Daily Trust staff Ahmad Garba was kidnapped on his way from Abuja to Kaduna on March 7, 2019. Here, he shares his harrowing eight-day ordeal in the kidnappers’ den.
Daily Trust: How were you kidnapped?
Ahmad Garba: It happened on Thursday March 7, 2019. After we finished production in the office, I got set to travel to Kaduna from Abuja because I had an appointment with my doctor the next day (Friday). I left the office around 2pm and got to Zuba Motor Park around 3pm with a friend who was also travelling.
I was excited that we got to the park on time as I had hoped to be in Kaduna in about an hour and a half. Despite the gridlock on the highway due to ongoing road construction, we arrived Jere without much difficulty.
When we got to Rijana town around 7pm, one of the passengers alighted. We didn’t notice that there were no vehicles plying the road. Less than a kilometer from there, we started hearing gunshots close to a bridge.
There were two vehicles before ours. When the two stopped, we did same but our driver immediately switched off the car headlights. By the time the shooting stopped, everywhere was silent and dark. One of the passengers in our car whispered to our driver to reverse the car and he obliged. But immediately he started the car, they came after.
Unfortunately, the car fell into a ditch and then I knew we were in serious trouble. Our driver tried to engage one of the bandits in a fight to dispossess him of his gun but the rest of the group overpowered and shot him. I tried to run into the bush without knowing that one of them was close by, he ran after me and hit me with a stick. I fell down and he collected my phone.
Amongst us, only one person escaped. When I didn’t see him after we were assembled by the kidnappers, I thought he had been killed but I later heard he escaped. They tried to take our driver who was wounded into the bush but he refused to stand up so they shot him again in our presence and left his body right there in the bush.
We trekked from 8pm to 2am before we got to their camp inside the forest. As we trekked, they kept flogging those who were slow. We had no shoes on as we moved deep into the forest. With the light from their flashlights, we were led to their camp, after crossing several streams.
We were seven males and one female – a lady of about 22 who I understand lives around Sabon Tasha in Kaduna. When we got to one area inside the forest, they called their gang members who came on motorcycles to convey us to their camp.
DT: Were you kept in a house inside the forest?
Garba: No, we were kept in the open because there was no house there. From my estimation, we trekked for about 50 kilometres from the main road to the camp and we didn’t come across any settlement or village. At their camp, they shot in the air to alert their members who awaited their arrival. Those ones also responded to indicate they were around. We were kept close to a big rocky range of hills. The gang leader, nicknamed ‘Commander’, came to us and read out the rules and regulations of the camp.
DT: What were the rules?
Garba: The first is that they brought us there to make money, so anybody that tried to escape would be killed. According to him, no matter how long one stays there, he/she will surely return home safe as long as he is disciplined and obedient.
He reminded us of what happened to our driver and said anyone who misbehaves will face the same consequence.
In the morning, they discovered my identity card which showed I’m a journalist, so they shifted their attention to me.
DT: Do you mean there were educated?
Garba: Yes, some of them can read.
DT: What type of people were they?
Garba: They were Fulani between ages 20 to 25. It’s only their leader and a few others that were up to 30. They were all wearing camouflage uniforms and well-armed. We got used to gunshots while in captivity, because they always shot into the air.
DT: How was life at the detention camp?
Garba: We spent eight days in the forest and slept on leaves. No bath, no new clothes, and they didn’t care about our condition. The moment we lay down to sleep, they would surround us, which means there was no way to escape.
There was an elderly man who always led us in prayer. Although they never prayed, they allowed us to perform ours daily. We sit in the open from morning till night. They served us rice and palm oil on cellophane bags. The lady was served separately. Even at night, her space was away from ours.
In our presence, ‘Commander’ warned his boys not to even attempt to misbehave with her because, according to him, he was in the business to make money and not to rape women.
He warned that any of them that breaks that law would be killed.
In the first three days, we were treated nicely. Then it changed, as the kidnappers started threatening us, saying we were of no value to our families because nobody has called to discuss our release. They said victims only spend three days in their custody and are released or killed. But we’ve been in their custody for almost five days without any strong negotiation with our family members. We pleaded for more time.
They placed N30 million ransom on me because I’m a journalist. They blamed journalists for the nation’s problems, that we were responsible for the raids carried out against them by security agencies. The leader said we write negative reports against them.
I learnt he later reduced the ransom to N15m. The amount was again reduced to N5m. At a point, he realized we couldn’t provide that kind of money, so he assembled us to ask how much we can raise. I told him N500,000. He said he had reduced my ransom to N2m as his final decision.
DT: So, your ransom was higher because of your profession?
Garba: Yes, and he gave Thursday as deadline but unfortunately my family couldn’t meet up. ‘Commander’ later told me the money has been reduced to N1.5m because my aged mother called and pleaded with him.
I spoke with Lawal, a friend of mine who was raising the funds, and he told me they only have a million naira. I told him to bring it since there was no hope of getting additional N500,000 before daybreak.
After the call, I told ‘Commander’ that my family could only raise a million naira. The following day, around 10am, he informed us that we were going home because they have received all the ransom.
They also gave us N1,500 each as transportation fare. About seven of them led us out of the forest with a warning to be fast or else we could be kidnapped again by another group. After a distance, they went back, leaving us to find our way out.
I couldn’t walk fast due to my health condition so I was supported by one of the victims who always carried me on his back. The girl too was released even though she didn’t pay any ransom. She had no phone and couldn’t produce any phone number off hand, she was just lucky.
We started trekking from 10am, and by 2pm we hadn’t reached Rijana town. Luckily, we came across some Fulani men on a motorcycle and my friends begged them to assist me because of my condition. They took me to the main road where I bought slippers and then boarded a bus back home.