JOS, Nigeria – Two Nigerian soldiers took part in the kidnapping of Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel's father, and at one point demanded a $4 billion ransom they considered "chicken change" for the team, security officials said Wednesday.
The soldiers belonged to a task force assigned to guard Jos, an area beset by ethnic and religious violence that has killed thousands over the last decade. But instead of keeping the peace, the soldiers used a military vehicle to stop Michael Obi as he drove home from work Aug. 12, Plateau state police commissioner Emmanuel Dipo Ayeni said.
The soldiers told Obi their commander wanted to see him. They drove him away to be severely beaten and he was then taken to the sprawling northern city Kano, where they demanded the exorbitant ransom, Ayeni said.
The kidnappers told Obi "to give them $4 billion, which they described as 'chicken change' to Mikel and his Chelsea club," Ayeni said late Tuesday night.
Plateau police spokesman Apev Jacob later confirmed the $4 billion ransom demand Wednesday.
Chelsea, which won the Premier League and FA Cup in the 2009-2010 season, announced earlier this year it had revenues of $330 million during that period. 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.
Chelsea and Mikel's management could not be immediately reached for comment Wednesday.
Police raided the Kano hideout where the kidnappers held Mikel's father on Monday, freeing him and arresting six suspected kidnappers. The two soldiers were arrested in Plateau state, Ayeni said.
The arrest of two soldiers offered a worrying sign of the instability plaguing Nigeria, an oil-rich country of 150 million people that is 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 violence cutting across ethnic and religious lines, though it remains rooted largely in political and economic issues.
Mikel's family, Christians from the Igbo tribe, is in the minority in the area. Mikel said the kidnapping shocked him because his family never had any problems there before.
However, some Christian leaders and villagers have previously complained about people wearing military-style fatigues attacking their villages in the nighttime raids that continue despite the heavy presence of military units since violence erupted there last year.
Brig. Gen. Raphael Isa, a military spokesman, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that army officials had begun an investigation into the actions of the sergeant and private accused in the kidnapping. However, Isa said allegations against the two soldiers shouldn't be taken as a sign of weakness on behalf of the task force charged with protecting central Nigeria.
"The task force is an impartial actor," Isa said. "Here and there, in some of these military operations, you find people who want to behave extraordinarily, like we said, going out to do things that are not part of the rules of the engagement."
Jon Gambrell reported from Lagos, Nigeria. He can be reached at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP