The kidnapped father of Chelsea soccer player John Obi Mikel was freed on Monday after a police raid in the northern Nigerian city of Kano, the police commissioner announced.
“Obi was rescued and six suspects were arrested, five men and a woman,” Kano State police commissioner Ibrahim Idris told journalists, speaking of Michael Obi. “Obi is here with us as you can see.”
No ransom was paid, Idris said, and a suspect led police to the house where Obi was being held. Obi described his Aug. 12 kidnapping in the central city of Jos, where he runs a transport company, and said he had been beaten.
A van in military colors overtook him and blocked his way as he was driving home from work, he said at the police headquarters. Two men in military uniform jumped out and asked him to follow them, Obi said.
“They forcefully pushed me into the van and when I asked them where we were going to, they said I should wait and see,” he said. “They wound up the window so nobody could hear me even if I had screamed. They beat me to [a] pulp and only stopped when I became very weak.”
He said they sought a ransom of 10 million naira (US$64,000) and eventually drove him to Kano, hundreds of kilometers away from Jos.
Police did not comment on whether legitimate soldiers were involved. None of the arrested suspects were members of the military.
Two of those arrested, who were allowed to speak to journalists, said they had not kidnapped Obi.
One man who claimed to be a former policeman said he “was brought from Jos, where I was arrested in connection with the kidnapping. I made some contacts and they told me that the man was brought to Kano.”
The man, Jacob Krombu, also said he had only heard about the kidnapping on the radio before his arrest.
Another suspect who said he was from the neighboring country of Niger claimed he had been hired as a driver.
“I was only contracted by soldiers who told me to drive their four colleagues to Kano and I would be compensated later,” he said.
In the days after the kidnapping, 24-year-old midfielder Mikel had pleaded with the abductors to free his father.
“All I can say is the country I’m from, Nigeria, I’ve always tried to help the country in every way that I can, playing for the country, serving the country,” Mikel had said.
Mikel played the full 90 minutes in Chelsea’s opening English Premier League match of the season, a 0-0 draw at Stoke City on Aug. 14, despite being informed a day earlier that his father was missing.
Mikel is not the first Premier League player to have a family member go missing in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation and the continent’s largest oil producer.
In July 2008, the elder brother of Everton defender Joseph Yobo was kidnapped in the oil city of Port Harcourt, the capital of the southern Rivers State in the Niger Delta.
Nornu Yobo was released after 10 days, but it was never made clear whether a ransom was paid.