Lagos, Nigeria – A 24-year-old photographer, Olabode Adekunle, shares with Punch reporter, GODFREY GEORGE his experience in the hands of kidnappers who abducted him along the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway after his vehicle had a flat tyre.
What is your name?
My name is Olabode Adekunle. I live in Magboro, Ogun State. I am 24 years old. I am a photographer.
There was a report that you were kidnapped along the Long Bridge stretch of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. Is this true?
Yes, this is very true. I was kidnapped by Fulani men along the bridge, very close to the Mikano factory on Tuesday (September 6, 2022). It happened around 3.45am or so that morning.
What were you doing out that early in the morning?
My brother, who was travelling abroad, and I were trying to beat the traffic. You know how terrible the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway has been these past months. If one had to arrive at the airport at 7am, one had to leave before 4am. It is terrible. So, I was the one driving one of the cars. Another brother of mine was driving another, in which my brother who was travelling was.
What happened then?
Everything happened very fast, I must say. I was driving and one of the tyres of the car I was driving just burst. It happened close to Mikano factory. Before I got to that spot, there was a ghastly motor crash there, and the person with me in the car and I were still talking about it when the tyre burst. Some police officers were even around the spot. It was just like a dream, honestly. The guys were fast. It was not even up to five minutes and the Fulani guys just came out and attacked us and abducted me.
Before then, I had just come down from the car – a Toyota Highlander (2006) – to see how we could change the tyre or manage it till we could change it. Before I got down, I was telling the person beside me how I thought it was a bad idea to have stopped there. After I checked and entered the car, the Fulani guys just attacked us. There were about three of them at first. So, while I was struggling with them, another one joined them and the guy beside me ran because the attackers came from the driver’s side. I couldn’t overpower them alone as they were hitting me and pushed me down from the bridge and I landed on the ground where others were waiting to collect me. When I found myself in that position, I just told myself that the end had come. I couldn’t struggle with them from that position again. That was how they took me inside the bush. We walked for like two hours on foot inside the swamp and through the water till we got to their hideout which is an uncompleted building with a decking.
The boys who attacked me are very young boys – teenagers! The oldest of them, from my assessment, would not be more than 23 years old.
How did you ascertain they were Fulani people?
They were Fulani people. If they were not, I wouldn’t say so. They spoke their language and they also communicated with clicks just the same way they talk to their cows.
Did they have their cows there with them?
No, they didn’t but with the way they behaved and the way they spoke, it was crystal clear they were Fulani people. They had the demeanour of the pastoralist and it is not something I would just make up.
For how long were you with them?
We were there for about the entire day. They didn’t speak to me or say anything. They didn’t even say I was kidnapped or what they wanted. They just stared at me and smoked all manner of hard drugs. It was such a horrible sight to watch these young people destroy their lives with drugs! After an hour, one of them came to meet me and asked me if I was the one travelling, and I told them I was only accompanying my brother who was travelling. They didn’t believe me so they insisted that I was the one travelling because, according to them, they saw the bags in the car. They also asked if I was a police officer. I said I wasn’t. They said a lot of police officers were looking for me. I said I wasn’t an officer. It angered them and they brought out their whip and began to beat me. It was merciless! They beat me with the stick they use to herd their cows; you can’t even imagine that kind of torture.
Did you sleep there?
Of course, I did on the bare floor with a dirty wrapper they provided. But what choice did I have? I slept there till the next day (Wednesday, September 7, 2022). At around 8am, they told me to pack and follow them. They left the building and went deeper into the bush. They pitched their tent and mosquito net. They carried bags which contained all they needed so it was not difficult for them at all. It was as though they lived on the road. I guess they must have sensed that they might be traced there. We waited till around, say, 2pm, before they gave me the phone to call my family. Before they gave me the phone, they gave me another round of beating, perhaps, to instil fear in me, so I would be shivering when I call my family. They also warned me not to disclose the location I was. I called my parents and told them what had happened. Then, I told them I was at Kara. I spoke in Yoruba. Immediately they heard ‘Kara’, they took the phone from me, hung up and slapped me. I told them I didn’t know when I said so.
After they were satisfied with the torture, they then told me that they had kidnapped me and I had to bail myself with a ransom of N100m. I was taken aback. I told them that there was no way I could afford that so, and they reduced the ransom to N30m. I told them I couldn’t afford that either. So, they asked me what I could afford, and I said I could afford N2m. They said it was N10m they wanted, and it was final. They threatened to resume the beating, but I begged that even if they killed me, there was no way my family would be able to produce that amount of ransom. So, one of them told me that I would not be able to reach out to my family till after six days. I was silent because I was too tired.
Later on, they told me they were armed robbers who were not scared of death. They threatened that if my parents did not bring the money, they would transfer me to a place called Mafia and to Zaria. They later said my family should take the ransom money to Ilorin.
How much did they collect as ransom in the end?
After they saw that there was no way in the world I could afford N10m, they reduced it to N3m. My family begged them for N2m, but they said even if they collected the N2m, they would still kill me. One of them said I should pray to my God because it was only Him who could save me from their hands. I was so scared. He kept saying he would collect that ransom and kill or transfer me to the Mafia. At around 8pm, we left that place and went back to the uncompleted building barefoot, where they told me to negotiate with my family. My people told them that the money was ready. They then said they should buy suya (roasted meat), cartons of tin milk and malt drink; packs of cigarettes and lighter when they were bringing the ransom. As we waited, no minute passed without them smoking hard drugs. I was so scared for my life.
Were they armed?
One of them had a gun. The rest had knives, daggers and other weapons. This is something they do often and they were prepared. They attacked us like experts. Those guys know every part of that bush. They didn’t walk like they were confused. They had left footprints so they knew exactly where they were going in that forest. When they wanted to release me, I overheard one of them talking to one of their colleagues on the phone, and they were mentioning names of ‘streets’ they have carved out in the forest. I heard one say something like, “We dey Zaria Road”. With this, it is clear they know every part of that bush.
Did you eat anything?
They gave me that their garri that has onions inside and water. That was all I ate.
How did you regain freedom?
I had even lost hope; I had resigned to fate that I would die there because I didn’t hear anything from my family and I thought they couldn’t come up with the money as they had promised. They just told me to follow them and it looked like they were heading out. I think one of them had gone to collect the money. They called him ‘Sergeant’. The others were called ‘officers’. The money was brought to the uncompleted building, I guess, before I was allowed to go. There was one of them there who understood Yoruba well, but he was also Fulani because he also communicated in Fulfulde. That one is the devil among them. He was ruthless. He was a very young boy but his heart is dark and it didn’t look like he cared about humanity at all.
They just took me to a part of the road and I met their boss. He was the one who told me that my family loves me and they have given them the money. They asked me to clear my iPhone but I didn’t log out on iCloud. So, it is still active on that phone and can be tracked. They returned my SIM card and told me to call my family to meet me at Fagbems Filling Station, around OPIC.
Did they drop you off there?
No, they didn’t do that. They simply led me to a bush path and told me to walk straight through the water path till I see Fagbems. That was what I did. Before I knew it, I could see the block industry. It was not up to 30 minutes before I got to the bus stop. One of them was kind enough to give me N3,000 as transport fare. This was around 3.40am when I checked my iPhone to clear it on their instruction.
How have you coped with the trauma?
Honestly, this Lagos-Ibadan Expressway is a deadly road. It is not new that that place has become a den of ruthless terrorists. I messed up big time! I shouldn’t have stopped when the tyre went flat. I should have managed it. Stopping was the window I gave them. I have had a similar experience on that bridge before when these same terrorists came out to rob passengers during traffic. I had to run for my life. I jumped down from the bus that day and ran. I was driving this time and there was nothing I would have done.
Did you report this to the police when you regained the freedom, to share your experience?
Yes, I have, together with my family. The car was even parked at the police station before we bailed it. It was my dad’s car I drove, not mine. The terrorists had broken the glass that day. Everyone should just be cautious on that road especially at night and early in the morning. If you have a flat tyre, just keep moving. If the car is bad, leave it and run as fast as your legs can carry you till you get to safety. It has now become a deathtrap. (PUNCH)