By Wole Mosadomi
The victims of Minna kidnap saga bear nasty tales! And the tales are many and varied: Some can wrench the mind and melt stony hearts. As they breathed the air of freedom after nearly a week in captivity, they were indeed a pathetic sight.
With dusty heads and wrinkled visage, they could barely speak as all their energy had been sapped by the traumatic experience unleashed on them by their captors, popularly known as bandits.
They were on their way from Kontagora to Minna, the state capital when they were captured about two weeks ago and taken into the forest until ransom was negotiated and paid for their release.
Narrating their story, it is obvious that they may never forget their ordeal in a long while; it is a painful experience that may haunt them for the rest of their lives. Indeed, even after their release, these unfortunate victims of the Niger State Transport Authority, NSTA, are yet to comprehend the fate that befell them when their journey was abruptly terminated by gunmen who proceeded to inflict pain, tears and agony on them.
It was supposed to be another routine trip for the 60 passengers in the luxury bus that was to convey them to their destination. Made up of men, women and children, some of them were on their way to a wedding, while others were going for a burial.
There was no premonition that their journey would be ill-fated one. But barely an hour later when they were close to the Zungeru Bridge, the evil men, all armed to the teeth, struck like demons from hell and ended their joy. They flooded the highway and forced the doors of the bus open and descended on the occupants. And that was the beginning of their misery.
The heartless bandits did not care about the nursing mothers and their babies as well as pregnant women among their victims. All in the bus were dealt with mercilessly and threatened with death if they failed to cooperate with them. One of them women lost her three months pregnancy in the process as she could hardly cope with the harsh conditions and brutality unleashed on them inside the bush.
Bitter experiences: Most of the victims said they were convinced the bandits wanted to kill them on the third day of their captivity as the ransom they asked for failed to arrive. This was after the hoodlums had collected all the cash, phones and all other valuables they found on their victims.
One of them, Mohammed Ndagi, who is a civil servant with the state government, said: “We were a few metres to the Zungeru Bridge when the bandits jumped from the bush into the road and forced the driver to open the doors and marched us group by group into the bush.
We trekked for three days: “We trekked for several kilometres and they asked us to wait under a mango tree. They went back to escort others to the same spot. There were motorcycles already parked at a distance from the highway but the motorcycles were only used to ferry the women and children to their final destination, which was in the thick forest.
We the men were forced to trek several kilometres before getting to the designated spot. The journey took us three days, trekking day and night, though we were allowed to rest intermittently.
No water to drink for days: “There was no food or water for the first three days and some of us nearly gave up the ghost as we were tired. They beat us mercilessly and inflicted serious injuries on us.
They almost killed me because of my Yoruba tribal marks—woman
A caterer, Mrs. Oyerinde, said she was engaged by the bereaved family to cook for the invited guests at the burial in Rijau. But that was not to be as she was kidnapped with others during the ill-fated journey. “The bandits separated us the women and children from the men and carried us on their waiting motorcycles batch by batch to their first stopover.
“For the men, they were made to trek the same long-distance along with some cows which the kidnappers had rustled from different villages. For the first day, there was no food or water and we slept on the rock in the very harsh weather.
“Children were crying everywhere and nobody could give them any attention. The second day, we started another journey to another unknown destination as we were ferried on motorcycles while the men also trekked again.”
Mrs. Oyerinde said the bandits for the first time asked if they would want to take tea and that out of joy, most of them, including the men and children chorused loudly in affirmation, not knowing that their own tea was lashes of cane and that this led to severe beating by the bandits, with the men suffering the worst of it.
“They later served us cooked rice without pepper, seasoning or salt. Though each of us got portions of between one and two spoons we were happy because we were almost dying of hunger having not taken any food for days.
“Some of the women broke into uncontrollable weeping and mourning as the small quantity of rice could not go round. In my case, my tribal mark gave me out as a Yoruba woman among the rest and they started threatening me with gun and I broke down, crying. They wanted to kill me because of my tribe and I lost hope at that point.”
My saddest days in life so far—Adamu
An immigration Officer, Adamu, in his own account, described the unfortunate episode as the most traumatic and saddest days of his life as he was kidnapped along with three of his kids.
“We were ordered to cook by ourselves. We cooked only rice without the basic ingredients like salt and other form of seasoning. They only sprinkled it with drops of palm oil. For water, we were only provided a bottle for about 10 persons.
“The water was drawn from any available pond or stream. This is the same water they and their animals drink and we were also forced to take it and did not complain since there was no other option.
“For the children, they used to bring out a few pieces of Kulikuli and biscuits and share to them whenever they cried for food even though the quantity was not enough to satisfy them.”
Pointing to his three kids, Adamu was overcome with emotions as he said: “If not for God, my life and that of these my children would have been wasted, leaving my wife and the last kid at home alone.”
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