By Donu Kogbara
I WAS abducted from my Port Harcourt residence by armed men on Sunday August 30…and released nearly two weeks later on Friday September 11.
It was a horrific experience overall. The loss of freedom was hard to bear. The primitive hut in which I was incarcerated was extremely uncomfortable and full of mosquitos and sand flies. A large rat emerged from Lord knows where when darkness fell. I was regularly threatened; and I frequently feared for my life.
I was assured that I would be murdered or maimed if my family and friends did not deliver a juicy ransom payment…and if security personnel attempted to rescue me. I was also told that I would get caught in crossfire if a rival gang of kidnappers tried to “steal” me.
Rival gang of kidnappers
And there were times when some of my jailors angrily lashed out and accused me of being a fully-fledged member of a greedy and uncaring Establishment that steals public funds and cheats the masses.
But it has to be said that I was also treated kindly sometimes.
Within any group, there will be different personality types; and some of my young captors – there were eight of them – were nicer than others; and, to be fair, even the worst of them possessed humane streaks and senses of humour.
They didn’t hesitate to purchase blood pressure medication for me when I told them that I was hypertensive, bought me (without any prompting) warm clothes so I wouldn’t feel cold during the chilly creek nights, gave me a Bible to read, teased me for being an “Oyinbo Woman” and laughed when I told them that if they killed me, I would come back as a ghost and haunt them…and that I was so troublesome on occasion that some of my friends would pay them to keep me.
They regularly offered me food, drink and cigarettes. Some of them addressed me respectfully or affectionately as “Madame” or “Mummy” and apologised for kidnapping me and said that they had only turned to crime because they couldn’t get jobs. And we had quite a few cordial and stimulating conversations about their dreams, my overseas travels, elections, cooking and many other topics.
They complained about being betrayed by various Niger Deltan militant leaders and various mainstream politicians. They said they were waging a war against “Big Men” who had used and dumped them…and “chopped” their money.
Stockholm Syndrome, or capture-bonding, is a psychological phenomenon in which hostages develop positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending and identifying with them.
Given that I have always been a Niger Deltan advocate and activist of sorts who has long worried about neglected Niger Deltan youths, I wasn’t surprised when I started to emphatise with “The Boys”, as they liked to describe themselves.
So though I went through phases of bitterly resenting them for hurting me and turning me into a helpless and humiliated hostage, I also went through phases of feeling sorry for them and regarding them as victims of a dysfunctional society.
I persuaded myself to believe that most of them were basically benign and essentially harmless. I persuaded myself to believe that I might have become a gun-toting kidnapper/robber myself if I had been born male and impoverished.
I persuaded myself to believe that most of them would be transformed into law-abiding citizens if they were given a chance to improve themselves and earn reasonable sums legally. And I begged them to abandon their dangerous and sadistic occupation and find alternative ways of earning their daily crusts. I also found myself wishing that I would one day be in a position to help them.
Now that I have been liberated from a proximity that made me emotionally bond with my captors but was – when all is said and done – enforced, traumatic and frightening, I have a considerably less sentimental attitude towards them.
I still understand why they became outlaws and I am grateful to them for returning my phones and my passport and for not shooting me; but some kidnappings go wrong and end tragically; and I cannot approve of the choices they’ve made or the misery they inflict on abductees and their families.
The Boys told me that there were about 30 different kidnapping gangs in Port Harcourt and I am very upset about the fact that I now feel so unsafe in my home town, that I hastily left it last week and I am not likely to return.
Kidnapping has become an epidemic in Rivers State and the Niger Delta in general and is becoming increasingly common in other parts of the country (former presidential candidate, Chief Olu Falae, was recently grabbed in Ondo and later released).
One can only urge the security agencies, state governments and Federal authorities to up their game and stamp out this evil trade by eradicating poverty and adopting a more robust stance towards crime prevention.
Let me also seize this opportunity to thank, from the bottom of my heart, the many Nigerian and foreign individuals and organisations that expressed concern when I disappeared, demanded or facilitated my release and kindly lavished love, concern and practical support on me when I emerged from my ordeal:
*Uncle Sam Amuka, the Publisher of Vanguard newspapers;
*The Rivers State Commissioner of Police, Musa Kimo;
*Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, the former Governor of Rivers State;
*Chief Nyesom Wike, the current Rivers State Governor, and Kenneth Kobani, the Secretary to the Rivers State Government;
*APC Women in Rivers State and APC official spokesperson, Chris Finebone;
*Ogoni journalists associations and Ledum Mitee, the former head of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, MOSOP;
*PEN International, which is based in London, has 149 centres worldwide and promotes freedom of expression for professional writers.
Plus SEVERAL others who do not wish to be publicly acknowledged.