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.
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.