By Donu Kogbara
Vanguard readers will see this column on Friday September l, but I’m writing it on Thursday August 31, a very significant day for me and my nearest and dearest: The second anniversary of my abduction by kidnappers in 2015.
How can I ever forget being roughly shaken awake by two armed men, just before 7am on that fateful Sunday morning, in my bedroom in Port Harcourt?
How can I ever forget my then 79-year-old mother standing behind them, trembling and dazed, having been apprehended by the intruders as she prepared for church and compelled to show them where I was?
How can I ever forget being frogmarched out of the house in my shabby night clothes, past the two girls who helped us around the house and were forced to lie face down?
How can I ever forget being pushed into a waiting SUV and spirited away, first to a boat called “Victorious” that was tethered to a small jetty in a small coastal village, then to a small hut on stilts on a small swampy mangrove islet in the middle of a vast waterway?
How can I ever forget being forced to walk on swaying, slimy wooden planks that were driven into the swamp floor whenever I needed to go to the toilet?
How can I ever forget being imprisoned by nine gun-toting gangsters (two of whom, including their “boss man”, were drug/drink-crazed psychopaths) for 13 days that felt like 13 years, while a modest ransom payment was being negotiated by my dear friend Uche Igwe and being put together by my darling sister Lela?
How can I ever forget being beaten and tied up by the two psychos…and my eardrum being perforated because of a violent slap…and “boss man” raining blows on my knees and ankles, to ensure that I’d find mobility difficult?……And being constantly threatened with rape/murder…and wondering how my son would cope if I died and how I’d regain my sanity if I was sexually assaulted?
Meanwhile, my attitude towards kidnappers has gradually hardened.
When I was with “the boys”, as they liked to be known, I greatly appreciated the fact that seven out of the nine were as pleasant and respectful as it is possible to be under such bizarre circumstances; and I had several long, fascinating and heart-rending conversations with them about their wretched backgrounds.
I have made numerous excuses for them since I was released, feeling that they were basically nice kids who wouldn’t have turned to crime if the notoriously predatory Nigerian elite had treated them and their ilk more fairly.
However, my family and I have suffered so many negative consequences because of that ordeal that will forever be etched on our brains and souls and consciousnesses and subconsciouses; and I am decreasingly inclined to adopt a charitable attitude towards those who hurt us so badly and almost broke us.
My mother was so traumatised that she never recovered emotionally or mentally. My son was so traumatised that his academic performance took a dive (and he’s now far more highly-strung than he was before the abduction drama). My finances took a serious hit when I fled to the UK to lick my wounds; and I still struggle to empty my head of incarceration-related daymares and nightmares…and find it extremely hard to summon up the courage to go home to Port Harcourt…and have not been able to bring myself to sleep in the family residence again.
My view nowadays is that there is almost always an alternative to crime and that kidnappers cause too much anguish – anguish that will never be entirely eradicated – to deserve empatico left-wing platitudes or to be easily forgiven.
Yesterday, I saw the lawyer of “kidnap kingpin”, Chukwudubem Onwuamadike, alias Evans, whingeing on the TV news about how he is allegedly not being allowed to defend his client properly; and I felt no sympathy whatsoever.
Evans initially pleaded guilty to the charges at the Lagos High Court. A long story about a coerced confession then ensued. But I’m not buying it.
Kidnappers ruthlessly employ violence and inflict psychological torture on their victims – many of whom are accidentally or deliberately killed; and the epidemic of abductions that is infecting this country, damaging our economy, wrecking our image internationally and ruining lives can only end if kidnappers are punished harshly (I continue to be opposed to the death penalty but am in favour of very long prison sentences).
Anyway, let me just thank God that I am alive and also thank the individuals and organisations who lavished invaluable moral and practical support on us during my captivity and subsequently: Friends and relatives who have tried to help us pick up the pieces.
Plus Uncle Sam Amuka, the owner of this newspaper; Rotimi Amaechi, the former Governor of Rivers State and current Minister of Transport; Nyesom Wike, the serving Governor of Rivers State; and Kenneth Kobani, Wike’s SSG.
Plus Shell, the oil company for which my late father and I once worked (nearly 200 Shell staff were kidnapped before I was; and Shell’s security chief kindly provided Uche and my sister with expert advice).
Ditto British Government personnel…and the Nigeria Police Force and Department of State Services.
Sad anniversary number 2
Exactly 20 years ago – on August 31, 1997, Diana, the most iconic Princess of Wales ever, died in a car crash in Paris, having endured a painful divorce from Prince Charles.
Diana naively married a future king who did not love her, could not tear himself away from his ex-girlfriend (Camilla Parker-Bowles, who is now his wife) and broke her heart.
Diana wasn’t well-educated and made several mistakes; but she was beautiful, warm, amusing and absolutely adored by most Brits, millions of non-Brits and almost everyone who met her.
She was, as the singer Elton John so eloquently put it, “England’s Rose”.
The two bereft sons she left behind – Princes William and Harry – have delivered touching tributes to the mother they say was perfect.
May she rest in peace.