As usual, the phone was set on speaker mode, so everyone on ground was in on the conversation I had with my wife. It was that conversation that reminded me of something that made me have a moment to shed some tears that morning. But then I would soon realise that crying while being held hostage can earn you multiple slaps on the head.
Why I shed some tears
Something dawned on me a as I finished talking with my wife on the phone that morning: that Thursday was when my late elder brother would be lying in state at our family compound before the final interment, on the same day.
I was meant to be there in flesh and blood to pay him my last respect and also join my other siblings to give him a befitting burial. But there I was in a thick forest far away from home, held against my will by AK-47 gun-wielding Fulani men who think that taking people hostage for ransom payment is a proud business to make a living from.
“So I will not be there to witness the burial of my late brother who was like a father to me?” I soliloquized.
That reality made my heart heavy, so much so that I couldn’t contain the feeling.
I began to feel pain in my heart, a kind of emotional pain that soon manifested in my eyes and in my mouth. And before I knew it, I was sobbing aloud, with tears streaming down my cheeks.
“What is it?” a fellow hostage asked me with great concern on his face, crawling closer to where I sat.
“My late brother is being buried today, and I will not be there to witness it,” I responded amidst heartfelt tears.
I explained to him that it was that event I was going for on the road trip where I was ambushed by these kidnappers and taken hostage. And like a cruel joke, I was already on my fourth day in the kidnappers’ den.
What was that noise about?
The other two hostages showed genuine concern for me. They seemed to understand my feelings but they urged me to stop crying because “everything happens for a purpose.”
“We can’t blame God for what has happened,” the older hostage said to me. “Wipe your tears my dear; you don’t know if God has used this hostage saga to deliver you from a greater evil.”
His words made sense to me and assuaged my feelings too. But just when I would stop crying, the leader of the kidnappers, in rage, dashed to where we were sitting on the forest floor.
“What was that noise all about?” he demanded to know with anger radiating from his face.
Even though I wasn’t crying again, I was not in the mood to answer him right away. So I kept mute for a few seconds.
But just when I decided to speak, a fellow hostage responded to him, pointing towards me. “He was crying because today is his late brother’s burial ceremony and he is supposed to be there.”
On hearing that, the kidnapper became angry and began to hit me on the head with his bare hands, speaking in harsh tones at the same time.
“Instead of you to be worrying about how you will pay your ransom to regain your freedom, you are here crying about your dead brother. If care is not taken, you will die here too,” he said.
Those words were very unkind to me, but I didn’t take them to heart. I remembered the scripture that says, “I shall not die, but I will live and declare the words of my God.”
We remained on the forest floor, either lying down or sitting; we were not allowed to stand up. And our conversations remained hushed, else we would incur the wrath of our captors.
Moments later, I received another good news of the day.
Your ransom is ready
About two hours later, the kingpin came back to me and said, “I have spoken with your wife. She said your ransom is ready. That means you will be released today, once the cash reaches our hands.”
Hearing that my ransom was ready gave me mixed feelings. On one hand, I felt elated that I would soon be coming to the end of my hostage situation in the forest and would reunite with my family again.
On the other hand, I was sad that so much money would be paid to these wicked kidnappers to secure my freedom. “They didn’t deserve it,” I bemoaned.
Either way, I expressed gratitude to God because, with Him, nothing shall be impossible.
I knew I would need the grace of God for me to be able to pay back the debt as soon I get released. Somehow, I had assumed that the ransom money would have been borrowed.
That was because, between my wife and I, we didn’t have that kind of bulk money saved anywhere. So, I would have a huge debt to begin to pay once I become free again.
That imminent reality really made me sad. But I imagined that everything would be well.
I thought I would be released that morning since, as I was informed, my ramson had been made ready. But the kidnappers had their own plans.
“Just wait; when we are ready,” said one of them to me, “we will inform your family on how to deliver the money to us.”
So I began to wait for them, optimistic that I would be released any moment from then. But in the meantime, something happened in the camp which created a moment of anxiety for us the hostages, and the kidnappers as well.
Emergency in the forest
My ransom has been raised and was only waiting to be delivered. But the other two hostages were still making frantic calls to their families and friends for their own ransom.
But things were not going as they expected. Out of the ten million Naira target, only two million had been raised. So they continued making calls to their people to come to their aid.
With the money not forthcoming, the kidnappers became impatient with them and started treating them harshly again. But these two remained optimistic that the ransom would be raised.
While the anxiety of raising the ransom heightened, the oldest hostage among three of us, a 58-year man, experienced a health challenge that looked like a heart attack.
He had stood up with permission to go ease himself but in the process, he slumped, clenching his teeth and holding his chest with his right hand as he fell. I could hear him cry, “My heart, my heart” as he hit the ground.
He is a very huge man, and he is over six feet tall. I count myself amongst tall people, but this man was much taller than I am.
As tall as he was, he possessed the proportionate body built to support the height. So even the ground shook as he fell down, backward.
I have never been in this kind of situation before. But I assumed he was having a heart attack. So the other hostage and I had him lie down on the ground on his back, facing up.
I placed my right palm on his chest, supported it firmly with the left hand pressing hard to perform CPR (Cardiopulmonary resuscitation), praying for him at the same.
I am not a trained paramedic but this was one time those random lessons you pick up from movies proved to be invaluable.
As I compressed his chest firmly, exerting my full body weight on him, he let out a few coughs. At least that was a huge sign that he was alive and breathing.
But as he came to, it appeared he had lost his will to live. The words coming out of his mouth were somewhat unsettling.
“I didn’t know this is where my life will end. So this is how I will die in this forest?” he had bemoaned.
By this time, I had loosened my firm hands from his chest. The intermittent application if pressure was no longer necessary after he came to.
But my right hand was still laid on him, as I prayed: “You shall not die. But you shall live to declare the works of the Lord.”
That was me appropriating the prayer confessions of David in Psalms over him:
When I stepped back after praying for the man, I noticed that the kidnapper-guards had moved closer to where we were, with their AK-47 guns still directly pointed at us. I realised there was no need for them to ask what happened because they were watching us as we battled to resuscitate the fainting fellow hostage.
One of the kidnappers managed to ask, “What of his medications, didn’t he take them?”
I reckoned that the question was not directed at me so I didn’t even make an effort to answer him. But the other hostage responded by pointing to the empty container that was thrown a few feet away from where our man was lying down, “The drugs have finished…”
All of us there knew that the man had been taking his medications religiously since we had been in the camp. But he had exhausted his doses and no avenue in the forest to replenish the supplies.
As we later learnt, the man had been managing a heart condition before but the kidnapping experience placed him in a precarious situation, away from family and away from good medical care.
Although he survived the emergency situation, the man became a shadow of himself. As we walked about in the forest, we noticed that his frame could no longer carry his thick body with ease. We had to cut a walking stick for him as support
Thereafter, the kidnappers had us trek to another safe location in the forest, where we settled down to rest again.
Boredom begins to creep in
At the new location, the kidnappers made us lie down again on the forest floors. As usual, the only alternative to lying down was to sit up but facing away from the kidnappers.
There was an easy calm amidst us. No talking. No discussions.
We were just there.
And for the first time in the four days they had held us, I began to get bored. With nothing to do and nothing to read, I sat there fiddling with the grasses or leaves around me.
“How I wish I had some books to read in this place,” I said to myself. But there was none.
I also began to think about my laptop. If I had it, I would be typing away.
Actually, I had the laptop in the booth of my car when I was kidnapped on the expressway. Who knows what might have happened to the car as we abandoned it on the road!
Even my smartphone has been taken from me. Somehow, I would have kept myself busy with it.
But I found a way to get away from the boredom. I prayed and also got creative in my mind.
Writing blog posts in my mind
The kidnappers held my body hostage, but they could not hold my spirit. My mind was free to imagine things – my family, the people that cared about me, and my life after the kidnapping experience.
My mind was peacefully engaged.
“This is the worst experience of my life,” I imagined. “The world must hear the full story. And I am going to tell it.”
I began to imagine that many people would like to hear my story once I get released.
I thought of my blog; how I would write the story of my kidnapping once I regained my freedom.
And in the absence of a laptop or any writing material, I began to write blog posts on the tablet of my mind. Several post headlines crossed my mind:
“How I was kidnapped for ransom while on a road trip.”
“Kidnapped for ransom: a personal experience.”
“Kidnapped for ransom: a real-life story.”
“Confirmed: kidnappers are not spirits- they are humans like us.”
“My journey to the kidnappers’ den.“
“How I was kidnapped for ransom and released.”
While I was there thinking about my freedom and the articles I would write afterward, the weather began to change.The gathering cloud was a sure sign of an impending rain.
The downpour of the previous day made me suffer alot. Will my suffering continue today again?
“Oh God have mercy,” I prayed.*
*To be continued