While we were being marched into the forest against our will, I overheard the conversation between two of the gunmen, “This baby will disturb us. Let’s leave this woman and her baby.”
That was how my wife and our baby were abandoned on the lonely expressway while the gunmen took my nephew, his sister and I, hostage and led us into the forest.
The long walk to the Kidnappers den
The gunmen continued shooting sporadically into the air as they led us into the bush from the road. Either they were trying to ward-off any attempt by anybody to come rescue us or they were warning us not to try anything funny.
I felt physically helpless towards my family. But I couldn’t help thinking about my wife and our baby who have been abandoned on the treacherous expressway. So, I prayed under my breath, “Oh God, please give my wife the wisdom to know what to do…”
With the rest of us now in the bush, I knew we were in great danger. What I didn’t know was how things would play out.
“You have been kidnapped,” one of the gunmen volunteered again, “you will pay ransom before you will be released.” (Actually, ransom sounded like ‘ransop’ from the mouth of the gunman).
I laughed on the inside of me as I heard them talk about ransom repeatedly. But no specific amount for the ransom had been mentioned yet.
Roll it, roll it, action!
As we stood there watching the drama unfolding before our eyes, I began to wonder, “Is this real, or am I dreaming?”
At first, the experience didn’t feel real to me because everything was happening very fast like recorded scenes from a movie, except that this time around, I was involved in it.
Several thoughts ran through my mind. “You can’t be serious…,” I felt like saying to the gunmen. “My family and I are mourning the loss of my brother and you are here talking about collecting ransom?”
I wished these gunmen were joking with their demand for ransom payment but they were not. So I spoke up:
“See, we don’t have money to pay you. As a matter of fact, we were on our way to the village for the burial of my brother who died recently. This two people you have here (pointing to my nephew and his sister) are students; it’s their father that died…”
Of course they wouldn’t take my explanation and they showed it with fierce anger:
“Shut up,” roared one of them who seemed to be most pissed off with my long story. “You will pay the ransom. It’s either you cooperate with us or you will be shot dead.”
He slapped me on the head multiple times in quick succession and commanded me to keep walking, pointing his gun at me.
And I obeyed…
I couldn’t fight back and I couldn’t run away either. The sight of several AK-47 gun wouldn’t allow me to. So, it became clear that we had become captives in the hands of these strong men.
Captives of the mighty
I glanced around and noticed that we were completely surrounded by several AK-47 wielding young men. I couldn’t immediately ascertain their exact number but they were many and I knew they meant business.
They did not look sturdy and strong in their physical stature. But they were strong because of the guns they carried.
Their guns gave them might. That’s why I said we became captives of the mighty.
At that point, one phrase in the scripture came to my mind, “Even the captive of the mighty shall be delivered…”
Even the captive of the might shall be delivered
I began muttering those words in the next few minutes that followed, speaking in tongues alongside.
Strangely, I had peace on the inside of me – despite the life-threatening chaos we found ourselves. And I felt sure that God would rescue me, yet I had no idea how He would do it.
But this was not all about only me; my undergraduate nephew and niece were in the same ugly situation as I was.
At a convenient moment, I managed to sneak up to them and whispered to each of them, “Be speaking in tongues under your breath,” as I was doing the same.
I looked at their faces, they appeared cool and calm. If they were afraid, they didn’t show it. And gratefully, these unscrupulous marauders did not manhandle them.
We were not the only captives of the mighty
Meanwhile, two more hostages were also taken by the bandits at the same highway operation where we were forcefully captured. I would later identify them as the driver and the passenger of the car driving ahead of me when the first rounds of gunshots were indiscriminately fired at us on the expressway.
The only passenger of that car who was dressed in black suit, white shirt and tie was kidnapped without his shoes on as well. But unlike me, he had his socks on.
“Can I remove my tie?,” asked the man.
“What’s my business with your tie?” one of the kidnappers replied. “You can remove it if you like. I’m not disturbed.”
I noticed that the lower part of the man’s left trouser leg was torn a little in a circular zigzag manner, with blood slightly dripping from around the edges. It soon became clear to me that the man had been hit by a bullet during the road attack.
“You,” one of the kidnappers faced the driver, “why were you reversing when we shot at your car? Don’t you know you ought to stop and surrender to us?”
The driver made some effort to explain that he wasn’t trying to escape. But that defense fell on deaf ears as some of the gunmen started hitting him mercilessly.
“See what you caused now? Your oga has been hit by bullet. If you had stopped the car immediately you saw us, this would not have happened.”
With five hostages now in their kitty, the gunmen began walking us deeper and deeper into the forest. Two of them led the way while the rest acted as our rear guard.
The second divine intervention
When we find ourselves in difficult situations, it doesn’t mean that God is not there. And if we look very well, we can often see His finger at work.
Even while in the midst of armed kidnappers, God did not fail to come through for us.
The first divine intervention happened on the expressway when we were attacked. It was the fact that my wife and our baby were not joined with us as victims of the gruesome kidnapping.
The second one is what I’m about to tell you.
The release of my relations
After about an hour of trekking into the forest from the expressway, one of the kidnappers spoke to me from behind, “Hey, you stopped there. What were you trying to say the other time?”
I turned to face him and the rest of them pointing their guns at me. “I was saying that we lost someone in my family and we were on our way to the village for the burial ceremony.”
“What is your relationship with this two?” he demanded to know, pointing to my nephew and his sister.
“They are my brother’s children and it’s their father that died…” I replied as fast but as clearly as I could.
I had barely finished talking before I was interrupted by one of them whom I would later conclude was their leader and spokesman. But I didn’t see his real face as it was hidden behind the bandits’ mask he wore, just like his other fellows.
“Now, you keep going,” he commanded me. But that was after he had made me hand him my cellphone. Up until then my phone was with me but I couldn’t put it to any meaningful use.
As I turned to move away, I overheard him speak to my two relations, “Start walking back. Find your way out of the forest.”
I wasn’t sure whether they were truly releasing the lads or were deceptively separating them from me to another treacherous location. It was until the following day before I realised that the former was the case.
With my relations out of the way, the kidnappers had only three hostages to concentrate on. And they continued marching us deeper into the forest.
Two of them led the way while the others followed us closely from behind. They kept shouting out various commands intermittently:
“Don’t look back or we will use the gun to pluck out your eyes.”
“Don’t try anything funny or you are dead.”
We just followed their many orders as they issued them out, with their guns pointed at us as if they were ready to press the trigger at any moment.
I began praying silently: “God there shall be no loss of life here. These kidnappers, their hands shall not be able to perform evil enterprise against us.”
By this time, the other hostage that sustained bullet wound in his leg was already feeling the pain of the gunshot. He was trying his best to tag along but it would seem he wasn’t walking as fast as our captors would want.
“Hasten up,” they shouted at him. But he tried to explain that the pain in his leg was biting him hard.
“The bullet didn’t touch your bones,” one of the gunmen pointed out to him. “If it did, you would not be able to walk at all as you are you doing right now.”
One of the gunman thereafter cut some medicinal leaves from the bushes that surrounded us and squeezed out the juice in those leaves onto the surface of the wounds of the bullet-injured guy as a form of first-aid and to ward off flies too.
Apart from that there were other ways the kidnappers showed some traces of human kindness in them. As they led us further into the thick forest, the kidnappers used the cutlasses to cut through the shrubs that hindered our navigation.
At some point, one of them beckoned to us to halt our movement. Surprising he was watching out for our well-being.
“You see those leaves, ” he said, pointing towards some wild plant before us. “Don’t let them touch any part of your body, else you will not be able to sleep tonight.”
So like a plaque, we avoided the dangerous plants, and headed towards a safer direction as pointed by the kidnappers.
From one part of the forest to another, through cultivated farm lands filled with cassava plants, to another forest, we trudged on until we arrived at their temporary camp.
Entering the kidnappers den
After about three hours of trekking in the forest, they finally led us to what would be our first makeshift camp. At first they cautiously stood us at the fringes of the camp while they let out some coded sound into the dark night.
They rolled their tongues, raised them to hit the upper palate as if they were animals calling out for their mates. As they did this, I heard multiple responses in the same manner emanating from their unseen cohorts lurking in the dark behind the bushes.
Once they established that their interest was well-protected, they rushed us into the camp and commanded us to lie face-down. We promptly obeyed without knowing what to expect next.
Just then a separate gang of the kidnappers came out from their hiding place, pushing three other men towards us. I would later find out that these three men had been kidnapped two days earlier, awaiting ransom payment from their respective families.
With six of us now lying facedown on the forest grasses, our captors began discussing amongst themselves in their Fulani language. But when it was time to speak to us again, they switched to pidgin English. (Their leader spoke better English than the rest of them).
I believe this meeting was the first ample time they had to corporately rummage our phones to find out any information of interest to them. I knew that because this was the first time they would ask me for the password to unlock my own cellphone.
For the next hour, six of us remained lying facedown, undisturbed, while their meeting continued.
“We don’t want to hear your voices,” was their stern instruction. They didn’t want us to talk to one another. So we too kept our cool and calm.
But our peace would soon be interrupted as the kidnappers began inviting each of us to a corner for profiling with a view to extracting additional vital information from us.
What followed next would turn out to be a gruesome profiling of all the hostages – including me.*
*Continued in Kidnapped for ransom: A personal experience – Part 3
ICYMI: Read also the first part of the story here: Kidnapped for Ransom: A personal experience – Part 1