OUR FULANI KIDNAPPERS WERE WORSE THAN ARMED ROBBERS
Mr John Ugwuagbo, an Enugu-based lawyer and businessman, was kidnapped by suspected Fulani herdsmen on July 31, 2020, while returning from a burial. He tells how he was tortured for days by his abductors
Can you tell us your experience and how it happened?
It was a very horrible experience. It was on July 31, 2020, while we were coming back from the IsiUzo Local Government for the burial of a House of Assembly member, Chijioke Ugwueze. We were coming in my friend’s car, Mr Emmanuel Nnadi, and when we got to the boundary between Isi-uzo andtheenugueastlocalgovernmentarea–there is a River called Ora – and immediately we passed the bridge, I sighted a man with a gun and because there was so many police checkpoints on the road when we were going, I asked my friend if it meant thatapolicecheckpointwasnowinthatplace.after saying that, I told him to apply the brake so that it might be armed robbers. He applied the brake by force to try to see if we could reverse, not knowing that we had passed some of them.
Immediately he tried to reverse, some of them came from behind us and shot at the tyres and we were trapped. We had no option but to surrender. They told us to lie down and dragged us into the bush.immediatelyweenteredthebush,isawcows and I don’t know if the herders were working with our abductors. They marched us to where we met one guy and a reverend sister they had abducted earlier. They were already beating the two of them and we were joined with them and the abductors started beating us.
While they were moving us in the bush, they were beating us. They beat us like animals without pity. It was not more than two minutes after they dragged us into the bush that we started hearing several gunshots. I later learnt that the shootings were carried out by security men on Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi’s entourage. He was going for thesameburialwithhisentouragewhenhemetthe wife and children of my friend, who were left in the car and crying for help after the gunmen had taken us into the bush. So, the governor stopped and his security aides fired gunshots randomly and left.
What happened afterwards?
They were beating us through the night as rain was also beating us. No food, no water and no shelter. It was a horrible experience.
Were they moving you people with the cows?
No. It is like when we entered the bush, they signalled those with the cows to find their way. Throughout our stay in that bush, we never saw a cow again.
Who are the kidnappers?
Theyarepurefulani;sevenofthemwerearmed with AK-47 rifles loaded with extra magazines. The highest offence you can commit against them is to look at their faces. The seven of them – two were dark in complexion, while five were fair in complexion – all of them were speaking Hausa verywell.theyalsospokepidginenglishfluentand they banned us from speaking any other language other than pidgin.
Where and how were you released?
Well, I know the location, the entrance and the particular place we came out from towards Ugwuogo-nike after ransom was paid to them. I think if not because they brought us close to the main road to collect the ransom, we wouldn’t have found our way because from Friday night, we were walking round the bush till Saturday afternoon, when they started talking about money. That was when they started using our SIM cards to connect our people.
How did they do that?
They were using their phones because they seized our phones except my own, because I left it in the car. When they took us, one of them came back and collected my friend’s phone, but did not see mine and when they asked me about my phone, I told them that I left it in the car and they said they would cut my ear. I begged them that I didn’t leave it in the car intentionally. They searched us and collected everything we had on our bodies. From that Saturday afternoon, whenever they wanted to call your relatives, they would put your SIM card into their phone and start calling. What saved me was that they used my friend’s SIM card to contact my people. The negotiation was very tough. From that Saturday afternoon till Sunday morning, they never allowed us to rest. They were beating us like animals.iwillneverwishorpraysuchtohappen to my worst enemy.
Why did they choose beat you when they were demanding ransom?
It is better tomeetarmed robbers than these Fulani kidnappers. They were heartless
I don’t know; even after the ransom had been brought, they were still beating us. It is better to meet armed robbers than these Fulani kidnappers. They were heartless and evil. As the negotiation for ransom continued, they were beating us themoreuntilsunday night when they came to an agreement, because when they wanted to negotiate an individual’s ransom, they would take the person away from the others and negotiate with the individual’s family separately.
It was Sunday night that the ransom started coming; the reverend sister’s own came first and they collected the money. My own and that of my friendalsocameandtheycollecteditbeforewewere released. They led us to where we found the main road, but the boy who gave the reverend sister a lift was not released, because his own ransom hadn’t come when we left the bush; I am not sure if the guy isout.icannotgiveanyotheraccountabouttheboy.
Did your people report the kidnap to the police?
Yes they did. They reported the matter to the police anti-kidnapping unit.
Did the police help in securing your release?
Idon’tknowwhattheydid.theyonlyinvitedme aftermyreleaseandtreatmentinthehospital.when I got to their office, they interviewed me and I made a statement. I also answered what they asked me.
Whatshouldthepeopledotosecuretheir communities from kidnappers, who come and hide in their bush?
I don’t know, but the government and the security agencies should proffer solutions instead of mounting roadblocks and extorting money from vulnerable Nigerians, because these guys are dangerous. They are sharp and armed with AK-47 rifles. They know the bushes and terrains more than the owners of the land. I don’t find it easy to travel to my village. I am afraid of passing through a bush now or driving along any bush path. Even in the town, I don’t stay outside beyond 6pm, because our people are not safe at all.
Whatmighthaveprovokedtheabductors to beat the victims?
Idon’tknow.uptillnow,icannotfigureitout.all I know is that we were not targeted; luck ran against us.theyknowthatanybodytheyabductcomesfrom a family and they have the mindset that Igbo people are rich and anybody they kidnap, their family must bring money. I think our government should be proactive in defending the citizens. The primary responsibility of any government is the protection of lives and property.
Some people have been campaigning that Nigerians, who can afford to buy guns, should be licensed to bear AK-47 for self-protection.dosharethesamethought?
Allowing everybody to be in possession of guns is another risk, because some people, who have not engaged in criminal acts, may be pushed to engage in such. I don’t think everybody having guns is the best option because guns are not good. I could not even defend myself even if I had a gun at that time of the incident. They were seven and very sharp, so how could I have faced them with my single gun? Thoseguysarehighlytrained.theyarenothandling gunslikepeoplewhohavenothandledgunsbefore. If you give me a gun, I cannot operate it.
Sincetheincidenthavethestateoryour local government sympathised with you?
Sinceicameout,itwasonlythegovernor’sadc who called me up to three times and asked how it happenedandiexplainedtohimonthephone;but since then, nothing has happened.
Is the other victim still in captivity?
I don’t know because it is over one month and there is no information on whether he has been released or not. I don’t think the guy survived because one cannot be without food or water in the rain and under the sun for more than one month. For the few days we were there, we were almost fainting. I don’t think the guy is still alive; if he is, to Godbethegloryandidon’tthinkanybodymadean effort to go and search for him and that shows you how the government cares about you. They are not interested, if it were to be any of their relations, they wouldhavedeployedeverythingtogethimfreedand arrest those hoodlums.
Do you think that the attacks were well coordinated?
They were well organised using their cows. According to them, their boss stays in Lokoja and they don’t accept transfers; they only collect cash. You know some journalists, who reported how policemen allowed the kidnappers to escape with ransom, are still being threatened by those policemen involved.
What was the reaction of your family when you came back?
Theywereexceedinglyhappy.theycriedwithjoy whentheysawme,becausewheniwasincaptivity, even my little children knew that I was in danger. They prayed very well. My village people prayed very well and even organised a rosary procession with candlelight interceding for me. ,,