June 30, 2019

133 highways of terror: Survivors’ heart-touching tales

Borno: Commanding Officer, 6 soldiers, terrorists die in Rann battle

File: Bandits

One week after Sunday Vanguard published a story in which investigation revealed that no fewer than One 133 highways across Nigeria are under kidnappers and bandits siege, some victims, in this package, speak on their harrowing experiences on some of the roads. Only last Wednesday, 28 travellers along one of the fingered roads, Ikere Ekiti – Akure road, were abducted by gunmen. This happened four days after the Nigerian Army claimed to have deployed drones in Ekiti and Ondo states to fish out kidnappers terrorising the two states. The survivors’ stories:

Bandits on 133 highways

Dr Adole Omale, a senior lecturer at Baze University, Abuja, narrates his traumatic experience after he was captured by some gunmen on the highway around Ajaokuta while travelling from Abuja to his village in Benue State. The former President of the Student Union Government at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria claims he spent four days in the kidnapper’s den before he was released after his family paid N2million ransom to the kidnappers.

Tell us your experience in the hands of highway kidnappers.

I was kidnapped in Ajaokuta, Kogi State while on my way to my village. It was a Monday. Normally I travel through Makurdi to Ookpa in Ogbadibo local government area of Benue State. But the shortest route is Lokoja through Aloma junction to Otukpa. On this particular day, I was travelling with my niece, a painter and a tiler. I left Abuja at about 8 am and got to Lokoja at about 10 am. I did one or two things in Lokoja and continued on my journey. After Ajaokuta Steel Complex, I noticed some men ahead of us dressed in military camouflage. I wondered what such a large number of military personnel were doing in the middle of nowhere. As I approached them, I discovered that one of the men in military uniform was hooded, so I slowed down. Immediately, I started hearing gunshots around me. I looked at the rear viewing mirror and saw another group of about ten men in military uniform. I informed the people in the car that we had a bad company. I pulled to the side of the road and parked the car. The two groups in my front and the rear started to approach me. I handed over my car key to them when they got to where we were parked. They ransacked my car and took whatever they wanted. One of them tugged at my niece and said he had found a wife. I intervened and pulled my niece away from them. Some of the men dealt several blows on me until their leader asked them to stop. The leader commanded my niece and the painter in my team to run away.

When my niece and the painter had run away, I and the tiler were handed over to a group of ten and we were commanded to follow them into the bush. We trekked for more than two hours and anytime I enquired where we were going, they would hit me with the butt of their guns. We trekked until we got to a stream where we were asked to sit. It was at that stage that I was told that I had been kidnapped.

After waiting for a while, we started moving again. What I noticed was that they were very organized. Anytime we approached a major road, we would be asked to jump across. I guess they wanted to obliterate our footsteps so that whenever anybody wanted to trace them, he will be lost. We followed cow routes majorly. We trekked from the around 1 pm when we were kidnapped to about 8 pm when we got to a small rocky place. I told them I wanted to speak with my wife. After a while, they brought biscuits and water. Then we rested for a while and started trekking again until we got to our final destination. I was told to call my people to arrange N100million ransom. I explained to them that I was a lecturer and that there was no way I could mobilize that kind of money. I was subjected to serious beating for saying I did not have that kind of money. They asked me how much could I bring? I told them I could mobilize N1m. At the mention of N1m, they gave me more beating.

They asked me to tell my wife to pick my car at the police station and sell it. They informed me that the police had come to pick my car and that at least the car was worth more than N2million. What I found very curious was that though most of them appeared to be illiterates and spoke mostly Fulfulde, one of our abductors appeared well informed. He hacked into my phone which had a password and read my messages and Facebook posts. He asked me my views about religion and politics. I told them I believe there is only one God and everybody worships Him. We talked about politics and they lamented how their people were suffering because of government neglect. After much argument, they accepted that I should arrange N2million. They told me that they were not looking for people of my type but big-time Igbo businessmen who don’t waste time in bringing the money once they are kidnapped. They said they would have released me but it was against their tradition because once you were in their custody, you must pay the ransom

On the third day, my people had raised the N2million ransom money and set out from Abuja to Lokoja. On getting to Lokoja, my brother who was bringing the money called the kidnappers but they told him that since it was already dark, he should sleep in Lokoja because they don’t operate in the dark. I was scared that another group of bad guys may steal the money from my brother but they assured me that they were in charge of that area.

At about ten in the morning the following day, the kidnappers called my brother and asked him to start driving towards Ajaokuta. After passing Ajaokuta, the kidnappers called my brother and asked him to turn back. When he got to Salem University area, they directed him to follow one bush path inside. He drove for more than ten kilometres, and then suddenly, several gunmen surrounded the car. They collected the money, confirmed that it was complete and apologized to my brother that I was not the target but “he don enter, e don enter”. They handed over my wallet, my ATM cards and other personal belongings to my brother and asked him to remain there.

Shortly after, I heard several gunshots. I protested to the kidnappers keeping an eye on me that they promised not to kill my brother, and asked what the gunshots meant. They told me that I should not worry because the gunshots signalled that ransom money had been paid. After a while, a phone call was made to one of the men keeping watch over me. After a while, they told me that I could now leave.

Where were you kept during your stay with the kidnappers?

We (I and painter) were kept on top of a rock in an open space. Before we left, the abductors prayed for us and two of them escorted us out of the place. In their prayers, they asked God to multiply my money because, according to them, I had contributed to God’s work. They took us to a footpath and told us were to follow. They told us that we would walk a bit far but that we should keep going until we meet my brother.

While you were in their custody, did they tell you while they were doing what they were doing?

What they said was that they were suffering while other people were enjoying. They accused me and others of eating their cows and getting fat to their detriment. They said the difference between them and security operatives was that while they were ready to die, security people were not. I think their motive is purely economic. It’s pure criminality.

How were you fed?

One night, somebody came on a bike and brought some food (Akpu and Eba). They told me that the person was their ammunition and arms supplier. They claimed he was a colonel in the army. On another day, one of my guards dressed in very expensive material went to the market to bring supplies.

As a kidnap victim, what do you think the government should do to mitigate the spate of kidnapping in the country?

The government must fish out the financiers of these criminal activities. Look at the case of suspected kingpin Evans. His arrest has significantly reduced the cases of kidnapping in the Lagos-Ibadan axis significantly. Some people are behind this banditry in Kaduna, Kogi, Katsina and Zamfara. Security agencies must tackle the brains behind these criminal activities and neutralize them. Secondly, the areas that are amenable to be used for kidnapping should be subjected to serious surveillance. Government has to do something about the unemployment in the country so that there won’t be a ready supply of foot soldiers.

More importantly, the government should check the flow of illicit weapons into the country.