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.”
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.
After dishing out the unsolicited pieces of advice, the kidnappers mandated the so-called good-for-nothing-man with his driver to escort the Papa out of the forest. Hopefully, they would lead him till he reunites with his family and then both of them can walk to their freedom as well. We, the three remaining hostages, bade them farewell while our own fate still hanged in the balance.
Time to share the booty
Thanks to the huge ransom collected on the papa’s head, the kidnappers were visibly delighted and they became more favourably disposed towards us. They began talking to us in warmer tones than before, telling us that if our families would cooperate with them just like the Papa’s family did, we too would regain our freedom.
They didn’t have any wild celebrations after collecting the ransom. Perhaps, they felt it wasn’t time to celebrate yet or they wanted to remain focused on their mission of collecting ransom from all the remaining hostages. Either way, they were fully in control of the situation.
As the rains subsided, we became relieved of the massive cold we were experiencing. The rays of the Sun began to sift through the canopies of the trees towering above us unto the forest floors. And we felt warm in our bodies as the wet clothes clinging tightly to our frames began to dry out.
When the ransom was reduced
The leader of the kidnappers’ gang started to engage us in more conversations while the rest of them kept guard over us with their AK-47s consistently pointed at us as the stench of their cigarette smoking pervaded the air.
Surprisingly, he left the circle of his fellow kidnappers and sat a few feet away from where we were, talking to us in turns. The Papa in our midst was the first focus of his attention.
“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.
The kidnappers didn’t want us to talk to one another. So we too kept our cool and calm. But our peace would soon be disrupted as they began inviting each of us in turns to a corner for profiling with a view to extracting additional vital information from us. What followed next would turn out to be a gruesome experience.
The gruelling profiling
I knew it would be a matter of only a few minutes before it got to my turn to be profiled through a series of questions intentionally constructed to elicit the answers that would help their criminal cause.
“Hey, oya, you from the ash colour Toyota car,” their leader shouted, as he pin-pointed me by stamping his feet on my back while I lay on the forest ground, “Come here.”
Interestingly, he didn’t forget the colours of the two cars they ambushed on the highway. Both were Toyotas but he was able to differentiate them by their colours and model.
He didn’t know my name by then but he made sure he didn’t confuse me with the hostage taken from the other Toyota car. I would later realise that the kind of car one drove was part of the initial visible external means of profiling a target.
I made effort to stand up to face him. But before getting up on my feet, one of the other gunmen dashed to where I was and dragged me aside into a small human circular triangle formed by three of the other gunmen.
“Kneel down and face here,” their main guy commanded me, with two other men pointing their long guns at me – each at my left and right, towards my back.
The gunmen continued shooting sporadically into the air as they led us into the bush from the road. Either they were trying to ward-off any attempt by anybody to come rescue us or they were warning us not to try anything funny.
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.
“I can’t breathe,” has now become the rallying chant for the Black Lives Matter massive protests in major cities around the world. It has also become the slogan being used against social injustices of diverse kinds.