A petroleum products dealer, Alhaji Suleman Akinbami, who was kidnapped by gunmen in Ekiti State and released in Kogi State a week after, speaks with ABIODUN NEJO of Punch Newspaper about his ordeal in the kidnappers’ den
When you woke up that Sunday morning, what was your feeling about how the day would go?
I had been feeling like resting about three days earlier, so I spent the day indoors. At about 7pm, after observing prayer at my mosque along the Ikere Road, Ado Ekiti, I thought I needed to go my petrol station along Poly Road. So, I got there, observed my prayer, after which the station manager and I went to check the generator under repairs. On our return from the generator house, I saw some people moving towards us, I asked my manager who they were and whether he received visitors that late and he said he did not know them. I asked the strangers why they were there but they replied that they were looking for me. I asked them why they were looking for me, but the next thing was that they brought out guns. At that stage, I knew that there was trouble. They started threatening me; they demanded my car key, which I released to them. They ordered me into the car and they drove me off. I did not know where I was until the day I was released one week later. They picked me up on Sunday, they released me the following Sunday.
Earlier that day, did you have any premonition that you would have such an experience?
No; nothing like that. I did not have any quarrel with anybody. I did not have any dealing with anybody; I do not go into shady deals. My business is petroleum sales. Up till now, I still wonder why they chose me as their target.
On your way to the petrol station, did you notice anything unusual, such as a car or motorbike tailing your vehicle?
I did not notice anything. The incident happened around 8.17 pm.
What first came to your mind the moment the men brought out guns?
I knew I was in danger and that only God could save me.
When they drove out of your petrol station, which direction did the vehicle face?
My hands and legs were tied and I was made to lie on the floor of the car with an instruction not to look up. So, I would not know.
Did they speak to you during the drive?
They said that they were sent on the assignment by somebody. They said that I collected N60m from somebody; I was dazed, I asked ‘N60m? Who is that person? Did that person give it to me in cash or transferred it to my account? What business was he trying to do with me?’ I asked the questions in quick succession because I know N60m is a lot of money. I said there was nothing like that.
What were their responses to your questions?
They said I would know later. That was what they told me.
Where did they take you to that Sunday night?
They drove at a very high speed, into gallops and potholes. Along the line, the battery terminal of the vehicle disconnected and the car engine stopped. At that stage, they threatened to kill me, saying I had activated the car security system. They said, ‘We don’t think you have value for your life!’. I begged them to untie my hands so that we could check the car to know what the matter was. We checked it after my appeal, it was then I discovered that it was the battery terminal that lost contact. I reconnected the battery terminal. Then we moved on. They threatened me that they would waste my life should the vehicle stopped moving again. It was then that I told them that the fuel might finish any moment because there was only a small quantity of fuel in the vehicle’s tank, since I had no plan to embark on such a long-distance journey. After some time, the fuel got exhausted and the vehicle stopped. We were there in the bush at that point till around 6am on Monday when they went to buy fuel and took off again.
What was the location where you passed the night?
I don’t know the place because I didn’t know how we got there. It was in the bush. I could hear people observing vigil in a church; it was not far away from town. They looked for fuel that night but they could not get.
What was running through your mind when they could not get fuel that night?
I was just praying to God to please intervene and save me.
How did you feel being with strange, harmful people for a whole week?
It was like hell. I don’t pray for such an experience for my enemies. It was a harrowing, very bad, ugly experience. It was terrible. They tortured me. I was slapped, boxed, caned and kicked. It was a harrowing experience.
Did they feed you?
On the first day, Monday, they gave me pounded yam; they said they wanted to treat me like an honourable person, but I could not eat it because I don’t eat peppery food. When they asked what they could give me, I told them to get bread, which they got for me. After that, they started cooking and we ate the same food. They bought cooking utensils and they cooked in the bush there. At times, they would go to town to buy what they wanted. They allowed me to have a bath at a day interval.
Were you the only victim in the kidnappers’ den?
I met a man there; they shot at him. I do not know how he got there. They shot at him in my presence just for me to know that they could kill. Maybe he was one of them and they were just trying to work on my psyche, I would not know. In fact, I was confused. They shot at him and he fell down, following which they took me away from the place. I would not know whether he died or rose after they had taken me away because they told me they could not be harmed by gunshot. I was surprised when they shot him, asking myself, ‘How would somebody be so evil-minded and shoot a fellow human just like that?’
How many were the kidnappers?
I saw only four; though they said they were many.
As a devout Muslim, how did you feel not having the opportunity to pray?
They did not allow me to pray for the first four days; but they allowed me to pray on the fifth day and they said they would not allow me again, but I was praying. I did not miss my five times daily prayer. Silently and unknown to them, I was praying. Real Muslims have a way of praying without letting anybody know. I prayed when it was time to pray; I was just watching the movement of the sun to know when it was time for prayer.
From their discussions, what tribe are they?
They spoke good Yoruba and good English. Meaning they are Yoruba.
I want to believe that if they are not Yoruba, they had been in Yorubaland for long. They spoke good Yoruba. They spoke good English as well. They claimed to be jobless graduates.
Putting everything together, do you suspect anybody?
Only God knows. I don’t know whether I should believe what they said or not, but they told me they were sent.
What is your impression of the kidnappers?
My kidnappers were angry people. They were very angry; I think they listened to radio and watched television. While I was there, they drove my car to town. In the town, they listened to radio and watched television, they listened to news, they said they saw me on national and international television news, and heard my name on radio. They asked – ‘Who are you? Why is your news everywhere? Are you the first person to be kidnapped? Why all this noise? Who are you by the way? What are you? What is your worth? Why are people shouting Akinbami, Akinbami?’ However, it is surprising that they drove my car around town for a week without removing the number plates and nobody challenged them. They went to town with my car, they came back, they did not remove the number plates and nobody challenged them. It is surprising.
Did they discuss ransom with you?
Yes, they did. They established contact with my family on the third day. They said it was the N60m, which they alleged that I collected from a certain person. I told them I did not collect any money from anybody. I told them that fortunately, I had just received my statement of account which they could check in the car to see if there was any N60m, even N20m or N10m inflow from anybody into my account. I told them to check and that I could not be keeping money at home.
How much ransom was paid for your release?
I will not disclose that one. They collected ransom.
How were you released?
I was released after the ransom was paid. Somebody from my family brought the ransom to them in the bush between Kuje in the Federal Capital Territory and Kogi State; they collected it and released me and as well handed over my car to me. It was after I was released and left the bush that I knew where I was. All the time they were taking me here and there, I did not know where I was. It was on leaving there that I started looking at signposts to see names of towns. I have forgotten the names of the villages in Kogi State close to Abuja. I do not want to remember the experience. I want it to go off my memory.
Many kidnap victims paid ransom and yet were killed, what will you attribute your survival to?
The prayers of every good Nigerian and all good human beings all over the world who prayed for me. When I returned, people told me how they were praying for me even in Saudi Arabia following contacts. Prayers from several universities, NASFAT in Ekiti here, the Grand Imam, traditional rulers, Muslims, Catholics on the order of the Catholic Bishop of Ekiti prayed for me; also. Christians fasted, prayed and had vigil because of me. I am surprised. It was when I returned that I heard about all these. I am surprised. I thank all of them for the love they showed me. I shed tears when I came back and heard all these. That they did all these for me – What am I? Who am I? I am nothing and they were sympathetic to my cause! They prayed that God should protect me, I thank all of them. I appreciate them. God will continue to protect them and every member of their families. I pray God to please repay their kindness.
What lessons did you learn from the experience?
One should always be with his God. Don’t do evil. Don’t cheat anybody, be sincere. Be truthful; be honest in everything you do. Be godly.
What advice do you have for government on how to end kidnapping in the country?
Kidnapping has now become a trend. It is my prayer that we quickly find a solution to it. In the bush over there, one day, the kidnappers were elated that one of their victims had paid the balance of his ransom. They told me that they kidnapped somebody who they collected N30m from. They said the victim initially paid N27m and paid the N3m balance that day. I am appealing to government; the economy is not helping matters; those in authority should try and see how they can help the unemployed graduates through employment creation. Let the youths have something doing. The truth is that without jobs, it will be easy to recruit them into kidnapping, and nobody will be safe. I appeal to the state government and the Federal Government to please find a solution because my case will not be the last. They have kidnapped others. Government should do something to at least create employment so that those who have no job now will have means of livelihood. Somebody who has no job can be easily convinced to join these groups of people.