Kidnappers have gradually turned their sights on rich footballers in recent times. â€™TANA AIYEJINA takes a look at the trend globally and what might have been the causes of this disturbing development in this report
â€œWe were preparing for my fatherâ€™s birthday last year; we didnâ€™t know that it was going to turn out to be his burial. Itâ€™s been traumatic and I donâ€™t know why anybody would do that to my father,â€ former Nigeria defender, Chikelue Iloenyosi, told SUNDAY PUNCH when the decomposed body of his father was found in Umuleri, Anambra State last month.
The 80-year-old father of the former Germany-based player, Mr. James Iloenyosi, was kidnapped by gunmen on November 25, 2013, on his way home from morning Mass. It was few days to his 80th birthday anniversary.
The decomposed body of James Iloenyosi was only recognised because of the cloth and cap he had on before he was kidnapped.
Iloenyosi said the kidnappers demanded N50m to release his father. But after bargaining with the gunmen, he was stunned to discover that they had killed his father.
â€œThey (kidnappers) called us on phone that same day (he was kidnapped) and they demanded N50m ransom but the family told them how much we could afford. We gave it to them. I donâ€™t want to mention the amount because the amount in the media is different from what we paid,â€ Iloenyosi, a member of the Flying Eagles squad to the Nigeria â€™99 U-20 World, said.
â€œThey told us we would get him the night we paid; they told us to go to a junction in Enugu to pick him. We got to that junction at 10am and we searched for him till 1am but we couldnâ€™t find him and had to go back.
â€œAfter that day, they switched off their phones and we couldnâ€™t reach them. We started doing our investigation and I went to Lokoja, where one of them was arrested. We proceeded to Anambra State and the guy arrested in Lokoja told another member that there was another business. He came out and he was arrested.
â€œAfter interrogation, they told us the man was dead and they took us to where his decomposed body was in Umuleri. One of them then told us that my father had died before they collected the money from us.â€
This is the latest in a line of alarming stories involving footballers, their families and kidnappers. Having benefitted from the brisk business of kidnapping politicians, top members of the society and their relatives, kidnappers have turned their attention to Nigerian players abroad for â€˜quick money.â€™
One of the earliest reported cases of kidnap involving a Nigerian footballer was in 2007 when France-based former junior international, Onyekachi Apam, was abducted, robbed at gunpoint in Enugu and released 45 minutes later.
He was also returning from church service when he was accosted by a three-man armed gang.
In 2012, former Super Eagles midfielder, Christian Obodo, was kidnapped in front of a church in Effurun, Warri, Delta State by four gunmen.
The gunmen reportedly tailed the player, who was in a car with a customised number plate â€˜Obodo 5â€™ before they abducted him, blindfolded him and took him to a forest. They demanded â‚¬150, 000 for his release.
He was lucky to be rescued a day later.
But whether the footballers are home on holidays or not doesnâ€™t really matter to the kidnappers.
Eaglesâ€™ captain, Joseph Yobo, had his older brother, Norum, kidnapped at gun point on his way home from a nightclub in Port Harcourt, in 2008.
Norum was seized along with his two friends but while the other men were released, they held the Norwich City defenderâ€™s brother captive for close to two weeks before he was released.
Three years ago, two Nigerian soldiers assigned to guard Jos, kidnapped Chelsea midfielder Mikel Obiâ€™s father and demanded Â£2.4bn ransom to release him.
The Nigerian Army dismissed, one of them, Private Jaduwa Thlama from the force while Sgt. Victor Essien was referred to higher prosecuting authority in line with Nigeria Army ethics.
Also, Enyimba chairman Felix Anyansi-Agwu was once kidnapped in 2008 and a reported N5m ransom was paid to secure the release of the Nigeria Football Federation member.
Some ex-footballers have blamed the new trend on the players themselves, saying their lavish lifestyles attract the kidnappers.
A former Eagles star, who pleaded anonymity, said, â€œWhen a player lives in a mansion, drives big cars, wears the best clothes and flaunts his wealth at nightclubs, what do you expect in a country where most people are poor?
â€œSometimes it is even the those that the footballers render help to that go out to give information to the kidnappers. Young footballers these days move around town in convoy filled with young boys. Among every 12, there is a Judas, so there will certainly be one of the boys who wants to make quick money and the easiest way is to contact these kidnappers because there is rarely a trait left behind if they succeed.â€
Former Eagles midfielder Momodu Mutairu also said, â€œThe kidnappers believe if they pick relatives of footballers, they can get a large chunk of their money.
â€œThis is caused by petty jealousy and envy because suddenly a footballer and his family are living a good life and the people around him are not doing too well. The next option is kidnap.â€
A former Director of the State Security Service, Mr. Mike Ejiofor, admitted that the flashy lifestyles contributed to the problem.
But he said it was not a problem peculiar to footballers.
â€œItâ€™s not the footballers alone that are targeted. The main aim of a kidnapper is to make money and since footballers too have money, they have become targets but it is not peculiar to them alone,â€ Ejiofor said.
Kidnap cases involving footballers have gradually become a global issue. Incidents are common in South America and the families of famous football players have been targeted in the past.
Edwin Palacios, the youngest brother of Stoke City midfielder Wilson Palacios, was kidnapped in his native Honduras in 2007. After Wilson paid the Â£125,000 ransom for his brotherâ€™s return, the kidnappers did not release the 16-year-old.
In 2009, Edwinâ€™s body was found buried in the mountains of Honduras, after having been missing for two years.
Similarly, Erik Lamelaâ€™s younger brother Axel was kidnapped by armed carjackers on the eve of his home debut for Tottenham Hotspurs last year.
The 18-year-old Axel was taken at gunpoint in the Vicente Lopez area of Buenos Aires, the Argentine capital.
After being held prisoner for several hours, the kidnappers released him in exchange for a ransom of 5,000 pesos, about Â£550.
Also in October 2013, former Brazilian footballer Joao Rodrigo Silva Santos, 35, was kidnapped and decapitated by suspected drug traffickers in Rio de Janeiro.
The former playerâ€™s severed head had his eyes and tongue cut out and his head placed inside one of his own rucksacks, which was dropped in front of his door, police said.
The horror-struck wife of Santos, Geisha Silva, discovered it as she left the house for work.
According to ESPN, Santos was grabbed after leaving the local health food store he owned in the Realengo district, a lower- and middle-class district located in Rioâ€™s western area.
Many top Brazilian footballers have also seen their loved ones kidnapped by gangs in an attempt to extort huge funds for their release.
Marina da Silva Souza, mother of Brazilian footballer Robinho was abducted in 2004. The kidnapperâ€™s sent Robinho a video tape of his mother in captivity, in which the kidnappers could be seen cutting off her hair.
â€œI donâ€™t know what sort of people do these things. They are people with evil in their hearts,â€ Robinho, who now plays for AC Milan, said.
After 41 days, Robinho agreed to pay a ransom of $75,000 for the release of his mother. The following year, the player left Brazil for Real Madrid in Spain and took his family with him.
Also targeted was the mother of the Sao Paulo striker Grafite. During her kidnapping at the family home, Grafiteâ€™s father was tied up and gagged.
The sister of Zenit Saint Petersburg forward Hulk was taken hostage for a day before she reunited with her family again late 2012.
It is a well-known fact that the media hype professional athletes receive cause problems for their families.
Between the internet and the social media, it is easy to find out information regarding players information, contracts and addresses.
But the players need to protect themselves and their families because of the target that comes along with stardom.
Usually the kidnappings take place in countries that are suffering from corruption and political instability.
Ejiofor says the best way to stop these kidnappers trailing footballers and their families is for the footballers themselves to live moderate lifestyles.
He said, â€œPeople should be cautious of their lifestyles. When you have money and you live ostentatiously to the annoyance of others, what do you expect? Flashing your wealth in the midst of poverty provokes and these people could become targets.
â€œThere is a government ban on spraying of money, but people still go out to spray money. You even sell people selling money. All these are being done in the presence of some people, who canâ€™t get this money to spend. These are the things provoking people.
â€œPeople should moderate their lives because there is so much poverty in the land. If you begin to exhibit so much affluence when there is so much poverty, it could be dangerous.â€