A sexual and reproductive health advocate, Mr ’Sola Fagorusi, shares his harrowing experience in kidnappers’ den
Tell us about yourself.
I am a Nigerian. I have lived for years in both the northern and southern parts of the country at various times and I have been to 28 states in this country for work-related purposes. I am married to a northerner. I work with Onelife Initiative for Human Development, an organisation with core programming around enterprise (relating to agriculture and food security), sexual and reproductive health and rights; and governance and policies. I also freelance as a development communication consultant.
You had a nasty kidnap experience in Ekiti State not long ago. How did it happen?
I was heading back to Ibadan, Oyo State, after a midday meeting at Ikole Ekiti, Ekiti State, that day. Rather than connect through Ado-Ekiti, I chose to go through the Esure axis and then linked up through Aramoko Ekiti. I was in company with a colleague and was driving at about 100km per hour when suddenly the window glass got shattered. This was some minutes past 4pm as I had just received a phone call from the office before then.
It did not occur to me then that it was a gunshot. The car’s engine went quiet. I saw a young man wielding a machete in front of us and I knew this was trouble in its very dense form. My colleague was already bleeding from a bullet scratch on the head and rightfully urged me to start the engine. I thought otherwise, thankfully, as that might have infuriated our abductors, thinking we were trying to run or get something in the car to protect ourselves against them. Weeks after my rescue, I found out that one of the bullets went straight into the brainbox of the car and there were bullets on the headrest where my colleague sat. That was the first miracle — the bullets did not hit us directly.
Do you think you were a target of the kidnappers or would you describe it as a random kidnap case?
It was a random kidnap case and it could have been anyone. They just mounted the elevated point on the road and shot. In the second week of my kidnap, they did the same thing. They went on the road and picked two other guys who were just returning from a wedding in Osogbo, Osun State. So, it was clearly not a targeted case. Besides, my profile does not even match that. Those in my lean circles will tell you this convincingly.
Would you attribute the way you dressed or the vehicle you were driving on that day to the reason the kidnappers attacked you?
There’s a chance that they profile vehicles before shooting. In my case, the vehicle’s windows were wound up and I was not really formally dressed. The first thing I did when I saw that the vehicle was no longer moving was to remove my glasses and also raised up my hands. God helped me to be acutely aware of my surroundings. I needed to create a further impression on them that I was possibly a wrong target. Given the rough road terrain, the preference was to use an SUV. In this case, I was driving a 14-year-old car. A car parked at that same spot where I was stopped was a Toyota Corolla. So, my thesis will be that their targets were private vehicles and not commercial vehicles. I however also reckon that after waiting for private vehicles for hours without luck, they will one day switch to commercial vehicles.
Was that your first time of visiting Ekiti State?
No, it was not. That particular road was one I had used on a number of occasions. I am familiar with the terrain in Ekiti given the support we are currently providing for smallholder cassava farmers in the state.
How many days did you spend in the kidnappers’ den and how were you treated?
Unfortunately, I spent 21 days with them. I looked on, unable to do anything. A few times, I tried negotiating myself out of the situation without success. They provided food on a daily basis and insisted that we ate. We drank water from the stream and also from the cusps of leaves that were on the ground. They also beat us mercilessly at least twice a day to ensure we were subdued especially when negotiating with our contacts.
Were you their only victim on the day you were abducted?
In the first week and a few days, I was with my colleague. Immediately, the ransom was paid and we were looking forward to freedom, they changed their mind. They let my colleague go, held the man who had come to drop the ransom and I was back to square one. I think that was the most heart-breaking moment for me. They later went on the road on one of the evenings and brought in two other persons. That brought the number to four.
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What tribe do you think your abductors belong to?
Clearly, they were Fulani, given their physiognomy. Aside this, they also mentioned this themselves while hinting at tribes they dearly dislike. When I tried connecting on the instance of the language they spoke, it got them angry and they tried establishing if I could speak Hausa or not. For the leaders of the group, I am certain they are Fulani, albeit from Niger Republic. A few incidents pointed clearly to this, aside their boast of similar kidnapping exploits in Mali and other locations in the West African coast.
A ransom was raised and another victim released instead of you and the person who took the ransom to them kidnapped. Did they tell you why they did that?
No, they did not. It’s possible that they thought they could get more from us. What I however noticed was their preference for meals on that day and the day I was eventually released. They opted for fufu. I don’t think it was a coincidence even though I can’t tell why.
What went through your mind during those harrowing days?
I thought first about my relationship with God. It was an opportunity for deep self-introspection. I saw them shoot a man in my presence on the third day with them and he was bleeding heavily and struggling for breath. They moved us away from that location immediately. I was also more concerned about the emotional pain my wife, parents, in-laws and friends must have been going through. One thing I was again sure of then was that the church was praying.
Was that the only time they changed location?
We moved around a lot. We would trek for hours at night in pitch darkness and they knew their way around without using any form of light.
What was your greatest fear while in captivity?
My fear was majorly not for myself but for my folks. I was trying to rationalise if they would eventually harm me. They were a team and not for once did I contemplate running because it was likely going to be a futile exercise. It was the rainy season and the vegetation was thick. I was also mentally drained especially as they kept regular watch over us.
How did they announce to you that you would be released on the particular day you were released?
They did not do that directly. We only drew inferences that our release was imminent. Usually, we didn’t know when some of them were not with us because they always made us sit and turn our back on them. We also had instructions never to look at their faces. They used face masks and other items to cover their faces. One of the abductees who ignored this at various times was always beaten particularly for this.
How many people kidnapped you and was anyone helping with their daily needs or supplies?
There were seven of them. I could readily account for five of them on the basis of what they did. There were however two others that I knew were present but seldom got involved with us. One of them was their cook, four of them had guns with them and of these four, two of them were responsible for giving directions. There were times we walked for hours during the daytime and sometimes at night. They had people who sent call credit to them. Someone else was responsible for supplying cigarettes, another for occasional food supplies and there was someone changing their currency into dollars. That is the much I could tell from their conversations.
How did you feel on the day of your release and how did you contact your loved ones?
It was a second shot at living. I was thankful to God. I was released alongside three other persons. Two of them were workers at the Federal Medical Centre, Ido-Ekiti. They asked the person who brought my ransom to hand it over to the negotiators for the other two abductees. My friends retrieved me at the hospital that night and took me home the next day amid the #EndSARS protests across the various roads we had to pass through.
Have you completed treatment to ascertain your health status after release?
I was lucky to have a rich support system on my return. Members of my house cell from The Stone Church saw to this. I saw a psychiatrist, physiotherapist, neurologist and a general practitioner as well. They also had me take a series of tests including HIV and Hepatitis especially as the kidnappers used a blade to shave my hair. They did this to excite themselves. The only pending concern, which is improving by the day, is my hands following what the doctors explained as sensory loss because of a median nerve compression. This was as a result of my hands being tied tightly at some point.
What is your view about the security situation in Ekiti State with the abduction cases?
Ekiti has a perfect cover for kidnapping given the thick rain forest vegetation in the state. The forest cover provides the perfect environment for this. The impression one gets is that the government is not concerned. It was a pretty hopeless situation. All official channels explored were futile. Till today, no one from the state or any of the security apparatus has debriefed me to get information that can ensure the perpetrators are caught. The forest is a resource and it needs to be branded as one. What the kidnappers have done is to harness the resources since the government won’t do that. The streams, wild fruits, terrains, etc have been thoroughly mapped by these reprobates for use. It is the same thing that happened to Sambisa forest. If those forests were in active use and deployed for sub-national use involving research, forest conservation, etc, the kidnappers won’t find it a convenient spot to use.
Have you retrieved your car?
I did after several weeks through a proxy. What I however noticed is how the value chain has been expanded with several persons now benefiting from it unashamedly. I still haven’t been able to get a police report of the incident which I needed earlier for insurance claim and also for documentation.
What did the hoodlums tell you while leaving their hideout?
One of them who was particularly very mean during the 21-day ordeal mentioned shooting at me in particular. “Make I give you one ‘groundnut’ for leg,” he offered with excitement. They were excited as they had got ransoms from three of us and were also high on drugs. They referred to bullets as groundnuts.
What is your message to the Federal Government as security challenges fester terribly across the country?
Let me sketch a quick thought around this shameful trend. I think the states are complicit in this. The idea of pushing out Fulanis from the South-West is lazy thinking. It’s the same kidnapping happening on the Kaduna-Abuja Expressway. Crime has no ethnic affiliation. The government’s inaction has forced private citizens to act and now there’s a frenzy in government circles about what to do. Conversations with stakeholders which should have held earlier is now being rushed — a typical knee-jerk approach. Combating or preventing crime is first about gathering intelligence; and then acting on it. It is the same lazy thinking in government circles that made it difficult for them to map how to quickly distribute palliatives that came to them freely from the private sector. It was simply easier for them to lock it in the warehouse. I could tell that my abductors were young men in their mid and late 20’s. The parlous state of our social systems and infrastructure needs to be addressed. The cost of insecurity, evident in loss of lives, time and property, is too high. The government needs to do more than paying condolence visits and sighing when these things happen. A people-centric preventive measure should be mounted.