Your recent kidnap and release after some days caused ripples in Bauchi State. How did it happen?
We attended a seminar in Kaduna State, organised by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for small and medium scale enterprises. We were invited by our association, Motion Pictures Practitioners Association of Nigeria. After the seminar, a friend, Sani Muazu, was to drive to Jos, and since we didn’t go with our cars, we decided to join him. His brother, Salisu Muazu; Danlami Adamu popularly called “Yanke Yanke” and I were heading to Jos and from there, we would take another car to Bauchi. We left at about 1pm but our car became faulty and it took us a lot of time. That was Thursday 23rd May which was my birthday. I didn’t want to travel for the seminar, all instincts told me not to travel coupled with the fact that my wife baked a birthday cake for me, which she wanted me to cut on that day. On reaching Saminaka, they decided to break their fast there. I was the only Christian among them. After breaking their fast, we took off at about 8pm and we had just passed a checkpoint at a place called Jengre, but not up to 10 kilometers from there, we saw another checkpoint with one of the people wearing a Mobile Police uniform and holding an AK-47 rifle. That was at around 8pm. They were flashing light for us to stop and we started contemplating whether to stop or not and immediately, they started shooting sporadically into the air. When they got to us, they asked us to lie down on the ground and they started hitting us with their sticks. We knew that one of us, Sani Muazu is hypertensive and diabetic, we pleaded that he should be released. Thank God they listened to us and released him and sent him away with the promise that he would bail us out.
The point where they asked if I was a Christian or not, they assumed I was a Muslim and it stood at that. They had asked that question because they said we would trek nearly 70 kilometers into the bush and that there is no water there. They don’t fast and they don’t pray. We started trekking at about 8.05pm and we crossed three rivers before we got to a place where we could rest, that was about 2am. On reaching there, they introduced us to the leader of the cell that kidnapped us, because they have their main leader and they call him their “grandmaster”. He gave us his ‘welcome speech’ and told us that he knew he was not going to go to Paradise, that he is not interested in going to heaven. So, to him, taking a life meant nothing. He warned us to be very careful, straightforward and truthful.
He said they didn’t kidnap us for just a token; they kidnapped us so that they can make money. He said each of us would pay N10 million as ransom. Then we started weeping and pleaded with him. He asked us how much we wanted to pay. Then, Salisu Muazu said we could pay N1 million each but that turned out to be their highest point of provocation. They beat us mercilessly but my IPO stood up and lied to them that on the investigation, I told him that I was an orphan and he had told them that he himself was also an orphan, so he won’t allow them to harm an orphan. I wasn’t beaten but the other two were beaten mercilessly.
After we rested for a while, they decided to call Sani Muazu. Unfortunately, it was his wife that picked the call. They asked for his whereabouts and she told them that he was sleeping, that again got them infuriated. They said how can we be in this condition while he is sleeping? We told them that since he is hypertensive, he might have taken pills and that must have made him sleep. They told us that by 3am, we would go to the mountain, a very high hill and it took us hours to get to the summit and into the cave where we were kept. They contacted our families and started negotiations, and warned that anything that happens at the course of the negotiations, good or bad, ends up on us. Any word was spoken to them that is not palatable to them can provoke them and then, it comes back on us.
Can you remember any provocation by family members or any person in the process of negotiations that put you in trouble? What did you do in such circumstances?
Three times it happened that we would have been killed. Danlami anchors a radio programme and he uses his personal phone number for the programme. So, a fan heard about what happened and called his number. When he called, he said he wanted to speak with Danlami ‘Yanke Yanke’ and they spoke in Hausa. Their leader who picked the call said: “it’s not Danlami, it’s your mother.” The fan now got angry and answered him: “so, you are those kidnappers? We are ready for you, we are coming to that forest. We are coming to kill you.” He was using abusive words while talking to them, cursing their father that it will never be well with them and all that. After that, they came back to us and wanted to kill us. But we explained to them that we have only one channel of communication which is Seth. There’s no other person.
The second time, it was Yanke Yanke’s wife who called them and told them to fear God and release her husband. That also provoked them so much that they nearly killed us.
Thirdly, it was Sani Muazu himself whom they said speaks to them arrogantly and was not minding his language.
We do not pray for anybody to fall into the hands of kidnappers; but if it happens, people should take these people seriously. People don’t take them seriously not knowing what they are capable of doing. These people are a syndicate, they are well organised, they have intelligence. Even when it went on air in Jos, Plateau State that we were kidnapped, someone called them from the town telling them that it was on the air. They came back to tell us that our people had gone to the media but we told them they were looking for support. That explanation saved us. In my own case, I thank God that my phone was switched off throughout. I had a low battery and there was no cause for them to even switch on my phone. Remember I said they assumed I was a Muslim because, at every point, they kept repeating that had it been we were Christians, they would collect the ransom and still kill us. Even after they collected the ransom, they still repeated that that would have been the time to kill us.
You said they killed one victim. Why did they kill him?
I don’t really know but there’s this speech their leader would normally give which they call “the death speech”. He would say: “We didn’t want to kill you, all we needed was money but we want you to die knowing that your family members and your people hate you and they don’t want you.” Then the boss will give the order. And once he says “kill him”, you’re gone. They’ll gun you down. That, however, also depends on how he wants you to die. If he says “give him tea”, it means they’ll cut the victim into pieces. Once he calls “Sergeant,” then you are in for trouble because he is in charge of execution and torture. It was really traumatic. Rain will fall on you, you’ll dry up and another rain will still come and fall on you again.
How did you get through the days with them?
The only way we got through was the prayers of people. This played a major role because there are times we believed that it was over, that it was time for us to go but something will just happen and avert it. For instance, at some point, they gave two hours for our people to raise the ransom of N10 million each. When it was two hours, they came and started giving the death speech. Then, Yanke Yanke asked for permission to say something. They allowed him. God just gave him inspiration and he started cracking jokes (because he is a comedian). When he cracked the joke, their leader laughed and laughed. They all laughed so hard that one of them even fell to the ground and when he got up, the boss said: “do you know when last I laughed? Because you have made me laugh, I’m going to be merciful on you people. I’ll reduce the ransom to N10 million for the three of you and I will increase the duration.” But he didn’t fix any time.
How many days did you spend in the kidnappers’ den?
We were seized on Thursday and were released on Sunday, meaning that we spent about four days.
How much was paid as ransom and how did it get to them?
I don’t want that to go public. They said they wanted Sani Muazu to bring the ransom so that they will collect the money and kill him. They told us that. But as God would have it, our negotiator was very obedient to them and played the card very well. In fact, they praised him when he brought the ransom. They told us he was a good man and that it was because of him that we are still alive. They said that if not for the way he handled this issue, they would have killed us. They went to about 40 kilometers from where we were kept to collect the ransom. They left two people with us with AK-47 rifle. They left instructions to our guards that once they get a signal from them, just a flash on their phone, they should just gun us down; but if there›s no flash, they should wait until they return.
They went and collected the ransom from him. After they came back with it, they counted the money and complained that it was incomplete. Then they said our ransom is incomplete and they will let us go. They now said ‘this would have been the right time for us to kill you if you were Christians, but you are lucky, we will let you go’. We were about going when the boss said: «Yanke Yanke, you made me laugh, so if you›ll wait for us to kidnap another set of people, I will give you N1 million from the ransom they will pay because you made me laugh.” We all said no and laughed over it and we thanked them. They told the man that was sympathetic towards me to show us the way out. While we were going, he was really remorseful and asked me to forgive him, and said he had never been sympathetic towards any man since he started that like he was towards me.
Since you were close to him, how much of himself did he reveal?
He said they took everything he owned from him. He said he was just a normal Fulani man with just a stick, rearing his cattle but he said most of his cattle were rustled while some of them were killed and in return, they gave him a gun so that he will do the kidnapping business with them and then share the profit. That particular guy was really very remorseful because he asked me to be praying for him. He told me that he wanted to discontinue kidnapping after our kidnap.
When you were under that captivity, what was running through your mind, how did you feel? Were you scared that you would die any moment?
It was a horrible experience. At a point they said they would move us to the location where their grandmaster was and that he doesn’t negotiate anything less than N50 million. They said it is about 60 kilometers from where we were. I had a fracture which was disturbing me and because of that, I couldn’t walk properly. They said I wouldn’t be able to reach there and that the best thing for them to do was to kill me because they could not leave me there alone. That same man that has been sympathetic to me said he had one drug that he will give me so that I can walk. He gave me the drug; I am telling you that less than 15 minutes after I took it, he asked me to stand up and I stood up. He said I should go forth and back; I was walking without pain because the pain was gone. He now said to me that I could now go to anywhere but by the time the effect of the drug had gone, I will be in deep trouble.
After you were freed, was there a side effect and what were the side effects of the drug they gave you?
Yes, there was. If we were in an advanced country, we should have gone straight to the rehabilitation after we gained our freedom. I went to see my Doctor and he gave me some drugs.
You are a musician and with this experience, are you thinking about using your talent to send a message on the issue? If yes, what would that message be?
They asked me to tell the President that he should create employment and that there should be a total overhaul of the security mechanism in the country. They have their own pains and there has to be a healing process. I am telling you that if there will be a genuine way of reconciliation and actions that will be taken in the form of amnesty, I am telling you they will drop their weapons.
Kidnapping is becoming a normal thing now. What do you think the government should do?
The first thing the government should do is to overhaul the security system of the country totally, because there are moles even in the security system. They need to fish them out. Another thing is that of unemployment and I am not just talking about employment in the urban centers, it should be everywhere.
What did these kidnappers feed you with while you were with them?
They fed us with one mango in the morning, one in the evening. Throughout, it was this 35cl plastic Coca Cola bottle that they gave us for it to sustain us for the duration of the kidnap.
Can you describe these kidnappers, how were they dressed?
These kidnappers are typical Fulani men and they are on drugs, they are herdsmen, they told us themselves. One of them said he had never entered a car before, he said he can trek from Maiduguri to Port Harcourt on his bare foot. They spoke in Fulfulde among themselves but if they will relate with us, they do so in Hausa. They never prayed even for once. There is nothing Muslim about them.
How about your family, what did you later find out was going on with them?
Our families even got traumatised than us. To us, we took it as 50-50: If we die or we survive, we knew what was happening there but they didn’t.