Yahaya Isa is a staff of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA). He was kidnapped alongside his wife, brother and friend’s wife by armed bandits along Birnin-Gwari- Kaduna road on 10th September, 2018. He shares his experience in captivity for 13 days and how his family had to raise N5 million to secure their release. Excerpts
Can you share your experience in the hands of your abductors?
Like every other kidnapping, there is never a good part of being kidnapped, but I thank Allah that we were not harmed. As you know, I was kidnapped alongside my wife, brother and my friend’s wife. The camp we were taken to was nothing close to what I expected. There were no buildings and we had no roof over our heads, we stayed under the sun most of the times and the only time we could access shelter was when it was raining. There was a small shade that we go under to hide from the rain. Also, the kind of food we were being given during the 10 days we were in captivity was not palatable. The food was rice with salt and small palm oil and we were only given once a day. When I realized that it was the only food we were going to be given, I decided to fast continuously throughout my stay with the bandits. When it is time to break my fast, I eat the food then I continue fasting till the next day. The bandits did not let us be, at any instance, they threatened us saying that if our families do not release the money, they will beat us up even though they did not tie us up.
15 million was initially demanded by your abductors for your release, how were you able to bring it down to N5 million?
It took us 12 days before the leader of the gang accepted to collect N5 million. The money I believe was high because we had two women with us and they kept threatening us that if we do not bring the money, they will beat us up. There was a time when they asked us (the men) to go and leave the women so that they can take them into their family pending the time we are able to raise the money, we objected the idea because I did not let them know she was my wife, rather, I behaved like she was my junior sister because, I am sure, if they knew she was my wife, the threats would have been more. There was a a time they sent some boys to come and beat me up and I believe when the boys came, they did not get room to act because the approach matters. If you want to show that they are infringing on your rights, that is when you get in trouble with them, but when you are respectful to them, they tend to, can I say, pity you? At a point, they said it has been long since they captured people like us, they normally rotate the people that guard us and most times two of them are carrying AK47’s while the other two are not armed. As time when on, our relationship with some of the bandits became cordial and they started to feel sorry for us and they kept complaining that the amount pegged for our release by their leader is too much. There were even some of them who did not want to have eye to eye contact with us, they even stopped coming to where we were being kept because they were not in support of what their leader was doing. The thing that scared us was that we did not want a situation where they will bring someone that would inflict pain on us, because at one point, they brought some children between the ages of 13years to 15years and they started poking the women with sticks carrying guns.
Can you describe the camp?
The camp is located on a rock, and when we need to get water from a nearby river, we have to climb down to rock being escorted by an armed man and when we fetch the water, we climb back up. At the beginning, we found it very difficult to climb the rock, but as time passed, we got used to it. In the 13 days I was in captivity, I managed to take my bath twice, but the women did not until they returned home.
How many of the bandits did you see in the camp?
They are not all in the camp, there is a village nearby that they have sacked, that is where they stay, they only come, check on us and go back. In the days I was there, I can tell you I saw nothing less than 30 different faces.
How long is the place you were kept by the bandits to where they abducted you from?
They abducted us at 9am on that fateful day and we did not get to the camp till 7pm after walking for 10 hours in the bush. We crossed the forest; we crossed rivers where we had to hold on to each other so that we do not get washed away, we crossed rocks and so many obstacles before we got to our destination located on a large rock.
Were there other people in the camp when you got there?
Yes, there were two other men when we got to the camp, I learnt they were abducted a day before we were brought there.
What kind of of people are they?
They were all pure Fulani, they spoke the language. We even tried to explain to them that we are also Fulani, we even showed them picture of us in our local communities, but they did not buy the idea instead, they saw pictures in my wife’s phone of mine in different places because of my profession and it suggested to them that we were doing well and maybe that is what informed the amount they demanded as ransom.
How is your wife coping after the whole incident?
She is coping, it’s just that because of the harsh weather and the fact that we did not have a roof over our heads, she developed rashes on her body and she became darker. Other than that, she is doing well.
How did they treat you?
They treated us fine; at least there was no beating and no molestation of the women.
How is your family coping with the huge ransom that was paid for your release?
Since it’s the same family, because I am married to my cousin, we tried to bring it down to N4 million, but because we heard that they killed an old man in another camp in the course of negotiation. The other members that took pity on us advised us against it, I don’t know why they were being nice to us, but maybe because we were very religious during our stay, we said our prayers and we even preached to them to embrace God. The family put together what they could and borrowed the rest. We had chances to run away, but because we had two women with us and it took us 10 hours to get here being led by the bandits, we felt it will be difficult to get back in three days, but if we were only men, we would have tried the escape.
What is your call to government especially after your experience?
The government needs to do a lot of work because if it does not act fast, many people will not have a means of livelihood and I think that is their aim. While we were discussing, some of them told me that the reason they engage in kidnapping is because whenever they come into town, the local vigilante kills the Fulani man without any explanation and the police arrests them and after interrogation, they let them go. This, they said has crippled their means of livelihood which is why they resortedto kidnapping. I want to use this opportunity to call on the government to as a matter of urgency look into their claim with a view to ending the spate of kidnapping in the country. When I was released, soldiers interviewed us in the hospital and said they will come back and see me at home. I have not heard from them.