Thirty-two-year-old Lukas (not the real name) was traveling to Kaduna for his cousin’s wedding when he was kidnapped along with nine other commuters by dare-devil kidnappers on Abuja-Kaduna expressway, Persecondnews.com gathered.
He had travelled the previous weekend to Kaduna to help his cousin, who he was very close to put some finishing touches to the wedding preparations. He had in fact gone by road as he couldn’t meet up with the 2 p.m train and did not want to wait for the 6 p.m train either.
According to him, the journey was smooth with several security operatives on the road, and they also didn’t encounter any problem which reawakened his trust in travelling by road. The experience made him to resort to traveling by road for the wedding, but this time around he ran out of luck.
“I boarded a vehicle from Gwarimpa to Zuba park to get a vehicle going to Kaduna through the Abuja-Kaduna Expressway. My mother and two younger sisters had left the previous day which was on a Thursday by train to Kaduna, but I couldn’t join them because I had something to do in the office the next day. I left for work very early the next day which was Friday to enable me to finish the work on time so that I can leave early. I finished the work about 2:10 pm and I immediately left the office, dashed home to carry my bag, and headed straight to Zuba park.
“The vehicle I boarded from Zuba didn’t take long to get full passengers for the trip, and the driver drove off immediately. I was dozing off at intervals during the trip until when the sound of gunshots immediately we entered the Jere-Katari axis on Abuja-Kaduna Expressway made the sleep to clear from my eyes completely. My heart was panting as I was gripped with fear; I have never been that scared in my life.
“Bandits numbering more than 15 had blocked the road and were spraying bullets into the air. So many vehicles were trying to maneuver to escape. While some were lucky to have escaped, our driver wasn’t that lucky as he was shot dead. The whole scenario was so chaotic and frightening.
“In the twinkle of an eye, they caught some of us. We were about 10 in number, everyone that was in the vehicle I boarded, a couple in their 50s, and their driver,” he narrated to Perscondnews.
First heart-wrenching experience
According to Lukas, his journey and experience from that moment is something “I won’t even wish for my enemy”, as they trekked deep into the forest in a single file for more than three hours.
The bandits were Fulanis mixed with a few Hausa boys, checked them thoroughly, and collected their phones, wristwatches, and even shoes before they embarked on the long trek.
“Their fierce looks especially while holding those Ak-47 rifles will send shivers down your spine. While walking, they threatened to shoot anyone who tried to prove stubborn or waste their time by walking slowly. We had barely walked for an hour when the couple started reducing their pace because the wife was holding her husband to help him to walk. He was already tired and weak as I got to later understand that he was going for treatment in Kaduna.
“It got to a point where he could no longer continue as he was completely exhausted and weak by this time. Then before our eyes, we witnessed the most horrific thing; he was shot dead. The wife immediately slumped. There was a little bit of argument amongst them at that moment on whether to carry her or abandon her. After much argument, they decided to abandon her citing that she’ll slow them down.
“That singular act sent a message to all of us that these people were ruthless and also meant business,” he says.
22 days in the forest
Lukas and other victims finally arrived at the kidnappers’ den after long hours of trekking but didn’t expect what he saw.
According to him, it was a clan, a well-organized one. The leader of the gang was seated outside, surrounded by some bandits wielding their guns and other weapons, waiting for them.
“Immediately we arrived, they forced us to sit on the floor, while their leader addressed us. He spoke in Fulfude, while one of the bandits translated to us in pidgin English.
“He warned us not think of escaping, as we won’t succeed because ‘we can never know this forest better than them.’ He warned that they won’t hesitate to kill anyone caught trying to escape. He also told us that they are surrounded by other clans who are also into kidnapping so even if they don’t catch us those people will,” he added.
Continuing, Lukas disclosed that the remaining 22 days in that forest are something he cannot forget in a hurry as they were beaten almost every day and fed just once a day. The abductors didn’t contact their families for ransom until after three days and warned their families not to involve the Police as they have informants everywhere, including the police force, hence they will know.
“We were given only water to drink when we arrived at the detention camp and thrown into a room thereafter. We met other kidnap victims in the room; about seven of them. They were waiting for their families to pay the demanded ransoms.
“The first night was torturous. They beat all the men with hands, sticks, and horsewhips. They took the ladies, about four of them, into a room except for one of them that was looking really emaciated and lying almost lifeless on the floor in the room, and took turns to rape them. It’s been six months, but their screams and cries I still replay in my head. The cycle of beating the men and raping the ladies continued for more than week.
“I was told by the other victims I met there that they also met the teenage girl lying almost lifeless there. According to them, most people she was kidnapped alongside with have all been freed after their families had paid ransom but nobody has paid hers as she is an orphan. I was told the bandits have been using her as a sex slave ever since then.
“Sadly, she died three days later. I didn’t know her, but I cried as though she was my sister. I still visualize her lying on the floor and still keep wondering why people can be this wicked and heartless to treat a poor orphan that way,” he further narrated.
Lukas told Persecondnews.com that the bandits did not contact their families until the third day and they had demanded N10 million initially, but later reduced it to N5 million after many pleas. He said that they were all called out on the night of the third day, and asked to give them the telephone number of a family member to call for ransom which they all did.
“When you give them, they will call the family member and give you the phone just to say ‘hello’, so they can hear your voice, and collect the phone from you immediately. While they are speaking with your family member, one of them will be beating you so that the family member will hear your screams in the background.
“When they called my elder brother and he heard my voice before he could say anything they snatched the phone from me and one of them started whipping me. They gave him two weeks to pay the ransom otherwise he will never set his eyes on me again.
“They warned them not to involve the police or any other security agency as they will end up regretting their actions. They even told my brother in Hausa, ‘if you like drop the ransom in front of the police station or even army barracks, we will take it from there and nobody will question us, after all we pay our dues.’’ This point to the fact that they had allies they were strongly working with in the police force.
“Throughout my stay there, we were fed with only white rice mixed with vegetable oil and dry pepper, once a day. My family was able to raise the money after pleading with bandits to give them extra one week as they money they had was not complete; they were able to raise just a N2million in two weeks. My mother sold her car, and she and my brother got assistance from friends and some family members who were able to assist them.
“After three weeks, they were able to raise just N3.8 million. They pleaded with the bandits to accept it, and luckily for me, they agreed. I was set free, along with three of the ladies and two other guys, whose families also paid ransom,” he recounts.
However, a report by Lagos-based risk-analysis firm, SB Morgan Intelligence, in its 2021 half-year kidnap report released in July, highlighted that Niger, Katsina, and Kaduna States recorded most cases of kidnapping with a total of 2,371 kidnapped persons and the sum of N10 billion demanded as ransom in the first half of 2021.
Also, in a report published last year by the research firm, they described the problem as the “democratization of the kidnap industry,” estimating that between 2011 and 2020, at least $18.34 million was paid as ransom to kidnappers across the country.
No end to ransom payments
Security experts have warned that there would be no end to ransom payment as long as activities of criminals are not checked by security agencies.
A security expert, Mr Lanre Suraj, said in an interview on national TV monitored by Persecondnews.com, that adoption and kidnapping is becoming not just an order of the day, but the fact that we are not really taking this as a national calamity.
According to Suraj, we are making it more of a political issue where we want to find convenience in just blaming the government or some individuals or some groups rather than dealing with it as criminality.
He said: “There is no way we will continue paying ransom and we will think that the perpetrators of this crime will just give up on this kind of profitable venture for them, and that is where the challenge is because it is becoming more democratized that people can freely and willingly just abduct innocent people for the purpose of making money, and the criminality will continue unabated.
“So for me, it is a major cause of concern for everyone because we are all potential victims. We can’t fight this war on criminality with manual and physical combat; there must be a lot of intelligence that must come into play when we want to deal with it. The law enforcement agencies must be sufficiently equipped and that is the police.”
Meanwhile, a bill by the Nigerian Senate titled, “The Terrorism Prevention (Amendment) Bill 2021’’ which has scaled second reading, is seeking to criminalize ransom payment for kidnapped persons.
The bill which was sponsored by Senator Ezenwa Francis Onyewuchi (representing Imo West senatorial zone), seeks to substitute Section 14 of the Principal Act, which reads: “Anyone who transfers funds, makes payment or colludes with an abductor, kidnapper or terrorist to receive any ransom for the release of any person who has been wrongfully confined, imprisoned or kidnapped, is guilty of a felony and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment of not less than 15 years.”
Senator Onyewuchi, who attributed the rising cases of kidnapping in the country to corruption, unemployment, poverty and the connivance of security agents, added that “unemployed youths are also taking to kidnapping to get money (ransom) as a survival strategy.”
“The continuous payment of ransom must not be encouraged. In addition, the government should provide adequate security and strengthen the economy. It should as a matter of urgency accelerate its poverty alleviation programmes, provide employment opportunities targeting youths, who are mostly involved in abductions and kidnappings, strengthen our law enforcement agencies and provide the necessary support towards ending kidnapping,” he advised.
However, the bill has attracted a lot of criticisms from Nigerians who believe that passing the bill will endanger the lives of ordinary Nigerians in the hands of kidnappers.
They urged the lawmakers to rather compel the Buhari administration to think outside the box, re-strategize and provide enduring solutions to the security challenges plaguing the nation.
(Pls note that the real identity of the victim is concealed for security reasons).