Another worrisome problem in Nigeria
I live in Nigeria, a country richly blessed by God but filled with many problems. Most of the problems are caused by all of us humans – leaders and the citizenry alike. This is a piece of common knowledge but some people will still choose to deny it.
We are all part of the problems and the problems are part of us. But for how long will we continue to live with all the preventable problems that plague us?
Except you are from outer space, you must be well aware of some of the not-so-good stories of things that befall us as a people and as the nation with the highest population of blacks in the world. Because of that, I would totally understand if you are fed up with hearing ugly tales about Nigeria and Nigerians.
And to be honest with you, most of us are tired too, but what can we say? It’s our country after all – for better or worse.
Just read my story highlighting another worrisome problem we face. It may sound familiar but it doesn’t mean that what happened is acceptable.
As Nigerians, we deserve a better life than the country is offering us.
Our lives and property are in constant danger. Life is almost seen as meaningless here.
Blame it on prolonged bad leadership, you are right.
Blame it on the docility of the citizenry, you are right too.
Things are getting worse instead of better. The national outlook continues to be frightening to peace-loving citizens and men of goodwill. The reasons are not so far-fetched:
The problems are just too many…
For instance, It is sad to say that my beloved nation ranks high on the poverty index. In fact, some audacious reports claim Nigeria has become the poverty capital of the world.
What a shame for a country so richly endowed with both human and natural resources – far more than you can find in many parts of the world put together – to continue to wallow in squalour.
As I alluded to earlier, the problems in Nigeria are too many. The country is in deep trouble and so are the people.
We are all suffering on many fronts…
Talk of infant mortality, we rank high too. Corruption in government, we are also guilty.
A few years back, according to a media report, a sitting British prime minister referred to Nigeria as a “fantastically corrupt” country. Many Nigerians kicked against that uncharitable appellation, but we know who we are.
It doesn’t mean we are not known for any good things. But this post is not for me to write about the good things in the country but to bring to light another ill that is seriously plaguing us.
I mean, kidnapping for ransom – huge ransoms for that matter.
In addition to corruption, high infant mortality, terrorism, kidnapping for ransom is one of the many other bad things happening presently in the country.
People now travel on the road in fear. The situation is that bad.
Kidnapping for ransom in Nigeria
Kidnapping is described as “the action of abducting someone and holding them captive.”
And when a ramson is demanded before the captive is released, then we have a bigger monster to grapple with.
No, kidnapping for ransom is not a new problem in Nigeria. But it has taken on monstrous dimensions – spreading to all parts of the country and affecting many a large population of the people.
Victims of kidnapping for ransom in Nigeria now cut across people from all social, religious, economic, and political backgrounds. In the past, only expatriate oil workers or their families were kidnapped for a ransom payments.
That doesn’t justify the evil act in any way! But the reality of today sees school children and even an average Joe being kidnapped for ransom. And that’s colossally worrisome.
A recent report by The Guardian stated that “More than 200 school children remain abducted by armed “bandit” groups in northern Nigeria among more than 1,000 students taken this year as schools in northern Nigeria have become prime targets.”
The paper described what is being experienced in Nigeria as a “kidnapping epidemic,” observing further that, “As the economy has suffered, and poorly funded local security forces proved incapable to respond, kidnap-for-ransom attacks have become a lucrative crime. The freedom with which kidnap gangs have been able to operate have caused widespread despair in Nigeria…”
It is worth repeating that “kidnap-for-ransom attacks have become a lucrative crime.” Unfortunately, what we see as a crime, the perpetrators see as a business. I know this because I had a firsthand experience of this kind of criminality.
Yes, yours sincerely recently fell a victim to kidnapping for ransom while on a road trip with my family from Lagos (South West) to Agbor (Midwest). Nigeria.
This is my story…
My personal story of being kidnapped for ransom
Yes, I was kidnapped from my car on the road and held hostage in a forest along Benin-Agbor express road for four consecutive days. And I wasn’t released until a huge amount of ransom was paid on my head.
My friends and family and anyone else who cared about my life were forced to contribute to the ransom money, an equivalent of eight years’ salaries of a federal minimum wage earner in Nigeria.
Grateful for life even though kidnapped in mourning mood
Being kidnapped for ransom was a sad trajectory in the story of my life, but I’m grateful to be alive to tell the story.
Whether I like it or not, I’ve become part of the kidnapping statistics in Nigeria. I never imagined it, but it happened and I cannot deny that it did.
Before the ugly incident happened, the closest I had come to being kidnapped and held for ransom was in movies I had watched, in the news reports I read, or feeds on social media (pun intended). None of these experiences come close to being a real victim of the dastardly act.
Yes, I was a victim of Kidnapping – one too many.
Worse of it all, my family and I were in a mourning mood over the loss of the breadwinner of my father’s house when the incident occurred.
Imagine losing the father figure in the family. That was the situation we found ourselves in.
My kidnapping story is a long one, still, it has to be told. And that’s what I am doing here.
A little background
My eldest brother had suddenly died in August 2021. We found it had to believe.
We cried. We grieved. We sobered and we cried again.
Life must go on for the living but the dead has to be buried too. We had fixed the burial ceremony to take place on 23 September 2021, in our quiet hometown in Delta State.
Meanwhile, the Christian service of songs had taken place on 18 September 2021 at his residence in Lagos and with the internment scheduled to take place on 23 September at our village.
All was set for the ceremony to bid our family hero the final goodbye. So naturally – for the entire family and friends alike – all roads led to Delta State for the occasion.
Mine started on Monday 20 September 2021, in the company of my wife and our 11-month-old baby. I was behind the wheels in the family car, expecting to reach our destination in five or six hours.
The journey progressed well, without hiccups until the unfortunate incident that prompted this post.
It was a Monday. The road was free of the typical traffic bottlenecks at the Lagos end of the Lagos-Ibadan highway. So in no time, we had progressed to the Ore-Benin expressway.
I suggested to my wife that we should park and eat lunch at Ore, just as many travelers on that route would do. But we later changed our minds and agreed that we should rather reserve our appetite for the akpu and egusi soup delicacy that was already waiting for us at our destination.
And for sustenance for the rest of the journey, we bought bole (roasted plantain) and groundnuts with bananas on the fly.
At Benin, we made a stopover at the University of Benin to pick up a nephew of mine and his sister. He joined me in the front passenger seat while my niece joined my wife and our baby in the back seat.
We negotiated our way out of the usual Benin City traffic gridlock and made course to use the Benin bye-pass road leading to Agbor on the Benin-Asaba stretch of the road.
With five of us now in the car, the conversation became more lively. And the fresh bananas we bought were still available for them to devour.
“How was school?” I asked.
“Fine, thank you, sir,” the undergraduate relations chorused.
“Have you been to the village before?” I asked the younger one.
“Yes, that was many years ago when grandma died.”
“Oh, I remember … Then you were a small girl”, I said to my niece. “Now you are a full undergraduate. You are doing well. Please keep it up.”
The conversations continued along that line in a cheerful manner. You know, my wife and I tried to keep their spirit high. Come to think of it, it was their dad who died and we were going to the village to bury him.
Military check points
We had encountered several military and police checkpoints in the course of the journey. The last one I saw before we were attacked was after Ahor village. (I remember seeing a road sign with the inscription of the name of the village).
The checkpoint was manned by just two stern-looking officers. (In hindsight, I am now wondering why there were only two officers there as all other checkpoints we passed in the course of the journey had more than two military personnel manning them).
The one closer to my end of the road was clutching his gun as if he was ready to shoot at any time. He flagged me down and asked,
“Where are you coming from and to where…?”
I felt like I saw a slight grin on his face. So I replied politely, “From Lagos to Uniben and then to Agbor.”
He waved us on and looked away. I thanked him and zoomed off on the road ahead.
What happened next was totally unexpected.
Entering the kidnappers trap
Less than five minutes after we passed through that police checkpoint, I sped past a big truck on the road with just a car racing ahead of me, descending towards the place where the road passed through a valley.
It was there all hell was let loose on us. A loud sound pierced through the serene atmosphere of the road we were plying on, jolting us up on our seats.
At first, I thought it was a tyre explosion and I began slowing down. But in a matter of seconds, it became clear that the sound we heard was a gunshot, as multiple other shots immediately followed that one.
In a bid to escape to safety, the driver of the car ahead of me engaged the reverse gear and sped backward towards my car. I tried to maneuver my car away from his but it was too late.
The rear end of his car crashed into the front end of mine. So we were both stuck and could not move the cars any further.
The shots were being fired from ahead of us, beside us along the road, and from behind. We were caught in the middle of gun fires that could pass for a scene from a Hollywood action thriller.
At that point, some Ak-47 wielding young men fully covered up from head to toe emerged from the side bushes and forced us out of the car. Only their eyeballs were visible from the bandits’ masks they wore.
“We are kidnappers,” they announced forcefully, in pidgin English, “Oya, come out, come down, enter the bush; we go collect ransom for your heads. Make you cooperate with us or we go shoot you dead.”
Before I knew it, I was standing outside the car. And I saw my wife laying flat on the road, clutching our baby to her chest. My other relations were also forced out of the car…
When they dragged me out of the car, my shoes were not on my feet. So standing barefooted on the highway, I pleaded, “Please let me wear my shoes…”
“Forget your shoes,” hollered one of the gunmen at me. “Take only your phone.”
I searched frantically for my phone until I laid my hands on it in a matter of split seconds, throwing my hands up in the air as they commanded.
I observed by their appearance and the language being spoken amongst themselves that the gunmen were Fulanis. So I whispered to my wife, who was now on her feet, “Could you speak Hausa to these people?”
I thought that would help. But I wasn’t sure my wife even heard me because I couldn’t speak loud enough.
They ordered all the occupants of my car into the bush. At that point, I began to pray under my breath, “Father, give me my life and the lives of my family…”
From behind us, I could hear my little baby cry frantically. The sporadic gunshots must have seriously disturbed her.
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.”
My wife and our baby were thus left on the expressway while my nephew, my niece, and I were taken hostage and led deeper into the forest.*
* Continue reading: Kidnapped for ransom – a personal experience – part 2