…Danjuma, Vanguard man, narrates three days of horrors in kidnappers’ den
By Dirisu Yakubu
Freedom is priceless, says Danjuma Amoni, Vanguard’s circulation representative in Abuja, who was abducted by gunmen along Jos-Abuja expressway. After spending three days in a thick forest without food, he was released but not until a ransom had been paid to his abductors.
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Recounting his ordeal, Danjuma says the bad boys told him and their other abductors that hardship in the land pushed them into kidnapping.
It happened on a public holiday as I was returning to Abuja from Jos. Just after Gida Waya, we ran into some armed men dressed in army and police uniforms. The driver was trying to escape and I asked him why he won’t stop on the orders of uniformed security officers. The driver ignored me and kept moving and one of the men deflated our rear tyres with gunshots. The driver steadied his hands and moved on regardless, until a few metres ahead when another armed fellow appeared with a gun pointed directly at us. We had no option but to stop.
What happened thereafter?
They ordered us out of the vehicle. I still didn’t know they were kidnappers at that point until they took us into the bush. We walked for about four hours in the bush. They were five in number and armed with sophisticated guns. We walked deep into a thick forest. We finally arrived at a large rock where we were asked to sit down for the first time. It was at this point they told us they were kidnappers in desperate need of money. I forgot to inform you that they took our phones from us as soon we got into the bush. They returned the phones to us when we arrived at the large rock and asked us to contact our people. They started interrogating us one after the other. I switched my phone on and spoke with my uncle.
How long did you stay in the kidnappers’ den before you were released?
We spent three days. They took us on Monday and released us between 9 and 10pm on Wednesday.
So, what did you feed on in those three horrible days?
They gave us nothing on Monday, the day they abducted us. Don’t forget that they kidnapped us at about 1pm on that fateful day. On Tuesday, they gave us a one and a half litre of bottled water which the three of us shared. On the third day, they soaked garri for us with powdered pepper mixed with salt. It was on this day they first threatened to kill us if our people failed to respond. This was when negotiation to get us out started.
Did they ask for your identification?
I was the only one who refused to disclose my identity. Because of this, I suffered the most. I was the only one that was flogged and beaten among the three of us. When they asked me where I worked, I told them I had no job. I did this because I wasn’t with my identification card.
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And that got them angry?
Of course, they weren’t convinced. They went through my phone gallery but they couldn’t pin me with anything. I am not a picture-freak person and apart from the pictures of my family, I don’t have personal pictures in my photo gallery. I left these family pictures to enable me connect with my wife and kids psychologically anytime I am away from home. Despite this, they told me that I was lying because they asked where I got the money to buy the type of phone I use. So, one of them asked the others to take me away to be flogged. I was scared for my life. I asked myself: Is this the end? Are they going to kill me? I thought about my wife and children and resisted the urge to break down in tears. My wife put to bed not long ago, so the thought of my family and life without me was difficult to handle at that point. Alone with them, they ordered me to sit down and the flogging started, while they continued asking the question, “Are you working or not? Tell us now!” I endured the pain and stood my ground that I had no job.
One of them cocked his gun but his colleague told him to relax. The one who told his colleague to lower his gun suddenly walked up to me and said: “You are not working but look at the pictures of your wife and children in fine places. Next time, don’t do it because the thinking would be that you live in those beautiful places captured in your photographs.” And so, the excuse that one is not working would be treated as an outright lie. He asked me again to explain the benefit of taking pictures in good clothes at a beautiful place and keeping same in a phone. Yes, they were kidnappers but this particular guy was nice to me in a way I cannot explain. I was flogged twice and on each of those occasions, he would be the one to stop the session. He saved my life!
Can you tell who these kidnappers were?
They were Fulani, no doubt. I understand a bit of Fulfulde and this was their official language of communication in the bush. They sometimes revert to Hausa with an interpreter helping abducted victims who do not understand both languages. They were quite young with the oldest about 42 year-old and the rest in their early or mid-20s.
When you were asked to make a call for negotiation, did you have anyone in mind you knew could secure your release?
I had no body in mind to be honest. We are two men in the family, me and my elder brother who is in the village. I called my uncle who took me from the village to Jos years ago. It is not as if this uncle of mine is rich or doing very well. I couldn’t call my wife for obvious reasons. As soon as I told my uncle, he started crying and this added to my pain. Somehow, God intervened and I regained my freedom.
You spoke with your wife, didn’t you?
As soon as I switched my phone on the day they kidnapped us, my wife called repeatedly but I couldn’t pick to let her know what had happened. They started threatening, asking me to pick but I couldn’t. So, when it rang again, one of them picked the phone, gave it to me and warned me not to speak in English (Turenchi in Hausa language). They told us that as long as you are in Nigeria, you must understand Hausa. I told them I couldn’t speak the language. It was a fellow abductee who intervened and interpreted for me. It was all a plan because I understand Hausa and Fulani languages.
Let’s go back to how it all started. Were there no genuine policemen along the road that fateful Monday?
I think these guys are operating as a syndicate. Do you know that the laptop of a fellow abductee was recovered by the police after we were kidnapped and the police didn’t care to ask questions? They were told that the owner of the laptop had been kidnapped alongside others but they did nothing. Again, the distance from the spot where we were taken to an army checkpoint was close. They (the soldiers) could hear the gunshots of the kidnappers but they did nothing. I am not talking of locally-made guns but the AK-47 variants that soldiers and policemen use. They were dressed like our security men, only that they wore rubber slippers in place of boots. They referred to themselves as ‘Sergeants’ and not for once did they mistakenly call their real names.
From their conversation, what would you say pushed them into criminality?
They were very upset with the Federal Government from what they were saying. They said the President was voted into power with the hope that he would fix Nigeria but that the country is worse off today. They accused him of being the cause of the problems in the country. The oldest among them specifically said they were in the illegal business for money. They lamented the situation of things in the country. The oldest among them told us that there was no fun being in the bush but that they had no other option. It was a very traumatic experience. Before they left us go, the oldest asked us to pray for him and promised that our abduction was his last job with the boys.
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And finally, you were released. How did you feel?
I felt and still feel very happy. Three of them went to collect the ransom and the others were there monitoring us. After collecting the ransom, they disappeared into the bush and left us with those keeping guard over us. While our people were waiting for us to come out of the bush, the kidnappers spent about 40 minutes counting the money to ensure that they had not been cheated at all. After this, they pointed to the direction that was to lead us out of the thick bush. I was very happy when we were finally led out of the bush. One of us hugged the kidnappers and thanked them for finally allowing us to go. The man is Igala by tribe and I warned him to hurry up, in case the bad boys change their minds. There is nothing like freedom. For three days, I neither urinated nor defecated.