By Jonathan Ugbal
It has been 31 days since Comrade Ben Ukpepi, the Chairman of the Nigerian Labor Congress in Cross River State was kidnapped in front of his residence at the CROSPIL estate in Akpabuyo Local Government Area.
It is the second time Mr. Ukpepi would suffer in the hands of kidnappers, yet, there is a deafening silence over his absence in what is reminiscent of the case of broadcaster, Petertex ‘Godfada’ Etim who was kidnapped on his way to work on January 11, 2019 and has remained missing since then.
Godfada was missing for 800 days when Mr. Ukpepi was kidnapped on March 21st, less than 400 days after he (Ukpepi) was released by his initial abductors in 2019.
The organized labor in the State was planning a strike action over pending labor issues. Mr. Ukpepi was kidnapped less than 96 hours to that action, labor sources said.
His kidnap also came when residents of Calabar and its environs were almost heaving a sigh of relief following a reduction in the rate of kidnappings in the city after the State launched a joint security task force codenamed ‘Operation Akpakwu’.
And, asides a communique issued late in March by the organized labor calling on civil and public servants to stay home until Mr. Ukpepi is released which prompted the Police to release a statement warning against any form of protest, no deliberate action has been taken again.
The strike action also failed.
“We shelved the strike action after wider consultations,” Comrade Lawrence Achuta, Mr. Ukpepi’s deputy told this reporter on phone.
“We met with the Commissioner of Police, the Permanent Secretary of the Special Services Office and a Deputy Director in the State Security Service who all pleaded for time to enable the security agencies do their work to secure his (Ukpepi’s) release,” Mr. Achuta added.
When pressed to discover whether the action was shelved indefinitely, he averred that: “We are going to meet them again because we can’t wait in perpetuity.”
Relatives say the kidnappers have been talking “sparingly” with the family and demanded NGN150 million as ransom a few days after he was abducted.
The family remains shaken and are scared of expressing themselves in a manner that authorities may latch on to and claim it impacted on the efforts of the security agents.
This, a source said, was what led to low level actions on Petertex’s kidnap which despite paying ransom twice according to security sources familiar with the matter, has led to him remaining missing for 831 days now.
The only kidnapped victim whose abduction was public that spent this long and was eventually released was the former Commissioner for Water Resources, Gabriel Odu-Oji who was kidnapped on April 8, 2017 and released 31 days after.
Security agencies remain mum over most kidnap cases in Cross River and it is the hope of many that Ukpepi’s case does not turn out in a similar manner with that of the Godfada.