There are indications that kidnappers who terrorised schools in Epe and Ikorodu areas about five years ago have resumed their criminal escapades in the riverine areas of the state as police sources linked the abduction of a retired Air Vice Marshal, Sikiru Smith, to the gang.
The sources on Saturday confided in our correspondent that the abductors lurked around the creeks in Ikorodu and Ajah axis before they eventually released Smith early Saturday. They also said an undisclosed amount was paid as ransom.
Smith, the Chairman of Double Wealth Ventures Limited – a dredging and engineering firm – was supervising work on a site in Ajah on Monday when masked gunmen invaded the place and shot into the air to scare people away.
The gunmen were said to have whisked him away in a waiting speedboat and headed towards Ikorodu.
A team drawn from different tactical squads and coordinated by the state Commissioner of Police, Hakeem Odumosu, was set up to rescue the retired AVM, who is a cousin to a former Inspector-General of Police and current Chairman of the Police Service Commission, Musiliu Smith.
A source privy to the rescue operation confided in our correspondent that the former Air Force boss was freed at a spot in Ajah in the early hours of Saturday.
The source said, “They (the kidnappers) had been taking him between Ajah and Ikorodu all this while. The police were monitoring their movement but were being careful not to take any action that will put the man’s life at risk. He was eventually released around Ajah.
“A ransom was paid but I didn’t know the amount. In any case police were not party to ransom payment. The kidnappers are known; they were the ones who kidnapped children in schools in Ikorodu and Epe some five years ago before the issue was addressed. The police will go after them.”
Another reliable source at the state police command told our correspondent that Smith’s abduction was a resurgence by a kidnap gang that once carried out abductions in the Lagos schools. The officer, however, said a manhunt had been launched for the gang.
“The police combed the Ikorodu area based on intelligence. We know those behind the kidnap and we are going after them. It is the same set of criminals who invaded secondary schools in Ikorodu and Epe some years back. The retired Air Vice Mashal was eventually released early today (Saturday) around Ajah,” the source explained.
Efforts to get the freed AVM proved abortive as calls to his line on Saturday were not reachable.
Lagos State was under the grip of kidnappings, including abduction of schoolchildren, between 2016 and 2017.
One of the prominent incidents was the May 2017 invasion of Lagos State Model College, Igbonla, Epe, by gunmen, who seized six pupils and took them away in a boat. The victims spent 64 days in captivity before they were released after ransom payment.
In June 2017, suspected kidnappers wrote Lagos State Model College, Kankon, Badagry, threatening to abduct some pupils and staff members of the school “the same way we did at Igbonla, Epe.” The attack was however averted.
Earlier, in March 2016, three schoolgirls at Babington Macaulay Junior Seminary School, Ikorodu, were abducted by gunmen. They were rescued about five days later and some suspects arrested.
The Police Public Relations Officer in the State, CSP Adekunle Ajisebutu, confirmed Smith’s release but said he had yet to get full details.
The PPRO had yet to reply to our correspondent’s enquiry on steps being taken by the command to tackle resurgence of kidnapping in the state.
However, Odumosu, the state Commissioner of Police, had in a statement on Wednesday issued by Ajisebutu, urged the residents not to panic, assuring them of safety of lives and property.
The statement read in part, “The Lagos State Commissioner of Police, CP Hakeem Odumosu wishes to assure residents that Lagos State is safe, and that they should not panic on account of the viral post or the recent security infringement in Ajah where AVM Sikiru Smith (retd.) was abducted. While still pleading with members of the public to believe in police’s ability to protect them at all times, the Commissioner of Police once again solicits the support of the public, sister agencies and other strategic partners by giving prompt but actionable intelligence that would further decimate criminal elements and their nefarious activities in the state.”’