As the rains subsided, we became relieved of the massive cold we were experiencing. The rays of the Sun began to sift through the canopies of the trees towering above us unto the forest floors. And we felt warm in our bodies as the wet clothes clinging tightly to our frames began to dry out.
When the ransom was reduced
The leader of the kidnappers’ gang started to engage us in more conversations while the rest of them kept guard over us with their AK-47s consistently pointed at us as the stench of their cigarette smoking pervaded the air.
Surprisingly, he left the circle of his fellow kidnappers and sat a few feet away from where we were, talking to us in turns. The Papa in our midst was the first focus of his attention.
As at that time, papa’s family had raised a little over eight million Naira but the kidnappers had insisted that the fifty million Naira they demanded must be completed before the papa would regain his freedom.
You are worth more than 10 million Naira
“Papa, put an end to your suffering,” said the lead kidnapper to the oldest hostage in our midst. “Just tell your family to bring the full ransom money and you will be free from us, out of this forest.”
The Papa had been strong all along, but he was beginning to feel the negative effects of the unfriendly environment we found ourselves.
“My family has been able to gather eight million Naira,” the Papa explained as if the kidnappers didn’t already know about that. “Let me tell them to try harder to make it up to ten million Naira and bring it so you will let me go.”
“No papa,” replied the kingpin, “the full ransom has to be paid.”
“There is no fifty million Naira; I don’t have that kind of money anywhere,” explained the papa.
But the kidnapper thought otherwise and began giving the papa a long lecture to drive home his point.
“Stop saying you don’t have money, papa. You are worth more than ten million Naira. You are a business owner.
“We know the luxury car you were driving when we kidnapped you. Besides, look at you standing in front of your houses in London. In fact, you are one of those who carried our money and stashed them abroad.”
Papa chuckled under his breath and said, “I’m not a politician, so I didn’t siphon any public money abroad. The houses you saw in the pictures on my phone are not mine. I took those pictures when I visited London some time ago.”
There was a moment of silence after the papa’s response. And in a few minutes that followed, the kingpin took a unilateral decision to reduce the ransom demanded on the papa.
“You know what Papa,” said the leader of the kidnappers, tossing papa’s cellphone to him, “if you can get your family to raise an additional five million Naira, you will be released today.”
It would seem a good development that the ransom being demanded on the Papa’s head was suddenly and dramatically reduced from fifty million Naira to fifteen. But even the latter is not a small amount to easily come by.
Papa grabbed the cellphone and began calling his wife again.
Hospital in the forest?
When he was through with the papa, the lead kidnapper turned to another hostage – the one that sustained gunshot wounds two days earlier. “As you can see, there is no hospital here in the forest. Won’t you pay up your ransom so you can go home to treat your gunshot wounds?”
He spoke with a tone in sympathy over the wounds but he was not about to release the injured man without ransom.
“Of course, I want to go home,” replied the man. “The pains on this leg have become excruciating. It’s just that raising the fifteen million Naira you demanded is a big deal for my family.”
The kidnapper continued speaking apologetically, for the umpteenth time.
“You know we didn’t want to shoot you; it was your driver that made us shoot at you as he tried to escape from us with the car. Now tell your family to bring only ten million Naira and you will be free from us.”
Another bar was lowered – from fifteen million Naira to ten. That’s good. But I didn’t know there was a surprise for me in the offing.
What surprised me
I sat there on the forest ground as I observed the ransom demanded on the papa and the wounded hostage being reduced by 70% and 33% respectively. I thought that a similar gesture would be extended to me, but I was wrong.
“You, what’s that your name?” asked the kingpin, as he looked in my direction.
I said my name aloud, and he continued, “We were already very lenient with you by setting your ransom amount at only five million Naira. We are not going to reduce a dime from it.”
He spoke with a mean face as a covert warning that I should accept it like that without questions.
“But we don’t have five million Naira to pay…” I explained again as gently as I could.
If it were two days earlier when we were kidnapped, that response would have earned me a serious slap on the head from him. But this time, he didn’t seem to care much.
“You will see,” he said walking away from me towards his gang. “You will pay that money except you don’t want your family to see you alive again.”
A good-for-nothing hostage?
The lead kidnapper returned a few minutes after and became brutal with one of the hostages on whose head they were not getting any positive response from his family and friends with respect to the ransom they demanded.
“Come here, you good-for-nothing man,” he bellowed. “Look at you, having over twenty thousand Naira airtime on your phone, yet you cannot pay your ransom. As big as you look, no dime has come out from your end since the four days you have been kidnapped…”
The man explained that he was not a poor man. The problem was that his funds were tied down in investments and assets with no liquid cash to provide as ransom. All the calls he made were for his friends to sell off some of his assets to raise the ransom but nobody was ready to buy.
And his sister who could have probably assisted was unreachable by telephone because the telecommunication services in the state of her residence had been temporarily suspended by an order of the State Government as a strategy to cut communications amongst bandits and kidnappers who were seriously harassing the citizens of that State.
This kind of situation didn’t spell good for the huge man and it made the kidnappers hit him harder.
“Either you are a wicked man or your people don’t like you,” opined one of the kidnappers, “otherwise why won’t anyone care about your life?
“It seems your people would rather have you dead in this forest than raise your ransom money. But if we kill you here now, it serves their purpose. So we will just shoot one of your legs as punishment for being a failed business for us.”
This hostage bemoaned the fact that he didn’t have anyone to bail him out but seemed grateful that the kidnappers offered to only shoot his leg than have him outrightly killed and disposed of in the forest.
Whether the kidnappers would be true to their word was a matter we lived to see. But presently, they shifted attention again to the papa amidst us.
Get ready to go home, papa
As the Sun began to set upon us, the kidnappers came to us announcing what seemed like the biggest good news of the day.
“Papa, your people have raised the fifteen million Naira we demanded. So get ready to go home to your family.”
We heaved a sigh of relief for the Papa. But it remained for the money to be delivered to the kidnappers and we weren’t sure how that would play out.
The kidnappers dialed the number to reach the papa’s wife and gave the cellphone to him to speak with her. She had been the one running helter-skelter to source the ramson money to secure her husband’s freedom.
“Tell her to look for a car and bring the money to us. Only one person and the driver must be in the car. We will direct them where to take the money to for pick up.”
Rules guiding the delivery of ransom
Papa communicated to his wife as directed by the kidnappers. But they added some more rules.
“Tell your wife these three things: the money must be complete. If it is one dime short of fifteen million Naira, we will kill you here.
“Second, they should not involve the Police in delivering the ransom. If they do, consider yourself dead. And finally, there should be no tracker in the money, otherwise, you are finished.”
The threat of death by gunshot has been commonplace since they took us as hostages in the forest. But the intensity increased with these specific prohibitions they breathed down the papa’s throat.
The Papa spelt out the kidnappers’ rules to his family and they agreed to comply with them accordingly.
The kidnappers then took the cellphone from the papa and said, “You will not speak with your family again until they have delivered the money to us.”
At that point, they divided their team into two. Four of them in the first team continued to keep guard over us while the rest of them left the camp, ostensibly to receive the ransom money from the Papa’s family. And it took a really long time before we saw them again.
The waiting game
The kidnappers had demanded that the whole ransom money must be delivered in cash. That development became a point of hushed discussion amongst us hostages.
“What if the people bringing the ransom money get attacked and the cash gets stolen from them?” asked one of us.
“It will amount to double tragedy,” answered another.
“Can the kidnappers be trusted to release the Papa after receiving the ransom?”
“What if the people that are bringing the money get kidnapped as well?”
“What if they run into a team of stop-and-search Policemen, and they see the money in the booth?”
Those were some of the questions that ran through our minds and through our mouths as well.
At that point, there was nothing we could do other than to pray that the process of delivering the ransom would go well and that the papa would be released eventually without any unfortunate incident.
Enough of the discussions
While we were happy for papa that he would soon be released, he felt sad for us that he would be leaving us behind in the kidnappers’ den. It was his desire that all of us would be released at the same time. And that wasn’t about to happen.
Other points of discussion also came in between. We must have been carried away in the process because we didn’t realise that our voices were getting louder than our guards would tolerate.
“Will you keep quiet there,” one of the kidnappers shouted down at us, aiming his AK-47 at us. “We told you not to talk amongst yourselves and you are here talking. You are lucky that we are not as wicked as Warri and Ibo kidnappers, otherwise, we would have since shut one of you to set an example that we are not joking here.”
Following that interruption, a thunderous silence prevailed in the camp as none of us dared to say any word again.
We knew our kidnappers were Fulanis all right. But why the comparison with the other tribal kidnappers? So he thinks the act of holding us hostage in a thick forest for days is not enough wickedness?
Thereafter, one of the guards walked over to where we were laying down and said to us, “It is for your safety that we said you should not discuss amongst yourselves.
“Irrespective of what you may be talking about, once we see you discuss, we automatically assume you are planning evil against us. So just keep quiet or you will suffer the consequence of disobedience.”
We thanked him for the unsolicited advice and he left us to rejoin his nefarious colleagues, while we remained there on the forest floor waiting for updates from the Papa’s family.
As it turned out, there was an unexpected blessing that came through in the early part of the night.
Freedom for three hostages
Later that night, one of the kidnappers came to inform us that they had successfully received the papa’s ransom from his family. So the papa would soon be released to go home.
In the meantime, the kidnappers led all of us (including the papa) to another location in the forest. It was a journey of about an hour through thickets until we met the other half of the gang.
By that time, it was already dark. The Moon was still up in the night sky but it wasn’t as glorious as it had been in the last two days.
It was there the kidnappers’ team that stood guard over us reunited with the other group that had left the camp about three hours earlier. They made us seat on the forest ground again while the papa was asked to stand.
“Papa, here is your cellphone. You are free to go home now,” the kingpin gleefully announced to the hearing of all.
“When you get to the expressway,” pointing towards his left-hand side, “you can call your family to pick you up from there. They would be somewhere around the expressway waiting for your call.”
Advice from the kidnappers to one of the hostages
As I sat there wondering how the old man would be able to navigate his way out of the thick forest, the kidnappers pulled another string that astonished us.
“Stand up, you good-for-nothing-man,” the kingpin ordered as he pointed to the sturdy hostage on whom they had no success with the ransom demand.
“You have no use with us here anymore. You will be the one to lead the Papa out of this forest till he reunites with his family who is waiting to pick him up. From there you can go home too.
“If we kill you here now, nobody will miss you because it’s obvious nobody loves you. We will leave you alive so you can go and face the people around you who refused to come to your rescue.
“And one more thing. Make sure you remarry as soon as you leave here. Your greatest problem is that you don’t have a wife. That’s why you didn’t receive sympathy from anyone. A man without a wife is a man without love.”
After dishing out the unsolicited pieces of advice, the kidnappers mandated the so-called good-for-nothing-man with his driver to escort the Papa out of the forest.
Hopefully, they would lead him till he reunites with his family and then both of them can walk to their freedom as well.
We the three remaining hostages bade them farewell while our own fate still hanged in the balance.*