The suspects, Austin Agba, 35; Friday Sunday Paul, 23, and Christian Ekenu, 27, were paraded by the Akwa Ibom State Police Command, Ikot Akpan Abia, Uyo. However, leader of the gang, Agba, denied being a kidnapper but a middleman between pirates and the various fishermen groups operating along the Ibeno-Opobo water way. The Bayelsa State-born Agba said he went to the said hotel in Eket to collect the N3 million he had negotiated for the pirates from the fishermen when the police apprehended him.
He said: “I am just an Ijaw man and a middleman to the Ijaw fishermen and the pirates. So, there are certain groups of fishermen that normally contribute money to the pirates to make sure they do their businesses smoothly. “When the pirates had a meeting with the fishermen, they said I am the one that would be negotiating the monthly payment.
The fishermen said if they negotiate directly, the pirates will charge them too high, but if I intervene, the pirates will bring down the levy because I am an Ijaw brother. “On that fateful day, I went to collect the money to settle the pirates so that they would allow the fishermen do their business. It was in the process that I was arrested.”
Another member of the gang Paul, from Eastern Obolo Local Government Area, whose duty it was to convey victims on his motorbike, denied being a kidnapper. He said: “I was riding my bike along Afaha Uqua Road junction when three guys stopped me. Two of them climbed the bike and told me to take them somewhere. On getting there, one of them put his hand in my trouser and said I must take them to where they were going to. “They used a gun to threaten me, saying they were going for an operation. I am not one of them.”
For Ekenu, who is from Oron Local Government Area: “I came in from Lagos to meet my friend, Tony. I am an artist. When I arrived Oron, he asked me how much I came with and I said I did not come with any money. “He called his friends and said they should take my shoes, watch and phones. When they went outside the room, I escaped through the ceiling and ran to the police station. “Unfortunately for me, along the road, they picked me and took me to the police station, saying I was a kidnapper. It is for that reason that I am here. I do not understand any of these.”
However, Akwa Ibom Police Public Relations Officer, Delia Nwawe, said they were members of the same gang, who were arrested following each suspect’s confessional statement.
He bemoaned the resort to criminal activities by young men in the state, but assured that the police, under Mr. Murtala Mani, was equal to the task of making the state uncomfortable for criminals.