Father of Chelsea player Mikel found in Nigeria (AP)

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John Obi Mikel

John Obi Mikel

KANO, Nigeria (AP)—The kidnapped father of Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel was freed Monday after detectives traced him to a sprawling city in northern Nigeria and arrested his abductors.

Olusola Amore, a spokesman for the country’s federal police, told The Associated Press that investigators followed Michael Obi’s trail from central Nigeria’s Plateau state to Kano, one of the nation’s largest cities. There, officers raided the area where Obi was held, freeing him and arresting his kidnappers, Amore said.

Obi himself, looking worried and disheveled, appeared at a hastily arranged news conference Monday night at a police station in Kano, about 710 miles from the country’s commercial capital of Lagos. There, police officers paraded six of his suspected kidnappers.

“I was taken right deep into the bush, in an isolated area in Jos,” Obi said in a brief statement to journalists. “I started begging them, yet they beat me mercilessly, kicking me with their boot. They are five of them and they were dressed in military uniforms.

“They pushed me into a vehicle painted in military (colors) and began to drive very fast. I never knew a vehicle can fly like that.”

Officers said they had launched an investigation to see if the accused were soldiers, though authorities believe the kidnappers used military-style camouflage fatigues to abduct Obi and remain unchallenged in a country still wary of the military after a string of dictatorships.

Kano state police commissioner Ibrahim Idris identified the kidnappers as five men, including a former police officer, and a woman. The accused did not immediately have a lawyer and remained largely silent as police showed them to journalists.

London-based Sport Entertainment Media Group, Mikel’s management company, welcomed Obi’s release.

“Earlier today, Michael Obi called his family to advise them that he had been released by his abductors. (We) have waited until now to release this information to ensure that Michael was safe,” a statement issued Monday night read.

“John Obi Mikel would like to thank everyone in Nigeria, his family and friends, Chelsea FC and their fans and his agents for their total support during this terrible time.”

Michael Obi was kidnapped on Aug. 12 while on his way home from work in the central Nigerian city of Jos.

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, John Obi Mikel said the kidnapping shocked him because his family never had any problems there before.

Kidnappings in Plateau state are a rarity when compared to Nigeria’s oil-producing 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 release comes as a rare bright moment for Nigeria’s weak federal police, whose officers mostly concern themselves with extorting money from motorists and serving as personal attendants to the country’s elite. Most kidnap victims find themselves released only after their loved ones pay ransom.

A Forbes magazine survey in June listed Mikel as the seventh highest-paidAfrican player in Europe. The magazine listed Mikel’s salary as $5.8 million a year.

Jon Gambrell reported from Lagos, Nigeria. AP Sports Writer Rob Harris in London contributed to this report.

Jon Gambrell can be reached at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP

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