Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
For Lawrence Ojeashi, a resident of Asaba, Delta State, April 8, this year, when Christians marked Ash Wednesday, a significant spiritual event that precedes the Easter celebration, was a day of sorrow, pain and agony.
On that day, he was abducted by heartless Fulani kidnappers and taken through a harrowing 48-hour ordeal. Ojeashi was tortured, humiliated and dehumanized by the kidnappers.
That experience came on top a chain of calamities that befell him within a spate of one year, having helplessly watched flood submerge his house, fraudsters dupe him of millions of naira and losing his business partner, who is yet to be buried. To Ojeashi, who is fondly called Nano by friends, none of the torments could be approximated with the torture and anguish the Fulani abductors subjected him to inside a thick forest.
After gaining entrance into his house through the back fence late evening that fateful Wednesday, when he was playing in the compound with his children, they held his household hostage for hours and waited for the delicious jollof rice and takeaway eba with egusi soup which they had ordered his wife to prepare, before whisking him away.
Narrating his ordeal to Sunday Sun on the telephone from Asaba, Ojeashi quipped that though he had no premonition of what was to befall him that day, his wife however had a horrible dream the previous night. He lamented that apart from blindfolding him all through the horrendous hours he spent in captivity, they also attempted to severe his throat when he was not forthcoming with the solution to their ransom.
“It was just eight days into the two-week mandatory lockdown for those of us in Delta State. The atmosphere was calm and devoid of the usual heavy vehicular and human traffic. My children and I cashed in on the situation to run around playground in my compound.
“About 8.00pm, we heard the barking of our dogs that were at the time still in their cages. Initially, we thought they wanted to join the frenzy, but when the barking persisted, I went towards the dogs’ cage with my little daughter trailing behind. But before we could reach the cage, three heavily armed men, who had gained entrance into the compound through the back fence, stopped us in our tracks. From that moment it became a reign of terror for my household,” he recalled.
Further narrating what transpired, Ojeashi said: “At first, my 12-year-old son and I were ordered lie, face down. My wife and the rest of the kids were led into the house by two of the kidnappers while the third one kept watch over us outside. I made several attempts to fraternise with the one with us but he rebuffed us.
“Moments later, the other two came out, took us inside, locked me up in one of the rooms and ordered my wife to prepare dinner for them. They specifically requested for jollof rice, which they leisurely ate inside the house and eba, which they took away. By then, they had confiscated our phones.
“Having locked us up and my wife engrossed in making the dinner they requested, they ransacked the entire house, emptied every container in the house, apparently looking for valuables and perhaps clues to quantify my kidnap value. Soon dinner was ready and served; they sat down and ate with relish and confounding confidence.
“After the meal, they took their spoils, which unfortunately included me, into the bush on foot. Their knowledge of the routes inside the bush is legendary. Before we got into the bush, they pondered adding another hostage. Although they communicated majorly in Hausa-Fulfude, I could make out little from what they were plotting.
“The opportunity soon came at a house with a noisy generator. Again they left me with one of them while the other two went to the house and pulled the generator plug, cutting off the power supply. One of the occupants came out to ascertain the fault but saw the armed men, who were prevented from getting into the house by the locked burglary-proof door. He ran back inside, screaming. Afraid that the police may be alerted, they left them and took me away into the bush.
“After about an hour of trekking in the bush, we stopped over at a farm hut. The stopover was strategic. I think the purpose was to rest but more importantly to dislodge any search party should there be one. Inside the hut, I was asked to lie down at the extreme perhaps for strategic reason. First they wanted me to be far from the exit door, and secondly to use me as headrest. Actually they slept resting their heads on my body.
“About 2.00am, they woke up to continue the trek deeper into the bush for about an hour and arrived at a valley which served as our home for the period of the hostage,” he recalled.
Negotiation for ransom
Safely back in their comfort zone, Ojeashi said the abductors had deployed all manner of trick and dehumanising treatment to get a favourable business deal as they negotiated for the ransom, including threatening to sever his throat with the sharp dagger placed on my neck while still blindfolded.
Hear him: “On arrival at the valley, they demanded how much I was going to pay as ransom. I told them I don’t know, pleading with them that I actually don’t have money and would only be relying on family and friends to help me out.
“This seemed to have infuriated them resulting in the deployment of all forms of brutality as they pounded me mercilessly. They started with several dirty slaps then proceeded to hitting me on the head, neck and back. On the whole, they broke five heavy sticks on my head. The pains became extremely excruciating.
“Not satisfied with the response from me, they ordered me to lie down, one of them stood on my head while the other one pulled out a dagger and placed the edge on my throat attempting to sever my head from my body. At that point, I pleaded that I will pay whatever ransom they demanded. My promise seemed to have pleased them and bought me some relief. They then placed N10 million tag on me and gave me back my phone to do the contact callings.”
However, realising that it could be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of needle than to raise the unrealistic kidnap value they placed on him, especially as banks were not operating because of the lockdown, they first reduced the ransom to N3 million before finally settling for whatever his family and friends were able to mop up.
“When the calls did not yield much result, no thanks to the lockdown, they later reduced the asking price tag to N3 million at noon. But, eventually, God intervened and they later accepted what my family and friends were able to gather. I must confess that at that point, the prayers offered on my behest facilitated my release more than any other thing.”
The beasts became even more brutal
Instead of savouring his freedom, the event that followed during his long walk to liberty was scarier and harrowing than the entire ordeal he went through. For him, nothing could have been more torturous than watching the shooting of a defenceless indigene answering the call of nature and the torturing of an octogenarian in his farm by the heartless drug addicts.
Hear him: “The collection of the ransom was another horrible experience for me. On our way to meet my people bringing the ransom, we saw a young man answering the call of nature. Stand up and join us,’ one of the kidnappers ordered him, ‘Ah! Aboki you no see say I dey shit, abeg I no fit,” he responded in Pidgin, unaware how close he had inched into his untimely grave in the hands the beasts armed with automatic rifles.
“By the time he realized that they were heavily armed and attempted to run, he was not fast enough and the kidnapper shot him on the back at close range, abandoning him in the pool of his own blood and perhaps into his early grave because I couldn’t see him surviving the attack.
“My journey to freedom continued. Again, we met an elderly farmer who was struggling to kick his motorcycle fully loaded with cassava. ‘Oga, park your okada and follow us,’ one of them ordered him. ‘My children, na farm I come, make una allow me go,’ he pleaded. ‘You dey craze,’ one of them cursed, advancing with his dagger and stick.
“The old man tried to run but could only manage few steps before stumbling over a farm ridge. This was an invitation to terror as they pounced on the old man with sticks. The more he begged the more beating he received. When he complained of an injury on his thigh, they shifted their beating to the other thigh, hitting him severely until he could no longer stand up.”
Done with the threats from the enemy capable of exposing them, Nano explained, they quickly concentrated on the mission at hand unleashing threats and counter-threats on him should they fail to take delivery of the ransom within a stipulated time frame.
“Shifting attention back to me, they called my people bringing the ransom with my phone again to confirm their position, warning them that they only had five minutes to locate them otherwise they would waste me.
“Fortunately, they located my people with the ransom. However, when we thought that it was all over, they took us back into the bush through a different route from where we came. When we got to a junction, they showed us a road to take and disappeared through the other road,” Ojeashi recounted.
Asked how much they finally paid to secure his freedom and the role the security agents played in the whole saga, he said that he could not confirm with certainty how much was paid as ransom, adding that it however took divine intervention to set him free, because police told him point blank that they don’t follow anybody into the bush to rescue any kidnapped person.
So it was pure divine intervention that led to his release. On this score, Ojeashi said: “Prayers more than anything else, worked the miracle. They reduced the ransom to N3 million, but I know that what they eventually collected was far less than that. Since the banks were not working due to the lockdown, only very few people had enough money to spare. At a point, they told my people to take what they gathered to my wife to take care of my children because I would not return alive. I was luckier than a Celestial Church Pastor they abducted the next day because he was killed. I cannot explain the circumstances that led to his death.”
Ojeashi, who is currently in a hotel with his family where they are recuperating from the trauma, threw passing shot: “I commend my wife’s courage during the abduction. You can imagine the trauma of cooking for kidnappers while her entire family was under lock and key.”