A community health worker, Victor Ogunsola, who was kidnapped by bandits and held for 17 days, shares his ordeal with TUNDE OYEKOLA
Tell us more about yourself.
My name is Victor Oladiran Ogunsola from Kwara State. I live in Damari village in the Birni Gwari Local Government Area of Kaduna State. The community is in the northern part of the state. It shares a boundary with Zamfara and Niger states. I am a community health supervisor and I own a private clinic in the village.
For how long have you lived in the community?
I have been living in the community for more than 22 years. When we came to the place, there was no problem until recently when we started experiencing the problem of banditry that has made the community no longer peaceful. The community now serves as the headquarters of a section of the bandits. Banditry is common in the area and bandits have launched many attacks in the area. On January 14, 2021, they attacked the community at about 11am and they left at 3pm without anyone stopping them. They attacked all the shops and they even came to my Clinic; they went away with my phone and money but they were not able to kidnap me because someone helped me out through the back door.
What about your family members?
My family members were not at the clinic during the attack. Only my workers and I were around; we all managed to escape but the attackers went away with our phones, money, and other valuables that they found in the clinic.
How were you abducted in the recent attack?
My family lives in Zaria and I commute between Zaria and Birni Gwari. I used to go there on Monday morning and return to Zaria to attend church on Sunday morning. In that village, we have Ansat, which is a breakaway faction of Boko Haram. They come to the town but they don’t attack. However, I didn’t know that they had been monitoring me. On Sunday, March 6, 2022, I left for Zaria at about 8am as usual to attend a church service. I carried two people from the village and was speeding to meet up with the church service. Suddenly, I saw two people who came shooting and they were aiming at my tyre. I saw another one in front. When I stopped, they ran toward me, collected my phones and all the money they could find on me. They did not touch the two other people in the car. They called another man with a motorcycle from the bush in their local dialect and took me into the bush. As we were going, I tried to escape but the three of us on the motorcycle fell. When that happened, they alleged that I wanted to snatch their gun so they started beating me. They hit me on the head with the gun, they then took me to another place where we met about 10 of them. When I got there, they told me that they had been instructed to kill me but would spare my life if I had the money to pay. They tore my clothes, blindfolded me and took me to another location where they tortured me and asked me how much I would give them. When I said I had N200,000, they descended on me with a big stick.
Did you see other victims in the kidnappers’ den?
Yes, I met three other people who were chained. I didn’t know how long they had been there but the bandits later chained my two legs and tied me to a tree, then they went away. They later returned and asked me who I wanted to talk to about the ransom. I told them that I wanted to speak with my wife. As soon as I started talking to her, they collected and asked me again how much I was willing to pay. I told them I would pay N2 million. They called my wife again and asked her the same question; when she said the same thing I said, she started crying. Their leader, who is known as Commander, said he would collect N100 million from me and ordered them to chain me to the tree again.
Was the ransom reduced?
When he came on the third day after I had been beaten, he said that he had reduced the ransom to N70 million. I later reduced it to N50 million, and later to N15 million. He gave me the phone again to talk to my wife, and I told her to ask my brothers whether they could raise the money. The commander threatened that I would be killed if the money was not raised in two days. After some days, he came and said he would not take anything less than N10 million, so I started begging him that my family members could raise N5 million after selling all my properties.
What did you eat to sustain yourself in captivity?
The four people assigned to prevent us from escaping prepared food for us in morning, afternoon and evening and our only meal was rice and beans. That was what we were fed throughout the 22 days I spent there. It was prepared with only salt, seasoning, and palm oil.
Did the kidnappers accept the N5 million you said your family raised?
After I had spent two weeks, their leader returned and said that if I could make the N5 million available the next day. But when I spoke with my brother on the phone, he told me that they could not raise the money. I started begging the leader of the kidnappers to allow me to pay N4 million which my people could raise and he agreed and gave me the phone to talk to my brother to bring the money. My brother brought the money to them but I was not released. Their leader said the money was not enough and that he would need an additional N6 million and three motorcycles before I would be set free. He later came back and told me that he had reduced the money to N4 million with two motorcycles. The next day when information came that the money had been paid, they brought a motorcycle and took me to the road. We didn’t go directly, they have tactics. They first took me to a place and later to the road before they called my brother to come. They told him to wait at a point where there were cows and that he would see me among the cows. When my brother told them that he was in the place, they told him to move forward and that he would see me. That was how I saw my brother.
They didn’t kidnap my brother because when they finally agreed, I told them that if they knew that they would kidnap the person bringing the money, they should leave me to stay with them. I begged them not to kidnap the person and they assured me that they would not kidnap him. My brother was the same person that brought the first and second tranches of the money paid as ransom.
When precisely were you set free?
I was released on the morning of March 28, 2022, the day they attacked the Abuja-Kaduna passenger train. I was released after spending 17 days in captivity. One of their victims was kidnapped on his farm. I learned he was working on his farm at night with a lamp and was taken from his farm. He is poor, and when his family was contacted to bring ransom they said that they could only give N40,000, so he was released four days after I got there. Another one was released after a week but I don’t know the amount paid by his family.
Did the bandits ask for your tribe or religion when you were in their camp?
No, the bandits didn’t discriminate; they didn’t want to know whether their victims were Yoruba, Hausa, Kanuri, or Ibbo. But when I first got to the camp, they said I would spend a long time with them because I am a Christian.
Why did they say so?
They said my kidnap would be announced in the church and that the church members would contribute money for my release. I told them that I attended a small church with a few members.
What was the total amount you paid as ransom to the bandits?
The total amount we paid was over N10 million. First, we paid about N4.3 million and airtime of N10,000 and in the second round, they got over N5.5 million, in addition to the payment for two motorcycles. The bulk of the money was contributed by members of the family and my schoolmates. All of them contributed when we could not get the required amount after the sale of the property I had. I’m grateful and appreciate all my schoolmates because they tried to save my life.
Can you describe how your experience in the hands of your abductors has affected you?
The experience was bad. The two people I met in the kidnappers’ den were told to pay N2.5 million and provide a motorcycle each. They were beaten every time their family members failed to pay the ransom. The kidnappers felt their victims’ families were playing on their intelligence and threatened to torture them before killing them. The water we were given to drink was so dirty that one would not like to dip one’s hand in it. There was a time I was purging and I told the commander that I was purging and that I would die, but he told me to die if I wanted to because it was not his problem. But the boys working for him prepared some herbs which they gave to me. They used dirty water to prepare the herbs but I had to take it because there was nothing I could do. Later, I could no longer take the water, so I told the two boys to help get me a beverage and they did without collecting any money for the drink.
Did your kidnappers tell you why they engaged in the crime?
When I was there, I became friends with the two assigned to watch me. I asked them why they took to kidnapping since the President is Fulani. One of them told me that the Hausa started by killing the Fulani and stealing their cows. One of them also told me that he was in a school in Kaduna State when it was attacked and burnt. He said further that he lost touch with his father and decided to go into kidnapping to get money to buy another set of cows and ammunition. The government should go into dialogue with the Myeti Allah (Cattle Breeders) Association because they (Fulani) listen to their leaders a lot. The association cannot claim that it does not know what is happening. If I understood Fufude, I would have heard a lot from their (bandits) discussions. If the government negotiates with them, it can solve the problem; I don’t see the government having enough human resources to comb and attack them in the bush.
How did they avoid being seen by security agents?
Anytime they saw a helicopter hovering around the area, they told us to lie down in a pit. They told us that the people in the helicopter were looking for them and that if they (security agents) didn’t see them, they would kill their cows. Any of the victims who failed to lie down properly was at risk of being killed; I sustained an injury on my head, hands, and all over my body. I still have the scars caused by the chains on my legs.
Did the bandits kill any of their victims while you were with them?
No, they didn’t kill anyone but they showed me a place where they said they threw the corpses of the people that they had killed. They said they don’t eat the meat of bush animals in the area because the animals around the area used to feed on the flesh of the human corpse thrown into the pit. I was there when they brought another set of victims, five persons – three men and two ladies. They were from the same family and were kidnapped in their village but after two days, I didn’t see them again. I don’t know what has happened to them.
Do you think your kidnappers were Nigerians?
Yes, they were Nigerians because. Although I didn’t understand the Fulani language, I believe they are Nigerians. I have a long experience with the Nigerian Fulani because I used to treat them in my clinic. They are honest people but they take a lot of drugs. Where we lived was not more than 30 kilometres from the town but it was in a forest.
You said earlier that you were their target. Why did you think they wanted you?
They have their information because when I was with them, they told me that I used to pass the road every Sunday morning and that I would go to church on the day I was kidnapped.
Have you returned to your clinic since you gained your freedom?
No, I have not been to the place and I don’t pray to return to the place. The clinic has been closed down. Since my release, many people from the area have come to plead with me to return; even the head of the village came to meet me in Zaria to plead with me to return to the village. Since my release, I have been having nightmares; I see the Fulani torturing me while asleep. I still have the trauma of the torture. If I see a Fulani now, I will run away. The Hausa believe that what happens to a person is what God destined will happen to him in life.
Are there no security agents in the community where you resided before your abduction?
Where we have soldiers is about nine kilometres to the village. They have their camp there and, sometimes, they carry out raids but they have not been going to the bush to raid the camps of the kidnappers because soldiers follow instructions. There are soldiers and policemen in the community.
What do you do for a living now?
I am jobless now but I’m thinking of relocating.