When news broke that suspected notorious kidnap kingpin, Chukwudubem Onwuamadike (AKA Evans) had been arrested in Lagos by the police on June 10, many people celebrated the security agencies that made it happen.
But far less known was the celebration it produced in the compound of the Iloenyosi family of Abagana, Anambra State.
For this family, the news of Evans arrest was a personal victory.
It all began one early morning on November 25, 2013 when the patriarch of the family, Chief James Iloenyosi, was kidnapped on his way back from mass.
His son, Chikelue Iloenyosi, former Super Eagles player who played professional football in France and Turkey, has not been able to get over what happened to his father. He narrated the event that quickly became a game of hide and seek between criminals and the law enforcement agents.
He told Saturday PUNCH in an emotion-laden tone that his father, who was 86 at the time, was on his way back from their local Catholic church when three SUVs double-crossed him and whisked him away.
He would never see his father alive again.
“When they took him away, they did not talk to us until after five days. They phoned my twin sister. She was sobbing when she called me that the kidnappers had made contact.
“When we the children gathered, my sister called the kidnappers again and they simply told us that they would call back. They did not call back until after another five days just to build our anxiety.”
The N50m ransom negotiation
According to Chikelue, with no idea what could be going on with his father, the kidnappers on the morning of the fifth day called to demand a ransom of N50m.
The routine of begging and pleading for the reduction of the ransom started at this point and after many days, they eventually reduced the ransom to N15m.
Chikelue said, “When we paid the N15m, my father was already dead and we did not know.
“What made me upset was that despite how seriously we worked to get him back, my father did not come out of it alive.”
But upon payment of the ransom, the kidnappers said they were not releasing their victim until the family brought more money. But they never heard from the kidnappers again.
Breakthrough arrests four months later
However, after four months of investigation into the kidnap, said to have involved hundreds of policemen in Anambra State combing the forest at the time, security agencies got a break when a member of the gang that kidnapped Chikelue’s father, a suspect known as Nonso, was arrested along with three other members of his gang.
Chikelue said at the time, Evans was already a popular criminal well known to the State Anti-Robbery Squad of the Anambra State Police Command.
He was said to be a wanted robber known for hitting bullion vans.
“The SARS boss in Anambra told me at the time that any suspect arrested for any major crime always mentioned the name of Evans,” he said.
According to him, the family had to involve a private investigator in the case at a point when there was no longer news about their father’s whereabouts months after the family paid the ransom.
In addition to this, he said a friend of his based in Israel helped to track his father’s line and traced it to a young lady, who said Nonso was his boyfriend.
Chikelue told Saturday PUNCH, “When we arrested the girl, she said Nonso only gave her the phone for safe-keeping, instructing her not to put it on. We started tracking Nonso. At a point, the current leader of the IRT, Abba Kyari, gave us 18 of his men to follow us to Cotonou, Benin Republic because our trace on Nonso’s line showed he was there.
“We got there and the police arrested a young man, who said he came to buy a car. He said the number was not his and that he only wanted to use it to call somebody in Nigeria. The police had to let him go when it was clear he knew nothing.
“Later we left the Cotonou guy. Again, our private tracker traced him to Lokoja, Kogi State.”
Evan’s gang member arrested in Lokoja
However, intelligence later suggested that Nonso was in Lokoja.
According to him, he and other members of the gang were said to have relocated there immediately they shared the ransom because many security agencies were after the gang.
Chikelue said after identifying the hotel the suspect might be hiding in, some members of the SARS team in Kogi State moved in to make the arrest.
He said, “I was in Lokoja for two months with a private tracker before we arrested Nonso.
“When we got to the hotel with the police that day, we requested for the list of the people staying at the hotel. The hotel staff mentioned a “small boy” with his girlfriend in one of the rooms.
“We knocked on the door and the girlfriend came out. He said her boyfriend was in the bathroom. But I was hearing a sound inside. He was trying to escape through the window but SARS operatives were already stationed around the hotel.
“He eventually came out and said his name was Emmanuel. But I knew it was him right away because we had been able to obtain his photograph ahead.
“But because I did not want him to panic, I pretended it was not him and told the SARS operatives in his presence that the person we were looking for was an older man.
“He relaxed and was going inside when I called him and said I wanted to ask him something. I dialled his phone number there and then when it rang, we took it and it showed the name ‘Kidnapper football’. The SARS operatives immediately pounced on him and handcuffed him.
“I asked Nonso if he knew me, he said he did not. I told him I was the footballer whose number he saved with that name. He then asked if I was ‘General’ – my alias – and I said yes.”
Saturday PUNCH learnt that as soon as Nonso was arrested, he became submissive.
He reportedly pleaded for his life, saying he would provide any information the police needed.
“He immediately told us that his leader was Evans. But he said there was no way we could get Evans because he had fled to Lagos after the completion of the operation. At this point, Nonso kept our hope alive. He said my father was still alive. He refused to give precise information,” Chikelue told our correspondent.
The ex-footballer said he was very hopeful at that point and believed he was indeed going to get his father back alive.
Nonso, who was transported back to Anambra in the company of SARS operatives later provided the police with Evans’ phone line, with which they started tracking him.
When the police team got to Anambra with the suspect, he reportedly began to plead not to be taken to SARS headquarters in the state for fear of being tortured and killed. He said he was willing to give up all the necessary information.
Nonso told the police that Evans was always on the move after each operation.
Chikelue said, “We were calling Evans to pinpoint his location but it was all abortive. Nonso was later made to call another member of the gang called Awolowo to inform him that there was an operation.
“But Awolowo said he did not want to do any operation at the time because his wife had just put to bed. Nonso said Awolowo was part of Evans’ Asaba, Delta State group.”
Suspects refused to confess
The police later arrested Awolowo and two others.
For many days, these suspects were said to have kept mum.
It was learnt that they refused to divulge any information about Evans, which the police suspected was owing to the fact that they had taken an oath.
In fact, one of the suspects, who was on the verge of confessing was said to have suddenly started acting like someone with a mental illness.
Even Nonso’s girlfriend who was also arrested was said to have refused to give any information that could implicate her boyfriend.
“The most shocking thing was that when the police interrogated Nonso, he said that if the SARS ever wanted peace in Anambra, they should kill the lady. He said she was the one responsible for taking care of the gang and that she helped them buy drugs and collected ransom on their behalf,” Chikelue said.
But he said while all these were going on, his only concern was knowing his father’s whereabouts.
One day, while Chikelue was at the SARS office, he found a sudden ally in an armed robbery suspect called Onyeso, who was detained there.
Chikelue said, “He pulled me aside and said, ‘My brother, you are a good man because you always give money so that the police could buy us food when you come here’. He said he wanted to give me a privileged information.
“He said if we wanted any result, we should take Awolowo to the backyard and tell the police to shoot their gun in the air as if they had killed him. He said the other one would start confessing because they had indeed taken an oath.
“When the police did this, Nonso started confessing when he was told Awolowo had been killed. He said he would take us to where my father was buried.
“We journeyed into the forest for three and half hours before we got to where they buried him. I broke down and my sister who was there at the time fainted.”
Saturday PUNCH learnt that the late Pa Iloenyosi was buried around Nneyi village in Umueri community.
But most heartbreaking was the information that the old man might have been starved or beaten to death.
When Nonso was asked how the old man died, he explained that it was the fault of those manning the hideout where Evans kept the man.
Pa Iloenyosi was said to have been stripped to his underwear, kept in a cold room and beaten regularly in order to put more pressure on his children.
Chikelue said, “While we were negotiating for ransom, they would call and put the phone on speaker so I could hear how they beat him. My father would cry and beg me to find a way to ensure his freedom.
“We buried him few days after we found his body and started the search for Evans. One of the vital information Nonso gave us was that they were on their way to a robbery when they got information about my father and they diverted to Abagana to kidnap him. So, I was really particular about the arrest of Evans so that he could tell us who in our community gave them the information.”
Chikelue said he was the happiest man in the world the day he heard Evans had been arrested. But he said he was particularly upset when he read that Evans was begging for his life with the excuse that he had never killed a victim before.
“What Evans did to my family was the most painful thing anybody can experience. When I read he has been begging for sympathy, I just laughed. The death penalty for people like him is the only solution. Evans can never repent despite all the second chance he is begging for.”
Chikelue said the police were already aware of Evans connection to his father’s kidnap and murder and are taking it into account in the case against him.
Meanwhile, the Anambra State Police Command says it is liaising with its Lagos State counterpart on the records of Evans’ past crimes in the state.