Mikel kidnap gang wanted £2.4bn

Two Nigerian soldiers who kidnapped Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel's father one point demanded a $4bn (£2.4bn) ransom they considered "chicken change" for the team.

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 on August 12, Plateau state police commissioner Emmanuel Dipo Ayeni said.

The soldiers told Mr 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, Mr Ayeni said.

The kidnappers told Mr Obi "to give them $4bn, which they described as 'chicken change' to Mikel and his Chelsea club," Mr Ayeni said.

Chelsea, which won the Premier League and FA Cup in the 2009-2010 season, announced earlier this year it had revenues of £200m during that period. A Forbes magazine survey in June listed Mikel as the seventh highest-paid African player in Europe and said he was paid £3.5 million a year.

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.

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 night-time raids that continue despite the heavy presence of military units since violence erupted there last year.

Brigadier General Raphael Isa, a military spokesman, said that army officials had begun an investigation into the actions of the sergeant and private accused in the kidnapping.