LAGOS — After spending 21 days in kidnappers’ den, human rights lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome, yesterday, wept like a baby as he arrived his Lagos residence upon his release at 1am by his abductors.
News of his release was also greeted with wild jubilation in his Iviukwe community in Agenebode, Estako East Local Government Area of Edo State as members of the community started dancing and singing.
Back in his Lagos residence, the atmosphere was that of celebration as cows and goats were slaughtered to welcome him back home.
HOME, SWEET HOME: From left: Oba Lasisi Gbadebo Gbadamosi, Onigando of Igando land, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, his wife, Josephine and his son Mr. Ilugbehai, during the celebration of Chief Ozekhome’s release by kidnappers, at his residence at Igando, Lagos, yesterday. Photo: Bunmi Azeez.
Ozekhome who alighted from a black Ford Escalade ran into the arms of his wife, grabbed her and gave her a long kiss after which he started shouting thank you Jesus repeatedly.
Recounting his ordeals in the hands of his abductors, Chief Ozekhome said the kidnappers asked them to lie down inside the car as policemen were passing and there was an exchange of gun fire before his abductors took them away.
He said that when the kidnappers requested for communication with members of his family over the ransom, two of his children who came to negotiate the ransom were also abducted in the process.
They were all released together early yesterday morning. He noted that the kidnappers operate randomly and have cell units across Nigeria
His words: “They asked me who I was, and I replied saying that I am a lawyer. They asked me again for how long I have been practicing, I told them 32 years. The experience was horrific because we were psychologically tortured. It was the nearest thing to death on earth. We were about thirteen in all that were kidnapped. There was even a woman with two of her sons and a daughter as well as her driver. The danger knows no status, religion, occupation etc. The Federal Government should do certain things as a matter of urgency.
“The kidnappers vowed to make the country ungovernable in 2015 because they said they will show their true colours and that they are ready for the politicians. They told me that because of what they read about me, I should go and not stop in the fight for the masses. On two occasions I took ill while in captivity and on those occasions doctors who wore hoods were brought in to treat me and I was given injections at some point”
He, therefore, called on the Federal Government to grant amnesty to all kidnappers in the country, saying that “they (kidnappers ) said if they are assured of their freedom they will drop their guns.”
Chief Ozekhome also called on the government to immediately declare a state of emergency on youth unemployment, insecurity and amend the constitution to accommodate state policing in the country
He said: “We must begin to have a police system like we have in the United States. Sections 214 and 215 of the nation’s constitution are now moribund and antagonistic. We need each state to control its police force. The Federal Government should call for a national conference for Nigerians to sit down on a round table and engineer a new constitution. Nigeria is not united. Nobody says I am a Nigerian but I am Edo, Yoruba or Ibo person because Nigeria is not a unified country.”
Stressing the need for the definition of the name Nigeria, he said, “Our name was not given by our selves, the lady that formed the name in 1948, got married to a non-Nigerian.
“What describes Nigeria is a geographical expression, we never agreed to come together as one country. There is a devolution of power in a true Federalism, but in Nigeria power flows from the top to below. How many times have we seen President Obama inviting the governors of the states to a meeting. We must tame corruption before it kills us as a people. Corruption is the richest state in Nigeria. We must confront it frontally”.
He also urged the Federal Government and the Inspector-General of Police to institute a foundation that will cater for the education of the children of the policemen who lost their lives in an effort to rescue him and his driver.
Lauds Jonathan, others
He further commended President Goodluck Jonathan, Senate President Dr. David Mark and the entire legislature, the government and people of Edo State, President of Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor and the Oba of Benin for their concern.
Meanwhile, Chief Ozekhome’s wife, Mrs. Josephine Ozekhome expressed joy at the safe return of her husband saying that sleep and peace eluded the entire family in the last three weeks.
She explained that for two days, she was numb because she did not know what to think considering that four policemen were killed in an effort to rescue her husband.
“Seeing him alive, well and very strong, I give God all the glory and I am filled with joy”, she added.
Family members of the human rights lawyer described the release as one that cannot be expressed in words as they put a white chalk on his head as a mark of gratitude to God for his safe return.
Explaining what the release means to the family, elder brother to the human rights lawyer, Dr. Francis Ozekhome, said: “Since the kidnap, I have not been myself. I went through hell during that time. I left my house in Ijeshatedo to stay with the wife and children. We received no communication from the kidnappers. I do not know if money was paid for his release because no money passed through me. Mike is a man of the people. We can see that there is no security in the country. So I appeal to the Federal Government that this is the time for them to do something about the nation’s security.”
Another elder brother to the senior advocate, Mr. Okpome Ozekhome, pointed out that words were inadequate to express his gratitude.
His words: “I cannot categorically say anything because the kidnappers were not communicating to me. For his release today, we thank those who played one role or the other to ensure his release. We felt very bad for the kidnap because Mike was a human rights activist. He was detained sixteen times by the Abacha regime when he was fighting for the subsidy issue. Mike fought for the ordinary man on the street. The government is trying, but we urge them to increase the security system in Nigeria. For the kidnappers, I pray that they should have God in their heart.”
The Onigando of Igando, Oba Gbadebo Gbadamosi, who paid a visit to Ozekhome told newsmen that he has been praying for the safe return of Mike.
The monarch said: “I visited the wife and asked her certain questions. Based on the answers given to me by Mike’s wife, I went back to my shrine for consultation. I became appeased with myself that Mike will return safely after going to my shrine.”
It was dancing, jubilation and backslapping at Iviukwe community in Agenebode, Estako East local government of Edo State as members of the community rejoiced over the release of their illustrious son, Chief Mike Ozekhome
Indigenes of the community especially the women and children rubbed on their faces white chalk (Orue) which symbolizes purity and happiness and marched through the streets of Iviukwe to the Ozekhome family House, praying the Almighty God to touch the hearts of the abductors.
At the family house, elders of the community, youths and the women joined his elder brother, Chief Pius Ozekhome to praise God just as Disc Jockey (DJ) rendered Estako music to the admiration of the crowd.
Speaking with Vanguard on his impression about the release of his younger brother, Chief Ozekhome said: “It is happiness and jubilation in this community when the news of Chief Mike Ozekhome was broken to them.”