Mr Gbenga Ibikunle and his wife were kidnapped by gunmen at Uso along the Akure-Owo Expressway in the Owo Local Government Area of Ondo State while returning from Ebonyi State last Tuesday. In this interview with PETER DADA, Ibikunle speaks on their ordeal.
How old are you and what do you do for a living?
I am 47 years old and a civil engineer; I am running my own private firm and I handle contracts.
It was learnt that you and your wife are recently kidnapped; how did it happen?
I travelled with my wife to her hometown in Ebonyi State together with our children. We went for a function there. After we were through, we left Ebonyi for Akure. On getting to Owo after passing through the Emure-Owo junction where bushmeat is sold, there was a motorcyclist, who was on the same track with us heading in the same direction, but he was riding at the shoulder of the road. My speedometer indicated that I was on 100km per hour. All of a sudden, he just swerved to my side and I hit his bike and he fell down.
After applying the brakes, I stopped a few metres in front. As I stepped out of the car with my wife to assess the damage done and also to check on him, kidnappers numbering about 17 suddenly came out from the bush with AK-47 rifles and cutlasses. They began to shoot in the air. It was as if they were on a war front. I had never experienced such in my life. At that moment, I concluded that that was the end of our lives.
They also shot at a tanker coming, which forced it to stop. But the tanker driver and his motor boy escaped into the bush. I wanted to escape too, but I could not leave my wife and children behind. That was how they captured us. They ransacked the car. They took the N700,000 we had in the car as well as the meat and drinks we bought from Ebonyi State. At that time, there were no vehicles on the road again because the truck had already blocked most parts of the Akure-Owo Expressway. They dragged us into the bush and began to beat us. When my children made attempts to follow us, they chased them back.
While inside the bush, we were made to trek for about five hours. We got to a point where there was a big river. They instructed us to wade through it. The water got to my chest level when we stepped in. As we were passing through the bush, they were beating us. Before we got to the place where they kept their victims it was around past 10pm. We were attacked around 5pm.
As you were being taken to the bush, did you meet anybody or pass through any village in the area?
Throughout the period we were trekking in the bush, we didn’t come across anyone. We didn’t pass through any footpath. We were just walking in the thick bush.
Do you have an idea where your abductors are from?
They are Fulani and they know the terrain very well.
How do you know they are Fulani?
At my age, I can differentiate between a Fulani and a Hausa man. I know a Fulani man very well, likewise the Hausa man.
What is their age range?
They were between 14 and 17 years old. I am also sure that none of the kidnappers has attained 30 and they were armed to the teeth.
When you got to their den, what happened there?
When we got to the destination, they removed my wristwatch and my wife’s wristwatch as well as all other jewellery on us. They tied our legs and our hands behind our backs. They also sealed our mouths and blindfolded us. After doing that, they began to beat us heavily. Later in the midnight, our phones began to ring intermittently, because our relations expected that we ought to have reached Akure. It was the following day that our abductors asked us to tell our family to look for N20m before we could be released.
Did you meet other victims at the place?
We met a man there. I even thought he was dead with the way he was laying on the ground. He didn’t move a bit. He was tied up and blindfolded. It was when they flogged him that I realised that he was still alive. It was later I got to know that he is a Yoruba man but we couldn’t speak with him, because we didn’t really know who was who there. Initially, we were trying to avoid him because it might be another setup. It was when they were beating and instructing him to call his people for negotiation that we knew he was a victim too. The kidnappers insisted that the N5m ransom his people were pleading with was not enough that they must pay N10m before he could be released. It was at that point that I was convinced that he was also a victim with the way he spoke the Yoruba language.
At what point were your people contacted by the kidnappers for ransom?
It was when we got to the last point around 12 in the midnight. They said I was a rich man. I said I was not. I told them that I’m an engineer and I had not been able to get any contract in the last one year and that I didn’t have money. They also said I was lying because of the kind of vehicle I was driving. I told them that I borrowed it for the purpose of the journey. They began to beat me again. At the end of the day, they concluded that my people should go and look for N10m. But my family was only able to raise N2m. They asked my cousin and my wife’s younger brother to bring the money down to Ogbese (in the Akure North Local Government Area of the state). By that time, they changed our location along with the other victim. The first N5m brought by the family of the other victim, they instructed me to carry it on my head to where they shared it.
Who brought the N5m to them?
I don’t know who brought it. They only told me to carry the bag. It was when I carried it that I realised that it was filled with money. We all took off at the same time from that point to where they went to share the money. When we got there, they tied and blindfolded us again. They emptied the content of the bag and they began to count it to confirm that the money was complete. They later called the man, who brought the N5m that if he failed to bring the balance of N5m, they would execute the man who was in their captivity.
How many days did you spend in their captivity?
We spent three days with them inside the bush. The money was shared around 5.30pm on Thursday. Later that evening, they shouted at my wife how much had been raised. She replied that only N1.6m. They then shouted that they would kill us if we failed to raise N2m. It was at that point that I pleaded with them to give her more time so that she could make calls to get the N2m. Later, our people rallied round and were able to raise N2m.
They instructed one of my family members to bring the money. When he bought the money, it was delivered very close to the highway. Some of the kidnappers stayed with us, while those who went to take money were about 200 metres away. The ransom was delivered between Ogbese and Uso. I could see the movement of vehicles on the highway.
When my brother bought the money, they asked him to put it on the ground. They also told him to fill his hand with sand and they chanted incantations in the sand and asked him to pour the sand on the money. After pouring the sand, they told him to jump over the money twice. They later counted the money right there by the highway. They did the same thing to the other person, who brought N5m for the other victim. After confirming the money, they handed my wife and I over to my brother, who brought the ransom, and the other victim was handed over to the person, who brought his own ransom. We left there around 2.30am on Friday.
But there were claims that you were rescued by security operatives; why is the story different now?
That is a big lie. Throughout the horrific experience, we didn’t see any security agent. I even felt that during the payment of ransom, security operatives ought to have laid an ambush for the kidnappers as it was paid along the highway. We didn’t come across any policeman, Amotekun or soldier throughout. The police did not know how I got home until I went to the Anti-Kidnapping Squad to write a statement the following day.
In their communication when you were with them, do you think they were working with some informants in the towns around there?
I can’t specifically say if they have informants because in the evening they used to go and operate and later return. But when they were going for an operation, at least two or three of them would stay back to keep watch over us. But I believe that the motorcyclist I hit the other time was among them because I later got to know that he was a Hausa man. He was used as a trap for me.
What gave you that impression?
After the incident, I went to pick my car, a Lexus, but the DPO of Uso told me that the motorcyclist was initially admitted to the FMC, Owo, but he had been taken to the North. Then, I became suspicious. How would someone, who was on admission, be taken to the far North? I don’t get it.
What were you given to eat during your stay with them?
They gave us only water and dirty water at that. We rationed the water in a plastic bottle for a day. No food at all.
Did you have any other discussion with them apart from the issue of ransom?
Not really, but they initially asked me if I had heard about Boko Haram and I said yes. They also asked if I had heard about kidnappers and I replied yes. They now told me that they were kidnappers.
With your experience how do you think the issue of kidnapping can be tackled in Ondo State?
The kidnappers in Ondo State have grown wings. They know the terrains more than the indigenes. The way they operated inside the bush, it was as if they were brought up in that domain. Even the kinds of guns they carried were intimidating. Where we were kept was not a camp. It was just under a big tree. About 15 metres away from that point, we could hear farmers on their farms. We could hear them clearly.
After the incident, how is your wife feeling now?
My wife is just getting better now. She has not been able to sleep since we came back home. They wanted to rape her, but she told them that she was three months pregnant. That was how they left her. But she was thoroughly beaten. They even beat her more than me. They did that to weaken me in order to quickly get them the money. She was the one allowed to speak on the phone with our family members. She has yet to recover from the trauma.
What were the reactions of your children to that terrible experience?
They have developed a phobia for travelling; they told me that they are not going to travel again. The saddest thing is that, that was the first time they were travelling since I gave birth to them. When we were coming from Ebonyi, they said every December they would be visiting grandma. After the incident, they vowed never to travel again.
What is your advice to people?
The only thing I can say now is that people who love their lives should stay away from the Akure-Owo Expressway area for now. If the government is not ready to do anything about that road, people should stay off the road. Kidnappers have turned that road into a theatre, where they operate unchecked daily.