For years, many cringed at the mere mention of his name. Thoughts of him got instant trepidation sweeping through the minds of the rich and the affluent. Many terrified hearts would begin to palpitate wildly. To many men and women of means and might across the South East and South West, Chukwudumeje Onwuamadike, known to his foot-soldiers as Evans, was terror personified. His very name connoted trouble.

In Lagos, where he built the headquarters of his kidnapping kingdom, Evans was a dreaded name. Many wealthy men and women, it is said, quickly developed immediate high blood pressure as soon as his name was called.

But, an instant relief ran through many minds last weekend when the notorious billionaire kidnapper who had made life hellish for scores of wealthy and not-so-wealthy people, was paraded before the world by police operatives in Lagos. He had been captured a day earlier by a police team led by operatives of the Inspector-General of Police Intelligence Response Team (IRT), led by Mr. Abba Kyari, in his mansion in Magodo, Lagos State where he lived like a king.

Since then, Evans has been telling the police about his life of crime.

And the sighs of relief aren’t unjustified. In his confessions to the police, Chukwudumeje admitted to having made a great fortune from his ignoble trade. The man known as the king of kidnappers reportedly told his interrogators that his usual ransom from the families of his victims was a princely sum of one million United States dollars. With the money, he bought and cruised about in exotic automobiles, adorned his corpulent frame with expensive jewellery and owned several magnificent mansions within and outside the country.

Once upon a quiet boy

Born in Akamili community in Umudim, Nnewi, Anambra State in 1980, Chukwudumeje Onwuamadike attended Emmanuel Anglican Primary School in the community. Investigations by

Saturday Sun in the community revealed that the kidnap kingpin was not a particularly promising pupil, academic-wise, in his elementary school days. An elderly woman living within the community informed the reporters that when he was a kid, the suspect could hardly hurt a fly.

“He was a quiet boy, and he went about his way without troubling anyone. He never looked for trouble. He was an easy-going boy. I know the family well. In fact, the one that was heady among his siblings was Nnaemeka. That’s the younger brother,” the woman informed.

Parental dislocation

It was gathered that a major cause of Evans’ undesirable venture into the world of crime might have been the crisis between his father, Pa. Stephen Onwuamadike and his mother. Saturday Sun learnt that the marriage of his parents had not been a particularly smooth one. Before the woman suddenly left home many years ago, it was gathered that Pa Onwuamadike had married his second and third wives. It was also learnt that the three wives and their children lived together with their husband in the man’s expansive house at Akamili community in Nnewi.

“His mother is the first wife, and Evans is the first son. I believe there are about three boys and four girls in the family,” the neighbour informed. “But after their parents separated, Evans stopped going to school. By then, he was through with primary school. I believe he stopped after junior secondary school (JSS) Three. He attended one secondary school at Oba. I can tell you authoritatively that he did not continue his education after JSS Three.”

A gradual walk into crime

Chukwudumeje’s journey into crime wasn’t sudden: it was one despicable step at a time. The newspaper gathered that he was never known as a petty thief while living in the area. But neighbours recalled that he would sometimes disappear from the community only to reappear much later. Not too many people knew where he went, neither were they bothered about his disappearing habits.

A middle-aged man who claimed to be close to the family told the reporters that there was a time Evans made a sudden appearance at Akamili weeks after an equally sudden disappearance.

“That was before he relocated finally from Nnewi,” the man informed. “At that time, he suddenly came home, and we discovered that his left arm was almost chopped off. He was treating the injury locally. We did not know how he sustained the injury. Some said it was a bullet wound while some said it was a machete cut. We were also told that he sustained the injury at a community known as Ozubulu where he had gone stealing. We never knew he would survive the incident.

“Although people here will not like to talk about it, the truth is that, many people knew a long time ago that the man is a criminal. Everybody in this area knew that his hands were not clean, so we were not surprised that he was caught. What is surprising is the gravity of the crime he has been committing, a kidnap kingpin who collects his ransom in dollars.

“Before he finally relocated from Nnewi, there were times you would not see him for a long time. Then after a while, he would suddenly resurface. Nobody knew where he was always travelling to at that time, and no one knew what he was doing for a living.

“Then he finally left Nnewi. But anytime he visited home, he would never sleep in the family house at Akamili. He was always sleeping in hotels. And he was always coming in different cars. The car he brought today would be different from the one he would use next time.

“He has not been coming to Nnewi for a long time. I learnt he was in South Africa at a time, but of what he was doing there, I have no idea.

“His father married three wives, although I can’t say if that was responsible for what became of him. His mother was the first wife, but she left his father a long time ago.”

Sudden wealth

The newspaper also gathered from various sources that Chukwudumeje’s sudden wealth never elicited instant celebration from his kinsmen. In fact, not a few of the people were quite astonished at the inexplicable prosperity of the young man.

Chima, (not real names), another woman who once lived at Akamili, told Saturday Sun: “The villagers were surprised at the way he suddenly became wealthy. Some people were surprised that he might have become rich through some criminal pursuits, but there were some other people that believed he had prospered through some legitimate means. Such people opined that if he was a criminal, the law would have caught up with him. It was not clear to everybody.

“At that time, he used to visit our provision store, and my sister would call his attention to the kind of rumours making the rounds about him, you know, things that people were saying about him that were not complimentary. My sister would even advise that he should be careful, so that people would not have a bad impression about him. But at a point, many people advised my sister to stop giving him such information and to stop advising him. They said he might get uncomfortable with the insinuations from my sister and might decide to harm her. After some time, he left Nnewi and relocated to Lagos.”

No one in the community seems to have much information about Evans’ immediate family. Even as some media platforms have said Evans relocated his wife and her children to Ghana, many people at Nnewi claimed they have no information on where the family lives.

Saturday Sun was also told that Evans had no house at home, in spite of his wealth. But he is said to own landed properties in the area.

A lifestyle of luxury

Speaking to journalists while he was being paraded, Evans said he was into spare parts business. He said the sudden confiscation of his goods worth N20 million by operatives of the Nigeria Customs Service drove him into kidnapping in 2015. He also said he was at a time, dealing in illicit drugs. The police noted, however, that he had been into the kidnapping business for longer than he admitted. He acknowledged, however, that he collected a million dollars each from some of his victims, even as he admitted that he had lost count of the number of people he and his group had kidnapped.

He told the journalists: “I can’t figure out how much I have collected so far or how many people I have kidnapped, but I have kidnapped up to 10 since 2015. I chose to collect ransom in dollars to be different, and the maximum I have collected as ransom so far is one million dollars. I work in two groups. A team moves with me to kidnap the victims while we hand over to the other team that takes the victim to the hideout. Kingsley introduced me to kidnapping, but I usually get my ammunition from one Chinedu and Ehis whom I met at Ago-Iwoye. I also do drug business that enabled me to buy my properties.”

Indeed, with the proceeds of crime, Chukwudumeje said he bought two houses in Magodo, Lagos and one in Ghana. He is a self-confessed collector of luxury and pricey wrist-watches and mobile phones. He reportedly bought one wrist watch for $170, 000 and three phones for $6000 dollars each.

Trajectory of terror

The victims of Nigeria’s richest kidnap kingpin were many. Among them is Mr. Mbarikatta William Uboma, a 35-year-old man. On June 16, 2012, Uboma had just arrived in the country from Hungary and was on his way from the airport. His brother was driving.

At 11am, somewhere close to his house, the car they were riding in was blocked by another car. The gunmen seized Uboma, blindfolded him and took him to an unknown destination. They later demanded N10 million ransom, but N2 million was accepted eventually. The kidnappers also collected personal accessories from the victim before he was dropped off at Okota on the third day.

Another victim was Paul Cole. The 34-year-old man from Ohafia in Abia State was a director with Ocean Glory Commodities, Apapa. He was kidnapped on August 3, 2012, at Festac Town, Lagos together with Jude Ugoje, the company’s general manager, and another staff, Piriye Gogo.

The kidnappers demanded N10 million, but collected N5 million from the victims. They released them somewhere in Mazamaza on August 6. His group also kidnapped 22-year-old Mohammed Jamal, a Lebanese, on August 19, 2012, in Ajah. The kidnappers later collected N7 million and released the victims.

Another victim, Kingsley Nwokenta, 34, who was kidnapped on September 19, 2012 at Mile Two, was released after paying N1.5 million. But his car, a black Toyota Venza, as well as other accessories were taken away by the kidnappers.

Forty-one-year-old Anthony Ozoanidobi was kidnapped by Evans’ men on October 10, 2012, on Marwa Road, Satellite Town, Lagos. He was released at Apple Junction, Amuwo-Odofin a few days after his abductors had collected N1.5 million from his family members.

Mr. Leo Abraham, 58, was another victim. He was kidnapped on August 20, 2012 and had to cough out the ransom of N5 million before he was dropped off along Badagry Road, Lagos.

A businessman and dealer in auto spare parts at Trade Fair, Lagos, Ojukwu Cosmas, 45, was also kidnapped on January 21, 2016, at Festac town.

The gang took one million dollars from the family of James Uduji who they kidnapped at 7th Avenue in Festac Town late last year. The man was held for six weeks.

Chief Raymond Okoye, Odu-Na-Ichida, was kidnapped in 2015. His family paid Evans’ group one million dollars as ransom. The man was with his abductors for two months.

Another kidnapped businessman whose family was forced to cough out one million dollars for Evans and his group was Uche Okoroafor, a trader at Alaba, Lagos. He was kidnapped in 2015 and was with the group for three months. Elias Ukachukwu, who was kidnapped in November 2015, was also released after his family had paid one million dollars.

Another victim, Francis Umeh, was also a spare parts dealer at Aspanda. He was kidnapped in July 2016, at Raji Rasaki Estate in Lagos. He was released after two months in captivity.

Donatus Dunu is the owner of a pharmaceutical company at Ilupeju, Lagos. After he was kidnapped, his abductors demanded an incredibly huge ransom. After negotiations, Dunu’s family members rallied one another together and paid N150 million. It was said that Evans’ boys had insisted on N500 million.

Evans’ homestead

Umudim, Chukwudumeje’s community in Nnewi, is one of the four autonomous quarters that make up the town. The others are Otolo, Uruagu and Nnewichi. Each quarter comprises a number of villages. Akamili is the village that produced Evans.

If Akamili is aware that one of its sons is a billionaire, even if his fortune emanated from an iniquitous enterprise, the roads in the community hardly tell of such knowledge. Akamili Road, the major artery to the community, is in a pathetic condition. The expansive road, if you would categorise it as one, is unpaved and winding. The major road later breaks into a number of narrow roads. Land couldn’t have been a scarce commodity in the community, though. The houses in Akamili are spacious. They are not as congested as those in the centre of town. The community is a bit remote. The houses in the community are a mixed bag of the ancient and the modern. But unlike other parts of Nnewi, motorbikes are not particularly common on the roads of Akamili.

It had been raining when the reporters first visited the community in the evening of last Tuesday, and a flowing, brownish stream had formed on the slippery road. The frontage of Emmanuel Anglican Church, where the primary school that Chukwudumeje attended is located, is under the threat of some imminent erosion.

Even in incarceration, Evans’ name evokes dread among kinsmen

Everyone knows that Chukwudumeje is a native of Nnewi. But within the town, you would hardly suspect that he is a son of the soil.

Contrary to expectations, the story of Evans, his exploits in the kidnapping business and his recent arrest by the police are hardly the major topics of public discourse at Nnewi. In spite of his incarceration, the name of the dreaded king of kidnappers still evokes considerable dread.

To get people to comment on him and his reign of terror is a herculean task. Virtually everyone approached in the town backs off immediately the matter is broached.

When the reporters called at the palace of Obi of Umudim, Chief Bennett Okafor, the traditional ruler warmly welcomed them. But as soon as he was informed that the reporters wanted to clarify a thing or two about Chukwudumeje, the royal father declared that he wouldn’t have anything to say.

“I can’t make any comment on the young man, as I know absolutely nothing about him,” he declared.

“I read about him in the newspapers like everybody else. I have never set my eyes on him and I have never spoken with him. I’m told he’s from Akamili, which is a village in Umudim. But that is all I know about him. You even know about him more than I do.”

As the monarch chatted with the newsmen, the clouds suddenly gathered, and a vigorous downpour emanated forthwith. The monarch then went inside, brought kola nuts and alligator pepper. He offered prayers for his visitors and his kingdom, after which the king and his guests proceeded to consume the offering.

The royal father told the reporters that Umudim quarters in Nnewi had produced a number of eminent and highly successful individuals and as such, could not be judged by whatever evil that Chukwudumeje might have committed.

The obi informed that many eminent and highly successful individuals had come from Umudim, including the very wealthy businessman, Sir Loius Odumegwu Ojukwu, his son, Eze Ndigbo Gburugburu and Ikemba Nnewi, Chief Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu and Sir Innocent Chukwuma, founder of Innoson Group, Nigeria’s first indigenous auto manufacturing firm, among others.

Attempts to meet or even speak with the priest at the Emmanuel Anglican Church in the community were rebuffed. Each time the reporters called, the priest always insisted that he was unavailable. At other times, he was said to be sleeping.

There is a cluster of houses and shops extending from such houses close to the church premises. Every single person, male or female, in those houses swore to the reporters that they were visitors to the area and had never heard anything about Evans or his kidnapping business.

“Although this is my shop, I’m not a native of this town. All I do is sell my bags and clothes and go home. I don’t know anybody and I’ve never heard about any such thing,” a man selling used clothes and bags by the Emmanuel Anglican Church told the reporters.

When reminded that the story had been given a generous coverage in both the print and electronic media, the gentleman said he had not read a single newspaper in the past two weeks. And informed that the news item had been trending on radio and television, he retorted in Pidgin English: “Where una see light watch telly or hear radio?”

A Lagos-based native of Umudim, Nnewi, explained to Saturday Sun that it wasn’t surprising that many people were unwilling to talk about Chukudumeje and his exploits.

“You know, it’s a village setting. Everyone knows the other person. Whatever you say could cause some problem for you among your kinsmen. And who knows if eventually, the suspect might get his freedom? What if he decides to come for revenge, especially since you’re from his hometown and he might know you or your family member? That is why people are not talking about it, especially to strangers,” he noted.

Why I won’t disown him, by father

Chukwudumeje’s father is Pa Stephen Onwuamadike, an elderly man who lives in his country home in Akamili. At the moment, the news of his son’s dreadful deeds seems to be taking a toll on his health. When the reporter visited the expansive compound on Wednesday, he spoke in soft tones, obviously recuperating from an undisclosed ailment. He also walked with a slight but noticeable limp.

Pa Onwuamadike said he had not communicated with Chukwudumeje in many years. But even as many across Nigeria have been castigating the notorious kidnapper, with some recommending that a death sentence be passed on him, Pa Onwuamadike asserted that he would forgive the young man and accept him back as his son if he could repent from his devilish ways.

While affirming that he had not disowned the detained kidnap kingpin, Pa Onwuamadike explained that there was no reason to do that just yet. He said he believed that Chukwudumeje could still turn a new leaf, just like the Biblical prodigal son who returned to his father after realising his mistakes.

“No, I will not disown him,” he explained. “Remember the story of the prodigal son who squandered his inheritance on vain things of life? When he realised his mistakes and came crying back to his father, the father forgave him. I will forgive my son and accept him if he renounces evil and turn a new leaf,” he said.

The family compound sits deep inside the community. It is an old storey-building that must have been quite elegant in its days. It would also have eaten deep into the old man’s pocket then.

But right now, the house seems to have seen better days. The walls are cracking, and the entire structure looks dilapidated. An old blue Fiat van with Lagos registration number AY 750 AKD looks abandoned in the compound.

The interior isn’t any better. The furniture in the expansive sitting room looks old and rusty. there is a piggery in the compound.

Pa Onwuamadike said the last time he met his son was in 2012 at a chance encounter in his younger son’s home in Lagos.

“I was asking where he had his office, I wanted to know the type of job he was into, but he wouldn’t say. Since then, he has not visited me or communicated with me. I don’t even have his number,” he said.

He said his son wouldn’t have ended up a kidnapper if his own wife and Evans’ mother, who, he said, abandoned home long ago without a divorce, had not manipulated the young man spiritually.

He explained that when Chukwudumeje said he was no longer interested in continuing with his education, he took his son to a spare parts dealer in Nnewi so that the boy could be given adequate training on the business. He regretted that his first wife, Chukwudumeje’s mum, took the boy from the spare parts dealer and encouraged him to go into crime.

“I don’t even have his phone number. I never knew he was even rich. His mother suddenly moved out of my house. We are not divorced. I never divorced her. I have other wives, but she’s my first wife and I married her legally. But she has been manipulating our son spiritually since he was just about three years old.”

He begged the Nigerian government to have mercy on his son, noting that he might become a better man if pardoned and rehabilitated.

“He is a young man who was misled by a bad mother,” he asserted. “When I was told that he is a rich man now, I find it hard to believe, because I’m even finding it difficult to feed now. I was one of the first millionaires in this community when my business was booming. I was travelling round the world. But since my business suffered a setback many years ago, I have just been surviving by the grace of God. Now, I sell pigs to take care of myself and my family. I hope the government will have mercy on my son. No, I will not disown him. I pray he changes for the better and becomes a better, Godly person.

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For years, many cringed at the mere mention of his name. Thoughts of him got instant trepidation sweeping through the minds of the rich and the affluent. Many terrified hearts would begin to palpitate wildly. To many men and women of means and might across the South East and...