The deafening sounds of gunshots rattled travelers who were in their respective vehicles. Unfortunately, one of the vehicles, a Siena bus was intercepted and all its passengers – three men and three women – dispossessed of cash and valuables.
But that was not all.
The armed men, ordered the fear stricken passengers to alight from the vehicle, be on a straight line and marched them into the bush. At that point, it dawned on all that they were not just robbers, but also kidnappers.
A pregnant woman was among the passengers in the Sienna bus that was attacked on December 20, 2020.
Narrating their journey in the kidnapper’s den, one of the abducted passengers, ThankGod Okuk, revealed that their abductors were herdsmen, some of whom sounded educated.
He said: “ I traveled to Abuja for a wedding on Thursday, December 17, 2020. By Sunday morning, being December 20th, I boarded Big Joe transport to Benin city. On reaching Ekpoma, the driver told us he won’t be going to Benin because it was already past 7pm. Some of us took our belongings from the vehicle and boarded a Sienna bus to Benin. Mid way to the journey we were attacked by a gang of Fulani herdsmen who shot sporadically into the air .
“As they marched us into the bush, the leader of the gang asked who was the bus driver, immediately the driver identified himself, he was beaten thoroughly before he was set free, while the rest of us were ordered to move on while they continued shooting.
“A pregnant woman among us fell down, as she could not move anymore. Some of the kidnappers tried to revive her and in the process, one of us escaped into the bush. Our abductors were so angry that they abandoned the pregnant woman and ordered us to move on.
“We trekked for three hours, crossed a river and ascended a hill which took us about twenty minutes to climb. We descended into a dish and then thick forest. We spent three days in the forest without food.
“I observed that the kidnappers had a sign of communication and direction inside the forest . Some of the trees had rags tied to them , with a sign. When we approached any of the trees, they would point their torchlight to see the direction the rag faced and followed it accordingly.
Also, when they heard any noise inside the forest , they would ask us to stop while they made a sound like that of a herdsman to his cow. If there was the same response, it meant it was their colleagues but if no response, they would start shooting into the bush before commanding us to move on.
“There were lots of dead bodies inside the forest, with their hands tied to their back. We trekked for another two hours before we got to their camp located in the heart of the forest.
On arrival, there was jubilation. There were dead bodies everywhere. One of the kidnappers came and started tying our hands to our back but never spoke any word to us until the next day, when the leader of the gang who was referred to as Alhaji, came to us.
He made some calls to their boss before commanding his boys to beat us.
We were beaten like animals without mercy. Thereafter, we were instructed to call our families for negotiation. Anyone whose family did not give a positive answer for payment of ransom would be given another round of beating , with some gunshots fired into the air to put fear in our minds .
“When it was my turn, the negotiator picked me up and began to flog me. I begged him in Hausa dialect to be gentle with me. I was shocked when he stopped and their boss ordered him to separate me from others. He asked if I was from the North, since I was bearded. I said no, but that I was born in the North . They removed the veil from my eyes and asked me to sit on the ground while others laid on their stomachs.
I immediately called my elder brother. I was scared he would not respond well, as that would amount to my being beaten. But he did and requested the kidnapper to allow him speak with me first, to ensure I was alive. Thereafter, he begged the negotiator to consider him, saying that things were hard”.
Okuk said they were not given food to eat but water mixed with hard drugs.
He said: “ Once a day, the kidnappers would fetch water from the river and add a tablet of tramadol inside the cup, allowing it to dissolve before giving us to drink. I had no choice than to drink it because I wanted to stay alive. They told us it would give us strength and help us endure pains and hunger and that if we didn’t take it, we would die of hunger like others.
“We excreted and urinated on our bodies throughout the days we spent in the forest. They brought in passengers twice a day, both women and children. Sometimes when they encountered any police escort, they would kill him and make away with his gun and cap. Whenever this happened, the person that fired the shot that killed the policeman would be promoted.
There were 10 kidnappers with us. Among them was an armourer who serviced their guns. They had different types of guns including SMG and bags of bullets. The guns used in the morning weren’t used again until two days after.
They didn’t eat real food. They would pour garri ( cassava flour ) into oil with onions and Maggi, and eat. They didn’t rape their female victims, they only beat them, sometimes, to death.
“They finally agreed to accept N250,000 from each of us. But the agreement was that the two other families should hand theirs to my elder brother to bring to the designated place in the forest. But the parents of the fourth person abandoned him. At a point, they couldn’t be reached on the phone. He was nearly beaten to death. I had to beg them to also release him alongside us since his family had rejected him. Most of them agreed to release him to us”.
“On the night four of us were to be released, the leader of the gang said I should tell the Police they were out for them, that their plan was to kill all policemen that would cross their path and that their intention was to take over Edo state. I told him I would personally deliver the message to the Commissioner of Police, Edo State”.
They went to collect the ransom earlier before we were released and told my brother to wait for us. They came with loaves of bread and bottles of water which were among what my brother brought. They gave us a loaf of bread and a bottle of water each.
But we were too tired to eat because our stomach was locked. We only took water .
Two of the kidnappers marched us through the forest . We trekked for about two hours inside the forest before arriving at Obagie/Ehor expressway . They left us but told us to walk into the community and narrate our ordeal to anyone we met . They said we would meet my brother there.
On reaching the community, we met some youths outside and narrated our ordeal to them. They took us to their leader who provided a room for the two girls to sleep, while the fourth man and I slept outside the hut. I was taken to a Police check point where my brother, who was held on his way back from the designated point of ransom payment, was”.
Few days after their release, the pregnant woman who was abandoned in the bush by the kidnappers, reportedly contacted Okuk. She explained that she got his number from one of the ladies that was released.
Crime Guard gathered that she was rescued by members of a vigilante group that night and taken to the Ehor Police Division from where she was taken care of before continuing her journey to Benin City, the Edo State capital.
Though the Edo State Police Command has killed some kidnap suspects during cross fire, with many arrested kidnapping in the state, especially along the Benin-Auchi expressway, kidnapping has remained unabated.