“Despite the dawning of a new day, I continued to lie facedown but remained fully aware of the goings-on in the environment, waiting to dance to whatever music the kidnappers would play for us next.”
“It’s time to call your wife”
That early morning, the kidnappers made all hostages call their families and friends in respect of the ransom amount they demanded on each of us. The other hostages were first attended to before it came to my turn.
I would later realise that the kidnappers didn’t use their own phone lines to contact the families of their hostages; they made use of the phones of their victims.
My phone had been taken from me since the previous day, so I had lost any hope of ever having it back with me again. Other hostages were also dispossessed of their phones.
When it was my time to contact my family, they had to temporarily give me the phone to initiate the call. But it had to be put on speaker mode so that everyone would listen in on the conversations with the family and friends who were negotiating on my behalf.
“Now, it’s time to call your wife,” the lead kidnapper had said, handing my phone over to me. I noticed that it had been turned off either to conserve the battery life or to avoid being tracked through incoming calls, or both.
“My wife?” I asked, tongue in cheek. “Remember you left her on the highway yesterday, so I don’t even know where she would be now. Besides, you have dispossessed her of her cellphone…”
“No, we didn’t take your wife’s phone. Even those children with you that were released yesterday, we returned their phones to them. If you don’t believe us, you can call them to confirm.”
I felt elated on the inside as I heard the kidnappers say those words. But as they suggested, I needed to call my wife to verify their claim.
I pressed the power button to turn on the phone and then dialed it. In a matter of a few seconds, I could hear my wife’s phone ring, confirming that she still had her cellphone with her.
As she picked the call, I heard her in the background announce softly to the people around her, “It’s my husband…they’re calling, they’re calling…” Her voice trembled as she spoke those words.
“Hello, my Love, how are you and the baby and where are you?” I sought to know in quick succession, anxiously speaking to the hearing of all. The phone was put on speaker as directed by the kidnappers, so they were fully in on my conversations.
I had started the phone conversation with “hello my Love” as I always did whenever I’m on phone with my wife. It didn’t matter to me that the kidnappers aimed their guns at me as I made the call.
“We are all fine….now in the village,” she answered me.
“What about… (mentioning my nephew’s and niece’s names), were you able to reconnect with them yesterday?”
“Yes, they are here with me. We all made it safely to the village.”
“Thank God,” I said, pushing out enough air through my nose.
I became relieved of the anxiety I had over the safety of these four people. They were traveling with me in the car before we were attacked and kidnapped.
They saw everything that happened. And I’m grateful for the magnitude of danger they had escaped from. Now I will have to worry about myself only.
Having confirmed through my wife that my family was okay, I knew it was time to cooperate with the kidnappers.
So, I said to my wife, “These people are demanding five million Naira before I would be released.” That was the first time I communicated the ransom amount being demanded by my captors.
“Five million!” my wife sighed, at the other end of the phone. “Where are we going to get that kind of money from?”
She begged the kidnappers to reduce the amount they were demanding, but they wouldn’t budge.
She handed the phone to another family member who tried appealing to the conscience of my captors. “Please help us to lower the sum demanded… that amount is too much. No money now… we are in the process of burying our brother who just died…”
Despite the passionate plea to lower the ransom amount, these kidnappers remained resolute in their demand. And they mouthed the huge figure as if it were a chicken change.
“It’s five million or you will regret it… Just go and look for the money,” roared the leader of the kidnappers to my family as he snatched the phone away from me and began speaking directly into the mouthpiece.
“If you don’t bring the money, be prepared to bury a second person after you finish burying your dead brother.”
I thought that was mean, but I kept my cool and requested for the phone again to enable me to contact more people. I dialed the phone numbers of three other people I thought should be made aware of my predicament.
I got through to only two of them but it turned out that my wife had already reached out to them since the previous night. Apparently, the news of my kidnapping had spread like wildfire amongst my family and friends across multiple states of the federation and beyond.
Understandably, people have begun to worry about my safety. As they worried about my safety, I was busy thinking about their peace of mind.
I would later add that concern to my prayers that God should comfort my family and friends so that their hearts would not be troubled so much.
Being kidnapped restricted my physical freedom. But my freedom to talk to God was not restricted. So I resorted to silent prayers…
I was in a difficult situation but I knew I would make it out somehow. As the Psalmist says, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the LORD delivers him out of them all.” (Psalm 34:19).
Being kidnapped for ransom was something I have heard a lot but had never experienced it. But there I was, fully entangled in the dangerous web of ruthless kidnappers.
Yes, they called themselves kidnappers, and that’s what they were. But they also referred to themselves as businessmen.
Businessmen? That begs the question…
Businessmen or petty phone thieves?
After the first call to my family, I watched the kingpin remove my cellphone from its pouch as he stepped away from me. In the process, my work ID popped out from beneath the phone where I had kept it.
“Is this an ATM or ID card?” he humbly enquired. His fellow kidnapper replied to him that it was an ID card and I nodded in concurrence.
At that moment, I stretched out my hand and requested, “since you have my phone, could you let me have the ID card back?”
“What do you take me for?” he retorted.
That question startled me a little. But I would later realise what he meant after hearing what followed.
“Do you think I’m a petty phone thief? I am not here to steal your phone. I am a kidnapper, a businessman that wants to make money on your head. So don’t worry about your ID card; it is safe where it is. I will give you back the phone once you pay the ransom.”
That I would get my phone back sounded good to my ears, but I had doubt about the promise. I couldn’t trust a kidnapper.
If he was not a petty thief as he claimed, maybe some of his men were. After all, one of them had searched me the previous day as we were being marched into the forest collecting all the money I had in my jean trouser pockets.
I would later realise that my wife had also been robbed of her cash, even though her phone was not taken from her.
Was it possible that this kingpin did not know his men carried out underhand operations (petty thieving) in addition to the so-called kidnapping business? That’s a possibility, but I would never know for sure.
Despite the treacherous behaviours of the kidnappers till that point in time, I still felt comforted knowing that my family was safe from any harm. But I would later learn in a hard way that you should…
Never say you are fine when you are kidnapped
Yes, I learnt in a hard way that when you are a hostage in a kidnappers’ den, you should never say you are feeling fine, even if you are. I tried it and the outcome was very unpleasant.
About three hours after they first made contact with my family, the kidnappers brought my phone to me for the second time and said, “Call your wife again to know if she had raised the ransom amount.”
I was sure it was impossible for my wife to have raised the money within that short time frame but I made the call anyway. My wife confirmed to us that a part of the money had been raised and efforts were still on to get more.
I was making the call sitting down on the forest floor. (We were not allowed to stand up without permission).
As I was speaking with my wife, the lead kidnapper interjected, speaking directly into my phone which was on speaker mode, “Madam, listen to me, you have to look for the money by all means if you want to see your husband again.”
“We are working on it,” replied my wife.
My wife then asked me how I was feeling. And I told her I was fine. And I meant it because despite the external pressure I found myself in, I was at peace on the inside of me due to the inner workings of the Holy Spirit in me.
“So you are fine, right? asked one of the kidnappers in a mocking tone. “You will see today…”
At that point, the kingpin who was standing beside me started slapping me on the head with his bare hands until I began to speak in “crying tones.”
Before they took the phone away from me, I announced to people on the other end of the conversation that, “they are beating me ooo,” with my voice quivering along.
As my wife heard that she started crying on the other side of the phone, melting my heart to the bone.
At an opportune time, a fellow hostage whispered to me, “Guy, please don’t make the mistake of saying you are fine again, except you want these kidnappers to continue manhandling you.”
Well, he was right; I didn’t want the beating I received but at the same time I knew I wasn’t troubled on the inside despite the external torturing I had received up till that point in time.
As I said before, the Lord gave me inner peace. And for the first time in my life, I was experiencing what Saint Paul explained in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.”
Having spoken with our families, the kidnappers were hopeful that our families would cooperate with them and avail them of the money they demanded. We sat there resting and unsure how long we were going to be held against our will.
But then it was time to change camp…
Changing camp again
“Get up and follow them,” echoed one of the kidnappers, pointing to two of their men who were already on their feet, with their guns fully aimed at us.
Without saying a word, we stood up at once and did as we were commanded, following them to wherever they were leading us.
From one part of the forest to another, they made us trek for what seemed like an eternity until we arrived at a secluded location where they felt safe.
With a machete in hand, one of the kidnappers weeded the grasses under a tree and settled down there.
Meanwhile, we (6 of us hostages) were commanded to lie down in a cluster facing away from them. And we remained there for the next several hours, with the kidnappers keeping watch over us.
They warned us not to talk or discuss amongst ourselves. However, like restless school children, we found a way to communicate in hushed tones amongst ourselves.
“Barrister, sorry about your gunshot wound, I hope the pain is not too much,” I enquired from a fellow hostage, with heartfelt sympathy.
“It’s hurting me, but what can I do? I’m grateful to God that I wasn’t hit at a more delicate part of the body.”
For the rest of the day, negotiations continued between the kidnappers on one side and the respective families of the hostages on the other.
They kept threatening us saying, “You better tell your families to cooperate with us or we will finish you in this forest.”
“Don’t worry, you will get your money. Just give us more time,” assured a fellow hostage.
I didn’t know if he was fully confident our families would be able to raise the ransom money or he said it to calm the already tensed nerves of our captors. Either way, it was fine because the kidnappers gave us some breathing space after hearing that.
With that space we had some avenues to steal some more conversations amongst ourselves, one of it was concerning food. Did the kidnappers give us any food to eat?*
*Continued in part 5.