Amina Audu, a former chairman of the Okpokwu Local Government Area of Benue State, has talked about her experience in her kidnapper's den.
Audu, who regained her freedom recently after she was abducted on November 13, 2023, shares her experience with ABDULLATEEF FOWEWE
You regained your freedom days after you were kidnapped on November 13. How would you describe the experience?
I am Amina Audu. I am the suspended local government chairman of Okpokwu Local Government in Benue State. The experience was not the least bit amusing. My driver and I came across them (kidnappers) on Naka Road around 9 am on Monday, November 13, 2023. They led us deep into a dense bush, far away from residents. We traveled through three communities until we reached the fourth community where their hideout was located. They held us captive there for four days. We were kidnapped on Monday and finally released on Thursday at dusk.
Did you not see residents in the three communities you passed through on the way to the kidnappers’ hideout?
No. There was complete silence everywhere, not even a bird in sight. I don’t think anyone is currently living in those communities.
As a politician, did you have any premonition that something like that would happen to you?
No, not at all. If I had even the slightest premonition that something like that would occur, I wouldn’t have left the house that day. They (kidnappers) suddenly emerged from the bush. They were not Benue locals, but they were all Fulani. I even doubt if they were Nigerian Fulani because they didn’t understand the Hausa language or English, let alone speak it. Only their leader had some grasp of English.
Were they armed?
Yes, they were dressed in army uniform and carried various weapons, including cutlasses and other short-range combat tools.
What was your initial reaction when the men brandished their weapons?
Initially, I considered running for safety. However, I quickly realised that my life would be at risk if I did that. Therefore, I restrained myself from fleeing and complied with their instructions. I am not familiar with that area as it is not my usual route. So, I do not remember which direction they were facing. All I can say is that we were coming from Naka after the roundabout. We encountered the kidnappers after we passed through where some people were roasting yam. We stumbled upon them inadvertently.
Were you and your driver the only ones travelling on the road at that time?
No. I observed that there was a bus in front of us and another bus behind us. We were sandwiched between the two buses. The kidnappers jumped out from the bush after the bus in front of us had passed, and the bus behind us immediately turned back when the driver saw what happened to us. So, we were the only ones who were kidnapped on that route that day.
The abductors didn’t even possess a bicycle, let alone a car. We all walked together, and it took us approximately five hours to arrive at their hideout. They abducted us around 9am, and we reached their location after 2pm. However, they inquired about my tribe and I provided them with the information. In response, they expressed their inability to comprehend my language and their lack of proficiency in English. They informed me that their boss would discuss the ransom when we arrived at their lodge. In the meantime, they requested my driver to remain with them, emphasising that I should go home to prepare for ransom, but I insisted that we would stay together.
Did you ask them any questions?
No, because we were unable to understand one another due to the language barrier until we reached their lodge and their leader initiated negotiations for a specific sum of money.
What happened to your vehicle?
My vehicle remained at the spot where they kidnapped us, and it was confiscated by security agencies and taken to their station.
Can you still identify their lodge?
No, it is impossible for me to recognise their lodge. Our journey was through dense bush and it consisted of one bush after another, making it highly unlikely for me to identify their specific location.
How did you feel spending days with unfamiliar and potentially dangerous individuals?
How am I expected to feel? Naturally, I felt awful, but I had no choice because I couldn’t escape from them and I couldn’t ask them to let me go. I had to wait for their permission and had no freedom, as even staying hidden in that bush was uncomfortable enough, not to mention the constant presence of their ammunition even when they slept.
Did they provide you with food?
Do they even feed themselves, let alone us? We could not eat what they were eating. They drank garri for breakfast and dinner, while they served us oranges and pawpaw. Sometimes I refused to eat the oranges because they were not in good condition. Occasionally, I pleaded with them to boil some water for me, and that would be the only meal I had throughout the day.
Were you and your driver the only ones held captive by the kidnappers?
Yes, we were the only victims during our entire stay with them.
How many kidnappers did you see?
I saw nine of them, but they claimed to have more hiding in the bushes and keeping watch. I continuously prayed in my mind and urged those I spoke with to join in prayer and place their faith in God. Luckily, I had my rosary with me when we were abducted; I always have it with me and pray regularly. I didn’t sleep at all during the three days we were there, as I prayed day and night.
Did you observe the religious beliefs of the kidnappers?
Yes, they were all Muslims and diligently observed their prayers. They never forced us or inquired about our religious background, and we never tried to escape while they were praying due to their claim of having more than nine people in the surrounding bushes.
You mentioned earlier that you urged your acquaintances to pray for you whenever you contacted them. Were you allowed to use your mobile phone in that situation?
No, they immediately confiscated our phones. When they brought us out of the vehicle, they removed our SIM cards and inserted them into their phones. However, there were individuals whom they called to ask for ransom and requested us to answer the phone calls, but they restricted our conversation. They instructed me to inform my acquaintances to bring a specific amount of money to secure our release. It was during that brief period that I requested my acquaintances to assist us with prayers.
Did the kidnappers become angry as you were asking your acquaintances to pray for you?
No, not at all. They did not display any aggression towards me.
As a politician, do you suspect that you were kidnapped because you offended someone or some people?
No, not at all. They were not aware of my political affiliation as they had possession of my identification cards and phones. Furthermore, I do not believe that I have offended anyone. I didn’t suspect anyone either. I can compare their behaviour to that of a hunter hunting for meat. I believe they were not sent by anyone. They were simply seeking money illegally. Additionally, I am not from Naka; my town is far away from there, and I doubt anyone in that community knew me. It seems that we were just unfortunate to be their victims. From what I observed, they viewed it (my abduction) as a business, as they urged me to pay on time so that they could continue kidnapping others. Initially, they discussed the ransom with me. However, when we reached a certain figure, they stopped negotiating with me and began discussing it with my family. At that point, I walked away to go and rest.
How much was paid for your release?
I am unaware of the exact amount my family gave the kidnappers, and I didn’t bother asking for the specific sum.
How much did the kidnappers demand for your release?
The negotiations started at N100m and gradually decreased to N50m and N30m. I was personally negotiating to lower it to N5m.
How were you released?
The day they wanted to set us free, they took us through another route different from where we passed initially. When they were taking us to their den, it felt like we were descending a hilly path, but by the time they released us, it felt like we were ascending.
How were you able to get home when they released you?
The person who came to give them the ransom picked us up from where the kidnappers dropped us.
Many kidnap victims were killed despite paying ransom. What will you attribute your survival to?
I can liken our survival with them to the story of Daniel and the lions in the Bible; that was exactly what God did for us because those people were not aggressive with us unlike the stories of kidnappers that we used to hear. It was like a miracle and it was not human grace; it was full of God’s grace. The only damage I can say they did was my car tyre and some parts of my car they shot at, and after that, they told me to leave my driver with them so that I would be able to go and prepare ransom, but I rejected the offer because I didn’t know what I would tell people that they kidnapped me and my driver, and my driver was still in their custody and I was home. So, I followed them and they all gave me absolute respect. However, on that same road where they kidnapped us, I heard that many people had been killed there.
Did they treat your driver the same way they treated you?
No. They rough-handled him. They beat him up to three times before they released us.
Did he engage in an argument with them?
No. They just asked him to stand in front of them and started beating him without connecting his punishment to any offence. He has not gone home. I was going for a medical check-up before we encountered the kidnappers, so immediately after they released us, I told him to let us go to where we were going before we became the kidnappers’ victims. However, I am confident that the villagers will appreciate it. Meanwhile, his family has called to show appreciation.
How would you rate the efforts of security agencies in ensuring your safe return?
They tried. Not too long after they (the kidnappers) abducted us, we heard gunshots from the police, but they were unable to come close to us because they were just two and the kidnappers were nine in number and armed, so there was no way they would not kill the policemen if they had attempted to move closer to us.
If your encounter with the kidnappers taught you any lesson, what would it be?
The lesson learnt is to exercise caution when driving on the road and seek advice from people who are familiar with the area to gauge the level of risk. However, it is crucial for the people of Benue to remain vigilant, and the government also needs to take strong action to prevent our state from becoming a haven for terrorists, like some other states in Nigeria. As of now, the situation may escalate and threaten the security of Benue. Therefore, we require maximum security measures and the government’s unwavering support in providing the necessary equipment for our security forces. Moreover, I believe that as long as the government downplays the seriousness of security issues, those individuals will continue to invite more trouble into the region, which will not be beneficial for the people of Benue State. I previously mentioned that there were nine individuals; they later showed me where they had stored dead bodies.
I will first, appeal to the government to rescue us in Benue State because the level of insecurity is becoming unbearable. However, the government should provide proper ammunition for our security agencies and motivate them to go the extra mile and apprehend those evil people.
Source: The PUNCH