How we were kidnapped behind police station –Enugu estate agents
Two Enugu-based estate agents – Mazi Uchechukwugeme Abonyi and Aja Uchenna Michael – tell RAPHAEL EDE about their four-day ordeal in the den of Fulani kidnappers
What is your name and what do you do for a living?
My name is Mazi Uchechukwugeme Abonyi. I am a real estate agent.
You and two others were kidnapped sometime last month. Can you tell us how it happened?
In the morning of April 9, 2021 I went to Amokpo Nike with two of my friends, Uche Aja and Emeka Ijegara, to inspect a piece of land for a client. The land is at the back of Unity Police Station opposite Elime Estate Enugu. We had inspected and videoed the 10 plots of land and were about to leave around 9.30am, when I saw about five heavily-armed guys running towards us.
In shock, I shouted, ‘Jesus!’ They told me that if I moved they would ‘pin me to the ground with a bullet.’ But I started running and suddenly felt something hit me and I fell down. I saw my friend, Uche Aja, fighting with one of them but they stabbed him. Eventually, they brought the three of us together and began to march us away. We were made to trek and jog in the thick forest for about six hours non-stop. The forest was so thick, one could hardly see the sky. I have heard of Sambisa forest in the North, but I never knew there is a forest like that in Enugu. We were climbing and descending from mountains. From around 9.30am when the journey began we didn’t stop moving until about 3pm. Meanwhile, these guys were beating and pushing us to run. Whenever we said we were tired and wanted to rest, they hit us with their guns. It was a terrible experience. When we finally stopped moving, they ordered us to lie down.
What happened afterwards?
They gave us our phones, which they had earlier collected. They said we were going to a mountain to make calls to our people and inform them that we had been kidnapped. They said we should tell our people that they would pay a ransom of N7m on each of us. When they said that, we began to cry. We told them our people had no such money and we were guys just struggling to survive, working as real estate agents. They said that was none of their business; it was either N7m each or our lives.
They ordered us to start moving again. We got to a very big river and they told us that was where they killed people and threw their body inside water if their relatives failed to respond fast enough.
At that point we were made to call our people. We were made to tell our people to be fast in bringing the money as the kidnappers had shown us where they killed people when there was a delay in the payment of ransom.
Were your families able to raise the money?
Yes, but they negotiated and agreed on N2m.
How was the ransom delivered to the kidnappers?
Where they kept us was about eight hours’ walk to from the main road. After our families finally raised the money and arranged for someone to bring it, the kidnappers moved us closer to the main road. They ordered us to lie down on the ground while two of them went to collect the ransom from the person bringing it. The two leaders instructed the remaining three others they left with us to kill us if they didn’t return. But they returned shortly later and one of two asked us, ‘Who is Uche Abonyi among you?’ I indicated I was the one, thinking that our people had paid the ransom and it was time for me and my friends to go. But he ordered me to move aside and lie down. He said he would shoot me for inviting the DSS and police anti-kidnap unit. He said policemen could have killed him if not that they were clumsy in their shootings. He said since he escaped being killed, he would kill me and send my dead body to my brother to teach him a lesson not to call the police next time
What did you do when he said that?
I started pleading with him, asking him to give me another chance. I begged the guy to forgive my brother. I said my brother could not have brought the police to attack him. I tried everything to convince him not to kill me. After some time, he said I had only one chance to get someone else to deliver the money to them. He said he didn’t know why something was telling him not to shoot me because the normal thing they did if anyone called the police for them was to kill the victim. He said in my case something was telling him not to shoot me. I pleaded with him to please listen to that thing and spare my life.
I asked my friend, Emeka, to make the call and arrange for someone else, who knows the terrain, to bring the ransom. It was that person who brought the ransom to them. They freed us to go after they got the ransom.
‘We drank only water for four days in kidnappers’ den’
What is your name?
My name is Aja Uchenna Michael
Can you briefly narrate your encounter with the kidnappers?
As my friend had said, we were abducted around 9am on Friday, April 9 when we went to inspect a piece of land. When I heard him (Abonyi) shout ‘Jesus!’ I was shocked and asked him what happened. On turning around, I saw a Fulani man carrying an AK-47 rifle, running towards us. Out of fear we dispersed, running in different directions. Little did we know that they (kidnappers) were five in number and they had already taken positions. As I was running, I tripped over something and fell down. I stood up and continued running and then I noticed that someone was chasing me. The person overtook me, pointed a pistol at me and ordered me to go back. I was scared. When he saw that I wasn’t moving, he brought out his machete and started swinging it in my face. As I was telling him I couldn’t go back there, he hit me twice on the hand with the machete. I had to start defending myself.
I rushed at him and started struggling with him for the control of the gun. As we were both struggling, one of the gang members came and pointed his gun to my head. So, at that point, I had to surrender, seeing they had overpowered me.
They took me to where they kept my friends and started threatening to kill us. They pointed at me particularly, saying they would kill me for attacking their brother. They took our wallets, removed our money and returned the wallets to us. Then they marched us into the forest. We walked inside the forest for over six hours non-stop. The kidnappers must have been on drugs because we couldn’t keep up with their pace and they kept hitting us with machete, knife, anything in their hands. The funny thing is that these people know the terrain too well. It is like they demarcated area and avoided paths that might lead to where people are. They were communicating among themselves by whistling. We were completely in the thick forest and we couldn’t even see the sky.
What did they do to you in the forest?
After we stopped moving in the evening and they ordered us to call our people, they led us to a different location where we could get water. We drink the water there happily because we were highly dehydrated already. In the night, we slept in the forest. And then the next morning, as early as 4am, they woke us up and moved us to another location. As a matter of fact, we never spent more than three hours in a particular location. That shows you how professional these people are.
Were you fed by the kidnappers?
They didn’t give us anything like food or snacks for the four days that we were in their den. We were just drinking water – we drank whatever water we could find for those four days.
If you are given security, can you trace the place in the forest where you were kept for those four days?
No. We were not kept in a single location to start with. And if they had left us in that forest to find our way out, we wouldn’t have been able to get out by ourselves.
How do you know that your kidnappers were Fulani?
They spoke Fulani (language), they dressed like Fulani people. I grew up in a place where some Fulani people settled; so, I know them when I see them.
What type of guns did they carry?
They carried military-like guns. I saw AK-49 and pump-action guns – very heavy weapons. They also had daggers and machetes.
Are you by any means saying that those kidnappers might have military background?
I don’t know how they came across those weapons and I don’t think they were soldiers; but then I know that for them to access those weapons, they must either have connections in high places or they killed military personnel and collected their rifles.