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.
An offer to the other hostages
As two representatives of my family set out from home on the journey to deliver the ransom to my captors, the kingpin turned to the other two hostages in the camp and made them an offer.
“You, talk to your family again,” he said to them. “If they can make up the ransom raised so far to five million Naira and are able to bring the money to meet up with the time this guy’s family (pointing to me) will be delivering their own money to us, we will release you together with him. If it exceeds today, you will have to pay the full ransom to regain your freedom.”
I was elated to hear the offer to the other hostages: another reduction of the ransom demand – from ten million Naira demand to five million…
“That’s a good development,” I thought to myself. But only in the process of time would we know how things would further unfold.
While the hostage with a bad heart condition still lay helpless on the floor, the other hostage collected his phone from the kingpin to call his family.
At the end of the call, it was determined that only four million Naira had been raised.
It was already sunset by that time. The kidnappers seemed to be in a hurry to go, or maybe they were satisfied with their fortunes so far.
They had realised fifteen million Naira from the papa they released on the previous night. With my own three million Naira on the way to being delivered to them, accepting the four million Naira on the other hostages instead of the five million they had asked for seemed not to be a big deal to them.
The only challenge was for the family of the other hostages to meet up with the time the ransom of my head would be delivered to them too.
We didn’t know the nitty-gritty of how the ransom would be delivered to the kidnappers. But we were concerned that nothing should go wrong during the exchange process.
For that, I had no option but to pray.
Praying for “safe delivery” of the ransom
Just like they did the previous day when the papa was released, the kidnappers’ disbanded their team into two separate groups.
One team departed the camp ostensibly to go receive the ransom cash, while the other team stood guard over us with their guns constantly pointed at us.
We sat there speechless, hoping for the best outcome.
I prayed that the process of delivering and receiving the ransom would go hitch-free. I also prayed the kidnappers would not renege on their promise to release us once the ransom was received.
Thankfully, it would be a matter of fewer than two hours for me to become aware that the first part of the prayer had been answered.
The kingpin came to inform me that their other team had received the money from my family. The cash had been counted and found to be complete.
I heaved a sigh of relief on hearing that good news. But the kidnappers did not release me immediately.
They waited till they had also received the ransom from the family of my fellow hostages. And a few moments later, the kingpin again received information from their other team that the full ransom had been received for the other hostages as well.
Up till that moment, everything appeared to be working out well. There is now no cause for alarm.
In a way, it was now mission accomplished for the kidnappers; they had set out to collect ransom on our heads and they achieved it.
It was now the time to let go of their hostages – us. Would they keep their promise?
Waiting for freedom
The kingpin walked to where we sat on the forest floor and announced to us that we were free to go home.
By that time, the forest environment was already dark. And we could barely see our way around the bushes.
“Stand up,” he commanded us, “and follow that man,” pointing to his fellow kidnapper.
We thanked him and promptly obeyed his instructions.
We helped the sick fellow to stand to his feet as the three of us hostages queued up in a straight line behind the ‘sergeant’ that was mandated to lead us out of the forest. Thus we were led from the deeper part of the forest to the outer end.
Along the way, our escort team met up with the other half of the kidnappers’ team that had gone to receive the ransom from our families. After a brief discussion amongst them, our escort team continued to lead us out…
At that moment, the kingpin spoke to us again: “We will give you back your phones shortly. Your families are waiting somewhere along the expressway expecting your phone calls.
“When you get to the edge of the forest, you can call them to come and pick you up. Tell them to come towards that area where the ransom was delivered, they will see you there.”
We thanked him for the ‘kind gesture’ of reiterating that our phones would soon be handed back to us.
My fellow hostage, the one who was sick earlier, was walking behind me, supporting his huge frame with a walking stick. What he said next to the gunmen got me surprised.
“You have been kind to us. Thank you very much. However, I pray for you that God will touch your hearts to repent from this evil kidnapping business you are doing and give you an honourable job.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. “What did I just hear”?
“…God will touch your hearts to repent from this evil kidnapping business you are doing and give you an honourable job.”
Deep inside me, I was glad to hear those words that sounded like preaching and prayer at the same time. But I was scared that the kidnappers might take it the wrong way.
Surprisingly, nothing ugly happened. They didn’t show any sign of anger over the prayer for them to repent of their evil business.
We were silent and calm, so were they. But I would soon experience biggest moment of anxiety.
The biggest moment of fear
We were still in the forest but I knew we were approaching the expressway. From a distance, I could hear the sound of vehicles speeding past on the eery night.
Suddenly, it would seem the gunmen who were escorting us out began to develop cold feet. Instead of them leading the way, as usual, they retreated a bit and had us move ahead of them.
“You, here is your phone,” said one of the kidnappers to my fellow hostage. “Call your people to pick you up.”
As I would expect, they didn’t give me back my own phone to contact my family. That got me scared for a moment, and I began to entertain some fearful thoughts.
“Have these kidnappers changed their mind about releasing me?”
“What if they shoot me dead now?”
Those were some of the negative thoughts that crossed my mind at that critical point in time. But I couldn’t imagine them any further than that.
By now, we could see some bright flashes of light rays from the headlamps of cars on the expressway road. But we were still lurking in the shadows of the forest night.
My fellow hostage who had grabbed his phone from the kidnappers was seen communicating with his waiting family as he and his partner hastened towards the expressway ahead of me. And in a moment, a car pulled up on the edge of the expressway.
That was the moment our captors gave me back my phone too. And frantically, I too began calling my family representatives.
“I’m waiting for you.” I echoed to my listeners on the other end. “I was told you should drive towards the area where you delivered the cash to pick me up.”
My fellow hostage and his partner hurried towards the waiting car, boarded, and zoomed off. I was now left in the dark, alone on the edge of the forest along the quiet highway.
The last kidnapper I sighted was the one that handed my cellphone back to me. He had bid me ‘goodbye’ as he disappeared back into the dark jungle along with his other partners in crime.
I remained on the phone until my family’s representative would come to pick me up. But I felt terribly vulnerable in the short moment I had to wait for them to drive towards where I stood waiting for them..
In those few minutes that looked long like forever, a myriad of negative questions began to race through my mind.
In order words, I became terribly afraid.
“What if I’m re-kidnapped?”
“What if this is where I would be finally killed?”
“What if something thing else happens to me here?”
“What if another set of bandits attack me?”
I didn’t have to wait till up to five minutes before my family’s car pulled up beside me along the expressway. And without wasting one second, I jumped into the car and I was driven to safety.
I would later reunite with my family and friends who went jubilating upon seeing me return alive after spending four straight days in the kidnappers’ den.
Kidnapping for ransom in Nigeria has reached a pandemic level, to the point that anyone irrespective of class, religion, or tribe can be a victim.
In other words, anyone living in Nigeria at this time is at the risk of being kidnapped for ransom. It is now another form of business crime that’s being committed in almost all parts of the country.
This is really sad to say, but it is an ignominious reality I have experienced firsthand. And I’m not alone, many other people in fellow citizens have been kidnapped for ransom.
While some were alive to tell their stories, others were not so fortunate as they lost their lives while in a hostage situation. I happened to belong to the former category.
The things you have read in this post and in the ones before it are all first-hand accounts I wrote by myself as a kidnapping-for-ransom victim who survived to tell the story.
I am not some investigating reporter who went digging for stories of victims of kidnapping to write about. No, I was a victim of kidnapping and I documented my experience so you and many other people around the world can read and learn.
Before I became a victim of kidnapping, I never imagined that it could happen to me. First, I am not a rich guy, because there was a time when only rich people were the ones targeted and kidnapped for ransom.
Recent experiences have now shown that even an average Joe or Jane can be taken hostage for ransom. It has become that bad in my beloved country, Nigeria.
The country has become unsafe for everybody. No wonder many people are now relocating to the Western world, not only for greener pastures (as it used to be) but for the safety of their lives and those of their loved ones.
Despite the gloomy picture pervading the nation, Nigeria is still the only place in the world I call home. It is the land of my birth and the land of my abode.
I will continue to pray that God will intervene and deliver us from this precarious situation we found ourselves in.
And may the concerned authorities rise to the challenge of battling this menace of kidnapping for ransom and bringing it to the barest minimum if not completely eliminated.
Although I could say that my own kidnapping was a random road event, the perpetrators were highly organised – both in the weapons they wielded and in their modus operandi.
And as heartless as they were, one thing is clear: the kidnappers are humans and not spirits. They must have families and friends too.
To all those who are engaged in the ignominious business of kidnapping for ransom in the country and all your collaborators, may you have a change of heart so you can have a change of way.
In the final analysis, I’m happy to have survived the excruciating kidnapping experience. And I am grateful to be alive to tell the story by myself and in my own words.
To you my reader, I sincerely hope that you have learnt one or two things from my experience. Thank you for reading and may God bless you.*
ICYMI – Read also: Kidnapped for ransom – Part 9