Godwin Osakue, a 51-year-old electrical engineer, who was kidnapped along with his 17-year-old son on March 8 in Ahor, Edo State, has told his story.
He speaks to ADEYINKA ADEDIPE about the horrifying experience
Did you have any premonition that you and your son could be kidnapped on that fateful day?
It was a normal day and I never thought my son and I would fall into the hands of kidnappers. I was coming from work and at Oluku Bypass through Ahor around 10 minutes past five in the evening. There was one Audi and a Toyota Sienna cars ahead of me, while a heavy-duty truck was behind me. All of a sudden the doors of the Audi were flung open and armed men jumped down. At that point, I knew there was trouble and I decided to put my vehicle on reverse. But five of the armed men came from behind the vehicle and grabbed me and my son. They started beating us while they were taking us into the bush.
Before that experience, you must have heard stories about people being kidnapped. Did it ever occur to you that you could be a victim?
I never thought I could be kidnapped. It was a road I took every time before the incident. I knew it was the same place that Dennis Abuda (an American-based businessman) was kidnapped and was later killed but it just didn’t occur to me that it could happen to me. It was not so late on that day and I even thought that these people were armed robbers until they started marching us into the bush. Eight of them were involved in that operation and they tied my legs and arms.
How far were you taken into the bush?
We walked for over 30 minutes into the forest. When we got to a spot, which I presume was their usual hiding place, they tore my shirt with their dagger and tightened the rope on my hands. They assured us that they would not kill us but they would do anything to get ransom. They urged us to cooperate with them. But an aggressive one among them came from behind and started beating me again and went on to blindfold me. At that point, they took my phone and that of my son. They also collected my ATM card and the particulars of my car. They then asked us who we were going to call. They placed N6m ransom on my son and me. As we were being beaten, I was allowed to call my wife, to tell her that we had been kidnapped and that the abductors were demanding N6m. My wife was confused and asked me several questions in one moment. The only thing I could tell her was that we were kidnapped on our way home. Later on, they asked my wife how much she had been able to raise. When she told them that she had been able to come up with about N350, 000, they beat us the more and asked her if she thought they were joking. They did the same to us when the money was raised to N750, 000. I still have bruises on my hand. They asked my son how much he had in his bank account and my son told them it was just over N1,000 and that the account had been blocked since December after he was robbed at Ramat Park.
In the evening of the following day, March 9, they brought in six more people and they started beating all of us again. They also moved us deeper into the forest. We walked for another 30 minutes after which we stopped and slept in the open, exposed to the elements of nature. I only had a singlet on and the new abductees were also tied.
How was the experience of sleeping in the forest?
In the bush, we had no roof over our heads and no mat to sleep on. It rained and we were soaked and when the sun came up, it dried our clothes. We were not given food or water, yet the beating increased. The kidnapers said they were going to kill me if the ransom was not paid and also gave an ultimatum that the money must be paid on that Tuesday. But since the money was not complete, I begged them to push the ultimatum to Wednesday, March 10. So, when my son called my wife again, the money had increased to N1.7m. They also threatened that even if we had N3m, which was the new agreed ransom for me and my son, they would only free me and keep my son with them. They said if they killed my son, I could have another one. So I pleaded with them to kill me instead of my son who is just 17 years old. So when the money rose to N2.2m, the beating ceased but they urged my wife to up it to N4m but she told them that she had exhausted all her options and there was no one left that she could run to for money. At that point, they untied me and my son, and directed my wife to bring in the N3m she had been able to raise. They warned her not to inform anybody that she was coming and not to bring anyone along with her. In addition to the money, they told her to bring three loaves of bread, a crate of malt, one carton of milk, two energy drinks, half crate of two different types of soft drinks and a bag of sachet water. They told her they would give her instructions on when to come. They also separated us from the six other victims, whom they continued to beat.
What happened thereafter?
They called my wife around 8pm and instructed her to start coming. But she insisted that she had to come with someone, so they told her not to bother, that the road belonged to them. So when she got there, they collected the money and other items. I thought we were leaving right away, but it was after eating that they allowed us to go. They also freed the six other victims at the same time. They escorted us for about 15 minutes in the bush, shot into the air and told us to go. We got to the expressway a few minutes after 10pm.
Were you aware that the police were looking for you?
I didn’t know about it. But we heard gunshots while in the forest and we thought it was the other members of the group who had gone out to the expressway. When we came out that night, we couldn’t go home due to the curfew. So, one of those kidnapped, who happens to be a retired military officer and a pastor, led us to the police station ahead which was beside the NNPC petrol station. When we got there, I saw my car and told them that we were the father and son that were kidnapped. In the morning, they asked me how much I paid and I told them. I called my wife with one of the officers’ phones, she came to pick us and all of us went to the divisional police station in Egba to lay our complaints. This was on Thursday (March 11) and on Friday ( March 12), I went back to reclaim my car at the police station.
How do you feel that people can be kidnapped close to a police station?
What the police told me was that they have lost many of their colleagues in the battle with the kidnappers and that the spot we were kidnapped from was very dangerous. It was then that I also discovered that the gunshots we were hearing in the forest were from the police. So, when I asked them why they couldn’t storm the place to free us, they said it would be dangerous for them to do while the kidnappers were still keeping their victims. They said they combed the bush that night and from their explanation, they were close to where we were.
What can you say about the people who abducted you?
They were speaking Hausa and Fulani languages. They communicated in a sound language which I believe they use in directing their cows. The stick they used in beating us was the same one they use to direct their cows. They were masked but I am sure they are Fulani. After the ransom had been completed, one of them removed his mask and boasted that he can’t be killed by gun or knife. They also understand English because they insisted that I should communicate in English so they could hear my discussion with my wife. They also said it is our people that were giving the guns and bullets to them as well as the information they need on who to kidnap and what ransom to be paid. They also said their local collaborators give them orders on when and who to release.
What psychological effect has this had on your family?
It was a bad experience. After my freedom, my sister started crying when she saw me. Most people were shocked when they saw me because I was looking lean and haggard. We had to go and borrow part of the money that was paid as ransom.
How was your wife able to raise N3m in three days?
We put the request on our church WhatsApp platform, my friends and her friends also contributed, while some non-governmental organisations also helped out. Individuals, family members, in-laws, neighbours, my customers also contributed.
If you had a different problem, do you think it would have been that easy to raise that amount?
First, I will say N3m is a lot of money at this time. In fact, I have not seen that amount in bulk in my life. To hand that same amount of money to kidnappers is inconceivable. We now have to start looking for money to pay those we borrowed from. It will be difficult to raise that money, but because it was at the point of death, people came to our rescue by donating and we borrowed some from other people.
With this experience, what will be your advice to those plying that route?
I will tell them that if they notice anything or any suspicious movement in front of them, they should just turn back because if I had done the same I would not have fallen into their hands. I was too close and before I could turn, they were already behind me. People can avoid that route just like I have started doing. No matter how heavy the traffic is in town, I will never go through that bypass again. I have been able to retrieve my lines and I am happy my son is also doing well.
What do you think the police should do to rid that place of criminals?
They should mobilise men, go with dogs and I am very sure that they will arrest them. They pass through peoples farms, they are not invisible and they can be caught if the right thing is done.
What did the police tell you when you went to claim your car?
When I went to collect my car, the police said that they wanted to find out who brought the car to confirm that it wasn’t stolen. I paid N5,000 before I could take my car.
Looking back now how do you feel about the whole experience?
I can say it is sad that strangers will terrorise me in my own land. I cannot go to the North, East or the western part of the country to carry out such an act. So, I am appealing to the government to make security better. When we went to Ahor to collect my car, only two policemen were there. So, I asked myself, ‘If these criminals invade here now, can these two officers withstand them?’ I think more men should be sent there, more vehicles and radio facilities should be given to them so they can communicate with others at all time. If we also had a good tracking system, it would have been easy to trace the kidnappers. The police also asked that we pay N40, 000 to help track my phone and that of my son. I am happy that I am out but I am more cautious now.