By Egufe Yafugborhi
How was your day leading to your kidnapping?
It was a very peaceful day when I left my house at Ugboroke on a trip to Asaba. Shortly after passing Osubi Airstrip Junction on Eku Road, I noticed a red car blocked my car. Four armed men disembarked from the red car and surrounded my car. It was between 7 and 8 in the morning.
I discovered there were more armed men in another car behind. My driver jumped out of the vehicle, a black Toyota Prado. The armed men sandwiched me inside my car, took over the steering and drove off into the forest on the road to the late Gen. Aziza’s country home.
Initially I took them for armed robbers. Immediately they turned into the forest, they stopped the car, ordered me out and told me to follow them. At that point, there were about seven young men, all armed with AK47s.
How did you know the location at that point?
We didn’t really get to Aziza’s place on that road. We entered the bush at a point on the road leading to the back of Aziza’s town. After trekking for about one hour into the forest, the armed men informed me that I was being kidnapped for a ransom of N60m.
I told them I had no business with them. ‘Do you understand what is N60m?’, I asked them. They said they meant to keep me there till that ransom was paid. We stayed there till 6pm when they now said they were taking me to their base. The walk to the so-called base lasted from that moment till 4am the next day.
We were going round in circle to give the impression that we were walking a long distance. I sensed that from observing the electricity poles on the road. We would pass one and come back to it again, trying to make me lose sense of where I was. It was quite a distance. Eventually we stopped under a tree where I was held till September 29.
How were you taken care of in captivity?
We slept on bare floor in a tent they made. They took turns in four or six to watch over me. All were armed except two new small boys they were teaching how to shoot guns. They came with two stoves, and they would cook what they called white egusi soup.“I told them I eat once, around 5pm, everyday. So that was the routine. We drank rain water throughout. They would gather the rain water and we relied on that to feed or quench thirst.
How did the interaction and communication between you and them progress?
They said ‘Call your people to bring the N60m’. I said I didn’t have money. My phones were with them. I said they should look at my accounts. One had N5,000, another N9,000 and the last N1,500. I told them that was all I had. So they were scrolling the phones and asking about my relationship with some of the contacts who they pressured me to call to bring the money.
Eventually, a very close friend, who doesn’t want his name mentioned here, kept in touch with the men. They asked if he was my son, but I told them he was a friend. From N60m, the ransom dropped to N15m, then N10m. My wife was initially involved in the negotiations. Along the line, she got sick following the tension and was admitted in hospital, so my friend carried on until they came down to N3m, vowing never to go lower.
They did a lot of checks on my phone. They saw my residence, viewed pictures of functions and parties I attended. They saw my children overseas and all that and chose to believe I had such a significant ransom value. I told them they were wrong.“Initially they collected N1.2m. In the camp, there was disagreement between the negotiators and those in the forest. Additional N1m was collected in the afternoon of September 29 when I was released.
On each of the occasions they collected ransom, they would call my relation bringing the money who didn’t see them, but they saw him. He would be ordered to move in various directions with a warning not to reveal the deal to anyone till the last man collected the“money. Then they would call to inform those holding me hostage.
How was your freedom arranged?
They said they would drop me in Warri. We left the camp around 10am and trekked till about 9 pm.
We got to a point then when they negotiated for a vehicle to come and pick us; it was apparently a stolen vehicle. The car was a Mercedes Benz. They gave signs to each other and they drove us to Adeje. After Adeje, we got to Ometan where meat is sold.
This time, we were coming from Sapele direction. From the bush, we may have trekked miles to Sapele. Ometan, where they dropped me, is only miles from the army checkpoint around Effurun.
You keep referring to us and we. Were you in company of other captives?
On my sixth day there, they brought one Alex Jumbo, resident in Sapele but abducted at Ekpan in the night. He is an ex-Chevron worker. We were released same day.“He had N1.8m in his account. They took that with the ATM they found on him. They then sold his Highlander to make up his ransom in the region of N2 to N3 million. So they left both of us there.“What was your initial reaction on regaining freedom?“We were relieved. We trekked to the community and relayed our story to the people we met. The torture was unbearable, particularly for my fellow victim. He was blindfolded for most of the period. They didn’t blindfold me, but I took a lot of beating.“The trauma for the other guy was much because they discovered he was a member of the Pirate Confraternity. That made them to beat him a lot. The boys who held us were from Okpe, the immediate locality.“You are Ijaw. How were you able to tell that your abductors were of Okpe extraction?“I speak a bit of Urhobo and understand even more. When they spoke, I could tell what dialect of Urhobo they were speaking. There was one person from Effurun among them.“In the rescue efforts leading to your freedom, you hardly made mention of security operatives. Were they not involved?“I owe my freedom first to the grace of God, then my military background and my friend and family’s cooperation. I think the police were aware. They were told, but I never really felt any positive commitment on their part to rescue me. Given my career in the military and later in the State Security Service, I was kind of disappointed in the nominal role security operatives played in the saga.“When I got home, one official came here. Later, he said they wrote a report to their headquarters. One thing I would say, it is time government and its agencies took kidnappers a bit more serious. Today, we are looking at them as kidnappers. Boko Haram, when it started, was seen as a band of religious bigots. Today, they have become monsters, even growing more deadly with international allignment with global terrorist groups.“Another point is for the police and the army to review their internal weapon handling and monitoring system. In the past, a policeman was not allowed to go home with his gun. At the close of duty, you drop it and stock is taken to ensure that everything is in order. Today, policemen, soldiers go home with their weapons. So you don’t know how far the guns travel and to where they go.“Security agencies should also begin to be more vigilant. From my verbal engagement with the boys, we are likely to have series of bank robberies in the South-west. I returned from the kidnappers den only to hear of the intriguing bank robbery in Lagos. My kidnappers had told me they were moving to the South-west which they claimed has more money and the banks are becoming more attractive in terms of cash loot. They may be looking for more money and that means bigger criminal aspirations ahead. Even the increasing high profile kidnapping in the South-west currently has been the long drawn plan they told me. We are likely to see more from their determination and boasting.“Why the suggestion on review of weapon handling by security operatives?“What’s the link with your ordeal?“They confessed that they hire ammunition from the police and army. That means there is no serious monitoring (of arms) and control. So if we return to the old order where those allocated guns and other weapons submit them off duty, there would be some form of sanity in the society. A situation where arms are allegedly being sold from the armory of security operatives puts the society in such a perilous situation.“I stayed for a long time with them. We were discussing and I am good in interpersonal communication. Practically, I was there when they called a girl to go to a certain contact and pick up seven packs of ammunition. It’s a dangerous trend wherever they get these weapons and ammunitions from and the ease with which they do. I told you, all seven AK47 they were brandishing appeared brand new.“They were heavily on drugs most of the time. This poses great danger to the victims. In one of the days I was in captivity, one of the kidnappers lost N500 and was threatening to shoot his colleagues if they failed to produce the money. At such moments, they easily pounce on you to vent their anger and frustration.“Any other lesson learnt from your ordeal?“One basic point to echo is that if my young child could get GPRS tracking to spot where those boys were calling from, why shouldn’t security agencies know where they were calling from? It’s unbelievable.“Lastly, people should be mindful of the extent of information they store on their phones. These boys frisk every application on phones, especially the sensitive handsets. That enables them to dig into your life, know your family, associates, social status and events you attend to determine your ransom value. Most times they could be mistaken, but even when you make genuine denials, they just manhandle you and put you in greater danger.