Our abductors said security agencies lack capacity to stop them –Haruna, Kidnapped journalist
Abdulkareem Haruna, an Assistant Editor/Bureau Chief, North-East Region for the Premium Times, was recently kidnapped while on his way to Bauchi from Abuja. After spending three days in captivity, he was released. He tells ARMSTRONG BAKAM about his experience in the hands of kidnappers
You were kidnapped last week and released after spending some days with your abductors. What was your experience like?
On Monday, November 11, 2019, I left Abuja and was on my way to Bauchi. I was abducted between Barde in Jaba Local Government Area of Kaduna and Jagindi around 3.25pm. The kidnappers had already attacked two vehicles coming from Jos. We ran into them and they released gunshots so we had to stop.
They took all our money and selected four of us from the three vehicles but I was the only one from our vehicle. We were taken inside the bush.
Why were you the only one taken from your vehicle?
I can’t say I was targeted because we ran into an ongoing operation. If only our car had been stopped, nothing would have convinced me that I was not targeted. It was a random attack. Even when we got into the bush, there was nothing to suggest that they were after me. They asked all of us to bring money even though I was later singled out from the four of us because I looked different from the other guys.
They later found out I was a journalist.
What did the kidnappers look like?
Some of them wore masks while some had their faces painted with charcoal or something black and they were armed. Two of them wore military uniforms but you would know they were not soldiers because they wore rubber boots. The other ones wore overalls. They were five in number. All of them are Fulani but they spoke Hausa fluently.
They were well coordinated and very meticulous in their arrangements. They had very deep knowledge of the jungle and moved about in the daytime; they didn’t look like they were scared of anybody.
They called different people and sometimes spoke in their language or in Hausa. I don’t know if they had sponsors but I don’t think they could be doing it alone.
They looked well drilled to carry out such operations. One could suspect that they might be in connivance with some unscrupulous security agents. Nothing serious was done by security agencies; there was nothing to show that they even attempted to enter the bush to search for us. Even after our release when we went to collect our things at the police station, they didn’t ask us where they took us.
And the kidnappers would tell you that when bringing the ransom, you should feel free and not to be afraid because they were in charge of the place. That shows that they might be in connivance with security agents.
What happened after they took you to the bush?
We trekked for four hours in the bush, going up and down. The journey was very tedious because we went through the jungle, passed through some farms, climbed hills, and crossed streams and so on. After we trekked for the first one hour, they asked us to stay somewhere. They told us their mission; they said they were asked to get money and wanted N40m from all four of us – N10m from each of us. They asked us to call our people, somebody we trusted to handle our case so they could start negotiations.
They collected all our phones. Around 7.30pm, we had to find a rock to sit on in the bush. We passed the night there and they made some calls, and the negotiations went on for about one hour. Around 7am the next morning, they gave us our phones and asked us to call our people to find out if they had got the money. Those that were not forthcoming were subjected to beatings and floggings. They were only giving us water from the stream and we were there till afternoon when we were moved deep inside the jungle. That was on Tuesday, the second day. Negotiations went on. There were harassments here and there and towards evening, they concluded that all the money must be brought to them the following day or they would take us to one of the camps faraway where their boss would take care of our issue while they left to take care of other things.
In the night, we found a rock in another location where we slept and the next morning, we moved to another location where we sat down and negotiations continued. That was on Wednesday. Later, they agreed on a certain amount and said all the families should meet in Jos and gather the money together and send two people to bring the ransom to Jagindi area. So, around 5.30pm, we started our journey towards where the ransom would be handed over to them. It took us two hours to get there. By then, it was already dark and we had to wait. The money was given to them and we were set free, then we started trekking and it took us about 30 minutes to get to the main road because it was not far from the road. That was how we got our freedom.
Did you have conversations with them during that period?
They told us they were not doing what they were doing because they derived pleasure from it but because they wanted to take care of their families and make ends meet. They said since there were no jobs, they had to do what they did to survive. They said the level of poverty in the country pushed them into it.
Were they young or old?
I think the oldest among them, a short man, should be about 40 years old but the rest were younger. One should be about 22-year-old, while the others should be between 24 and 30 years old. They all had sophisticated arms; they had AK47 rifles.
What was going through your mind at the time?
There were lots of things going through my mind. I asked myself if I was ever going to see my family again. I was thinking of my aged parents who had seen a lot of terrible times, and so on, so I knew how devastating it would be for them. I pleaded with them that they should not be told about my predicament. I wondered if I would ever get out of the place alive. I also reconciled with God, I asked him to pardon my shortcomings.
But while there, I was not broken because as time went on, I began to develop confidence that I could get out alive if nothing went wrong. There was a time they thought I was a military man because they saw a picture on my phone in which I was in military kits. We had gone for an operation. That almost put me in a very difficult situation because they suspected that I was a soldier but was pretending. They wanted to even shoot me but God intervened. I had to show them my ID and explain to them that I was a journalist and not a military man.
Sometimes, we just chatted with them as if nothing bad was going on. There were also times we – abductees – discussed among ourselves. Sometimes, our abductors would bring up issues about the situation in Nigeria and politics for us to talk about.
How did your family, especially your wife handle it?
It was very troubling for my wife because she got to know about it when she called me on the phone and a policeman answered and told her that I had been kidnapped. And it was so devastating because my brother-in-law was kidnapped about four months ago. She was the one that took me to the park where I boarded a vehicle that took me to Abuja. So, when she didn’t hear from me and was told about what happened, she called my friends and they confirmed to her that it was true. They assured her that I would be fine and would be released.
What did they take from you?
Apart from the money they took from me, they didn’t take any other thing. I had two phones and left one in the car. It was the other phone I left in the car that my wife called. My laptop bag was somewhere in the car, so the driver went to the nearest police station, reported the incident and handed over my things to them. They took all our phones and if anyone’s phone battery ran down, they would throw it away because they didn’t want to be tracked or traced.
How would you describe your experience with the kidnappers?
It was hell; it was a traumatic and devastating experience. I still haven’t got over it till now. I was accustomed to travelling by road even at night but when I am driving now, I am very vigilant. If I see anyone crossing the road, my mind skips a beat.
Did they give you any message or warn you or the government?
They only said that people should be careful about taking pictures showing how well they live. People go to some nice places and take selfies with their phones; they said that was how they targeted people to kidnap.
They said it is people that put themselves into trouble. When they have those pictures and you tell them you don’t have money, then you are in trouble. Some can even kill such people because they would feel they are not being truthful.
What were you fed while you were with them?
They fed us dry garri mixed with salt and pepper. They would put just a little before us and ask if we wanted to eat or not. They gave us this only twice. On the first day, we didn’t eat anything. They gave us that (garri, salt and pepper) on the second and third days. They gave us dirty water from the stream.
With the level of insecurity in the country, what message do you have for the government considering how you were kidnapped in broad daylight?
The level of insecurity in the country has nosedived and human life is no longer safe in the country. Government and security agencies have massively failed. The problem is that these guys (kidnappers) have become emboldened because according to them, our security agencies are not capable of stopping them. Lives are now in danger more than ever before because some criminals can just stop people on the road in broad daylight, kidnap them, take them to the bush and say nobody is going to follow them. They were not even looking over their shoulders because they knew that nobody was coming after them.
They were not worried that somebody was going to track their location. The government really needs to wake up because this insecurity is not going to stop as they (kidnappers) are making money. And you can’t tell people not to pay ransom to free their loved ones; they know all this. They know that people will pay them. And many people no longer trust security agents so they would rather pay the ransom and free their people. Honestly, highway security is a massive failure.
They were hoping to get N40m from the four of you; how much were they paid?
I wouldn’t want to mention the amount but they got about 10 per cent of what they were looking for.
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