I was travelling from Aba in Abia state back to PortHarcourt where I reside after a marriage introduction ceremony of my youngest sister Nene in my family house in Aba. I left the house at about 4pm that day, May 15, 2010 with my small uncle Anayo and a cousin Maureen. Maureen dropped somewhere in Aba while I proceeded to Portharcourt with Anayo. We had barely travelled 11km when we met what appeared to be a routine Police check point at Ihie.
Normally, we were flagged down for routine check at about 5pm or even later. I was asked for my driving license which I produced, I was asked to come down and open my booth and it was at this point that I was told to enter a waiting Kia saloon car facing right and at right angle to the main express road. Other vehicles were stopped simultaneously for stop and search. An SUV that refused to stop was sprayed with bullets with apparent missing of targets and within about 5minutes the operation was over.
About 2 vehicles carried the victims, a Kia saloon and a Pathfinder SUV. Some of us were loaded in the booths. After 5minutes drive into the village we were all blind folded and now driven through untarred bush roads to an isolated location which was a transit point. It took about extra 5minutes to get there. You know things were happening fast and it was so easy to lose tract of time. At this temporary site, we were thoroughly beaten with the butts and barrels of the gun. I never knew pains could be felt in quick succession after trauma to a particular point.
When I was hit at the back with the AK47 assault riffle, I felt the first superficial pain and this was followed immediately by another crushing pain much deeper. We were about 15 people, men, women and children. After about 4hours, the women and children were driven back to the road to find their way home. We the men, about 9 in number now waited for the next 1.5hours to be taken to their so-called police cell were they kept captives. In the transit camp where we were kept, there is one small house inhabited by a woman and some 2 or 3 children. The woman had normal conversations with our captors and her small baby was always crying. We left the temporary area in the same 2 vehicles and by 10minutes we were in the cell. The place was surrounded by bushes and harboured a roofed but un-completed block house with doors. A standby generator was on and I had lifted the scarf over my eyes a little long before we left the transit location. We were bundled into a dark room with one window, and with 8 captives inside already. The mode of capture of these previous 8 was targeted and not as random as ours.
Example the councillor was visited by them as a Police team in a Police vehicle and informed that he was wanted in the police station in connection with certain matters. He followed them willingly. We could only sit or lie down with our eyes covered. We were 17 in number in my cell. These include 3 royal highnesses (the Eze of Isuochi, the Eze of Omuma, and another very important Eze that I couldn’t quite identify well because he was taken away shortly for ‘special treatment’ and remained there after I left), the councillor representing a constituency in Omuma (hypertensive and diabetic), a retired NNPC manger (diabetic), a retired CBN supervisor, a PTI lecturer/pastor, 2 yahoo fraudsters, drivers, a tailor, and some others.
Our cell phones, money and every other belonging were taken from us apart from our clothing. Food is never given to the captives and water is dispensed at extreme discretion of the captors and by my calculation this amounted to 500mls alternate daily. At a point the councilor drank my water as I moved a little out of my position to urinate. As it was close to midnight, the captors encouraged us to pray and came in periodically to check on us. I must tell you that we all prayed as never before till morning. We also continued to pray like that every day. For me it was as true as daylight. The next day was a Sunday and at about 9am, the captor in-charge of making contacts for the captives came into our cell enquiring for people needing to contact their people for early release. It followed the sequence from interrogation about yourself and work to brutality and torture, bargain for release and possible mortal injury following failure to reach an amicable settlement.
One of the captive’s phone lines was always used for these contacts. The man in charge of the contact making is called a name. I figure he is the 3rd in command in the camp. He comes with aides who brutalize the captives mercilessly on failure to agree to a stated bill which runs into millions of naira. My initial bill was N10million even though it came down to N2 million later. I was now asked to talk to my people. I talked to my people and returned the phone to the captors for negotiation with my people.
The first bidding amount from my people was N100,000 which earned me the beating of my life in the hands of his aides. I was hit with the gun repeatedly and while pointed close to my neck with the gun corked and uncorked severally and with several simultaneous kicks on the head and body, I was asked to talk to my people. The beating was temporarily halted when I impressed it on my people of the need again to be ‘reasonable’ amidst my cry of pains. I was one of the youngest captives. One can now imagine the impact of the brutality on an elderly man and the sick people. On that Sunday, the councillor was beaten blue and black on failure to accept the N10million request fast.
This was a frail looking man with 10 children, a wife and with the whole extended family as dependants. He collapsed with repeated hits on the head, ribs, hands and every other parts of the body with the butt, barrel of the gun and woods measuring 2inch x 2inch in thickness. He was literally left helpless on the floor. He constantly bemoaned his fate and wished to die in his house where his corpse will at-least be seen and given a burial unlike the camp here where our captors will bury him. He recovered a little by Monday but that never gave him any reprieve as he continued to receive thorough beating like the rest of us.
Many of us all cried like babies. The councillor got his people to sell his new car, his lands, and several other belongings and all amounted to the sum of N450,000. He also sought to collect the month’s contribution among 10 of his colleagues amounting to N500,000 which never materialized by the time I left them. My brother it was pathetic for the diabetic and the hypertensive. It is noteworthy that age was no barrier to the brutality because we had 2 people who were above 70years of age, the Eze of Omuma and the Eze of Isuochi. The first received thorough but a moderated level brutality which increased sequentially with each daily failure to meet the captors’ demand while the second, though brutalized, had some significant consideration because he is 74years.
His wife had to walk virtually the whole streets begging for money and he also had to sell lands. The rest received the same level of brutality and torture which increased with every passing day. I tried to get close to the retired NNPC man who is also a pastor because I felt he never understood the psychology of this group that prefer to call themselves Abia State Militants. He never agreed to any fixed amount and I felt he mistook the initial moderation of the brutality on him as a spiritual effect. He is a retired man and probably over 60yrs of age. However, he was soon to understand that his judgment was wrong. The mercilessness of the boys was un-paralleled because by the time I was leaving the camp on Tuesday night, there was a special torture session carried out simultaneously by over 20 of the militants which I myself may have found difficult to recover from despite my good physical fitness. The captors had claimed that a cell phone had been stolen in the camp and all the captives that refused to bargain ‘properly’ were responsible.
The captors appear not to have much interest on what they regard as poor fools like drivers, gaunt looking people, mechanics, tailors etc. Even though the ‘poor fools’ sometimes pay all their savings to the captors, they tend to receive good considerations in terms of length of stay only. I left the camp after the direct negotiation between my people and my captors went through. We left the camp at about 10pm on Tuesday. Those released that night were the Professor (Eze of Isuochi), one pastor, one driver and my humble self. Three of us were bundled into the booth of a Nissan Pathfinder SUV while Prof was given the privilege of sitting down comfortably inside the car. As we left the camp, one or two small boys were moving about close by and our captors questioned the supposed strangers in a loud voice asking “who be that” and the small boys (I say small boys from their voice on reply) answered “I beg na indigenes”. The Eze of Omuma was released a day earlier after paying the sum of one million two hundred thousand naira. After about 5minutes into our journey to freedom, the SUV stopped suddenly and refused to start again.
After a few futile attempts to start the car, the four armed captors disembarked and called the camp for another vehicle. They identified their position as opposite the Nigerian Police Station. In less than 4 minutes, a new Toyota corolla arrived for us to continue our journey. I was asked to enter the booth with the pastor/PTI lecturer. They discharged us at Ihie junction and gave us transport money. We all walked bare footed because even our shoes were collected. I received N500.00.
They also informed me that my vehicle was at the police station.
The Prof and the released driver proceeded to Port Harcourt while I proceeded to Aba with the pastor. I arrived my family house at Aba at about 12:09am on Wednesday to the jubilation of my parents and every other person in the house and on the street. I am grateful to my relatives who contributed immensely for my release. They include my parents, my wife, my brother, my sisters, my cousin, my uncles abroad, my in-laws, my mother’s uncle, my aunt, the pastors who prayed continually, my local church, my genuine friends who acted promptly and several well wishers.
I did not involve the police and it was the best decision. The location of the camp is not hidden. The subdued villagers know them and also know all their locations. Again the terrain of the area consisting of thick bushes, well spaced houses and the bad nature of the road all combine to favour the use of those locations by the militants. The militants tend to wear military uniforms in the camp and police uniforms with police bullet proof vest outside the camp for their normal operations. They carry AK47 assault riffles and perform drills each morning in the bush around the cell building- the so-called camp. All the boys spoke the local dialect- asa/ngwa version of igbo language.
The chairman/leader of the group who authorized each release has facial tribal marks, speaks same dialect. It may not surprise me if he is a northerner and security personnel. It is impossible that the security agents do not know their position. The joy of release subdued all the pains. I also forgot I had not eaten for 4days. I proceeded to Ihie Police station to collect my car as I was informed by my captors as my car was too old for an operational vehicle. I saw the vehicle at local police station at Ihie. I fulfilled their formalities, made statements and informed them of the release of Prof. In doing these I guarded my utterances because you never know who the insiders were. I also spoke with the DPO of the station. I also met some special police units who came on routine patrol to the police station and narrated my ordeal to them. On this visit to retrieve my car, I also observed that the security agents concentrated their presence on the express road leaving the entire village empty. My brother even the people you are supposed to report to are scared and appear helpless. You also cannot rule out their support from politicians because of several boasts of installing candidates come 2011. Information flow freely in the camp there; it is unimaginable how the information comes without government/security insiders. It also appeared they were planning relocation soon based on the insiders’ requests; possibly because of impending raid by government forces. They claim to pay some insiders-the normal Nigerian settlement.
It is pathetic the level Abia state has degenerated to. It is a level just slightly above those of animals and the bottom line is greed, corruption, power drunkenness. I understand Imo-state is following closely.
I became ill on Thursday- the cumulative effects of the ordeal. My heart goes out to the innocent men still in captivity. I wonder if they will make it alive. They include the retired NNPC manger/pastor in Winners chapel (Yoruba), retired CBN supervisor (igbo), the councillor (Omuma), The Eze who I could not identify well.
What if these kidnappers were ritualists; what would have been our fate; it is all greed, corruption, power drunkenness. Until there is good and committed leadership, everything will continue to go downhill.
Nzegbule wrote from Port Harcourt.