A businessman has told the police how a gang of kidnappers had abducted him along the Benin-Ore road, demanded N10 million ransom and taught him the latest meaning of ‘morning devotion.’
The victim, who preferred to be addressed simply as Celestine, father of three kids, from Edo State, said that he was returning to Lagos State, from Edo State, when he and other occupants in an Infinity Jeep car, were ambushed by the kidnappers.
Among the kidnapped victims, he said, was a couple with three kids. The oldest of the kids was 11 years, the second seven years and the last, a year and three months old baby.
According to Celestine, one of the things he would never forget in a hurry about the incident and subsequent ordeal suffered in the camp of the kidnappers’ were the pathetic and petrified cries of the children.
He said: “We spent almost two nights in the kidnappers’ den. The three children were traumatised! They kept crying, ‘please don’t kill our mummy! Don’t kill our Daddy! Our Daddy will give you money.’ At a point, the kidnappers started beating their mother in the presence of her kids. And each time the children heard gunshots, it was something else. I tell you, it was a horrible thing.”
The morning after they were abducted, he said the the kidnappers had shaken all their victims awake, screaming, ‘time for morning devotion! Time for morning devotion.’ And Celestine, a staunch catholic member, had thought they meant early morning prayers. They however corrected and educated him on their own meaning and version of what ‘morning devotion’ meant.
He recalled: “When they woke us up the following day, the first thing they shouted was ‘morning devotion’ morning devotion! As I Christian, I wanted to say ‘in Jesus name,’ but I soon realized that beating us was what they called ‘morning devotion.’ They beat us that morning until I lost consciousness. It was after that I started calling my family members to come to my rescue.”
Celestine explained that he had travelled to Edo State and by December 29, 2013, he was already on his way back to Lagos. They left the village at 6:30am and by 2pm; they had already crossed the Benin bye-pass. At about 7pm, they had passed Ekiadolor river and were fast descending down the road, when they suddenly heard gun shots.
He said: “We were forced to stop. There were two cars in front of us; a white Hilux Jeep and one Toyota Camry car. But I can’t say anything about the cars behind us because I really didn’t know.
“We attempted to escape by trying to reverse, but there were gunshots from the front and the back. There was nothing we could do other than to surrender. The next thing I knew was somebody hitting my head with a wood. They took us about 50 kilometers down into the forest. This was before Okada. When they were dragging us into the forest, I thought they were armed robbers. And without being told, I removed my wrist watch, money, phones and other valuables. It was later they told us that they were not robbers but kidnappers. They said we should not look at them or make eye contact.
“They said I should get N10 million or else they would kill me. I was not the only person they kidnapped from our car. They took me, my friend who was driving, called Lucky and a couple who had three kids returning with them. They were returning from Isele-uku. The youngest of those kids was just a year and three months and was still breast feeding. They beat the hell out of all of us.”
He remembered that aside from beating him, they turned his back to a stool, where they used to sit down. They repeatedly asked him to bring money, but he kept telling them that he did not have any money, but they found it difficult to believe. Since he appeared not to be cooperating, they started beating and hitting him with their guns, slamming any part of his body with their guns.
“At night, when it was about 9:30pm, they moved us like slaves further inside the forest, to a farm. In the farm, there was a tent. They harvested plantains and even cooked for us. They prepared concoction rice for us. The rice did not take up to five minutes before they brought it down from the fire and gave us to eat. But I couldn’t even chew it; I had to swallow it in order to have strength for tomorrow’s ordeal.”
His family members were able to eventually raise about a million naira plus for his release and family members of those with him in the car also brought money for their loved ones release.
“We were eventually released that night, December 30, 2013. They collected N3.6million in all from us,” said Celestine. “It was there I realized that the kidnappers had a network. They were calling Benin, asking for different network recharge cards. They had boys everywhere, working for them.”
He continued his narration: “I thought they would release us easily but they didn’t release us until about 8:30pm. They called one of their friends, who was in Benin. The man came with a car and took them away, leaving us there. A Good Samaritan saw us with those kids and stopped to give us a lift. The Good Samaritan dropped us at Isele-Uku.”
Although Celestine could not tell the strategy the kidnappers used in meeting the different family members of each victim to collect the ransom, he however knew that about four of the kidnappers left camp on the day they went to collect the ransom.
He later however heard that it was only one kidnapper that the different family members met in a bush and handed over the money.
“When they returned, they said yes, all the ransom had been paid! They shared the money and gave me N4,000 for my transport and that was exactly what I used to transport myself back to Lagos.
“Lucky’s family paid N1million; they gave him N4,000 for his transport. The couple that had three kids with them was given N6,000 for transport.
“There was another victim there, a man, who according to him, graduated from Nnamdi Azikiwe University since 2009, but had no job. He started selling bathroom slippers. They collected N200,000 ransom from him. They gave him N3,000 to go back to Benin. They were not Benin men. They spoke Urhobo language all through.”
During the sharing process, the kidnappers almost came to blows over the sharing formula. One of the young men in their midst, was apparently not satisfied with what they gave him.
Celestine and other victims watched the unfolding drama and then the kidnapper who seemed to be in charge, made a statement that sent jitters down Celestine’s spine. The statement made him to realize that Nigerian youths were in trouble and that government and security agencies needed to take drastic action against kidnapping.
His words: “In the process of sharing the ransom, there was a particular amount they gave to a young man who was not satisfied with it. Their leaders began to complain, that when he was learning the job, he was usually not given anything. He said that the young man should be grateful that he received a dime. Right there in the camp, the kidnappers were training other young men, teaching them how to use A-K47 rifles and become kidnappers!”
One of the kidnappers took time to explain to the victims why he took to crime. Celestine said: “One of the kidnapped victims in the camp complained that he was having a BP problem. The kidnappers went to a cupboard there, brought out a BP drug and gave to the person. That further proved that it was a network. They used our SIM cards to call our relations, instead of their own. One of the kidnappers said that he decided to join the gang because he had tried everything legal and all failed. He said that he travelled from Nigeria to Malaysia to work, but did not succeed. He then travelled to Abidjan, to search for a job, but that also did not work out. He then tried internet fraud, wrote over 200 fraudulent emails, but nobody fell victim and replied any of the emails. He then took to kidnapping and was successful.”
Celestine said that news making the waves these days is that the routes immediately after Ore or Benin bye-pass are deadly. “My suggestion to the government is that it should step up its security network around those areas. Security agencies should as a matter of urgency begin to embark on investigation of those forests. There are a lot of deadly things going on in those forests. I foresee a situation whereby things would snowball into guerrilla warfare! A criminal would stay in the bush, storm out to operate, and then rush back into the bush to take hide.
“What the police usually do in that area is to park at one place. That’s not good enough! They should patrol all the areas. Our kidnap did not take more than five minutes before they took us into the bush. If the police continue to park in one place as they are doing, how would they know something is happening in another area?
“When they kidnapped us, none of our family members knew where we were, let alone to report that we had been kidnapped to the police.
“Even now, if you ask me to locate the place where we were camped, I wouldn’t be able to. It was not the road we took to the camp after they kidnapped us that we took when they were taking us out of the camp. They brought us out in the night on the day they freed us and took a different road.”
Celestine explained that he does not believe his kidnap was planned. He thinks it was a spontaneous incident and only happened because the kidnappers zeroed in on their car because it was an expensive one.
He further said that after their release, they went to the Ekiadolor Police Station and it was there that Lucky recovered his infinity Jeep. Apparently, the kidnappers abandoned the car on the road.