Thursday, 23 May 2019

Shell Senior Staff Narrates Five Days Horrifying Experience In Kidnappers Custody

 After what I would consider as a very successful visit to the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB) offices in Yenegoa over two days, Chukwunonso Ezenwa (Nonso, a junior colleague in our team) and I prepared to return to Port Harcourt. As we drove through the exit gate of the NCDMB office at Opolo road we did not know what awaited us in just a couple of hours. We drove out of the gate at about 2:30pm and until we started hearing sporadic gunshots about an hour and a half later, the drive had been quite smooth moving at the designated speed of below 80 km/h.

Our driver had slowed down. This reduction in speed coupled with the sporadic gunshots I heard was what made me arise from my intermittent slumber, raising my head and trying to know the reason for his reduction of speed.

Immediately, I saw a mass of armed individuals swarm unto the road at our front. They were all clad in a mixture of camouflage trousers and black tee shirts with red scarves tied across their torsos. They must have seemed like over twenty (20) well-armed persons. I equally sighted a gun wielding individual towards my side of the car (I was seated in the front passenger seat). I shouted at the driver "move this vehicle". To my greatest surprise the driver stopped the vehicle, opened the door and escaped from the vehicle. That was the last I saw of our driver.

I tried to see if there was any response from our escort vehicle (which was behind us at the time) with three (3) armed mobile police personnel and a driver. No assistance was forthcoming from that direction. At this time Nonso and I were still in the vehicle like sitting ducks and were being fired at. The mass of gunmen that had swarmed the road were still shooting sporadically.

As a result of driver’s escape, the central lock was disabled and all the doors could now be opened from the outside. A second gunman appeared from behind us and grabbed Nonso dragging him out of the car. As my door was opened the gunman thought I was trying to resist and he fired a shot into the vehicle with the bullet whizzing over my head into the roof of the vehicle. The sound of the gunshot was deafening and I explained to the gunman that I was restrained by my seatbelt. He reached into the vehicle, released the seatbelt and also dragged me from the vehicle.

On exiting the vehicle I looked around to get a better sense of what had just transpired and also see if there was any response from our escort. To my greatest disappointment the escort vehicle behind us had veered into a concrete lined drain just beside the concrete median. It then sank in that Nonso and I had been abducted.

There began our harrowing abduction into the bamboo covered bushes of the Elele- Ndele- Rumuji section of the East - West Road in Rivers State. As we were being rushed under the cover of the bushes/forest we were harangued and occasionally beaten with a cutlass. I collapsed on two occasions and had to be helped up subsequently receiving beatings from my gun- wielding abductor. They warned us severally that they would not hesitate to shoot us should we try anything contrary to their instructions.

After what seemed like an hour and half of running, being prodded and pulled along we were blindfolded, hands tied behind our backs and legs tied we were set down somewhere in the bushes while they kept watch for any signs of a rescue party.

Not much later my wife called me on my phone trying to find out where I was. As a routine whenever, I travel out of Port Harcourt, I would call her early in the morning and late at night to ensure that everything back home was fine. Since she had not heard from me before this incident she decided to call me. It was at that point I informed her of the abduction of Nonso and myself and that the abductors were demanding for fifty (50) million naira. I was also instructed to tell her that I had been setup by someone in the office who was interested in my position.

All this while I was praying fervently that this issue be quickly resolved. I assured them that I would cooperate fully. I was told that they had been given all my information by the person who had offered them 30million to get rid of me. Not knowing whether they were speaking the truth or not, made it difficult for me to answer their questions when they interrogated me. I felt that if I were caught in a lie it could cost me a major injury or even my life. They had collected our laptop bags from the car when we were grabbed and some personal information were in the diaries in my bag. They had my wallet with all my ATM cards, voter’s card, driver's license, company laptop, National Id card slip and my Id card. As such, I tried to be careful how much information I gave away, especially when asked about my home address and some other personal information about my family.

In the early hours of the next day we were marched through the bushes to another location which was slightly swampy in nature. This was after we crossed the East - West road to the side going to Bayelsa. My trousers were removed and I was in my boxers and top for the entire duration of this most difficult of ordeals. Occasionally they beat me telling me that my family was not cooperative and that they would even collect whatever they were offered and still kill the both of us.

On Saturday night the torture was most severe. This was because on contacting my wife, my wife told them that she had only been able to raise 300 k naira. They burnt several areas of my body with cigarettes and weed. They hit my head with a gun butt which gave me a deep gash on the head. They set my hair afire but thankfully the fire didn't last. They used some thorny vines to tie my hands and legs and were pulling at it to make the thorns cut into my skin. At this point I asked them what I had done them torture me in this manner. This only earned me more slaps and beatings with the cutlass. They threatened to cut parts of my body and even behead me. I was equally subjected to “water boarding” which made me to pass out. I thank God for His mercy that they did not give me any permanent injury. I almost lost it at the time and wanted to fight back but something held me back and said I should be calm that nothing would happen to me.

They convinced me to call my friends who could provide the money they were asking for. At a time when they were no longer able to get to my wife, I was made to call my friends (they wanted friends whom I felt had the wherewithal to provide the requested ransom). I called Alfred and Gbenga and told them of my abduction asking for their help. When they were unable to get across to them later they would threaten me saying my friends are working with the police to try and track them and rescue us, but that they would kill us off first.

On Sunday we were again moved to another location still in the bushes with mostly bamboo plants. We slept on the forest floor with our hands and legs bound as well as our eyes being blindfolded.

Due to the fact that I had to walk several kilometers in the forest barefooted, I sustained several injuries underfoot as well as cuts and bruises to my legs, feet and toes. The beatings stopped after Sunday night. I had made an appeal to the person I assumed was the gang leader that the weekend was responsible for the lack of prompt response from my wife/family and that by Monday I was sure they would cooperate. I told them that as a matter of policy, my company would not in any way contribute towards resolution of the issue.

Throughout the ordeal I refused to eat but requested for water which they provided. On that Monday one of the abductors guarding us asked me to tell my family to offer something reasonable like 2million that their Oga would gladly accept it. He said he was feeling for me and my situation. He stated that my type of person should not be in the condition I was. I responded that if could get his Oga to let me talk to my people I would convey the message. Sometime later, I spoke with Ehi and told them to try and raise 2million pleading that they would release us despite their initial request for 50 million.

Ehi said they were doing all they could and that he also wanted to speak to Nonso which they also allowed.

After what seemed like an eternity, we were told to get up that we were being moved. On getting to this location (which by extrapolation was around 8 o'clock) we were asked to get onto a motorcycle. Four of us were on the motorcycle with Nonso and myself seated behind the rider and a fourth person sitting on the gas tank. We went through a harrowing ride through bush paths for over 30minutes blindfolded. We got off somewhere in the forest and made the rest of the way on foot. Prior to that point we were not informed we were being released. When we got of the motorcycle Nonso collapsed and we were threatened that if he did not get up they would have to shoot the both of us. After a few minutes rest that we pleaded for, were trekked for about another 10minutes through some farms. At some point we had the blindfolds removed and were pointed the way to the road and given directions on heading towards Port Harcourt. After a 5 minutes trek we arrived at the road. Not knowing where we were, we continued trekking in the direction we had been advised for about another 30minutes, where we now got to a JTF checkpoint. All the vehicles we tried to flag down refused to stop.

The JTF personnel after listening to our story told us to sit down on the median of the road and they offered us water and bread. They also gave me a phone with which I contacted my wife informing her of our release.

The JTF team upon discussion with their superior, were instructed to drive us down to Bori camp. On the way there, I called my wife and asked her to meet us there with the SPDC personnel.

At about 11pm security were dispatched from IA to take us to the Shell Clinic within IA. We were handed over to the personnel in the Accident & Emergency unit of the clinic who set about stabilizing us and start treatment of some of our injuries.

This basically concludes the five day ordeal we suffered at the hands of our abductors to the best of my recollection of events.

Engr. Osikhena Ojior, fnse, fnice

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