Kidnappers' den in Rivers
That morning when Abiodun Badmus got a call from a man who claimed to have a job for him in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, he was elated and looked forward to adding to his growing list of clientele.
Badmus, a 32-year-old Osun State indigene, said he studied accounting education at the University of Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, but like many youths in Nigeria practising different careers after graduation, he has also ventured into flooring and concrete design.
Luckily for him, he has become successful in the trade and receives job offers from different parts of the country. He also has offices in Osogbo, Abuja, Lagos and Warri.
Of course, for every trader or jobseeker, getting a call or receiving an email from a prospective employer is a sign of good things to come, but this was not the case for Badmus on that particular day.
Around 8am on February 21, as he was getting set to go to a building site in Abuja, Badmus said he received a call from a man who simply identified himself as Chief Ben from Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
“The man said he wanted me to do stamping (a term used for concrete design) at his house. He said he did a similar thing at his hotel in Port Harcourt and wanted to do the same for the family house he just built in his village,” Badmus told our correspondent.
He said Ben told him he got his contact number from a popular Nigerian online marketplace that provides buyers and sellers with an avenue to meet and exchange goods and services.
After enquiring about the size of the building, Badmus said he gave Ben the cost of stamping and they both negotiated. Badmus later went to work that day.
But after not hearing again from his potential client throughout the day, Badmus said when he returned home in the evening, he called Ben to confirm if he still wanted him to handle the job for him.
Badmus said, “He told me yes, that he was still interested. I told him he would need to pay a part of the money upfront before I could leave Abuja for Port Harcourt. But he said he wouldn’t be able to pay me any part of the money without seeing me first. I said no problem, and I told him I’d come to Port Harcourt the next day. After all, I had got jobs through this way from people I had never met before.”
The trip to Port Harcourt
That Friday, Badmus went online to book for a flight to Port Harcourt and got one for 4pm on Saturday. By 5pm on Saturday, he was in the Garden City.
He said, “When I got to the airport, I called him (Ben) but he said he was busy at his site, so he would send one of his boys to pick me up. He said I should take a taxi from the airport to Igwuruta junction. The boy later called me but told me his car broke down while coming to pick me up. He told me to take a motorcycle to the Market Junction where I waited in front of a filling station. The boy did not show up until around 6pm.”
And then, another journey started. From the Market Junction, Badmus said they boarded a commercial bus to another town for about 45 minutes. He would later know the town to be in Etche Local Government Area of the state.
By the time they got to their destination, it was around 7pm. But that was not even the end of the journey.
“When we alighted from the bus, we took a motorcycle to the village where Ben told me he was building the family house. I sat in-between the motorcycle rider and the boy who Ben sent to pick me up,” Badmus narrated.
But unknown to him, both the rider and the boy were members of a kidnapping gang. Though he started becoming suspicious, but on a second thought, he asked in his mind what if the job was real.
“I wanted to abort the trip at this point in time, as I was already having mixed thoughts, but I was fooled by the voice of the man talking to me all along (Ben). He spoke like an elderly man,” Badmus said. But he judged Ben wrongly.
In the kidnappers’ den
After riding for some minutes, the motorcycle stopped and at this juncture, Badmus was hit by clubs by three men. He became weak instantly and was carried into the bush – blindfolded.
They collected the two phones he had on him and his wallet. They also took off his shirt but left his jeans. They walked for about five minutes into the bush until they got to a camp, where Badmus said he met two other victims – a father and his son.
“They tortured the man and his son but they didn’t torture me. They said they wouldn’t torture me because they were able to get some money from my wallet. They also checked my bank account and withdrew the money with my debit card through their POS (Point of Sale) machine,” Badmus stated.
He said after spending 30 minutes at the camp, they were then transferred to a bigger camp in the creek, where they met another victim, thus numbering four victims.
“On Sunday morning, they switched on one of my phones for me to contact my family. They then demanded a ransom of N5m, but my family negotiated with them,” Badmus said, adding that the number of the gang was 15.
“They spoke their local dialect when they discussed among themselves but when they wanted to speak to us, they did so in English.
“They told me they dealt in human-trafficking and they didn’t care whether I told anyone. I pondered why they told me these. They opened my eyes throughout Monday to see them. They promised not to harm me because my family was cooperating with them in terms of ransom paying,” Badmus said.
“On Sunday evening, they brought rice for me to eat but I told them I was not hungry. They said, ‘Yoruba man, why are you not eating? Your family members are responding to us. Don’t worry, we won’t hurt you.’ They said my family valued my life. They said they only tortured captives whose families didn’t respond positively to their demands for ransoms.
“But despite their assurance, I was afraid they might poison me through the food, so I asked them to get me bread and soft drink instead, which they brought. I still couldn’t eat the food. At this juncture, we were only on our boxers; they also tied our arms and legs and blindfolded others except me,” he added.
Freedom at last
On Sunday, Badmus said his family paid his ransom, though the kidnappers didn’t release him that day. He said they withdrew the money first to ensure they were not outsmarted.
Badmus said the kidnappers told his family to transfer the ransom into his account.
“The father and son captives’ ransoms were also paid into my account, from which they withdrew,” he said.
After their ransoms were paid on Sunday evening, Badmus said they were released on Monday. The three freed captives were transported from the creek by two motorcycles. One of his phones was returned, as well as his wallet – without the money. He, however, forfeited his other phone, charger, belt and trainers to the hoodlums.
He recounted, “They dropped us some kilometres to the expressway, and then we started trekking. It was a far distance and we didn’t see any vehicle or motorcycle in sight. As it was getting dark and we were tired with no hope of getting a vehicle, we saw a church, where we lodged.
“The pastor told us that we were among at least 20 people who would sleep in the church after being released by the gang. He said most of the residents had deserted the village because of the terror by the kidnappers. The cleric said most villagers usually left the village at 5.30 pm and returned home at 7.30 the following morning because of the situation.”
Finally, on Tuesday morning, he and the other two captives left the church and trekked for some kilometres until they reached the expressway.
“From there we got a vehicle to Port Harcourt. I travelled to my parents’ house in Osun State thereafter,” he said.
To show how long the hoodlums had been operating in the village without obstruction, Badmus said one of the kidnappers told him not to bother to inform the police of his travails unless he wanted to be re-kidnapped, not by them, but by some policemen he described as their friends.
Badmus said he even had no intention of informing the police of his experience, explaining that he shared his story to sensitise jobseekers to the tricks used by fake employers and save them from being kidnapped.
He said, “I initially shared my brief story on Twitter after my release and that day, a young man called me to thank me. He said I just saved his life.
“He said he was on his way to Port Harcourt the day I posted my story on Twitter. It was the same format they used for me. Someone called him that they wanted to give him a job in Port Harcourt, that they got his contact from a job listing site.”
Youth unemployment and crime
Sociologists have identified the root cause of crimes such as kidnapping as idleness, as it is virtually impossible for a gainfully employed person to think of committing crime.
“If a youth is gainfully employed, it will not cross their mind to commit crime. Unfortunately, many of them are idle hence it is easy for them to think criminally. Every unemployed individual is prone to committing crime,” a lawyer and social commentator in Lagos, Mrs Bimbo Adeola, told Sunday PUNCH.
Also, a Port Harcourt-based psychologist, Mrs Chinwe Ken, said youth unemployment could lead to frustration, poverty, restiveness, depression and mental health problems.
“When the youth, especially those with great potential, are jobless, you can’t imagine the kind of atrocities they could commit,” she told our correspondent on the phone.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have the required manpower in the security sector to tackle these crimes,” a security analyst in Lagos, Mrs Peace Okoye, stated.
In a December 2018 report, the National Bureau of Statistics also stated that the number of persons in the labour force had increased from 85.1 million to 90.5 million. Over 9.7 million Nigerians were said to have absolutely done no job within less than a year.
Likewise, the International Labour Organisation, in its 2019 report, estimated youth unemployment rate in Nigeria to be around 20 per cent, even though the country has the largest economy in Africa, in addition to high human and natural resources.
“Unemployment in Nigeria is largely attributed to the phenomena of jobless growth, increased number of school graduates with no matching job opportunities, a freeze in employment in many public and private sector institutions and continued job losses in the manufacturing and oil sectors,” ILO stated.
To tackle youth unemployment in Nigeria, the organisation said emphasis must be placed on entrepreneurship, employability, employment creation and equal opportunities.
However, for jobs to be created for the youth, an analyst with one of the investment firms on Victoria Island, Lagos, Mr Tope Oni, said the government must create the right environment for both small and big businesses to thrive.
For instance, the National President, Association of Small Business Owners of Nigeria, Dr Femi Egbesola, said between 2014 and 2019, more than 40 small and medium businesses in Lagos alone were forced to shut down due to huge losses resulting from stifling operating environment.
Similarly, the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria recently lamented that over 270 firms had been forced out of business, of which 50 were manufacturing companies. The association said some of the affected manufacturers had even relocated to neighbouring countries, leading to 180,000 job losses in Nigeria.
Job scams on the increase
Ken said when a youth had no job or just lost one, the desperation to get new jobs could lead them to untold hardship.
She was probably right, as most of the victims of kidnapping such as Badmus told our correspondent that the kidnappers contacted them through job listing sites.
A jobseeker, simply identified as Valentine, said he was also contacted by the same Ben who tricked Badmus to Port Harcourt.
“I live in Lagos and I’ve been looking for job since 2018. Sometime in 2019, I was contacted by one Chief Ben who said he got my contact from a job listing site where I registered. He said an oil firm was recruiting but I’d need to see him before he could help me.
“He was friendly with me on the phone and I thought my miracle had come until I was tricked down to one village in Etche Local Government Area of Rivers State. My family paid ransom before I was released. I can’t share much details because it’s a traumatic experience for me,” Valentine, an Imo State indigene, said.
Another jobseeker, simply named Sammie, was lured to the same village where he was kidnapped sometime in 2019.
He was, however, lucky to have escaped from the kidnappers after his family couldn’t raise the ransom payment.
“My family couldn’t raise money the ransom they demanded. The kidnappers got N200,000 out of the N1m they demanded. This caused a fight among them. I took advantage of this and escaped. I only took the chance to escape. I would have been killed. They said I was going to die because my family didn’t value my life. I thought I’d rather run and be shot dead than allow them to kill me cheaply. On the day I escaped, my captors were already bringing in four victims,” Sammie narrated.
A jobseeker in Lagos, Haggai Solomon, also shared with our correspondent how he was lured to the same area in Rivers State.
“I was freed after my father raised N1.5m out of the N5m they demanded. I don’t want to talk much about that experience because I’m trying not to recall the event it again.
“Thankfully, I have a job now which occupies my time. It’s not easy looking for job in this country. You would think every opportunity is a miracle in waiting,” he said.
Source: Sunday Punch