• People no longer carry cash, so we started kidnapping them
•Police denied us means of livelihood; we’re ready to die
Abuja – Kaduna Road kidnap victim recounts his ordeal, says I saw them kill and I’m yet to recover from the trauma
Kaduna – For Omale Owoicho, (not his real name) a commercial vehicle driver that plies the notoriously dangerous Abuja Kaduna highway on daily basis, the story of people being kidnapped on the road appeared too far fetched to be true to him. Moreover, as a struggling driver, he never imagined that he would be a victim of kidnappers because, according to him, he had “nothing to offer them”.
That was his conviction until 29th March, 2019 when he was not only kidnapped at gun point along the road but he also spent two grueling weeks with the monsters under vary harrowing experience.
Owoicho who is still suffering from the trauma of his kidnap told Saturday Vanguard in an exclusive interview in Kaduna that with what he went through in the hands of the kidnappers, the idea of living in Kaduna where he was born and raised has completely gone out of his mind. Still scared he begged that his real name should not be used.
“For the first time in my life, a gun was pointed at me and I witnessed somebody being killed. It was not a nice experience. I would have been that person that was killed. People that I met at the kidnappers den left me and even those that came after me left me behind because I could not meet the ransom of N35 Million which the kidnappers initially demanded before bringing it down to N1.5 million. Even at that, I could not raise it so they released me when it became obvious that I could not muster more than the N150 thousand that I was able to raise through selling some of my properties” he said.
How it started
According to the kidnap victim, he had no premonition of any danger on that day when he went to pick one of his regular passengers from Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja even when he ran into the kidnappers,dressed in military fatigues.
“I was coming from Abuja where I had gone to pick a passenger. We got to a point where I saw some men in military uniforms with torch light. When I saw them in uniform, I was reassured and confident. When we got to where they were, they started shooting into the air and somebody put a gun on my head and took me into the bush. It was as if it was a dream.
It was after three days in the bush under a tree that reality dawned on me. I was taken to the bush with my passenger. Every night, we were moved to a different camp. As people were leaving because their ransoms were paid, others who were kidnapped were brought in again. Every day that we were in the camp, they were bringing in more people” he said.
He said he was kept in the same camp with the kidnapped Catholic priest from the Kaduna Diocese for the period that he was in captivity. He however refused to talk about what happened to the priest who has remained unaccounted for more than two months after he was kidnapped.
While in detention, he said the victims were subjected to severe beatings and other forms of torture, especially the first few days after they were abducted, to send a clear message that they meant serious business. But nothing prepared them for what happened on the day that they were released.
Morning exercise & the pathway to success
“They thought by beating us, we would make our people pay fast. They started by asking for a ransom of 35 million before bringing it down to 1.5 million. I told them that I could not even afford 200 thousand Naira. I had given up on life because they were adamant from the beginning. Some People that I met in the camp left and those that met me in the camp also left so they knew that I had a bad case financially.
At that point they asked my people to bring what they could afford. I was released on Saturday even though the ransom was paid on Thursday.
“As we were about to be released after ransom had been paid, without any provocation, one of the hostages was shot point blank. We couldn’t understand why he was shot. The leader of the gang just gave an order that one person should killed and the person was shot. It was the worst experience that I have ever had” he said.
Despite the trauma that he went through, staying with the kidnappers for that long created a kind of rapport between him and some of the kidnappers and they opened up to him on their reasons for choosing the path of crime.
“They were harsh to us but after a while, they became friendly but sometimes would suddenly turn harsh again. They blamed everything on government and the security agencies, especially the police for pushing them into what they were doing. They said if the government had not Introduced cashless policy, people would be travelling with money for business so there would have been no need to keep people. But since people no longer travel with cash, if you are kept hostage, your people will be forced to bring it out something.
“They said any time they want to sell a cow or two to marry, the police would arrest them, claiming that the cows were stolen. Frustrated by that, they would resort to using third parties to sell their cows but the third parties would cheat them.
“In one of our discussions with them, they told us the story of their lives. When we were released, they told us to pray for them. They pleaded that we should not curse them because if we did so, we would be worsening the situation in the country because more people would become their victims. They said we should pray that God should intervene in their lives”
With what he went through, Owoicho said he will never go to Abuja by road again and he will never go back to being a commercial driver, especially on the Abuja-Kaduna road.
“I will rather die in the house than allow somebody to kill me in the bush. If for any reason I have to go to Abuja, I will go by rail and not on the highway” he vowed.
He said government should address the concerns of the kidnappers especially the issue of cattle rustling in the north.
“They are not scared of security men because they said they are ready to die. They said their life was not worth living. They are ready for death.
“Government should look into the issue of cattle rustling and the harassment of herdsmen by security personnel especially police. These kidnappers are Nigerians. They know their ways round the country. They know towns and villages in Port Harcourt for instance. They are illiterates but they boasted that they have found a means of making money since they have been deprived of their means of livelihood” he said.