Unarguably, March 3, 2020, will remain fresh in Miss Favour Eigbedion’s memory for a very long time. Besides Favour, her 44 colleagues and four lecturers will continue to remember the fateful day for as long as they live.
They will surely remain grateful to God forever for sparing their lives after their encounter with men of the underworld.
Favour and her classmates were recently rescued from a kidnappers’ den in a thick bush in Edo State. It was an intervention and escape that she described as a miracle.
While narrating her ordeal to the reporter one week after the incident, Favour said she and the others were still in shock on how their smooth-going journey turned around in a second to become a nightmare. Before they could unravel what was amiss, the kidnappers had swooped on them and marched some of the victims into the forest. Their hearts remained in their mouths while their abduction lasted.
Wielding sophisticated guns and other life-threatening weapons, the kidnappers threatened fire and brimstone on the innocent students and their lecturers. The abductors held their victims by the jugular and molested them for hours. According to the victims, the encounter is better imagined than experienced.
The young lady is, however, excited that she and her colleagues escaped and were released unscathed. Her face was ignited with undiluted ecstasy as she gave a graphic account of everything that transpired.
Certainly, the kidnappers were monitoring the movement of the students in the bush and were able to ambush them in the forest at about 5pm, while the team was on their eighth location on the field trip.
“The most important is that we are happy that the kidnappers didn’t rape any of the females that were captured. Those men were heartless and mean. The way they were shouting and ordering us about easily sent the message to us that they meant business. We had no other option than to quietly cooperate with the abductors,” Favour said.
The incident happened in the mountainous Ihievbe-Ago forest of Akoko Edo, Owan East Local Government Area (LGA) of Edo State. The lecturers and their students of the Geology Department of the University of Benin were on a field trip as part of their course work. Favour said that the adventure could be described as an exciting one until the gunmen appeared from nowhere in a commando manner to scuttle their academic exploration.
Said she: “We were actually on the eighth and last location on the mountain when the kidnappers came out from the bush. We were in three groups consisting of 15 students in each group, and there were four lecturers to guide us. When we climbed the rock; all of a sudden, they surrounded us and commanded us to lie on the floor. They warned that if we ran or refused to cooperate, they would shoot all of us.
“In the process, they started molesting some girls but not sexually. They hit one of us with a sledgehammer on his back. He managed to walk after they left some of us. The gunmen collected many people’s handsets and thousands of naira. They also collected some of the tools we were using for the field practical. They kept on intimidating us while all these were going on.
“After some time, they picked some particular students and leaders who wore green reflective vests. The lecturers wore red jackets but one of the lecturers pulled her own jacket at that moment; so the abductors couldn’t know that she was a lecturer. They were asking, “who is your leader,” and then one of the lecturers stood up that she was the leader. Immediately she said was the leader, one of the kidnappers slapped her. They picked two other lecturers and three students and further took them into the bush.
“While some of the gunmen were leading the 14 people away, one of them stood by us and told us to remain silent or we would be shot. I thought that the end had come.”
Favour said, for more than 30 tormenting minutes, the rest of them were lying on the floor and shaking. None of them could dare to look into the faces of their abductors. She said the gunmen were about five, judging from their movement and interactions.
“After a while, one of our colleagues told the rest of us to start running. It was when we got up that we saw that none of the kidnappers was with us. But they had led others away. We all ran to the expressway, we discovered that one of the drivers and some students had escaped earlier on. While we were running, one of us fell and seriously bruised his ankle and other parts of his body. Hard stones on the mountain inflicted the injuries on him.
“We attempted to stop buses on the Igara-Ikpeshi Expressway but none of them stopped even when they were empty. We began to trek till we got to the community vigilantes’ checkpoint. It was there that we saw one of the buses we hired. Meanwhile, two of my coursemates had gone ahead to report what happened to the vigilance group.
“Without wasting time, members of the vigilance group stormed the mountain and its surrounding bush to search for the kidnapped students and the lecturers. Luckily, the they caught two of the abductors and took them to the police station in Auchi. Around 11pm that same day, they found one of the lecturers and three of my coursemates. They later found the rest in the night and brought them to the camp (hotel) where we lodged in Igara.
“The whole thing was like a war film. This is my first time of experiencing such a thing. I didn’t know what to do during those hours. I got so frightened and confused, likewise my classmates. It was terrible. It was just God that saved us because I am sure it would have been more than that. Those that the abductors led further into the forest said that they were confused because they just told them to keep going,” she said.
Favour said their abductors were suspected to be Fulani because of the language they were speaking. While the students thought that the gunmen were speaking Hausa, one of their coursemates from the North confirmed that the kidnappers were speaking Fulfude, the language of the Fuani.
It was gathered that, when news of their kidnap broke out, it spread fear and panic to the university and the relatives of all the students that embarked on the journey.
Favour’s mother, Mrs. Kate Eigbedion, a pastor, could not conceal her joy upon hearing that her daughter and her classmates had regained their freedom. Her joy knew no bounds as she burst into praise and worship to her maker for the timely intervention.
It was learnt that the vigilance group gave the kidnappers a hot chase and exchanged gunfire with them and in the process, two of the hoodlums were apprehended.
The state police public relations officer, Chidi Nwabuzor, confirmed the kidnap and arrest. He said the operation was carried out with the combined efforts of the vigilance group and the police.
Chairman of Opoze Age Group in Igarra, who also doubles as the head of the vigilante, Ibukun Dogo, said: “The driver of the bus and two of the students escaped when the kidnappers rounded them up at gunpoint. They ran back to the highway, where men of our vigilance group were on patrol and broke the news to them. The vigilante contacted me and briefed me on the telephone and I ordered that they should go after them, while I quickly informed the police for backup.
“While my men were pursuing the kidnappers, they were shooting and so my men were retuning fire; we ran out of ammunition but we were able to apprehend two of the kidnappers and they were taken to the police station. The students who escaped were called to come and identify them and they were able to identify one of them to be among those who abducted their colleagues.”
The university’s public relations officer, Dr. Benedicta Ehanire, also confirmed the incident. She said that management insisted on police security cover for the rescued students and lecturers to travel back to school. She added that they were all safe and sound.
The management of the university swiftly announced the suspension of all similar field trips; and when it becomes a must, the students must be given security backup to avoid a recurrence.