with an additional information that everyone pays.
Even the lmo state governor’s office was not left out in encouraging them to ‘get money ready’. Indeed, when the kidnappers called, they asked for hundred million Naira. When the family made it clear that it was in no position to meet their request and pleaded for the life of their son whose parents were retired civil servants, they were declared unserious. Father Asomogha was in captivity for a little over two weeks. But for a period of four days that the kidnappers did not call, they engaged the family in telephone negotiations over how much would eventually be acceptable to them. In all these negotiations, the police was nowhere to be found. On the night of his release, to evade the police who were fast asleep, the kidnappers did what they do best, took the family on a merry go round until they were sure the police was not tailing the family before they finally named a spot where the ransom was deposited and father Ifeanyi released, battered, bruised and traumatized.
If the police knew of his release, they probably read about it from the media and no police investigator had called to talk to the priest. The sad reality of today’s Nigeria is that because of the weakness of the Nigeria police force and other related agencies especially the Directorate of State Security, Nigeria’s equivalent of the American Federal Bureau of Investigation we have encouraged, sustained, and made banditry and kidnapping a very lucrative business. It is almost impossible to believe the police has no nationwide tracking system to listen to the chats or negotiations between family members and criminals and to be able to locate their hideouts. Even worse is the growing police ineptitude or sheer lethargy in the discharge of their core mandate which is essentially to prevent crimes and maintain law and order. The truth we must admit to ourselves is that the Nigeria police has lost it soul, it’s bearing and needs to be recalibrated for the good of all of us.
Thanks to our leaders and elites, we have watched the police loss it’s bearing. It’ is estimated that the strength of the Nigeria police is close to or a little more than 400,000 police officers of which almost half work as personal security details for politicians and all kinds of businessmen and women. The few that are left to do real police work spend more time devising means of making money either from harassing motorists, Keke riders or from cases brought to them.
––Amb Keshi writes from Abuja