Abdulkareem Haruna: Kidnapped & Released Journalist Narrates Shocking Experience - |Ads4naira Blog|

Abdulkareem Haruna: Kidnapped & Released Journalist Narrates Shocking Experience

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Abdulkareem Haruna: Kidnapped & Released Journalist Narrates Shocking Experience 

It is nearly two months now since my encounter with kidnappers. While I remained in captivity, friends and colleagues fought hard to secure my freedom. As I later learned, the security forces and relevant authorities received our complaints and offered solidarity. The consensus was to negotiate and meet the terms of my captors.

I have struggled since then to narrate my experience, but at each attempt, I found it difficult to put my fingers to the keyboard. Telling a personal story, especially one as horrifying as this, isn’t as straightforward as writing about people, events, and issues – the usual pastime of journalists.

A psychologist who saw me through my trauma management session advised I try as much as possible to tell my story to whoever cares to listen, after all, a burden shared is one half-solved.

As weeks passed, friends, family, and colleagues worried I might forget important details of my encounter. Not true. No one goes through such horror, not least a journalist, and forgets any bit of it. The details are always there, a haunting nightmare.

Journey to captivity

On November 12, at about 2 PM, I set off from Abuja’s Nyanya Park to Jos in Plateau State. Having completed the mission that took me to the federal capital, I felt I did not need to pass the night. The journey was smooth. The driver, retired military personnel, who had years of experience as a military driver, was still good on the wheels. I took the front seat, so I had the chance of chatting with the sixty-something-year-old man everyone at the motor park called Papa. On free routes, he reached 120km per hour, and I was comfortable with that.

We drove for about 45 minutes through the gridlock of Nyanya and Mararaba to Keffi in neighbouring Nasarawa State. Instead of the Akwanga route, we turned to Bade in southern Kaduna State and passed a military checkpoint on the outskirts of Tattara community. Some 3km later, we drove through a portion of the highway where road maintenance was taking place. Then, suddenly, after negotiating a slight bend, I sighted an unusual spectacle some 300 meters ahead.

I thought a vehicle had broken down because I saw people lying by the side of the car. My evaluation was that perhaps they were trying to check beneath the car to fix a fault. I tried talking to Papa to be careful not to run over people who practically had their legs in the middle of the road. Before I could fully process what was going on, the driver had stepped on the brake just as a lanky hooded man in military gear stepped into the middle of the highway and fired an AK-47 assault rifle.

“Jesus Christ! Subhanallah! were the words passengers in our car chorused in response as people tried to make sense of what was happening.

Our vehicle stopped right in the middle of what seemed to be an ongoing robbery scene. In a few minutes, we were surrounded by three armed men who either wore hoods or painted their faces with charcoal. Some others, about five, were standing over the travellers who had been forced to lie face down.

I was scared, but I tried not to panic.

The first thing I did was to mitigate the anticipated loss and what could put me in danger. I had the phone with the main lines in my hand, so I quickly slipped it in between the vehicle’s gear lever and the driver’s seat. As I was doing this, the assailants were shouting “Ku sauka, Ku sauka!” – which in Hausa meant we should all alight from the vehicle. I had some cash in my back pocket and a second phone in another pocket. As I attempted to remove the phone, one of the men barked that I should get down from the car, or he would shoot me. I quickly opened the door and laid down by the roadside.

One of the armed men came over to where I was and kicked me, asking for my phone, which I removed and handed to him. He asked in Hausa with a Fulani accent, where my money was, and I pointed at my back pocket. He slapped my head and ordered me to keep my face down. He pulled out the cash and went on to ransack other passengers.

At that moment, I ruled out kidnapping. It was a relief thinking they were all concerned about phones and cash. Suddenly, one of them, a tall, dark-skinned man in his late 20s or early 30s, who I later found out to be the gang leader, walked over and ordered that I stand up. He asked which vehicle I came with, and a man with a gun at my back pointed the 8-seater Sharon bus. The leader ordered he should take the ‘dan Iska’ (stupid man) into the bush.

At that moment my prayers that all should end in robbery ended, and the heart-wrenching reality of being kidnapped crept in. The man who received the order pushed me into the bush and had me wait not far away from the road. There was pandemonium on the highway as the gunmen began to shoot into the air. I noticed that the man behind me had rushed back to the road to bring others, so I began to think of the best direction in which I could flee.

In those fleeting seconds, I heard a cold voice saying, “If you try it, you will die because I will shoot you.” I turned around and saw a mean looking young man, with a charcoal-painted face pointing a pistol at me, and urging me to move into the bush. He appeared to be the youngest of them all. He was the same person who took my phone and money. I will call him Sergeant Small.

A walk in the jungle

Suddenly, I was being pushed, slapped and hit by a stick as they marched me into the bush. Initially, I was not sure others had also been abducted. But after some minutes of walking in the forest, I realised we were four.

I said to myself, “So this is it; your worst fear has come to you.” I had no idea where we were heading. Many questions needed answers in my mind. “Will my family, my children ever see me again? My wife? How would she explain to my ever-inquisitive little boys?” My heart sank.

We passed through several empty farmlands. Most crops had been harvested, while some farms, like the guinea corn plantations, still had weeks to mature. That explained why most of the farms were deserted that afternoon. I wished we could run into some crowd of farmers who could help us.

We kept marching on into the far bushes, sometimes using our hands to rip through the brushes to make way. I continued to pray, reciting all protective verses of the Holy Quran that easily came to my mind. In between my silent supplications, I asked God not to let them kill me. The thought of dying brought my parents to my mind.

How would my parents, especially my mother, take the news that her only son had been kidnapped, and she may not see him again – just seven months after losing my older brother? I also wondered how my sisters would take the news.

Our journey continued for about an hour. Then suddenly, the ring leader, who I call Sergeant Sniper (after seeing how he fired an AK47 and got the tyres of a Peugeot 504 on the road), called out, “Sergeant, I don’t like the pattern of movement we are using.” He was talking to the man leading the evil expedition. They called themselves ‘Sergeant.’

They stopped for some minutes, conferred with one another, and asked us to continue moving. We trudged on, but this time, it became clear to me that we were not going to any form of camp or any particular destination. I knew that because it was barely three months that I interviewed my sister’s husband, who was abducted in Edo State. He told me they spent days in the bush moving from one spot to another for about four days before he finally regained his freedom after payment of ransom. So, I began to see patterns.

After about two hours into the jungle, we became so dehydrated. My tongue became dry. I said to myself, “Man, you may not survive this further if you don’t have water.” As though heavens knew my fears, we came to a spot that was darkened by thick brushes and there was a stream there. They stopped and again talked among themselves. One of them made a phone call. Then another young member of the team, who wore a punk haircut, and always smiled mischievously, came to me and said, “Oga, oga”, and I responded with, “Yaya dai?” (How are you doing?) He asked if there was a problem, given how uncomfortable I had become. I said I needed to drink water. He laughed and left me to join the others. He was always smiling. So I called him “Sergeant Smile”.

We moved a little to the other side of the stream, and they went down to fetch water using an empty bottle of soft drink they had in a bag. After they drank, Sergeant Sniper asked if we too wanted to drink water, and we nodded in affirmation. They asked one of us, a man from Jos, to go and fetch water for us. We took turns to drink the coloured liquid, which tasted good and refreshing.

Demand for ransom

After hydrating ourselves, it was time to cross the stream and continue the journey. There was only one way to do so: walk on a tree trunk that fell across the stream. We took turns and crossed safely, not minding the risk.

On the other side of the stream, we moved for about 20 minutes before they asked us to stop and sit down on the floor. They took time to survey the environment before the ring leader, Sergeant Sniper, asked us our tribes and where we were coming from. After the introductions, he cleared his voice and said, “Do you all know why we took and brought you people here?” We shook our heads. He said, “We want money, and if you can provide the money in cash to us you are free.” We did not say a word, but the looks in our petrified eyes suggested we wanted to know how much they were talking.

He said, “We want N40 million only.”

I would not know what gave me the nerve to respond, but I asked loudly, “N40 million?” And he replied in a cold, angry tone. “Is it too much to ask?” I kept quiet.

He left us and urged a shorter man who seemed to be the most elderly amongst them to take over. I call him Sergeant Elder. He spoke maturely and somehow more reasonably.

“We did not bring you here to kill or harm you but to get money,” he said. “But if you see anyone being molested here, it is because he caused it. So we will give you back your phones, and you need to think of one reliable person you can call, one that you trust will not make worse your cases for you, to help you bring the money. If you have the money now, we can release you even at this minute, as long as it gets to us.”

I collected my phone, an Infinix Note 5 which only had my Glo line that I mostly use for data and fewer calls. I put on the phone and tried calling, but I know there wasn’t any call credit on the line. The automated service voice prompted me to borrow some credit. I did, and N200 was advanced to me. So I dialed my friend’s number, which I could remember.

Gbenga Akingbule has been my friend for over 15 years. He is also a journalist and works for the Wall Street Journal. He knows my family well and knows much about my office.

When he picked the call, he wanted to go into our normal jibes and banter. But on hearing my voice and the way I urged him to pay attention to me, he knew all was not well. I told him what had happened and asked him to contact my office, my family and some very close friends like Isa Gusau and Ismail Omipidan, who are all colleagues and family friends.

They took the phone from me and told him they wanted N50 million. I know they were bluffing about the figure. I overheard Gbenga telling them that I was not a wealthy person; that I am just a journalist who has no such amount of money. My abductors said they did not care.

A brother of one abductee pissed the armed men off when he told them on the phone they should kindly release his brother and he would transfer N10, 000 to them if they could send an account number.

Their response was mean. “I know you are a mad man,” one of them said. “If it is N10, 000 we lack we would not be here in the bush. We, too, can send you N50, 000 as well.”

They warned him not to mention that amount again if he valued the life of his brother. All done with the initial contact-making, they collected the phones and said, “no more calls till 7 PM.

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