By Samuel Oyadongha, Yenagoa
When the news filtered into Yenagoa penultimate Thursday that septuagenarian Pa Erasmus Oko and his wife Mrs. Idemokumo Oko, the parents of former chairman of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) central zone and ex Bayelsa State Commissioner for Energy, Comrade Maxwell Oko had been kidnapped by unknown gun wielding youths, many were horror-struck.
The concern shown by the army of sympathizers that thronged the residence of the former commissioner, the latest victim of ransom -seeking criminal gang in the delta is understandable given his activism in espousing the cause of his immediate Otuasega home town through the now defunct ‘ELIMOTU Movement’ which forced the major oil operators in the area, SPDC, to provide the host communities with social amenities especially un-interruped electricity.
For ten days, the couple were in solitary captivity in a cemetery, a resting place for the dead, tucked away in the deep mangrove swamp of Soku in Rivers State on the Atlantic fringe guarded by heavily armed gunmen.
At Otuasega community and the Yenagoa residence of their son, the tension could be felt as their close relations went spiritual praying for the quick release of the kidnapped couples.
However after ten days of anxiety and uncertainty, reprieve came the way of the embattled couple as they were set free by their captors Sunday night to the warm embrace of their family members.
The 79 year old father of the former Ijaw youth activist was too weak due to his old age and the torture he was subjected to by his captors who denied him access to his drugs.
The parents said one of the kidnappers admitted that he was part of those that celebrated with their son after his appointment and was even served ‘kola nut and alligator pepper.’
Relieving their tales of agony in the hands of their kidnappers, the couple who are currently receiving treatment at the Koki Diete Memorial Cottage Hospital in Yenagoa said they were kept under armed guard in a cemetery in the deep mangrove swamp after being taken on a long and tortuous journey on the winding creek.
According to them, they were gagged and blindfolded in the course of being taken away by their captors.
Aside being provided with a small mattress with which to sleep in a makeshift tent built with nylon , the couple said they were exposed to the vagaries of the element.
Pa Erasmus though a witty old man when approached by Saturday Vanguard to narrate his ordeal simply closed his eyes for a while and shook his head ,ostensibly pained by what he and his wife passed through.
“There is no better way to tell you we passed through my son,” he said trying to adjust himself to sitting position on his hospital bed with difficulty. “There was no better care. We were fed with sandy rice without meat or fish. We were like prisoners of war with guns menacingly pointed at us.
It might interest you to know that we were kept incommunicado in a cemetery and they showed us where they had buried people. When we were being taken away, we were gagged and blindfolded. This was to ensure that even if we escape, we cannot find our way out unaided. I was beaten and as you can see, my arms and legs are in bad shape.
“When pressed, one of the kidnappers will have to accompany you at gunpoint so that you cannot escape and pleading to having bath was an effort in futility”
He however said on the tenth day of their incarceration, their captors notified them that they were going home but could not say whether something was given to placate the gunmen. The mother of the former commissioner who is in her fifties recalled how they were snatched and taken away from their Otuasega country home that fateful Thursday night.
“I was in the kitchen preparing dinner when I heard an unusual noise in the house and came in only to meet four men dragging my husband. It was when I was struggling with them to let go my husband that I knew they were armed gunmen.
They were shouting, where is the money in the house? Where is the money and dragging papa on the ground as if they were dragging timber,” she recalled. The lively women added that the old man’s travail continued when they got to the den of their kidnappers in the deep mangrove swamp as he could not walk again and they were dragging him again when one of them (kidnappers) offered to carry him.
“When we got to their hideout at the cemetery, the gunmen brought out a jerry can filled with petrol and they showed us coco- nut trees where they threatened to tie and set us ablaze. But one of them assured us that they will not do such a thing that night because of the suspicion the glow and smoke will raise especially as the movements of speedboats could be heard from the creek which is some distance away.”
Mrs. Oko who thanked God for ensuring their safe return from the jaws of death, said, “The kidnappers kept threatening to kill us, that our son was making arrangement with police to get them arrested. They even boasted that they have persons monitoring every action being taken by our son in Yenagoa.
“At a point when the torture was too much , papa pleaded that they should take his life and allow me to go saying he was already an old man but I challenged them that they will have to kill me first.”
She said though they were fed by the kidnappers daily , the quality was nothing to write home about.
“ We kept hoping to get something to fill our stomach, praying that the nightmare would be over soon.. It was God’s doing that we came out alive from that cemetery given the trauma of being harassed constantly by these armed wielding youths in that solitary confinement.”
The ex-commissioner , Comrade Maxwell Oko said, he would leave vengeance to God even as he declined comment on whether ransom was paid. He was however full of praise for men of the State Security Service and some of his friends and relations without whose efforts their release could have lingered.