SPECIAL REPORT: Four years after kidnap of toddler, suspects ‘shielded’, justice delayed

The frontage of the house Master Chisimdiri was kidnapped
The frontage of the house Master Chisimdiri was kidnapped

“I’ve spent all in this case. I lost the pregnancy I was carrying at that time. My husband lost his job, and he is now serving someone in Anambra to make a living. Just on this case…,” Chinwendu Obilor told this reporter, with tears welling up in her eyes.

Her pains are apparent as much as her frustration. The 39-year-old said she ‘lost it all’ in the process of seeking justice and the recovery of her missing child.

The painful experience started in January 2015, when her last child, Chisimdiri, was abducted from their residence, No.10 Ibo road, Aba in Aba South Local Government Area of Abia State, by a stranger.

The stranger was later identified as Nwachukwu Chidubem.

At that time, little Chisimdiri was only two years and two months old and was recuperating from a health challenge he had been battling since birth, this reporter learnt.

However, since 2015 when Chisimdiri was abducted in a chain of human transfers by traffickers, the culprits are yet to be brought to book neither has the kid been found, although the main kidnappers were arrested.

“I started selling my properties to make sure I get my son, but all was in vain. I had to borrow N150,000 from a bank not long ago to start this shop you can see. There was nothing then. You will pity my condition if you see me,” a visibly frustrated Mrs Obilor said.

Her frustration did not start on the day of her encounter with this reporter.

How It Started

On that fateful day, January 15, 2015, Mr Chidubem, a stranger to the family, came to the Obilors’ residence to ask if there were vacant rooms for rent. Mrs Obilor responded that there was none.

Although suspicious of Mr Chidubem, she did not probe him further on why he made such enquires.

Mrs Chiwendu Obilor in her shop.
Mrs Chiwendu Obilor in her shop.

“I did not know that he was targeting my son,” she said.

Later that day, Mrs Obilor noticed her son was missing. During her search, she was told by a neighbour that Mr Chidubem had taken the child along with him to buy akara (bean cakes). The woman gave a hot chase with a tricycle but she said the abductor was faster.

“Immediately, I rushed out. I was running helter-skelter. I asked the one that he (Chidubem) said he was staying with (Ebere Eze). That one said he is a stranger.”

Mr Chidubem was later reached through his line on the second day. He demanded a ransom, claiming the person who hosted him in the Obilor’s area, Ebere Eze, owed him money.

“He said if I want to get my child back, I should pay the money his friend was owing him. I asked how much, he said the money is N190,000.”

Confused, the woman contacted Mr Ebere, who denied knowing Mr Chidubem, not to talk of owing him.

“The boy said he only helped Chidubem to sleep overnight in his place and that he does not even know him,” she narrated.

Mr Chidubem’s family members were contacted but the aunty, who responded, said: “the culprit had been disowned by the family after he abducted his cousin.”

Responding to the demand for ransom, PREMIUM TIMES learnt that the woman paid N322,000 at different intervals to get her child from the abductor, who earlier warned her not to involve police cops.

“He said that if I call the police, he will kill the child and drop the dead body in front of my house. He was asking for money. I was giving him. He kept on asking; I was giving. It was after I realised I had transferred like N322,000 and that was when I reported at the Cameroon barrack police station”.

One year later

In January 2016, a year after the abduction, the culprit was tracked via his cousin’s account number, through which Mrs Obilor sent money.

He was arrested and remanded in the State Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Nigeria Police Command in Umuahia, the Abia State Capital.

After arrest, Mr Chidubem confessed to selling the child to a self-acclaimed Reverend Father, Johnmary Ihuneze, who operates an orphanage in Anambra State.

Mr Ihuneze was also arrested by the police in January 2016.

Reverend Johnmary Ihuneze amongst some of the children in the orphanage
Reverend Johnmary Ihuneze amongst some of the children in the orphanage

Probed, Mr Ihuneze, 60, reportedly confirmed his involvement in the crime and confessed to selling the boy to a lecturer in Enugu State for N5,000.

According to documents obtained by this paper, Mr Ihuneze, Mr Chidubem and other suspects, were arraigned before a Magistrate Court in Umuahia.

The suspects faced a four-count charge bordering on kidnapping, terrorism, possession of offensive weapons, holding hostage and trafficking. The suit number is U/68C/2016.

Trafficker jumps bail

After the supposed cleric was granted bail in December 2018, he failed to attend court sessions six times.

He was released on bail after spending almost a year in police custody. Mr Chidubem is being remanded in Aba Prisons as he awaits trial.

Entrance of the Prisons in Aba
Entrance of the Prisons in Aba

A judiciary staffer privy to the case alleged that the police deliberately delayed filing the case to seek the Director of Public Prosecution’s advice, which is the court procedure.

That opening, the source said, afforded the defence counsel the opportunity to apply for Mr Ihuneze’s bail at a high court in Umuahia.

“They did not transmit the case on time, and there was no information against the man as at the time they applied for his bail. That was the reason the court granted him bail. Two sureties took him on bail,” the source, a staffer of the Abia State Ministry of Justice, disclosed to the reporter.

After the bail was granted, all efforts to reach Mr Ihuneze failed. He was alleged to have travelled to India, according to the victim’s defence counsel.

Chidubem’s appeal

When PREMIUM TIMES visited the prison in Aba, Mr Chidubem insisted thatMr Ihuneze is still within reach “but being shielded after paying a bribe of N3 million to the police.”

PREMIUM TIMES has not verified this claim. The police have also denied the allegation.

On August 6, this reporter disguised as the uncle of the victim alongside Mrs Obilor to visit Mr Chidubem in the prison custody.

He promised to help get the reverend father and the victim “if the family decides to withdraw the case.”

“Only those without conscience make promises and fail. If I am jailed, I will be released after completing the jail term, but your child will still be missing. If you withdraw the case now, I will find the reverend father and help get your child back to you,” he said.

He said he still speaks with “other suspects” even from prison and explained “that they have all been business partners for years.”

He did not name the other suspects.

The suspect said he would have been freed “like others if he had paid the N800,000 bribe requested by an assistant commissioner of police. Again, PREMIUM TIMES has not been able to verify his claim.

“After the (police) commissioner has been bribed, it was the assistant commissioner that made sure I was thrown into prison. The assistant commissioner requested bribe for me to be freed. If I had paid the N800,000, I won’t be here,” he said but failed to mention the officer in question.

Abia State has had more than three police commissioners in the last three years. The kidnapper refused to mention the police commissioner he made reference to and did not provide any evidence.

The police also denied the allegation.

Mr Chidubem said he only realised during the last court sitting, “that the name of the reverend has been removed from the criminal litigation.”

Mr Chidubem, who claimed to be a stylist in Lagos until 2008, said: “he is in the business of helping young women who are trafficked outside the country to sell their children to the cleric.”

Failed promise

On March 13, 2019, a petition signed by the victim’s parents was sent to the Abia State Commissioner of Police, Ene Okon, seeking his intervention.

“He (Reverend Johnmary) was kept in police custody, but surprisingly, he was later released by the high court 6 Umuahia under the custody of Ngozi Ucheagwu for reasons best known to them, but we are yet to have a glimpse of our son or the third party, Nwateacher of Enugu who bought our son from the reverend gentleman who happens to be the second suspect,” the letter read in part.

“We will sincerely appreciate your timely intervention in ensuring that justice prevails, our son reunites with the family and the perpetrators brought to book. Thank you, sir, as we look forward to your kind and timely intervention.”

Meanwhile, this reporter gathered from the parents that Mr Okon promised to intervene but nothing has been done since.

“I called several times and visited his office to follow up on the issue, but it got to a time he was not responding well again,” said a liaison between the family and police, who does not want her name in print.

She was later informed that the petition was initially forwarded to the police spokesperson in Abuja, Frank Mba, “who rejected it and informed her that such an issue is best addressed at the state level”.

The father of the child, Favour Obilor, said he earlier told the wife to give up on the case “when justice was not forthcoming”.

The man, who now works in Anambra, appealed for government intervention.

“I have spent over N2 million on the case to the point that I lost my job in Abia State. I have spent money. Everybody was collecting money from us.”

Police react

The Abia state police command, in response to PREMIUM TIMES’ enquiries, debunked the allegation of bribery against its officials.

A police spokesperson said the courts are to be blamed for the stalemate.

Speaking with this reporter, the police spokesperson, Geoffrey Ogbonna, said that lapses in the case were “from the court and the defence counsel who made the plea for Reverend Johnmary’s bail”.

“This case was called up, and the accused person was granted bail by the court. If there is a delay in transmitting or transferring a case-file to the DPP, that should not and has never been a ground for releasing someone that was involved in a heinous crime or allowing him to go.”

He explained: “The funniest thing is that police will arraign someone in the magistrate court, and you will see them going for a lawyer who will go and file documents in the high court since it is the high court that has jurisdiction to look into such cases.

“For someone to be granted bail, it means that all the necessary things have been formalised. Since it was not struck out, all the necessities must have been made. If it is a case that police refused or delayed to send the case file to the DPP, what the court would have done is to strike out the case,” he said.

Mr Ogbonna then suggested that police would not go after Mr Ihuneze and the sureties who supported him until ordered to do so by the court.

He said the “state police can only wade in when the hideout of the accused or his sureties is provided by the court.

“The police can only assist when they have identified where the accused person is, his sureties. Let the court go through their records.”

The Orphanage

Since the disappearance of Mr Ihuneze, the person in charge of the orphanage, a woman simply identified as Ms Ijeoma, has refused to grant anyone connected with the case, access to the facility.

Ms Ijeoma initially told anyone who inquired about the reverend that he had travelled and she no longer works there.

Ms Ijeoma sitting in the orphanage when Premium Times rvisited
Ms Ijeoma sitting in the orphanage when Premium Times rvisited

Several attempts to get the orphanage’s address were unsuccessful.

However, this reporter decided to go undercover.

He began communicating with Ms Ijeoma in July about ”how his (NGO) organisation wants to supply the needs of the orphanage”.

After failed attempts to get the exact address, this reporter in the company of the victim’s father, who disguised as the communications officer of the non-existent NGO, set out to Nkpor, a town in Anambra State in August.

It was at this point that Ms Ijeoma was coaxed to open up. She directed the reporter to the said orphanage. She stood at a vantage point, monitoring the movement of the team.

The orphanage, named Mary’s Perpetual Help Foundation/Children’s Home, is situated along Umusiome road, Nkpor Agu, Idemili North local government area of Anambra State.

It is still in operation.

At about 2 p.m. on Thursday, August 15, the woman rushed after the team heading towards the entrance of the NGO. She inquired about the activities of their organisation. She was suspicious of the visitors and asked Mr Obilor, in Igbo, if all was well.

Denial

Ms Ijeoma, when PREMIUM TIMES’ reporter later unveiled his identity, denied working in the orphanage and said she had left the place three years ago.

“I left the place three years ago and I am married now. I live in Abuja. The reverend is terribly sick and has travelled abroad,” she said.

However, when confronted with the evidence that she welcomed the reporter during the NGO’s visit on August 16, she said; “I used to come there sometimes but I have left the place,” she said.

She did not respond to further probe and feigned ignorance of all the questions asked.

Investigations showed that the orphanage, with about twenty children, is registered with the Anambra State Ministry of Women Affairs and Development.

However, in separate interviews with PREMIUM TIMES, some residents of the area said they found the activities of the home ‘suspicious’.

“We don’t know how children get there. We just see children there. They lock their gates, and they do everything indoor,” an artisan who works opposite the home disclosed.

“There was a night that a boy came around shouting on them that his girlfriend brought her child there and he was cursing that they should return his child,” another resident told this reporter.

When enquiries were made about the whereabouts of Mr Ihuneze, the residents said he was last seen in the area early 2019.

A Controversial Registration

A search at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) revealed that the foundation was registered in 2006 by Mr Ihuneze and three others.

The parent company, Mary’s Perpetual Help Foundation, is registered as a trustee with the number- 35061 and the official address is No. 15 Unity Jamb office in Asaba, Delta State.

However, a visit to the address provided showed that no office with such name ever existed in that location as the nearest related organisation found is one Mother of Divine Grace Orphanage which is four kilometres away.

Sign post of the orphanage in Nkpor, Amambra state.
Sign post of the orphanage in Nkpor, Amambra state.

Moreover, the details provided on Mary’s Perpetual Help Foundation’s official website is void of the company’s address except various account details listed for donations.

The contact phone numbers listed on the website include that of Ms Ijeoma, Mr Ihuneze, one Eze Violet and Sister Ezinne.

While it was stated that the foundation has an orphanage home with pictures displayed, no details of the home’s activities is available on the website.

All the contact details available on the website did not answer calls of this reporter after the encounter with Ms Ijeoma.

However, Mr Ihuneze was reached through a different phone and he responded.

After he confirmed his identity as ‘Reverend Johnmary’, he denied the knowledge of any court case connected to the kidnap of Chisimdiri Obilor and ended the call.

The frontage of the house Master Chisimdiri was kidnapped
The frontage of the house Master Chisimdiri was kidnapped

He did not respond to enquiries about the orphanage and the foundation through several calls and text messages.

Activists wade in

Meanwhile, the Abia State Team Lead for Behind Bars Rights Initiative (BBI), Samuel Onyeugbo, condemned the lackadaisical attitude shown by the police and the delay in getting justice served.

In an interview with this reporter, Mr Onyeugbo said the case was reported to the rights group in July.

The human right activist, Mr Onyeugbo
The human right activist, Mr Onyeugbo

“We found out that the case has already been going on and that there are some problems because they (the suspects) paid some bribes for the case to be killed.

“They (the victim’s family) are oppressed because they don’t have a voice. The reverend father has money and wants to use his money to suppress the case. It’s not possible. Everybody’s right is equal. We are all equal. This is the biological child of these people.

“Our investigation is still on. If they refuse to handle the case legally, amicably…we will write a petition to the commissioner of police from our end,” he said.

Meanwhile, a human rights lawyer, Nwabekee Nnamdi, has requested for the case file and plans to take up the case for free.

He disclosed this in a telephone interview with this newspaper. Mr Nnamdi said the judge handling the matter “went to serve at the tribunal which contributed to the delay.”

“But the issue now is that two people signed his bail bond. We are seeing if we can pick up those two for them to provide the man. One of them is a professional surety, also known as Charge and Bail.

“That case will not succeed if we don’t get Reverend Johnmary. If people can assist us and raise money. I am going to Umuahia to track the sureties.

“The issue the woman is having is the issue of money. They will now direct us to the orphanage. Let us see if they will give us officers to find out the man’s hideout. Let us see if they will provide those that investigated the issue.”

The next hearing date for the case is November 7.

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