Written by Mark Emmanuel Amaechi
MY 18 HOURS ENCOUNTER WITH FULANI KIDNAPPERS ON MY WAY TO WARRI
Friday 19th February.
It was just a very normal early morning, but with a little bit of excitement in the air. I and my family just moved in to our new apartment after making all necessary financial and legal agreements, clean ups and unpacking. As a matter of fact, Thursday night was the first night we slept together in the new apartment. So I was supposed to stay much much longer in bed so as to catch up with my strength. But I had to make this one necessary trip to Warri.
A lot of people who know me didn’t know I had relocated to Lagos. Having secured a new apartment, I needed to go back to Warri to pick up some of my household stuff, return, settle and get back to work.
In Nigeria, When you are about to hit the highway on a trip, especially with your own car, alone, you want to first settle in your subconscious that you will be meeting over 20 police, FRSC, Army and Customs check points. So your particulars must be intact, or else…
As early as 5:30am I was already on Lekki – Epe express way.
The moment I made it past Ijebu Ode, like roll calls, I had already gone passed 3 check points, and faced with the ones ahead. As I made it through the last one, where I was delayed for over 20 minutes, I just called my wife and informed her that I’m entering the Benin Bypass.
About 1:15pm. For those who know the Benin bypass area well, I have barely made the round turn coming from Benin Ore express way to settle on my speed ahead, when I heard what seemed like a car tyre burst. It sounded quiet but repeatedly so I looked at my rear mirror and in front to be sure. I also observed the other cars in front of me hitting the breaks in very swift succession. So I knew we all heard the sound. I had to also apply my break thinking something is happening up ahead. But no, it’s already happening in my very before.
As I looked to my left I just saw 4 gunmen coming out of the bushes, heavily armed with sharp machetes and AK47s. Several rounds where shot in the air. There were two of them already in our front and back with 4 cars: mine, a Mercedes in my front and two trucks, trapped in the middle. As the gunmen came close, the Mercedes car just picked up acceleration and made a swerve into the Bush on the right. Immediately I heard a voice that ordered one to follow the car, as if they knew he had no where to run to. As one of them was coming close to me I could see the one that seemed to be the leader speaking with the drivers of the two trucks in Hausa language. He then told his men to let them go. By now I was out of my car with both my hands raised up and one entered into my car and was just searching everywhere.
OK, everything was just happening very fast that I wasn’t able to first comprehend the entire situation. I just knew at that moment that I was out of my car, lying face down on the road with a machine gun pointed at me, and someone else is in my car searching it. In my mind I just assumed that these guys will just search my car, maybe take whatever they want and let me go. What was I thinking? What can I even think at that moment.
As my mind was going through this confusion, I just heard the leader say, “Take this one inside, he has family; they’ll pay for him.”
What?! Did I just hear “take him inside…., pay for him”? Immediately I heard the tall one close to me saying I should get up or he’ll shoot me. So quickly I replied in Hausa language that he shouldn’t shoot me that I’ll cooperate. He then asked me to put my hands slowly inside my pocket and empty it. As I was about to do that, he warned me that if I make a foul move, “one bullet to your head”. He took the money with me and threw away my wallet without considering anything else inside.
He then faced the gun at me and in a very malicious tone, said: “Oya, dey go inside now or I fire you!”
Turning towards the forest where he directed me to enter, I just said to myself, “that’s Fulani accent”. It was at this point it became dawn on me that I have been kidnapped.
INTO THE FOREST WITH FULANI KIDNAPPERS
For us here in the southern part of Nigeria it’s almost impossible to tell the difference between a Fulani and a Hausa person. But having done my NYSC, stayed and worked in Kano and Jigawa states, I could tell the difference in their stature
speech and mannerisms. The Fulanis have been known to appear naturally hostile to their neighbours. And here I am, in between two of them leading me through the thick forest barefoot (I can’t really remember how I became barefooted sef).
That was how we were just going inside inside the forest. As we’re going I could still here faint sporadic gunshots as the others were still operating. For over 30 minutes we walked in through the forest, stopping in between for them to either carry out their bags which they kept in well secured holes along the path, or argue about the right way to go – I was just using my little knowledge in Hausa to know their conversation.
After much walking, we finally stopped at a small opening. This should be about an hour now. I was asked to squat with my head to the ground. One of them was holding my phone and asked for the password which I gave him without hesitation. The other came close to me and asked me if I knew who were, I said no. He then asked if I’ve heard of kidnappers I said yes. So he said I’ve been kidnapped.
And only money can get me out, and if no money, “One bullet to your head, animal go chop you here nobody go see you.”
He then asked me if I have money, I said yes. He asked how much, I said he will see it in my account balance in my phone. He said he’s not interested in my account balance but what I have to say. So he asked again how much do I have. I said #70, 000. He came close to me and the next thing I heard was a heavy punch on my face. Really whether it was a punch, or a slap I couldn’t tell because the impact was like dry hard wood on my face.
He started shouting at me. “Do you think we’re ordinary kidnappers? “
“Fifty million naira, ten kobo no comot, or else, one bullet to your head.”
He then asked me again, how much do I have. I didn’t know what to say at this point, #70, 000 will attract another heavy punch on my face, keeping quiet will anger him. So I told him I really don’t want to offend him by saying what he doesn’t want to hear, and I also don’t want to lie. So the guy going through my phone started asking me about certain pictures in the phone. He showed me the pictures I snapped by a big car and said I own the car. Another one I was standing by a building and he also said I own the building and I’m lying not to have money. He just said OK let’s wait for the leader to come.
I laid down in that position for another hour or more. Both of them were taking turns in going and coming. I couldnt see much because my head was down. But I was making a lot of meanings with the sound around. I could tell their position and distance, I knew one probably was pointing a gun at me, I could tell when they switched turns etc.
Later I began to hear more footsteps, coming closer and closer. About 3 of them stepped on me as they walked past, another just hit my face, shouting at me to keep my head down. From the voices they were seven guys, just wearing simple clothes and very hard boots.
All on face caps and face masks. From their accent, 5 were Fulanis, 1, being the leader is Hausa, and 1 to my greatest unbelief is Urhobo. After a little chit chat amongst themselves about the day’s going, the leader sat close to me and asked me my name, my job, and how much I bought my car. As I was responding I deliberately replied in Hausa. So he asked if I’m Hausa, I said I only learned a few while serving. He quickly returned to the subject on how I could raise 50 million naira for my release. He then instructed the Urhobo guy to come and negotiate with me.
The guy came close and really talked calmly. He first told me that those guys in the Mercedes car that tried to escape, have been killed, and if I don’t meet their demands, I’ll be next. So calmly he said he can help me negotiate for 30 instead of the
50 million they asked for. Is there someone I can call, he asked and said I can call my wife. So they gave me my phone to call my wife, but there was no network. I tried it a few more times at their command but still nothing. The leader then instructed 3 guy to take me to where network could be found. We got to 3 different locations in the thick forest but still no network. So we got back and told the leader.
He just said “Hmm this one, we will just kill him,” and relaxed himself to rest. I heard 2 guys lighting cigarettes and walking away. The leader dialed a number on his phone and started talking to the lady at the other end of the phone. He called her my baby in Hausa, spoke really innocently and said many loving words to her, apologized that he could not come to see her the day before, because he didn’t close early from work and then promised another date.
Later there was calm. I heard snoring from at least two guys. 2 others were whispering. Right there a lot was running through my mind. Is it the end for me? I’ve heard a lot about those who couldn’t meet up with their demands and how they ended up. Some people even met their demands and still were killed. Will I get out alive, how will this be, what will my wife be thinking now, she knows I should have arrived by now. At a point I asked why I took the bypass. I remembered my Google map showed only 12 mins delay if I avoid the bypass. So because I wanted to avoid a delay I will now pay with my life. My heart was beating faster than normal. I was really afraid, not knowing what would happen to me next.
Lying down there still, I remembered a Facebook video of Archbishop Benson Idahosa, when he said all through his years in ministry, he’s never seen God denied help from those who said “God help me!” Then quietly I just said “God help me!” I said it a few times and stopped.
THE LEADING AND THE FIGHT
It was around 6pm when I heard regrouping footsteps and one saying in Hausa, “Let’s start preparing to leave.”
So they tapped the ones asleep, including the leader. He woke up, examined everything and said, pointing at me: “this one, we will kill him.” He seemed disappointed somehow. I could tell by the heavy punch he laced on my face as he was passing. 5 of them went ahead and 2 behind with me in between. I was ordered to carry their bags, containing ammunition, water bottles, kegs, clothes, oil, etc. I followed them looking down. We walked for about 30 minutes. I started to hear cars from far away and I was a bit calm; at least we’re approaching the road, that for me was a kind of relief.
Inside the forest as we walked, there was this clearing by a huge tractor directly under the high tension that ran through the forest. It was about 35 to 50 meters wide, dividing the forest. We had to cross that open land under the high tension to enter into the bushes again but we will be closing down on the road. As we approached the other bushes we stopped. They gathered themselves away from me, talked for a while. By now it was getting dark. They divided themselves again into 5 and 2. The 5 were to go to the road and I was ordered to follow the 2 guys into the Bush, again.
As we turned back towards the Bush, crossing the open land, my heart just skipped. Why are we going back into the Bush? I just settled my mind on the
only thing I could think of; they’re going to kill me. We walk a few distance into the forest and I was asked to keep going inside while they stopped. They now told me to stop and put my head down. I put my head down, my heart rate had tripled, it was dark. I tried to see what only thing I could think of; they’re going to kill me. We walked a distance into the forest and I was asked to keep going inside while they stopped.
They now told me to stop and put my head down. I put my head down, my heart rate had tripled, it was dark. I tried to see what they were doing. I saw that very angry Fulani guy looking at me with gun and machete. I saw that the other guy wants to say the Muslim prayer. I looked around and was waiting for an opportunity. Opportunity for what, I don’t know I have to just do something. So the guy turned
his head away from me, I leaped from my position into the Bush and started running. He shouted and chased after me. Unfortunately I was caught up by the Bush I couldn’t run at all. As I turned my head around, see this guy dey follow me with full drawn machete. Having no where to go, what just popped into my head was “FIGHT”.
I ran towards the guy, caught his machete in the air. Both of us started dragging it. In my mind I just said if I get a hold of it, he’s gone, and the same will happen to me the other way around. He hit my head with his head, I returned the head, he tried turning me to the ground, I rolled him over. As we were struggling, he called on the other guy, but he could not leave his prayer position. Somehow I noticed he was overpowering me, I was getting really weak and afraid of myself. I knew he was gaining control of the machete and I had to struggle a little bit with him. But I was already too weak to continue. He just removed the machete from my hands, pinned me to the ground and started swinging the sharp metal my way. I struggled free and defended myself from it.
As he continued swinging I just saw myself blocking the sharp with my bare hands and elbows. I didn’t care about the cuts, I just don’t want him to touch any sensitive part of my body. But not long he hit my head and I felt blood gushing out, but I was still busy blocking. Again, another hit my palm bone, and the next to my tibia bone. Oh boy! My leg was broken, I felt my head aching and blood running down, but he was still swinging the thing. As I looked up I saw his arm returning towards me for another slice, I just managed to get up and embraced him tight that he could not return the machete. He struggled to free himself, but I held him and was repeating these three words in Hausa:
God is great
All praise be to God
Please don’t be angry.
I said it over and over and over again until he freed himself from me and I just fell back down. He said so I was fighting with him, I said no that I was afraid I didn’t want to die that was why I ran. He said for fighting with him, I have killed myself. At this moment I was too weak, badly injured and bleeding out to do anything. I could only say “Please, don’t kill me” when I find the strength to do so. He ordered me to lie down flat which I did and he walked away from me looking for his gun or something. And I just laid there breathing.
PREPARING FOR WHAT COMES NEXT
As I laid there, thousands of thoughts ran through
my head, the whole activity played again in my mind, from how I was caught, to how I got injured and lying down there. I was trying to make out a possible conclusion. I could only come up with one – I’m dead. I didn’t know what he went to do but I can tell what he’ll do when he or they come back to meet me. So right then, I knew there was only one thing left for me to do. I lifted up my head, still lying down because if I try to sit up, it’s like the earth wants to spin.
I looked up, opened my mouth and in a very mild and smiley tone, I said, “Lord, thank you for bringing me this far in life. I’ve never reached this point where you know you’re going to die. Having attempted an escape, fought with one of these guys, I guess I have done everything humanly possible. Right now my leg, hand and head are badly injured, and I can’t run. I know what these guys will do when they return. They will kill me.
I don’t really know how a person dies, or how the soul leaves the body, I don’t know what is going to happen to my spirit. But please Lord, I don’t want to miss heaven. I’m a sinner, forgive me all my sins, I acknowledge you again as my saviour and I commit my spirit into your hands. But, if you would ask me, I don’t want to die; I want to live, see my wife and children again.
As I’m praying to you now, my wife is doing same, other people are praying on my behalf. If you won’t hear me, at least hear them. Please Lord, if you will, you can make me live. With you all things are possible. What you cannot do does not exist. Thank you Lord for everything, Amen.”
It should be about 8pm, Shortly after my prayer, I was getting weaker. My mouth was totally dried up and sticking against each other. I’ve never felt like that before o. I was just breathing fast fast. I saw flashes of torch lights and the leader was shouting where is he. I then said in hausa that I’m here. The leader and some of the guys holding torches pointed it towards me helplessly lying down bleeding profusely. Somehow the leader wasn’t happy seeing me in that state. He asked what happened, I said I was afraid, I did not want to die so I tried to escape. He said but I’ve killed myself now. He was very disturbed.
He examined me again. The guy I fought with just came out from nowhere and said since I fought with him, he’ll make sure I don’t come out from the Bush. I started begging that they shouldn’t kill me, that they shouldn’t be angry that fought him, that it was out of fear. I said I had some money in my account that they can take.
The leader said, “We don’t want anything from you again. You have spoilt everything, you just have to go!”
He then asked me about the gun that guy was holding, I saw some of them checking the bushes. I said I didn’t see any gun, that the guy only came to meet me with a machete. The leader then asked if I can walk, I said yes. He asked me to walk, I stood up and fell down back. He said if I can’t walk they’ll just waste me there in the forest. I assured him again that I can walk. He walk a distance away and picked up a long stick, cut it to size and gave to me to try and walk with it. I took it and got up but fell back again to the ground. He then said if I can’t get up, that’s the end for me. I said I will get up. I held the stick again and tried once more to get.
I got up and fell down again. There and then I knew that it’s over..
Then next thing I heard was, “We’ll leave you here o.”
I quickly said, “Better! Don’t worry about me, I’ll find my way.”
He said, am I sure? I said if they promise not to kill me then I will find my way out. He agreed and said, “Toh, we’re leaving.” And they left.
I stayed there for a while breathing heavily. I couldn’t imagine how come I was still alive. I was still facing up, lying down. I managed to remove my shirt to tie my head, removed my trousers to tie my leg. I had just my inner shorts. I was still there for about 10 minutes trying to know how to navigate the forest once I get a little strength. I remembered that the high tension pole lead towards the side of the road. So I looked up to the moon and said, “So long as I can see the moon, the blessings of the Lord is here.”
I got up and faced the direction of the high tension, using my elbow and knees to crawl. I knew I’ll have to first come out to the open space where the tractor graded, crossing it again into the other side. I would crawl a few length and stop to catch some breath. Not long afterwards, I could see the open space under the high tension from where I was, but little did I know that it wasn’t over.
As I was trying in pains to make my way out to the open, I just lifted up my head and behold, the guy I fought with was already standing before me, with the guy pointing towards me. He just laughed that kind of laugh that says “I got you now!” and cocked the gun to fire.
The hope I had managed to gather within my few minutes of crawling vanished immediately. I was just stifled in my position waiting for the sound of the gun, imagining the bullet entering wherever in my body. In a twinkle of an eye, I saw the leader swiftly standing and blocking me from the gun. He held it to the side and was talking to the guy in his ear. That one shouted that they should leave him to just waste me.
I then said, “But una say una no go kill me na!”
The leader then shouted with authority, “Nobody go shoot you here, come outside, I say nobody go shoot you here!”
He then spoke to the guy authoritatively and the guy just walked away angrily. The leader then asked me to come out. I crawled out. He then asked if I knew my way, I said I would find it. So he gave directions to follow, warned me against the side I must not go to, that they’ll kill me if they see me there. I thanked him and they walked away, never to be seen again.
SURVIVING THROUGH THE NIGHT
As they disappeared into the forest I continued with my crawling across the High tension into the other side of the Bush. I could hear sound of cars louder as I crawled closer. I had to even remove my trousers which I used to tie broken leg because it was holding up the bushes as I dragged my way through. I really can’t explain the pains I felt but I needed to get to the road so I was just focused on that. Little by little, stopping and breathing a few times, before I knew it, my hand was touching the road. This should be about after 9pm.
A lot of heavy duty trucks were passing through in very high speed with their bright lights. I immediately took off my inner boxers so I can use it to wave down any vehicle. At that time I became totally naked in very cold night. I tried waving as trucks and few cars passed by but no one was stopping for me (well, even I wouldn’t stop for anyone also). I later noticed that I was on the side of the road going towards Lagos. I managed to cross the road to the side going to Warri.
On getting there, I started waving my boxers with my hands continuously hoping that at least one of the vehicles would stop for me. I did the waving till my hands grew very weak that I couldn’t raise it any more than my elbow on the ground. I also needed to position my broken leg to reduce the pain. I remembered the leader of the kidnappers telling to get to the road and sleep till the next day. So I stopped waving and tried to sleep by the side of the road.
GOD SAVED ME
I tried to sleep but I was waking up intermittently as heavy trucks hunk pass, blowing heavy cold breeze over my naked body. Once again I still try to wave for help as the vehicles drive past, I did not get up, I couldn’t even see the vehicles coming because I was lying down opposite to the direction of the oncoming vehicles, I just wave when the cars get closer.
At one time, I woke up hearing the sound of
a heavy truck. But somehow I noticed that the headlights of the vehicle was much brighter than normal, I just managed to raise my head to look and to my greatest shock, there were two heavy trucks driving side by side, one was trying to overtake the other and was already about to drive through me on the road. How strength came upon me to swiftly roll away from being crushed, I don’t know. My broken leg ached more but I did not pay any attention to it. I was just imagining how I have survived everything only to have been run over by a heavy duty truck.
The next time I woke up it was early morning, about 6am. I could still see cars with their head lights on. I waited till the lights were turned off; that way I knew the day had become brighter. I quickly resumed waving my shorts again but no vehicle stopped even when they could see me clearly now. I mean, who wants to really pull over for a stack naked fellow lying down on the Highway, covered in blood. Except you’re a military personnel. Yes, that’s it, I put my weak hand down and just said a simple prayer.
Lord, these cars won’t stop for me in this state, except for a military escort; please lord, send me a military escort. Two minutes after my prayer, there came a military vehicle. As I flanked them, they drove a little further away and stopped. Five heavily armed soldiers came out of the vehicle, still somehow suspicious of me…who wouldn’t be?
“Who are you!” The leader shouted. I said my name loudly and told him that he could search my profile on Facebook. They drew a bit closer and he asked me why I was lying naked on the floor. I managed to explain to him. He asked if I am married and if I know my wife’s phone number. I called it out to him.
He then called my wife, the phone was on speaker. He politely introduced himself and asked my wife some questions to confirm my identity. Satisfied with my wife’s response he immediately ordered one to put my shorts back on, and to divert on coming vehicles from getting close to me. He told me that they have been ordered to come to the barracks but that he’ll get a car or ambulance for me to go to the hospital.
Shortly after, a Volvo ambulance was passing by. He stopped the vehicle and ordered that I be carried in and taken to the hospital. The driver obeyed and drove me straight from Benin bypass to LASUTH. The officer kept on calling from time to time to ensure all is well. I was immediately admitted in the surgical emergency unit and well attended to. The doctors said I suffered a broken tibia, a left metacarpal bone. My cuts were stitched and some scans were done.
To the praise and glory of the Most High God, it wasn’t more than that. The soldiers called 2 days later to inform me that my car has been found in a police station. A week later I was discharged.
I typed this post with one hand because my left hand and leg are covered in plaster cast (POP). I’m healing fast but doctors say my leg will be like this for at least 3 months.
To God alone be all glory, and honour, and power, and all praise, Amen. This is my own testimony of God’s mercy in spite of my unfaithfulness.