A Nigerian man identified as Julius John, who escaped from a kidnappers’ den in Kaduna where he spent six weeks, has told is story.
He tells ARMSTRONG BAKAM about his close shave with death
Two weeks after your wedding, you were kidnapped; how did it happen?
I got married on November 14, 2020 and two weeks after my wedding, I was transferred from Zamfara State to Zaria, so I went back to pack my few things remaining in Zamfara. On my way coming back between Funtua and Giwa (LGA in Kaduna State) at about 7.30pm, we heard gunshots. Our driver had to stop, then I opened the door in a bid to escape. Immediately, a bright torchlight was flashed on my face and they (kidnappers) came and took all of us into the bush.
What was the first thing that came to your mind then?
I thought they were policemen, but I was wrong, they were kidnappers. When they fired the first shot, our driver didn’t stop until they fired the second one. He stopped and tried to reverse so we could escape but as soon as he turned, we saw two of them right behind us, so the drive had to stop. When he parked, they came and collected our phones and other properties; they searched our bags and took any valuable they found and then led us into the bush. We started trekking from about 7.30pm and didn’t get to their camp until around 6am the following day. When we got there, they blindfolded us and we couldn’t see them. We met six other captives, so we became 13. They each checked our phones to know the kind of people we were and went through the pictures on our phones, to know if we are living a comfortable life and have money or just managing life. They also checked our hands to see if they were smooth or not. Then they checked our text messages for bank transactions.
After that, they started beating us. As they did that, they told us how much they wanted from each person. If anyone said they didn’t have that kind of money, the kidnappers would beat the person the more and they would call the person’s relations so that they would hear the person crying. The following day, they called our relatives and began to negotiate the ransom.
In my case, they first demanded N50m. For some, they demanded N15m, some, N10m, others, N20m and that was at the beginning of the negotiations. What added to my own problem was the fact that some alerts came into my phone while it was with them. So, the guy who read text messages would tell them how much entered into my account. The first alert was for N120,000, then they pointed a gun at me and forced me to give them the pin for my ATM card, which had been with them. Someone went and withdrew everything. Then, another alert of N190,000 came in, they went and did the same. All these were my company’s money; they were payments by clients I had supplied goods to. Because of these alerts, they assumed that I was a very rich man. They insisted that my family would pay N500,000 as ransom. My cousin brought the money to them, after I had spent three weeks with them. By that time, they had released everyone except two of us. Some were released after paying N100,000, some N200,000, two brothers were released after paying N600,000. They released everybody but they held a Customs officer and me.
The Customs officer brought N3m yet they refused to release him. When my brother brought the N500,000 as my ransom, they kidnapped him also and brought him to where I was.
How did your brother locate where you were?
They gave him direction on the phone. They directed him to a place close to where we were. As he was approaching the place, they were looking at him but he couldn’t see them. When they met him, they collected the money and as he was leaving, they stopped him and forced him to come with them. They brought him to the forest where I was, and asked us if we knew each other and we said we were brothers. Then, they chained his legs to mine and a fresh negotiation with my family began. We stayed there to the point that we lost hope.
While there, a Nigerian Air Force aircraft used to hover around the forest on Wednesdays and Sundays, sometimes shooting randomly in the forest and sometimes releasing bombs. In fact, a bomb was released and it exploded very close to where we were. One day, the aircraft came very close, shooting heavily. Our captors ran away and left us. They hid where they could see us but we couldn’t see them. It was when they ran away that we were able to pick the keys to our chains.
After the shootings and bombings subsided, the kidnappers came back to us and since we had the keys to our chains, we started thinking of how to escape. Usually they stayed awake till 4.30am guarding us but that day, by 10.30pm, they slept off. By 11pm, the three of us used our keys to open our chains and then we escaped. My brother, who was brought to the forest in the afternoon, was able to remember the major road to Birnin Gwari. We walked till about 6am when we got to the first village called Galadimawa where we saw a mosque and entered it. We told them what happened to us, so they took us to the village head, who also took us to the police station there. They took our statements and also took us to the Area Command in Zaria. There, our statements were also taken. From there, they took us to the police clinic in MTD Barracks, and after that, we went home.
Who were these kidnappers and how many were they?
They are pure Fulani. Six of them kidnapped us and when we got to the forest, more Fulani came to see their visitors and from there, they took us to where we were tied down and they left us there with three persons that were keeping watch over us. The people who abducted us were different from those guarding us. Whenever they succeeded in kidnapping anyone, they would take the victim to the camp and hand him over to those who would guard him or her. Their boss was the negotiator and when he finished his negotiation and it was positive, a different person would go and collect the ransom.
What were they feeding you with?
I didn’t eat any other food apart from rice which they brought from nearby villages. They gave us food and water once in two days. They gave five people one litre of water and that would be it. There was a stream where they got water.
Did they allow you have a bath in the six weeks that you were with them?
Not at all; we didn’t even wash our faces. And when the food was brought we had no water to wash our hands, so, we ate with dirty hands. We were only concerned about the water to drink and not water to bathe or wash our hands.
What kind of weapons did the kidnappers carry?
They had AK-47 and AK-49 riffles. On where they got the weapons from, they told me that “gwamnati ke bamu su, Muna da kudin sayan su ne?” meaning: “It is the government that gives us the weapons; do we have the money to buy them?” They were young people and I think the oldest among them would be about 27 years old.
Did they threaten to kill you?
Yes, and for me, I believe, their aim was to kill me because the Customs officer was with his brother in the vehicle when we were kidnapped and they shot and killed him, the Customs officer was also shot. When we got to the camp, another person was shot on his leg because the money they demanded was not complete. In my own case, after I had spent three days, they called my uncle and asked my brother to speak with me and they told my people that I was dead. My uncle asked them what happened to me, they told him that I was sick and they never took care of me and they woke up in the morning to find me dead. They told my people to come and pick my corpse. My uncle asked them where they would get my dead body and they described the place to him. But as they were talking, my brother sensed that it was a ploy to kidnap more people.
What was going through your mind while you were in captivity?
I was more than afraid. I was just seeing myself as a dead man, I thought that I wouldn’t leave that place alive because they freed some people after paying N100,000 and N200,000 ransom, while they held onto me even after paying N500,000. So, I felt they had another plan. Again, I was the only Christian among those kidnapped; so, I felt maybe they were waiting for a particular time to kill me. When they first saw me, they thought I was a military man, they said it was because of my hairstyle and they directed someone to go and shoot me. Another thing was that I have an identity card of the barracks, and when they saw it, they were convinced I was a military man. They asked me to pull off my shirt which I did. There was a big hole and they would ask their victim to stand close to it and the moment they shot, the person would fall inside it and that would be it. But God helped me and I was able to convince the guy that I was not a military personnel and to God be the glory, he understood and believed me and went back to explain to their boss. That was how God saved me.
Can you describe the condition under which you were kept?
We were outside in the cold and I was there without any shirt on. I had only my trousers on. At night, there was nothing for me to cover myself despite the cold; I slept on the bare ground.
This incident happened just two weeks after your wedding when you were supposed to be having your honeymoon. How did that make you feel?
In that condition I was in, I wasn’t even thinking about anything like honeymoon; the only thing I was thinking about was how to leave there alive. When I got home, I could not stand straight, I could not lie down on my back because of the beatings and the trek, I couldn’t walk normally.
How much did you pay in total before you escaped?
They collected a total of N1.4m.
Was it easy for your family to raise the money?
It was very difficult, my brother had to sell his farm produce to give his part of the contribution.
Do you have any advice for Nigerians?
I want to advise Nigerians not to use their major SIM cards as the line they use in getting bank alerts and the reason is that, in my own case, my MTN is my major line and that’s what I use in getting alerts. And it was that SIM that they removed and put in their phone. If it was my other line I used to get alerts, they wouldn’t have gotten seen the alerts that came in while I was there. People should be more careful also about the kind of pictures they have on their phones.
Source: Saturday PUNCH