Mama Roz’s Chronicles: Kidnap, A Widow’s Tale

Emenike Ihekwaba. Image: Twitter

Kidnapping has become an all too familiar evil in our society today and was at some point a way of life in the Eastern part of Nigeria. Many victims made it home safely but sadly some didn’t. Chy’s story takes us through the tragic pain and trauma this experience causes to the family and friends of the victims.

Chy’s Story

When Chy and Emenike met in June 1987, it was love at first sight. In fact, he proposed to her on that first day and she, mesmerised with this tall, handsome and debonair fellow, quickly accepted. They got married a year later on the 29th of October 1988. Like most marriages, the early days were pure bliss but as the years passed, things began to go sour. Her husband kept late nights, drinking with his friends much to her annoyance and irritation. Chy responded by joining the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International (FGBMFI) who taught her how to pray for her husband and marriage. It worked. He gave his life to Christ and joined the FGBMFI rising swiftly to the position of Chapter President. Chy was ecstatic. Her marriage “became new” again, they spoke the same language and their children were happy. Their home had turned into an enviable Christian home and they prayed that they would eventually age and enjoy their grandchildren together. Unfortunately, that was not meant to be.

In the first week of August 2012, the couple sent their children on holiday to the US. Emenike, having risen to the position of Permanent Secretary of the Imo state government, had formed the habit of holidaying abroad with his wife and children. They visited the United Kingdom and the United States as frequently as they could. This year was no different and they had sent the children ahead with the plan that Emenike would join them two weeks later. A week to his travel date, his boss, the Deputy Governor of the state, asked him to postpone his trip as he wanted to travel and the two of them could not be out at the same time so he shifted his dates two more weeks ahead.

On Sunday 26th of August, they had been invited to two events. One was in Mbano for the thanksgiving service of a priest whose ordination they had been unable to attend and the second was a child dedication service in their home church, St Paul’s in Nkwerre. They decided to attend both. Leaving home at 8am, they attended the Mbano service and left at 12 noon for Nkwerre. As they usually did, they stopped briefly at Amaraku market to buy goat meat for Emenike’s favourite pepper soup.

Chy waited in the car whilst Emenike went into the market to buy the meat. It wasn’t long before he returned, with the meat seller who was carrying the meat, to the car. He opened the front door, put the meat in and then went to the back to open the door, when an SUV stopped dramatically in front of their car, blocking their exit route. It all happened so fast. Three hefty young lads in black wearing bullet proof vests with the words “Police” on the front, alighted from the car. Chy was puzzled. She could not imagine what they could have done wrong to justify this aggressive approach and she asked them “what did we do?’. No one answered her. One came towards her door whilst the other two went directly to her husband.

Emenike figured immediately that these were not real policemen and he shouted “Chy run!”. She didn’t need to hear anything else. As if transported by an unseen force, she ducked under the arm of the man by her door and started running. She hadn’t taken two steps before they started shooting. She thought they were shooting at her but she didn’t stop. She just kept running as her husband had told her to. Everyone in the market started running too. There were some women conducting their August meeting nearby, they ran too. It was complete pandemonium. As she ran, her headtie, outer wrapper, bag and slippers all fell but Chy kept running. She saw an open door and went inside. There were people there. She was trembling and her heart was pounding. She didn’t know where Emenike was and she was terrified. After about 15 minutes the shooting stopped and people went back outside again. She asked where the man she was with was, and they told her he had been taken in the boot of the robbers’ car. Hearing that, her heart sank, she fell to the ground and started weeping. Her nightmare had just begun.

A little boy came and gave her back her bag. She looked into their car. Her husband’s phones and wallet were still there. These were clearly not armed robbers so she wondered what their mission really was. Why did they come for Emenike? It also turned out that they didn’t actually shoot at anyone. They just shot at the tyres of all the cars on the street to make sure that no one came after them. A couple of real policemen appeared from nowhere and started interrogating her until one of the bystanders stopped them. “Can’t you see the state she is in? please leave her” he said. They let her go and she returned to Owerri without her husband.

Chy called her brother-in-law who was attending the event in Nkwerre. He went to the scene of the incident. The driver who had also run, had now reappeared and was taken to the police station but a call came from Government House asking the police to release him and the vehicle. So now, all they could do was sit and wait for the kidnappers to make contact. Chy went to the bank and withdrew all her savings. Then she called friends, relatives and colleagues asking them to donate what they could. She wanted to have enough money ready for the kidnappers. She was quite hopeful.

As she sat and waited, she remembered a similar experience she had with her eldest son four years before. It was in September 2009 and armed robbers had come to their house. They took her 14-year-old son and kept him in the bush for 8 days. During that time, she did not eat or sleep a wink. She just sat and prayed; but after they paid one million Naira, she got her son back. She was convinced that the same would happen with Emenike. They would ask for money; she would pay and then he would come home. She never expected things to turn out the way they did.

The kidnappers did not call till the fifth day and when they did, they asked for N50m. Negotiations started at that point. No one had that kind of money and even though he was a government official, the government offered no assistance. It took two weeks, back and forth, and then finally they were given 48 hours to produce N10m. Chy had managed to collect N6m so they had to find the balance. The kidnappers also wanted 3 bottles of Hennessey. They sent instructions about where the money should be dropped off. Chy stared at the GMG bag of money when they finally managed to collect it all. She had never seen so much cash in her life. N10m in cash! She hadn’t even seen N1m. They had strict instructions not to involve the police and they obeyed. The money was taken to them at the drop off spot. Two men on a motor bike appeared and collected the money and her brother-in-law was told to go to Obinze barracks to pick up her husband.

Finally, it was all over. Success at last. They all rejoiced when her brother-in-law called and said he had been given a location. They arranged a clinic for him to go for a check-up. Chy cooked his favourite fish pepper soup with agidi. He was to be picked at 12 noon so by that time, everything was ready and they waited.

At 6pm her brother-in law called to say that he was still waiting and Emenike had not come. Chy was crushed and confused. She couldn’t process that information. Looking back, she remembers that day as the worst day of her life. She had waited for her husband to return from the kidnapper’s den but he never did. Eventually they asked her brother-in-law to come home. It was really all over but it had ended so horribly. They all started wailing. This was not the end they had expected. This could not possibly be the end. But Emenike never came home and Chy never saw her beloved Emy again.

Years passed but her agony did not diminish. She kept wishing and longing to see Emenike; his smiling face and his comforting arms. Every day even now, she looks out for him thinking that by some miracle, he will walk through the door. If he had died, she would have buried him and moved on but this situation offers no closure. The pain, trauma and agony are unimaginable but she has learnt to live with them.

Chy did all she could. She wrote petitions to the First Lady, Dame Patience and her Senator, Chris Anyanwu who contacted the Commissioner of Police but nothing came of it. She paid for policemen to come to Imo state with trackers from Port Harcourt but the required government support was not forthcoming and eventually they left, taking with them all the hope she had.

She suffered from high blood pressure, low blood pressure and heart palpitations but her mother ever by her side, was her rock. She stood by her all those years. She made her strong and taught her how to carry on in spite of all the odds. She herself had also lost her husband when she was only 44 and had buried her son who was to become a reverend father but she overcame those challenges and now encouraged her daughter to do the same.

At the time of the incident none of Chy’s children had graduated but she had to counsel them and tell them they must succeed so that when their father comes home, he would be proud of them. After 7 years she was advised to perform a burial ceremony in his honour. She did that in 2020 and erected a tomb.

Her four children have all graduated now. Her two daughters are married and she has five grandchildren whom Emenike has never seen. Her mother passed away in September 2021 and has since been buried.

In 2014, Emenike turned 60 and was due for retirement. Chy was asked to apply for his benefits and she did, but nothing was paid. She is still pleading with the Imo state government to consider her case and pay the benefits to give her and her children some much needed respite. She is hoping that someone will read this and be moved to reach out to the Imo state government on her behalf.