I was abducted on my way back from school along that notorious Rijana road in Kaduna state, almost four years ago. Our car was attacked, the driver and passengers ran into the bush but the kidnappers chased us out to take us captive. Our car was not the only one caught by the kidnappers, there were many people travelling on that road who were caught in the gun fire by the kidnappers.
There were several commercial buses as well. This same spot had seen many kidnappings take place for several years; even the train bombing that took place after my kidnap was around that area. Many times, the governor at that time made many promises to ensure the safety of people but many, many people were still kidnapped there and the government did nothing to get rescue or pay ransom. It was the families of the abducted people that raised money for their freedom. I am telling you this so you understand me well.
When I got kidnapped. We were matched into the forest for hours. We trekked for hours in a single file. This was after the kidnappers had taken our phones, ID Cards, ATM cards, and personal belongings. I mean everything we had in our possessions. A few of us were beaten to pulp, especially the men who the kidnappers suspected were in the military or even customs. They beat them like mad!
I met Sule
Now, among our abductors was who I will call Sule for the sake of his identity. Sule was young, maybe in his early 20s or late teens at that time. He is not educated but he was good with pidgin. The thing about the kidnappers is that they hate people who speak English.
So if they catch you and all you can speak is English, you will be beaten like mad. I speak Fulfulde, even though I am Hausa. So I was able to communicate and understood them easily but the majority of those of us captured didn’t speak the language. Sule, from the very beginning, was different from the rest.
He spoke Hausa, Fulfulde and pidgin. Though he carried a huge gun like the rest and tied a scarf to cover most of his face. I knew from his arms and legs that he was a young man when he first caught my attention. He heard when their big boss was interrogating me, asking me who would pay my ransom.
He heard me say I was a house help and was the only child of a widowed mother…even though this isn’t true but I was looking to see if they would show me mercy. I told him my bosses would not even give me 10kobo if I got into an accident while running an errand for them. I didn’t let them know I spoke English, or that I was a student or that I lived with my parents.
When we were attacked, the first thing I three away as I got into the bush was my ID Card and my phone. Having heard stories about these things, you sort of get prepared, though no matter how prepared you are, you will still be surprised.
My abductor began to court me
Two days after we got to the camp that they kept us. Before they began to call us to speak to our relatives and ask for ransom, Sule came and sat beside me one night and spoke in pidgin. I was at first afraid of him but he had removed his scarf and I could see he was young.
My first thought after that was, ‘abi he wants to rape me?’ But there was nothing in the way he spoke to me that made me think so. He said, “I sabi, small, small pidgin.” He wanted to speak to me so his other gang members wouldn’t hear what he was saying. He said, “Why you wan know book as you bi woman?” I replied, “I no know book, I bi housegirl…” He said, “No lie, I see your card…” “I beg, no tell dem, I beg…”
From that small conversation, over the next few weeks I was in that camp, I got to know more about Sule. In fact, his colleagues began to call me his wife because they noticed he always came to sit beside me at night. Now. You have to understand that while I was in captivity, while my family was trying to raise the ransom for me, I got to know a lot of things about these kidnappers through Sule.
I got to know he was forced to join them after his village was completely destroyed with their farmlands and he and the rest of his community that survived ran into the bush. Hunger made them join the bandits. It wasn’t love and before the bandits fully admitted them into their fold, they made them swear to some blood oaths and the Quran.
He was also a victim
That was when Sule knew they were not real Muslims. Real Muslims will not ask you to swear blood oaths or use the Quran to kill innocent people. But he had joined them, had killed a few people in their raids and he didn’t know the way out. It was Sule who told me what to say to their leader whenever I was called to speak to my family about the ransom. You see, they would beat some of us, then give us a phone to tell our relatives to hurry with the ransom. Many people whose families couldn’t raise the ransom were beaten with iron chains. Especially one Yoruba man who’s family agreed to pay N120million. So as I said, Sule helped me. He promised to help me escape if my mother couldn’t come up with the ransom and Honda bike they asked her to come up with. Alas, my family couldn’t raise the money. So the leader said he was going to let his boys rape me! Sule began to plead for me. He said to him that my mother was a widow who didn’t have anyone to help her. He finally convinced the leader to lower the ransom. He did but it wasn’t immediately. It took days of threats, days of being taunted by the other gang members that they would enjoy raping me once their leader gives the go-ahead and days of me crying and begging Sule to help me.
I was in the abducted for 3 months
Three months which my family went from pillar to post to look for money. Three months the police told my family that they were not involved in the matter and that my family should go and settle with the kidnappers the way other people were settling with them! No government delegation was sent to negotiate for us…everyone that got released was released because their families paid! So I was at Sule’s mercy. Of course at that time, while I was in captivity, I didn’t fully realise this. Sule advised me to tell my mother to get the machine, even if she couldn’t get all the money. She did along with three cartons of beer, cigarettes and some food stuff and he told her not to bring them herself because she would be kidnapped. Did we give them money, yes, we did, instead of the N1.5 million they demanded, my family could only raise N800,000 instead. Now, after all of these were given, I was set to be released. The day I was set to go, they went on a raid and Sule escaped from there. At that time, I didn’t know he had escaped. I thought maybe he died in the raid because apparently, they met with some soldiers that day and some of them came back with gun wounds.
I thought I had lost him
So they all assumed Sule was either captured or dead. That raid also made them quickly release some of us who had made some payment even though the payments weren’t complete. It was as if they were afraid soldiers would find their hiding place and with so many captives, movement may be hard. I was released along with a few people. I got home after a lot of trouble but I got home. After about a month. My mother got a call from someone who said he wanted to speak to me. You know at this time, I was still trying to get over the trauma of the kidnap…I am not even sure I will ever get over it. But that day, my mother refused to give me the phone because she insisted on knowing who it was that wanted to speak to me. The person dropped the line but kept calling over the next few weeks. Finally, he said he was the one who helped me with the negotiation when I was kidnapped, so I told my mother to let me speak to him. It was Sule. I was so happy he made it out alive. I was truly happy he made it out! I asked him where he was, he said he was “travelling to Yorubaland.” That’s how he put it. He said he was done with the bandits and he was suffering because he always had bad dreams. He said he would find something to do.
I remain grateful to him
You know, I felt grateful for his friendship because I believe if he hadn’t intervened the way he did for me, I would have been raped by the gang. Tell me if I would have survived it because I would have fought them and they would have killed me in the process. Sule is somewhere out there. I hope he survives. I always look forward to speaking to him in his bad pidgin and I hope he finds whatever it is he is looking for. To me, he would never be a bandit, he would be someone who I hold dear to my heart and pray he survives because he, like me too, was a victim of bad government. That’s the way I see it. You see, even as I speak to you, this is four years after my kidnap, not one single government person has come to me to say, “How can we help you?” or anything such as that. We have been on our own!
[Series written and edited by Peju Akande, based on true stories]