Agnes Dandison-Jaja, who was kidnapped along with her three kids on her way from Lagos to Port Harcourt, recounts her ordeal in the hands of her abductors to ADEYINKA ADEDIPE
What led to your being kidnapped?
On December 27, 2022, I left Lagos for Port Harcourt, Rivers State with the hope of spending time with my family. I had my three kids with me and based on my projection, I expected that we would get to our destination early in the evening of the same day. So, when I got to Iyana Ipaja on that fateful day, we boarded a bus with the inscription, Akwa Ibom Transport Company, written on it. That was after I could not get one at Agofure Motors. I paid N30,000 for two seats.
When the journey started, did anything happen to suggest that it wasn’t going to be a good day?
I didn’t have any premonition that we could land in any trouble. But I noticed that when we got to Warri in Delta State and some passengers disembarked, the driver uncharacteristically became sluggish on the road. At a point, I was angry with him, and I told him that I didn’t like the way he was driving. I also told him that we should have passed Mbiama, which is closer to our destination, instead of just leaving Warri. He told me not to worry that we would get to Port Harcourt, and I replied that I didn’t want to get late to my destination because I had three kids and our luggage to take care off.
At Ughelli, Delta State, we met a long queue of vehicles due to bad road. The traffic was hectic and the driver stopped. But there was an area of the road that vehicles were managing to pass through despite the slippery nature. At this point, a man who joined us in Warri disembarked from the bus and trekked forward.
The man said there might be robbery gangs around that area as it was already getting past 6pm. We (the passengers) told our driver that we would come down from the bus and that he should manage the slippery part of the road that the other vehicles were passing. After we passed through the bad spot, we all boarded the bus again. The driver started making a call when we got close to Mbiama, telling the person on the other end that he would soon get there. He had some parcels to deliver, and I suspect the call was from one of the owners of the parcel.
At what point did the kidnap take place?
When we passed Mbiama, I had projected that we would get to Choba in 45 minutes after which I slept off. When I woke up, I was surprised to see that we were driving along a route that I was not familiar with. It looked like a bush path, and I asked the driver where we were. He told me not to worry that we would soon get to Port Harcourt, and I told him that I was in the bus with my kids. Two minutes after this discussion, we passed a police checkpoint after which we ran into our abductors, who also mounted a checkpoint like the police.
How did the abduction occur?
I must say that it wasn’t our bus that was targeted. It was a Sienna car that was in our front, but the driver was able to escape by speeding off in reverse despite the gunshots from the gunmen. Our driver could not do the same but drove straight to the point where the kidnappers were and stopped. Initially I thought they were policemen because they wore black clothes. They continued shooting in the air, I looked back and I could still see the police checkpoint we just passed. While the Sienna escaped, our driver put off the engine. They surrounded our bus and started hitting the vehicle with the butt of their guns. At that moment, I knew we were in deep trouble. I didn’t believe I would see this year.
What happened after that?
We were dragged out of the bus; 11 of us, but I later discovered that a young man had escaped, while a pregnant woman was also allowed to go when she fell down. I told them to allow me to carry my kids. Two had already woken up, while the last one, a girl was still sleeping, and I had to strap her on my back. We were told to move into the bush. I tried to see what was happening to the driver and I saw him sitting on the road with his head bent down. They threatened to shoot if we did not obey their instructions or move fast. They hit us with sticks like the ones herders use, but I am not sure where they came from. When we got into the middle of the bush, they slapped us, told us to bend our heads and dared us to look at their faces. They then searched us for valuables. They forcefully removed beads, necklaces and rings from the bodies of those they abducted, saying they were charms.
Did the police at the checkpoint you passed come to rescue you?
We actually heard police siren at a point. The police also shot in the air, and I felt that we were going to be rescued. But the kidnappers mocked the police, saying they could not come while they were operating and could only show up after they had gone into the bush with us. The police left after then.
What happened after the police left?
We started walking farther into the bush, but before then, my second child was now crying, and their leader ordered one of them to shoot him. So, I told them to kill me instead (sobbing) and begged them to put my children by the roadside so that they could be rescued. So, I carried him while still backing his younger sister. One woman, who was also abducted, took pity on me and carried one of them because I was struggling to walk. We walked for a very long time before stopping again. They brought our phones, which they collected from the vehicle. They said those of us with their phones should count ourselves lucky, while others whose phones were not with them should consider themselves dead. While they were going through our phones, they told us to lie down on the floor with the risk of getting bitten by snakes.
Immediately after calling the brand of your phone, you would raise up your hand, and they would come to you for the password after which they started searching your bank details. They picked my children’s small bags which they took with them and asked if there was money in the bags. I told them there was no money inside the bags, but they vowed to kill me if they found money in any of the bags. They severely beat some people who gave them wrong passwords. They also stripped some of the female passengers naked and raped them.
One of the ladies confided in me that she was raped by two of the kidnappers. All these happened on the first night. It was time to move again, and they said those who failed to give them correct responses would be killed by the river and their body parts would be sold. It was then I knew that we still had a long trek to do. They saw my Palmpay PoS and took about N190,000 from my Sterling Bank account which I was using for my PoS business. After this, we continued walking and we got to the river and they informed us that we were all crossing to the other side.
How did you take the news that you would cross the river?
Instantly, I was afraid. But when we got to the river, I discovered that the place was a creek. The leader of the gang went to check the depth of the river and he said it would be difficult for my children to cross on their own and they opted to carry the two of them, while I had my daughter on my back. It was difficult to cross as I had to push her up when the water was getting to her neck. After crossing the river, we now had to climb a slippery hill before getting to their camp after 4am the next morning. One of the kidnappers announced the time we got there.
What happened at the camp?
They told all of us to sit and face down. They spread nylon on the floor and told my children to lie down on it. It was then I found out that the pregnant woman was allowed to go after she fell down. They felt she could die. But her husband was abducted along with us. They did not do anything to us but warned that we should not try to leave the spot where we were sitting without permission or we would be shot.
Were the kidnappers working with other groups?
I don’t think so, but they blindfolded us and started calling people that they had body parts to sell. They used their own phones to make the calls and they put the phone on speaker. They started asking everyone what they do for a living. When they got to my turn, I told them that I do PoS business. They asked how much I had in the account, and I told them I borrow money to do the business. They now asked how much I had in the Sterling Bank account. I told them I did not know the exact figure and they checked the balance with my PoS machine with them. After we told them what we do, they now started calling our family members to ask for ransom. They also collected N12,000 from my Ecobank account because the app was on my phone.
How did the negotiation for your release and that of your children go?
They called my elder sister with a lady’s phone. I heard my elder sister screaming and she started crying. They told my elder sister to go and look for N5m for the four of us. She begged them that she had no money and that the last time she held more than N200,000 was when she wanted to pay her house rent. Despite her pleas, our abductors demanded that she should go and get the money and that if she didn’t come up with the money, they would kill me.
My sister kept begging and telling them that our father was dead, our mother depended on her children and that she couldn’t tell her that her daughter she was expecting from Lagos had been kidnapped. She told them that our mother could die if she knew what had happened to me and my kids. They now asked me if my husband could come up with the money and I told them that my husband had not had a job since the coronavirus saga.