Special Report

February 18, 2024

Stunning stories from kidnap forests (1): Human bones littered marshy surrounding

Insecurity in Zamfara

…survivors narrate chilling scenes in kidnappers’ dens

•Ex-President Jonathan’s cousin in Bayelsa incident: Captors kept me inside 6ft, water-logged grave •How I escaped being raped – C/River twice kidnapped woman

•ANAMBRA SURVIVOR: ‘Captives killed like chickens’ in hell on earth •EDO: Akoko-Edo, Sasaro forest, Ayetero, Ososo-Makeke Road, Okpe Road, Bekuma horrors •A-IBOM: Creeks as kidnappers’ den •IMO/ ABIA: Echoes of a Prelate’s kidnapping •DELTA: Kidnapped priests fed with raw cassava.

•Abductors spread tentacles, take over cemetery, forests

Kidnapping spree has continued across the country despite security agencies’ best efforts to contain the scourge. Victims are apparently taken deep inside forests where their captors negotiate ransom usually in millions of naira. In this report, survivors narrate their chilling experiences to Sunday Vanguard in kidnappers’ dens. It is a story of how kidnappers have spread their tentacles in many states including Bayelsa, Edo, Cross River, Delta, Anambra, Abia, Oyo, Osun, Ondo and Imo.

BAYELSA: Kidnappers turn cemetery to den

In predominantly riverine Bayelsa State located at the center of the Niger Delta, a kidnap victim, who shared her ordeal, said, “I was blindfolded and forced to lie on the floor of their speedboat after I was seized from my house. “For several hours, we traveled on the waters; I did not know how they managed to beat the numerous military checkpoints. But we got to their camp after a long trek from where we disembarked from the boat. “The forest is believed to be a cemetery as human bones could be seen around. From the vegetation and marshy surroundings, I knew we were in the thick of the mangrove. I was alone and praying for divine intervention for a quick rescue. “I was fed with garri, and sometimes, smoked fish and sachet water. My captors, especially the one detailed to guard the dinghy where I was confined, armed with AK-47s, and seemingly the youngest among them, were humane. “Others were agitated and threatened that my family had been stubborn, and did not agree to their ransom demand. But thank God I survived and I am alive. It was a traumatic experience I do not wish for anybody”.

I was almost dead – Commissioner Otokito

The state Commissioner for Industry, Trade and Investment, Federal Otokito, was once a victim as they abducted him for allegedly opposing suspected crude oil thieves, who wanted to set up an illegal refinery in his (Otuokpoti) community forest. The Commissioner, who had injuries on his body with swollen black eyes, and bandages on his back and right arm, said: “If not for your prompt intervention, the pressure the government put on them (kidnappers), I could have been a dead man. “I am very grateful to you, the governor, deputy governor, security agents, and whoever joined hands to bring me back to life. “I was almost a dead man. I thought I would never even come back to see my children.”

Water-logged grave

In the case of Mike Ogiasa, a cousin of former President Goodluck Jonathan, who was abducted sometime in 2022, his abductors sent out a heartwrenching video of him with his head covered with a dirty nylon, and hands tied in a water-logged six- feet grave, pleading with his family to pay ransom for his freedom. The strategy was to railroad the family into paying the ransom. The video also captured the traumatic experience of the victim in captivity. Some others were not that lucky to be released after ransom had been paid as they died in the hands of the kidnappers before help could come their way ostensibly because of shock, ill health, and sometimes the harsh environment where they were exposed to the vagaries of the elements.

DELTA: Kidnapped priests fed with raw cassava

Reverend Father Emmanuel Obadjere of the Catholic Diocese of Warri, Delta State, kidnapped with three others along the dreaded Urhonigbe Road on their way to Agbor, Ika South Local Government Area, Delta State, in November 2018, said the den his abductors took them was spinechilling. Narrating his experience, he said: “They were 10 in number, armed with guns.

About 10 minutes later, the police came close to where we were in the forest and started shooting. They did not see us, so could not rescue us.

“We slept the first night in a cassava farm. At night, they walked us through the railway.

We went through the forest under the sun, and the rain with no water and food. “They demanded money and said that they would kill us if we did not bring it. We told them we did not have money, and that we were doing the work of God. This angered them more. We were all in our cassock so there was no doubt about our identity. “They were very brutal, violent. They beat us. They said they would kill us if we did not bring money.

“Their age bracket was between 20 and 30. They were Fulani, speaking Fufude. I understand Hausa, so I knew it was Fufude they were speaking. “They walked us the four nights till we got to Abavo community. They usually stood at a distance when we prayed. Four of us would hold our hands to pray. Each time we did that, they got angry. Sometimes, they would brutalize us to stop us from praying. “Then, God did his miracle and we were released.

The whole process of our release started when one of us fainted. They were worried; they threatened that if anyone died among us, they would kill the other three. “They were bitter that no money came from anywhere despite all the calls they made with our phones to numbers they saw on the phones. “The one who fainted was almost dying; they uprooted cassava and gave him to eat because the four days we were with the kidnappers, we ate nothing. “When they saw that the priest was almost dying, in panic, they released us. They said since money was not coming, they could not keep us beyond Friday. One of us was already dying. They released us at about 7.00 pm that Friday, making it four days we were with the kidnappers”.

CROSS RIVER: ‘Twice kidnapped, it was by God’s grace

I wasn’t raped’ Kidnappers’ dens in Cross River State, according to a top security agent, who pleaded anonymity, are majorly in the creeks. He claimed to have participated in rescuing kidnap victims, saying a lot happens in the camps situated in creeks in Cross River especially in Bakassi, Akpabuyo, Calabar South and Odukpani LGAs. The major challenge for security operatives, he told Sunday Vanguard, is that many of the kidnappers’ dens are located inside swamps and hard to reach areas, thus making it almost impossible for operatives to carry out rescue operations except kidnappers are smoked out or negotiated with to secure the release of victims without harm.

A victim who claimed to have been kidnapped twice in Cross River said he stayed in the camp for 34 days. He said his harrowing experience is something he won’t wish for his worst enemy. “They demanded N100 million immediately after I was brought to the camp which was right inside the creek and they were always moving me”, the survivor narrated. “There were days I couldn’t eat, there were days I fell ill, they didn’t care about your well being; they were only after ransom.

“They usually had a 1-2 camp gas cylinder to make meals and make shift huts; mosquito bites were unbearable. “They had supplies of drugs and a ‘medical assistant’ who treated victims when they noticed they were sick. “They had informants in very unusual places who looked out for security operatives during my stay with them and they usually moved from creek to creek. “If your people were not negotiating well, they will torture you very well.

“My experience was harrowing because I was twice kidnapped. The first time I paid ransom and the second time I got lucky as I escaped on a Sunday by divine intervention. “I stayed with those animals for more than two months on the two occasions they abducted me”. Another victim, who was also kidnapped twice in Calabar municipality, said it was worse for a woman to be in such a situation as it takes God’s grace for you not to me sexually molested. According to her, those 72hours were the worst time of her life as she sustained different injuries from her abductors, tied up hands and legs as well as blindfolded. “I was kept in a house from where I could hear voices from afar which means the house was very close to residential area”, she narrated. “I didn’t have food to eat but I will never want anyone talk more of a lady to be in such a situation. “I thank God I came out alive after my husband parted with a huge amount of money to secure my release; they dumped me somewhere around Calabar South.

“At the time they captured me , I was a lone victim; no one else was in the place with me and they were always listening to the news to hear if my name was mentioned. “Of course they knew who I was from there and insisted my people must pay for my release. “When they realised that the pressure was becoming too much, they had to collect what my people raised because they had demanded N20 million earlier. A security operative in Cross River told Sunday Vanguard that kidnappers in the state have different categories of members who play different roles, from surveillance team to pickers who carry out abduction operation, cooks, people who supply food or medical consumables, transloaders who collect the victims from town to creeks and more. “But many of them are not professionals hence they make mistakes in the course of their operations by using (bank) accounts to collect ransom if they can’t get the huge money they demand in cash. There are many layers to the illicit business,” he said.

OYO, OGUN, LAGOS KIDNAP SPOTS: ‘Indescribable torture’ on Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Ijebu-Ode- Ibadan Road, Iseyin and Saki in Oke Ogun

Kidnap survivors in Oyo say there are forests in Iseyin-Saki axis, Ijebu- Ode-Ibadan Road and Lagos-Ibadan Expressway which kidnappers use as cover. Some of the forests are located in Iwere-Ile, Iseyin, Komu (all in Oke- Ogun), Ijebu-Ode-Ibadan Road and Lagos Ibadan Expressway. According to a victim, Olaoluwa Opeyemi, who claimed to have been kidnapped along Ijebu-Ode-Ibadan Road, kidnapping happens frequently on this road. Narrating his ordeal, he said he boarded a Toyota Sienna space bus from Ijebu going to Ibadan. “It was some minutes past 5pm when they got to a point. The kidnappers were in three places laying ambush. Suddenly, we heard sporadic gunshots.

“Two vehicles including our own ran into the trap set by the bandits. As our driver was trying to run past them, another set of bandits opened fire from the front. Luckily, it was the tyres of the bus that deflated. “The haggard-looking bandits ordered us to alight with our shoes off. We were 13 altogether. There was an old man who was visually impaired. Among us also was a woman. “They marched us into the thick bush. We trekked almost four kilometers into the forest. As we were going, we got to a cassava farm and the bandits uprooted some tubers of cassava. “As we were walking through the forest, darkness was everywhere and they didn’t use any flashlight.

“They asked if there were any Amotekun officers trailing us. “They had seized our phones. We got to a place and it appeared the old man had no more strength to move on. They abandoned him and moved on. “The woman leading the man was not allowed to stay with him. After about two kilometers to the point they dropped the old man, we stopped. There was a small canopy that could shield only two people. As we stopped, the rain that had been threatening started falling. “Two of the bandits hid under the canopy while the remaining five stayed in the rain with us. The rain was heavy. All of us were shivering except the abductors. “We were there for eight days. They fed us with garri that was supplied by a man on a bike. We didn’t see him but we knew when we heard the sound of his motorcycle. They offered us raw cassava but we rejected it. “On the third day in captivity, they asked us to tell them the richest person in our families. They used the phone of one of us to make calls.

They demanded N100 million. “The torture was indescribable. They beat us with the rods they used to control their cattle. All of them were Fulani but two could speak Yoruba a little. “It was around 1am on the eighth day that we heard them arguing. “We couldn’t hear what they were saying. Four of them left the place giving instructions to the remaining three. “Around 3am that day, I woke up only to find that the three kidnappers left with us had fallen fast asleep. “I just touched about four people who were close to me and we gently left the place after untying the piece of cloth on our ankles. “We were afraid of the other four who had gone earlier. So we didn’t follow the path they took. Not quite far from that place, we saw a mud house where an old man lived. He directed us to the main road”. In the case of one Tunde Ariwodola who was kidnapped around Ibarapa zone of the state, he was lucky to be rescued the following day. He and two other victims were rescued by local hunters after their abductors fled. “The three days we spent there, I didn’t taste the garri and water they brought. They were so dirty in their tattered clothes. They tied our hands and legs while beating us with their rods.

“They were smoking weed and couldn’t speak Yoruba or English. As we begged them, they beat us the more. Thank God because help came our way on the third day. I will not pray that my enemies should go through the horror”. Waheed (surname withheld for security reason), another survivor, who was rescued in Komu area of Oke-Ogun by hunters, said he was now afraid to travel outside Saki where he resides. “I have been hearing about abduction, I didn’t know it was that terrible. I’m a farmer and was in my farm when three men surrounded me with machetes. One was carrying an AK 47 rifle. I tried to escape but they warned me they would shoot.

“They tied my hands and led me into the forest. After trekking several kilometers, we stopped. The place was a hamlet with makeshifts. There were about three mud houses. “In one of the houses, there were chains tied to iron they pinned to the ground. In the single room, there were clothes, school uniforms, female pants and shoes scattered all over. “The suffering we passed through within two days we were there was much. There were bruises all over our bodies. We were given garri to eat all through. “After the first day, I was running stool. “I thank God that I was among the rescued victims when the hunters came. They arrested three of them and we were rescued.”

ONDO: We’re fed with raw cassava, maize – Survivor

In Ondo State, kidnappers operate mostly from the lfon/Ose forest in the Northern Senatorial District. Reports also show they operate from Ala- Dada, Jugbere, Ijagba forest in Akure North and Akunu forest in Akoko North-East. The state Commander of Amotekun, Chief Adetunji Adeleye, recently raised the alarm over the influx of kidnappers from borderstates of Ekiti, Kogi and Edo. Adeleye, who attributed the development to the heavy presence of security personnel in Ekiti, lamented the increase in the cases of kidnapping in Ondo. According to him, criminals usually flee to towns in Kogi and Edo after they have perpetrated crimes in Ondo. Survivors of kidnapping in Ondo also have the stunning stories to tell. Narrating his ordeal in the den of kidnappers, a 200-level student of the Federal School of Surveying, Oyo State, who was abducted in Akure but later released after ransom was paid by his parents, said he saw hell in the captivity. “l spent two weeks in the den of the bandits. We trekked a long distance and we’re fed with raw cassava and maize”, he told Sunday Vanguard.

“Those who kidnapped us wore army uniform, we were traveling through Ondo State and we’re taken to Kwara State for two weeks “We were returning from Lagos. As we got to Akure, we ran into a checkpoint supposedly mounted by soldiers who turned out to be kidnappers. “They checked our vehicle and asked us to stay inside. After some minutes, they said we should follow them to the barracks. They also took other people in six vehicles. “A man that was coming to Akure with his new wife was also kidnapped. They diverted us to Ekiti and from there to Kwara. “We spent two weeks with them inside the forest. We paid ransom before we were released. “We stopped at Oyin in Ekiti State and trekked to Kabba in Kogi State. From Kabba, they put us in a car and took us to Kwara. We didn’t know where we were. We drank water from the stream and any available water.

We ate raw cassava and maize. “They beat us and threatened to kill us. We were moved from one place to another inside the forest. I didn’t know the language they were speaking but their hair was different from ours. “They were dressed in full army uniform. They even had an army van parked by the roadside where we were kidnapped. “It was one of our brothers who brought cash (ransom). They refused to collect the money through bank transfer. They collected the ransom in Kwara. “It was one of them (abductors) that told us we were at Omu-Aran in Kwara after we were released. He gave us N1, 500 to board a vehicle back to our destination”.

Our captors lived like kings – 23-yr-old student •Says they demanded energy drinks, wines, foods from captives’ families for their enjoyment

A 23-year-old young lady, who was abducted by gunmen, on her part, described her experience as horrific. The victim, who was released after seven days with her abductors, said she was working in her sisters’ farm when four armed men invaded the farm at Ago-Oyinbo village in Akure North. She explained that the kidnappers immediately contacted her family demanding for ransom but said, after negotiation, they agreed on N350, 000 which was paid after spending seven days with her captors. “My mum and dad were in the town. I went to the village to help my sister’s on her farm so that when we resumed I will be able to get some money to take to school”, the survivor said. “On that fateful day, we were at the farm and suddenly we saw these three kidnappers coming towards our farm. “I was afraid but my sister told me that they were Fulani herders and they were coming to our side. I wanted to run but they warned me against the move that if I tried to run, they will shoot me.

“They told us to kneel down and we knelt down, begging them. Two of them were with guns while the third person was carrying a cutlass. They ordered us to follow them and beat us with cassava stick until we get to the den. “We spent seven day with them, they asked for my dad’s number but we told them that we did not know it off-handed. “We later told them we did not have parents anymore; that they had died. “But they told us they knew everything about our family and I later gave them my number because I was not with my phone on that day. “They called my number and talked with one of my other sisters and informed her that I was in their custody and they negotiated ransom. “It was that sister who now went to the Amotekun office to report and they swung into action to rescue us” “Our captors lived inside the thick forest like kings. They ate good foods, drank choice wines. They had cooks and nurses that took care of their needs. When they asked families of their captors to bring Energy drinks, different brands of wine and other food items, it was for their enjoyment”.

Abductors dragged us into the bush – Govt official

A top government official ordeal in Ondo, who was abducted and freed, also told his story: “I was kidnapped on my way to Abuja alongside many other people and made to walk several miles in the bush on empty stomach. “My experience shows that in terms of security, our government needs to buckle up, government needs to work harder. “I discovered that some of my captives were graduates and because they had no means of livelihood, they resorted to do what they were doing and, by the time they become criminally minded in it, it will be difficult for anybody to pull them out.

“The money they are making is huge; our government must provide shelter for our people, they must provide infrastructure, they must provide job. “We thought the armed men in military uniform were exchanging fire with the police but later discovered that they were armed robbers. “When they approached my vehicle, they asked for what I had and I gave them what was on me, very little money, and they left. “They said we should lie down and we obeyed and within a twinkle of an eye, some of them came back and said ‘where is Oga?’ “When they identified me, they dragged me into the bush. I tried to resist but they gave me a dirty slap, and my eyes turned blue and I had to follow them. “We walked till midnight when we stopped and rested. We started moving again around 4am, trekking for about another seven hours before they hid us inside a pit.