While I was there thinking about my regaining my freedom and the articles I would write thereafter, the weather began to change dramatically. The thick gathering cloud was a sure sign of impending heavy rain.
The heavy downpour of the previous day made my body suffer a lot under the harsh weather. Will that kind of physical suffering continue today again? “Oh God, please have mercy,” I prayed.
Let there be no rain again, Lord
Before I knew it, the forest environment had become dim. The rays of the Sun were no more penetrating through the foliages with their bright lights as they previously did.
All the weather signs showed that another heavy down downpour was imminent. And I wasn’t ready for the severe cold the change in weather could bring.
My mind went back to the heavy rains that fell the previous day which made us suffer untold hardship. Another rain in the forest would mean that our suffering under the treacherous weather would continue in the present day.
The thought of that alone made me feel immensely uncomfortable. So I had to pray an emergency prayer:
“God, we suffered so much yesterday because of the rains. Please don’t let that suffering continue today. Let there be no rain again till we leave this place.”
I had peace in my mind after I had prayed. I knew my prayer was answered because it took only a few minutes after that for the weather to clear up completely.
Thereafter, the beautiful rays of the Sun began to appear from their hiding places and the forest felt warm again.
The other hostages and I sat there helpless, but full of hope that we would regain our freedom soon.
My mind was focused on securing our freedom from the kidnappers. I was particularly concerned about my remaining fellow hostages.
The one that sustained the gunshot wound on his right leg was still there with us. Without access to medical care over the last three days, the wound was already beginning to fester.
The third hostage was the one that had the heart attack I described earlier. Hopelessness had crept in on him, and that became another point of worry over him.
Hopelessness after heart attack
In a moment, I began to hear some unusual sound from this hostage that had a heart attack. He was breathing so heavily you could hear him from a few meters away.
“I can’t make it. I can’t make it,” I heard him mutter under his breath.
His eyes were tightly closed and much saliva drooled from the side of his mouth to the forest floor. I felt sorry for him that he was in such a situation without any medical care in sight.
Even though I perceived he had passed the danger zone (having just survived a heart attack), I observed that the man seemed to have lost the will to live – he was showing signs of hopelessness.
I knew that because of the things he kept saying:
“My brother,” he called out to the other hostage, whom they were kidnapped together in the same car, “My chest is blocked. I can’t breathe.
“I can’t make it. If I die here in this forest, please take care of my son. Tell him that his daddy loves him.”
He was speaking like those were his last words on earth. You know that feeling you get when you sit beside a dying person, that’s the kind of feeling I got as I listened to him.
But we were not giving up on him. We held our hope high that we would survive the kidnapping situation together.
“Bros, you can’t die here,” said the other hostage, who had been busy making calls for their ransom. “We came together, we will leave together. Just be strong.”
I sat there, praying over the man. I kept speaking in tongues as I placed my right hand on his chest.
At that point, I didn’t care how our captors would perceive my actions. I just wanted to encourage the man to hang on to life.
I felt at peace that the man would make it out of the hostage situation alive. But his family had not been able to raise the ransom demanded by the ruthless kidnappers.
I reasoned that the delay in raising the ransom may prolong the suffering of the man in the forest. He needed urgent medical care, but he would not get it except he made it out of the forest.
“How can he get out of this forest so he can get into the hospital for medical examination?” I asked myself.
The simple solution I came up with made me incur the anger of the kingpin of the kidnappers who gave me a kick in the head.
The unexpected leg-kick on the head
The sick fellow hostage was still horizontal with the forest ground. And I sat there beside him with full compassion, hoping that the man would somehow be allowed to go home to have access to the medical care he urgently needed.
Meanwhile, the lanky kingpin came closer to our presence ostensibly to make a firsthand observation of the situation. He tried his best to mask his anxiety but I could see that was not his usual braggadocious self.
“How is he doing?” he asked gently, pointing to the sick man on the ground.
“He is not doing great at all,” I answered him. “The situation is getting more critical.”
The kingpin looked upon the sick man, bent his frame downwards, and said to him, “Don’t worry, you will be fine. Just be strong till your family comes to bail you out.”
The kingpin looked at the other hostage and said, “You are the one prolonging the suffering of your driver in this forest. As soon as your family raises the complete ransom we demanded, both of you will be released so he can go treat himself.”
“The ransom will soon be ready,” the other man responded confidently. “My family is pushing very hard to come up with the money.”
One thing about this hostage is that he had been optimistic from day one about raising his ransom money. But to his utter frustration, things had not worked out as easily as he had anticipated.
Remaining positive against all odds was one of the admirable things I observed about him.
With his positive disposition, he had been able to calm the tensed nerves of the kidnappers a couple of times. And this time, it was no different.
As the kingpin began to walk away from our presence, I called out to him as gently as I could.
“Excuse me, sergeant.” (Recall that these kidnappers had told us to refer to them as sergeants).
He turned to face me as I began making a passionate plea in favour of the fellow hostage.
“You said my family had raised my ransom and would soon be on their way to deliver it to you so I can be free. And this man here (I pointed to the sick hostage, differentiating him from his principal who was sitting next to him), is in a critical health situation.
“Could you please release him to me so that I can take him to the hospital once my family comes for me?”
My plea fell on deaf ears. And an unholy silence momentarily pervaded the atmosphere in the camp following those words that emanated from my buccal cavity.
The kingpin didn’t immediately say a word back to me, as it would appear my request discomfited him. But he quickly regained his composure.
And in a flash fit of ferocious anger, he kicked me on the head with his right leg. The attack hit me so hard I fell sideways. And I felt a sharp pain on the right side of my head where his feet landed.
At that moment, it felt like my head was plucked off from my shoulders, flung in the air for a few seconds, and then brought down to sit on my neck again.
“What audacity!” I heard the kingpin exclaim aloud, “who gave you the right to make such a request?
I was dazed and speechless as he continued ranting at me, using inscrutable word words.
“Here, you don’t speak for anybody. Each of you should answer his father’s name.
“Next time you mess up like this again, I will shoot you dead.”
I didn’t expect that kind of terrible reaction from him. But I took everything with utmost equanimity.
That unexpected leg kick on my skull shut my mouth so I couldn’t even say a word to him again in reply. All I had to do was lie down there on the forest ground and began to sleep.
I must have slept for at least an hour before the kingpin came back to interrupt me with some announcements.
The first announcement from him centered on how they would receive my ransom money from my family. And of course, they would accept the ransom money only in cash.
With the words from the lips of the kingpin, it became to us that I was getting closer to regaining my freedom. But not until after the ransom has been delivered.
But how would it be delivered without precipitating some risks at both ends? Only time would tell.
The second announcement he made was an unexpected offer he extended to the other hostages. I will talk about that in a moment but right now, the focus would shift back to the process of how my family would deliver my ransom money to my captors.
It’s time to deliver the ransom
“You, sit up,” the kingpin bellowed at me. “Here is your phone; call your wife to start bringing the money to us.”
That was the moment I had been waiting for the last eight hours since I had been informed that the ransom money had been raised.
As I spoke with my wife about the directive to start bringing the money, the kingpin began to rehash the rules guiding the delivery process. At that point, he spoke into the phone which was already on speaker mode as always.
“Madam, if you want to see your husband alive again, you must make sure that the money is complete, without a dime missing from it, because we will recount it when it gets to us.
“Secondly, don’t involve the Police and don’t insert an electronic tracker. We will kill your husband if you fail to abide by any of these three directives.”
By then I was already used to their frequent threat of shooting me dead. So his threats didn’t move me; I remained calm sitting on the forest floor.
However, I pleaded with my wife to follow the kidnappers’ instructions without fail. And my wife assured me they would do as directed.
The kingpin then began to give final directives on how and where the ransom money would be delivered to them.
The kidnappers agreed with our plea that, instead of my wife, a trusted family member could deliver the ransom to them at a destination they would prescribe.
There was nothing else I could do other than to continue the waiting game sitting on the forest floor until my ransom would be delivered to my captors, while the AK-47 gun-wielding kidnappers kept serious guard over us to prevent us from moving out of their sight or even escaping from them.
Meanwhile, it’s had been more than 24 hours since we had anything to eat. So, hunger pangs were already giving us some unpleasant signs in our empty stomachs.
Do you still have some food?
At that point, I had to raise my hand to speak to the kingpin again.
“Excuse my sergeant,” I called out to him and asked, “Do you still have some food?”
Unsurprisingly, he responded in the affirmative, offering the other hostages and me a small bag of garri to eat with water and salt in a plastic bowl.
And as basic as that meal was, we ate it with thanks while hoping for the best – that we would soon breathe an air of freedom again.
Little did we know what else the kidnappers’ had in mind.*
*Continued in Part 10