(WARNING: Some readers may find the contents of the narrative below disturbing owing to the graphical details contained)
It was a Friday afternoon at about 3.30 p.m. local time. I was travelling with my driver from Ikare – a town in Ondo State – through Ipele, en route to Kabba, another suburban town in the neighbouring state of Kogi. It was a public highway. Suddenly, we stumbled upon some people I thought were just bandits or armed robbers.
Let me offer a clearer description of the area. On this stretch of the highway, there is usually a police checkpoint about 42 kilometres to Kabba. The incident you are about to read happened some 38 kilometres to Kabba town.
I noticed a man was standing on the side of the road. He looked like a Fulani man, just hanging around aimlessly doing nothing at all. It was a curious sight. We had barely driven past him when we heard the first gunshot. At that time, the road was pretty busy, there were cars ahead of us and cars coming from the opposite direction. It was not a lonely road at all. Ahead of us, a Toyota Avensis car was also approaching from the opposite direction. It was not until we levelled up to the Avensis car that I saw another Fulani man, holding a gun. It was a locally made gun.
It then dawned on me that the Fulani man I saw earlier standing on the side of the road, was actually one of several assailants about to attack. In seconds, there were more of them. I looked at the rear-view mirror and saw so many of them running towards our car with guns. They were shooting sporadically. Our tyres were hit. The car began to swerve on the highway until the driver lost control and the car somersaulted.
Adrenalin pumping, we quickly crawled out of the overturned car and began to crawl into the bush, desperate to flee the assailants. All the while, we thought they were armed robbers. We thought if we left the car, that should give them everything they needed. I looked back and saw about 10 of them chasing after us, shooting their guns indiscriminately. We kept crawling, ducking and crawling faster and faster, to escape the bullets and those on our trail running after us. After a few minutes, I prompted my driver to head in a different direction from fast approaching feet. I did not want us both to be captured. Someone needed to tell our story afterwards, in the event that we did not make it. He crawed off as I frantically crawled and dodged, then finally stopped when the assailants caught up with me.
They (11 of them) surrounded me and blocked me in. I was taken hostage. They also took hostages from the Toyota Avensis I had seen approaching us earlier. There were two men, a woman and two of her children in the vehicle, they left the woman and the two kids, they took the husband and his brother, so three of us became the kidnap victims. They took all three of us further into the bush, farther away from the highway. We spent the first night deep inside the bush.
On Saturday they showed us dead bodies of victims and they warned that if we did not provide money they would kill us. At least I saw five corpses at different locations. Every 3 – 4 hours, we stopped to make phone calls. They allowed us to call our relatives and to convey the demand for ransom. Once the calls were put through, they also would take out their phones and begin to call their masters. They used our phone, not theirs, to contact our friends and relatives.
On the first day, which was a Friday, we trekked for a long period. We took 42,000 steps, (about 42km) between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. I knew the exact distance because I had a smart wristwatch which helps to check the number of calories I burn on daily basis. So when I checked it, I saw how far we had gone. On the second day which was a Saturday, we trekked the entire day, hiding in bushes to avoid being seen by passers-by or oncoming vehicles.
WHO ARE THEY?:
I can tell you that they were also very scared. I discovered that though they are Fulani, they were not the herdsmen we knew or had read about. Honestly, they also were very afraid of the herdsmen.
They said they have had long-running battles with the herdsmen. One of them told me that they used to rustle cows, so they feared the herdsmen. Throughout our period of captivity, I interacted and conversed with one of them, who spoke and understood the Hausa Language.
It was through him I got an insight into their activities. When they saw Fulani herdsmen approaching, they bundled us farther into the bush and made us to climb hills. He told us to start praying the Fulani herdsmen herding their cattle do not sight us, warning that if they did, we all will be dead. I was able to deduce that the criminals who actually kidnap people were not the real Fulani herdsmen that we had been led to believe. No. These ones have rustled cows and are afraid of any kind of encounter with the herdsmen. These kidnappers did not even have cows. They were simply mercenaries.
The one that had begun to befriend me informed me that they had been operating in different places. From the discussion we had with them, most of them had been involved in many atrocities and had on numerous occasions, been hired to fight in many states. I suspected they were apparently trying to induce fear in us. They claimed they had fought in Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba states. A while later, they added that two of them just came back from a series of operations in Zamfara State, one of the hotbeds of recent acts of kidnapping and banditry in the North-west of the country.
The interesting discovery was that these criminals were in the employ of somebody. They were in constant touch with whoever their paymaster was. At a point, they even asked if I should be killed but the person on the other end of the line replied in the negative.
There was no humanity left in our kidnappers. They seemed to have left the realm of humans. I can tell you that. One of them on sighting the Fulani herdsmen went and invoked his charm, apparently to prepare for a battle. When the battle did not take place, he started behaving strange. He began to convulse, with his whole body trembling and shaking. This happened on Sunday. He said he needed to kill someone to calm down. It took more than three hours for the entire team to calm him down. In the end, they brought a monkey to him, which he killed, drank the blood and used the remaining blood to bath himself. Honestly, they are not human beings. The leader of the gang told me he had been doing this for 10 years now.
In this month of Ramadan, they did not allow me to fast. On the first day of our capture which was Friday, they allowed me to pray and conclude the fast. On Saturday however, the did not allow me to fast or pray. Until we were rescued on Monday, there was no fasting or praying. They said they would kill me if I fasted or prayed. According to them, if I prayed, it will distort and alter their own things.
We were fed with gari (cassava granules). It was served dry and scooped unto our palms. We were given water from a pond or stream nearby to wash it down. Once, they cooked rice. It was also served plain. We ate it like that.
We paid the demanded ransom. I paid N1.8 million Naira and the rest of the victims paid N1 million each. In all we paid N3.8 million. I was made to pay more because I work for a company which the kidnappers recognised as familiar, having once kidnapped and killed one of its foreign workers. They admitted to me that they were responsible for the death of my foreign colleague. They even justified their action as a reprisal for the killing of some of their members by the police during an incident not too long ago. Now, they have regrouped.
They released us on Monday evening after they had collected the ransom. They asked me where my people were based and I told them my people were in Lokoja. The other two said their relatives were in Okene. The kidnappers then asked our people to bring the money, told them where to bring it but went ahead of time to wait for them. Later, I learnt that they played a fast one on our people. They watched them go past the agreed spot, then called them back and asked them to look out for a particular mark. They then joined them and took them around the bush before bringing them to where we were holed up.
I was severely beaten; they used the butt of their gun to hit me on my head, on my neck and body. I went to the hospital where I was given drugs and told to return after seven days. I was beaten for engaging in conversations with the other two victims. One of them had a meltdown so I tried to calm and comfort him. That irked them and so they punished me with a brutal beating before we were finally released.
My name is Ibrahim Lawal. This is an account of my experience in the hands of kidnappers.