Just when you thought things were cooling down in Nigeria, they have come again. This time for the father of Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel has been abducted in Nigeria’s restive central region, and the soccer player made a televised appeal to kidnappers Monday for his father’s release.
“I have always tried to help the country in every way I can, playing for the country, serving the country. This is the time for the country to help me in this situation,” Mikel told Sky Sports News. “I am just going to say, whoever has got my dad, whoever knows where my dad is, should please contact me and hopefully he should be released.”
Plateau state police commissioner Emmanuel Dipo Ayeni told The Associated Press that Michael Obi disappeared from the state capital Jos on Friday. Ayeni said he had no other details.
“We are still searching to find his location,” Ayeni said.
Federal police spokesman Olusola Amore said no one had seen Mikel’s father since 6 p.m. Friday, when he left work to return home.
London-based Sport Entertainment & Media Group, Mikel’s management company, said no ransom demand had been made. It said Chelsea was looking at “security issues” after the abduction.
“Mikel was informed by his manager prior to the Stoke v Chelsea match & decided to play so as not to let down his team & family,” the media group said on Twitter.
Mikel has played with Chelsea since 2006. He previously played for Nigerian Premier League club Plateau United, Nigeria’s Under-20 squad and Norwegian club Lyn.
“We will give Mikel and his family our full support at this most difficult time,” Chelsea said on its website.
Nigeria, an oil-rich country of 150 million people, is almost evenly split between Muslims in the north and the predominantly Christian south. Plateau state, in Nigeria’s fertile central belt, has seen thousands die in recent years in religious and ethnic violence rooted largely in political and economic issues.
Mikel’s family, from the Igbo tribe, is in the minority in the area. However, Mikel said the kidnapping shocked him because his family never had any problems there before.
“I have always thought one day something like this can happen, but where my family lives is a very secure and safe place,” he said.
Kidnappings in Plateau state are a rarity when compared to Nigeria’s oil-rich southern delta, where militants and criminal gangs often kidnap foreigners for ransom. Middle class Nigerian families also increasingly find themselves targeted in the country’s East as well.
It isn’t the first time a soccer player’s family has been targeted in Nigeria. In 2008, gunmen abducted the younger brother of Everton defender Joseph Yobo as he left a nightclub in Port Harcourt, the delta’s largest city. The brother was released unharmed about two weeks later, though it was unclear if a ransom had been paid.
Michael Obi’s abduction comes after a Forbes magazine survey in June listed Mikel as the seventh highest-paid African player in Europe. The magazine listed Mikel’s salary as $5.8 million a year.