After the hysteria that followed the arrest of Nigeria’s “Billionaire Kidnapper”, Chukwudidumeme Onuamadike, better known as “Evans”, and after several weeks of interrogations and further investigation, he has been arraigned on a two-count charge of kidnapping and conspiracy. He pleaded guilty to both counts. However, the circumstances leading to his arraignment and his plea of guilty have been subject to controversy.
First is the question of why it took so long to arraign him in court. Investigations of this type depend on speed and efficiency of the police. If further investigations were necessary to unearth other members of his syndicate or their collaborators, swift action would ordinarily be best, especially as Evans has been singing like a canary since his arrest. Charging him after 82 days does not show appreciation for the urgency of any further moves by the police. There is also the fact of the suit filed by a lawyer seeking to compel Evans’ arraignment or discharge. It is already being suggested that the charges brought now were hurried along by the filing of that suit.
One begins to wonder if there is not more to the Evans case than meets the eye. After all, there is money involved, money that Evans admitted never went to the banks. We want to see the police put together a complete case before going to trial for a change, instead of amending and re-amending charges all through the trial. However, Evans’ case appears to be as straightforward as it can get, without need for a lengthy trial, and the delay only raised questions.
Another issue in his arraignment are the utterances of his lawyer, Olukoya Ogungbeje, who only met the accused for the first time during his arraignment. The intrigue in this regard began after Evans denied any knowledge of the suit filed on his behalf by Ogungbeje asking the court to compel the police to charge or discharge him. Much noise was raised by the lawyer then about lack of access to his client.
Now, upon his arraignment, the lawyer has cried foul again, claiming that Evans had revealed to him that he was forced to plead guilty upon threat to his life by the police. If nothing else grants credit to this claim, the refusal by the police to grant access to Evans surely does. Again, the question that begs answering is why the police considered this necessary. His lawyer may be a controversial choice, but it does not justify the secrecy and the antics of the police in this regard. The case may yet witness a new dimension bordering on his lawyer’s alleged large-scale extortion of the “billionaire kidnapper” by his captors, the Police.
It was concerning also to witness the kind of celebrity status Evans attained immediately following his arrest. The police appeared to be sympathetic and the media, in pursuit of a sensational story milked the development until the resulting “human angle” emboldened Evans’ wife and family to plead on his behalf, for mercy or leniency. Evans has had a series of interviews with the media since his arrest in which he revealed a lot about his antics and what looked like remorse. He was portrayed as a pitiable figure unable to cope with the conditions of his detention facilities. One only hopes that the authorities and the public do not get carried away by this narrative.
Criminals are infamous members of society who necessarily need punishment as a deterrent to future acts of criminality or to other would-be criminals. In Nigeria, we have not only had infamous criminals like Oyenusi in the late 60s and early 70s and Anini in the 80s, we have also had ‘famous criminals’ like Cecilia Ibru, former MD of Oceanic Bank and John Yakubu Yusuf, former Head of the Police Pension Board. The trend, not only in Nigeria, is that the hardened sort get what may be described as adequate punishment, while the white collar criminals with deep pockets often get to walk away with very light sentences (with preferential treatment) or grossly inadequate fines as in Yakubu Yusuf’s case. The problem is that even these controversial lines may be getting muddled in Evans’ case.
With the posture of the police in this case and the bizarre stance of Evans’ lawyer after all that has happened since his arrest, one may be forgiven for being suspicious. There is nothing prosecutors all over the world love more than a confession. It makes things quicker and easier, going forward. That is why the hesitance of the Nigeria Police to move forward in this case is baffling. Already, there is talk in unofficial quarters about the possibility of a plea bargain in this case. If true, it would be rather unfortunate as after his series of confessions the need for such a measure is defeated.
Another reason to be wary of the police in this case is the un-denied fact that Evans had been arrested in 2006 after a robbery operation went wrong at the point of splitting the proceeds. He was arrested in Lagos, transferred to Imo State under questionable circumstances and vanished from police custody in Imo. A policewoman who was then a Superintendent at the time, it is alleged, was instrumental in his escape from custody. Nothing has been said about the woman, not her name, her present rank if she is still in service. Not even a denial of the incident has been issued. Having kept Evans for so long, the public was expecting people like that policewoman to be brought to book, along with any other officers or outside collaborators of means. No big name has emerged, and so far, only an army corporal has been associated with Evans’ crime syndicate.
The charges themselves have been a disappointment after all the time it took to bring the charges, bearing in mind that Evans has also been suspected of drug dealing, the many possible killings traceable to him and the number of kidnappings he is connected to, including those he confessed to. One hopes that the foundations for an unsavoury outcome are not being set in this case. It is doubtful that Evans’ lawyer can prove any inducement in his guilty plea.
A few years back, another notorious armed robber, Shina Rambo, was released from prison after only serving 11 years in prison. With his notoriety and the sheer weight of his crimes it could seem light. The Robbery and Firearms Act and the Criminal Law of Lagos State both stipulate 21 years for robbery and a Death Penalty for Armed Robbery. Only recently, the Lagos State House of Assembly passed a law prescribing the death penalty for kidnappers who kill their victims and life imprisonment for those whose victims do not lose their lives.
The police force and justice system now need to show the seriousness required to send the signal of zero tolerance to criminals who want to tow similar paths. Kidnappings have been on the rise and the National Assembly is set to follow the example of Lagos State. Evans’ case may have many interstate and international dimensions, but the immediate necessity of prescribing punishment is of greater importance. Any steps that have not been carried out in the past 82 days can be followed up with a convicted Evans behind prison walls.
Now is a perfect time, with the profile of this case for the authorities to show that their bite is as potent as their bark. A person can be forgiven for being wary of the Nigeria police dragging their feet in secrecy on a very good case like this. The case of Evans is begging to be set as an example. Hopefully, the opportunity to set the tone for these crimes will not pass the criminal justice system by.
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