By Uche Nwosu:

About 30 gunmen broke into a Catholic church in Asa-Obirielem, Imo State on Sunday and kidnapped Stella, the wife of former Nigeria Breweries Managing Director, Festus Odumegwu, another instance of the brazing disregard for God and human life by the lawless seeking cheap money.

Last year in Onitsha, the Chairman of GUO Motors, Godwin Ubaka, was snatched by gunmen as he came out of a church, and was released after the payment of millions of Naira to his abductors.

Stella was worshipping with family members when the hoodlums struck and overpowered her private security men who tried to resist them.

When the effort to forestall her abduction failed, her private security, mostly policemen, beat a retreat as the gangsters went for their victim and evacuated her from the church into their waiting vehicle.

No one at press time had established contact with the family for ransom payment, but Imo State Governor, Ikedi Ohakim’s Adviser, George Eguh, vowed that Stella will be rescued and the gang arrested.

He said the government was shocked and embarrassed by the incident, adding that all security networks, including the government outfit, the New Face Vigilante, have been alerted.

“We will get them soon; there’s no hiding place in Imo State any longer,’’ he pledged.

“We started working on her rescue 30 minutes after her abduction. I can tell you that all the security agencies are working now to track the gang down and rescue her.”

Police Commissioner, Aloysius Okorie, could not be reached on the telephone, likewise the Police Public Relations Officer.

The incident came a week after gunmen abducted the President of the Customary Court of Appeal, Justice A.B.C Egu, the wife of the traditional ruler of Owerri, Emmanuel Njemanze, as well as three journalists who were later released.

Kidnapping, which was originally a phenomenon in the Niger Delta, has since spread nationally, although it is still a predominantly Southern disease.

An estimated 512 persons were abducted in the first half of last year alone, according to Police Affairs Minister, Yakubu Lame, who disclosed the figure on July 22, 2009, and said the rate was up nearly 70 per cent from all of 2008, as militants and criminals expanded targets to include religious figures and children.

A total 353 kidnapping cases were reported in 2008.

Hundreds of foreign workers have been abducted in the past four years, prompting companies in sectors ranging from energy to telecommunications and construction to withdraw most non-essential staff.

Gangs have filled the void by snatching politicians, children, and religious figures.

“The action which started from the kidnapping of oil expatriates has moved to the men of God and children,” said Lame.

Most of the kidnappings last year occurred in the South East and Niger Delta, home to Africa’s biggest oil and gas industry.

Most hostages are released unharmed after a ransom payment.

In the official figure for January to June last year, Abia State had the most incidents with 110 people taken hostage, over whom the police arrested 70 suspects.

Nigeria’s main militant group, the  Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), started kidnapping foreign oil workers  in 2006 as part of its “struggle to liberate the region.”

Since then, criminal gangs have taken advantage of the breakdown in law and order, targeting any high-profile expatriate or Nigerian who could provide them with a large ransom.

Security experts say many armed gangs have made ransom payments their main source of income as the military has clamped down on crude oil theft.

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