A kidnap victim, Idowu Ajayi, in this interview with ABIODUN NEJO shares his experience in gunmen’s den and the ordeals of relatives, who secured his release
How were you kidnapped?
It happened along the Ikole-Ijesa Isu road at 4:30pm on March 14. I went to Ijesha Isu from Ikole to assist my mum to carry yams which was already by the roadside. I picked them and was on my way back when it happened. I got to a bad portion of the road, where I had to compulsorily slow down.
As I applied the brake, I heard a gunshot-like sound and was confused about whether it was a gunshot or a tyre burst.
Before I knew what happened, two armed men had emerged from the bush. I saw two others ahead and they started firing gunshots. We were two in my car because I offered a 14-year-old girl a free ride from Ijesa Isu to Ikole.
As I saw them, not knowing two others were at the back also, I put the car on reverse gear, but with the punctured tyre and those at the back, I had to park. The gunmen were six in number, two of them were positioned before the bad portion, two were in the bush at the bad portion while the remaining two were after the bad portion. It was those at the pothole side that shot at the car tyre.
They ordered me out of the car and started beating me. They smashed the car glasses and shot sporadically in the air to prevent other vehicles from coming. They searched the car and removed the N21,000 there and as well took the N14,000 in my pocket.
Later, they led me into the bush. We did not go farther than a pole away from the road. They collected my shoes, wristwatch and belt and ordered me and the girl to lie down. From there, I could hear when people came to the vehicle and when the police arrived the scene, but I could not say anything.
Didn’t the policemen comb the bush?
According to them, they combed the bush, but I want to believe they went through the other side. If they had reinforced immediately and searched everywhere, the story might have been different. The policemen were there about 35 minutes after the incident.
Did you remain there all along?
We left the place at 6:30pm when it was getting dark. We walked for about 30 minutes into an old cocoa farm. It was there they told me they were not ritualists, but kidnappers. They were Fulani men from Nigeria, Niger and Mali, according to them. Two of them could speak pidgin English fluently.
Before we left, they went back to the car to remove my phone charger. They had about four large capacity power banks with which they charged their phones, they carried bags and had charms on their body. They had four AK-47 rifles and one double-barrel gun.
They asked me to call my people. I called one of my brothers and I explained to him that I had been kidnapped, but my brother said they were aware. While speaking, the phone prompter alerted me that I had one minute of airtime remaining, the gunmen asked me to call anybody I knew could send airtime to me. My sister-in-law sent N2,000 airtime card to me. My phone was used for the calls all through. After each call around 5:30 and 6pm, they would switch the phone off. At about five minutes before calling my people, they would start flogging me.
However, they did not torture the girl, they were kind to her. While moving around, if there is pawpaw or banana they would give her to eat, but I was denied access to food. They did not offer me food or water. The gunmen took garri and smoked cigarettes and hemp all along. They carried garri in their bags as well as water in plastic bottles. They packed any food found on any farmstead and made me carry such for them.
What did they discuss with your family on phone?
They told my people to comply with them, that they were Boko Haram. When my people asked what was expected of them, the gunmen said my people should bring N30m.
My family members pleaded with them, I pleaded too. They said I was using a big car and asked me of my occupation. The car I drove was Toyota Sienna. I realised they were attracted to big cars because they did not stop the commercial vehicles that were ahead of my car that day. They said they saw me when I passed some minutes earlier but only that they had yet to position themselves then.
How was a normal day with the kidnappers like?
When it was about 7.30 to 8pm, we would start moving. We moved from Ijesa Isu to Oko Isaba then to Oko Ikoyi; from Oko Ikoyi to Oko Igbemo, we would roam about till daybreak, but when it was about 6am, they would look for a discreet location to hide.
At that location, they would blindfold me, tie my arms to the back and put me somewhere. I would be in that position till about 7.30pm.
Even there, they could be angry and would flog me. Whenever they smoked, they would extinguish the fire on my body. The suffering and torture were much for the four days I was with them. They were mean – there was even a time they saw a colony of army ants, they just placed me in the colony of the ants so that they would sting me. The pains are indescribable.
What did they tell you was their reason for kidnapping and who else were they communicating with?
One of them told me that I was a ‘useless Yoruba’. When I asked how, he said I was one of those insulting ‘Sai Baba’, I said I didn’t understand, he said we were singing ‘Nigeria jagajaga’. I said I didn’t know about that. He said that by the time they were through with us, we would have learnt our lesson. He told me that they were using all the ransom they got to buy ammunition.
When I tried to inquire further, he said I should not ask him any foolish question. So, I shut up because they didn’t leave any opportunity to look at their faces. I laid face down there. To avoid being recognised, their faces were always covered.
After communicating with my family, they would call two individuals on phone to give them feedback. They would communicate with the first one in Fulani language (Fulfude) and the other, who spoke Yoruba fluently as well. He spoke with me on the phone on our second day. He asked about my job, but when I said I was unemployed, he queried how come I was driving a car, but I told him I was not the owner. I told him it was my child who took ill and that I was looking for money to settle the bill. I told him the money collected from me was part of what I wanted to take to hospital, and that was the truth. He said that if my people did not bring the ransom that day or the following, that I would be killed. I pleaded with him that my people would look for money but only that it would not be up to the N30million being requested. He then spoke with the gunmen in Fulani on the outcome of our discussion.
How did you regain your freedom?
After much pleading, they agreed with my family to set me free. They requested money alongside 12 bottles of plastic Origin, Kakaraka (sachet gin), three rolls of cigarette, and some others like Indomie. That Thursday, they led me and the girl back to Oko Ijesa, close to the road unknown to us it was preparatory to freedom. It was my brother and friend that came on a motorbike with the ransom.
One gunman then called my brother to turn back and drive toward Ikole that someone would collect the items from them at a point. My brother called later to inform that he could not locate the person, they said he should come back to the leaves spot. All these were to ascertain there were no police trailing them.
After, they asked my brother and his friend to wait, so they appeared to them, pointed guns at their heads and took them into the bush. I was not far away. My brother told them that the family sold many things to realise the N2.5m that they brought. They accepted the money after much pleading, but they seized my brother and friend and started flogging them mercilessly. One of them even threatened to kill my brother and the friend, it was one of the gunmen that pleaded with the colleague not to kill those who brought the ransom that he should leave them. It was at that point that they smashed my phone but returned my charger. Then they ordered that we must leave the place under two seconds. We scampered out.
How do feel breathing the air of freedom?
I was taken to the hospital for treatment immediately after release. But I really thank God. After my incident, I told people to be careful on the road because I heard the gunmen say I was disturbing them, that my people ought to have come for my release since their assignment was still much. They spoke as if they were given target on the amount to make per week. I was released on Thursday and they kidnapped there again on Friday evening. I thank God.
How did you feel when you learnt that Amotekun operatives had arrested one of them?
I was so excited. Since that experience, I was alarmed whenever anybody was kidnapped or the police arrested any kidnapper. So, when I saw the photograph of the gunman (one of the six kidnappers) on social media that he had been arrested, my heart skipped a beat; I recognised him.