•’No single farmer seen, they had fled because of kidnappers’
By Peter Duru, Makurdi
Chief Ekpe Ogbu is Benue State Commissioner for Housing and Urban Development. Few days before Christmas, Ogbu was abducted by armed men suspected to be bandits in Otukpo Local Government Area of the state and whisked into a forest alongside three others. In this interview, he narrates his and other captors’ 32 hours ordeal with the daredevil bandits and how they were set free. Excerpts:
You were abducted by armed men in Otukpo LGA. Can you recount what actually happened?
I was kidnapped on the 4th of December 2022 while on my way back to Makurdi from my village Utonkon in Ado Local Government Area. But it happened in Otukpo at a place called Adankari Junction near the proposed permanent site of the Federal University of Health Sciences Otukpo.
They (kidnappers) laid ambush and when we got there they demobilized the Hilux van I was traveling in with my driver and two others.
There were about seven of them that attacked us and they were masked and well armed. But what I noticed is that they were speaking Fulfulde. They took us into the forest, a vast land.
Do they have a base in the forest?
They did not take us to a base in the forest, we were just moving around like in a triangular form. And this movement lasted about 32 hours. That was how long the ordeal lasted because we were taken around 3:45pm on a Sunday and we found our way out of the forest at about 1:20pm on Tuesday.
While with your captors, did you have food to eat?
No, there was nothing to eat and in that situation there will be no appetite for food. And we were on foot all through. Sometimes we got to points where we had to rest. And while this was going on we were not meeting the locals in the communities. I am sure they were scared of the armed herdsmen.
You will trek for an hour into the forest and you will not find the locals in their ancestral homes. Usually at this time our people like to go to their farms but all through the time we did not see anyone in the farms. In fact it was when we were about to regain our freedom that we met two ladies in a farm. This was when we were very close to the access road.
Did your captors ask you to leave on their own?
It was in a midst of the confusion and they were shouting at us and giving out directives to us on where we should go to and they disappeared. And later when we got to the road we met men from the Police Commissioner’s office who came for our rescue. I must tell you that our abductors looked well trained. When they move you have five advancing forward while two will wait behind.
Those in front will advance before others will come behind. And they used sign language a lot with which they most times communicated adding to the Fulfulde that they spoke and they were well armed. They were also well trained in the act of kidnapping and terrorism, well trained I must emphasize.
I must thank God that no harm was done to us. I believe that the prayers that were being said for us from all over availed much.
Did you pay any ransom to secure your release?
They did not speak with me directly, they were talking with the family and moving at the same time
They got to your family through your phone?
No, my phone was down at the time of the incident. That is why I said God manifested Himself in my ordeal because when I got to my village, unlike me, they started the power generator but it went off. And when they went to get it running again I stopped them. I felt there was no need for it.
That was about 7:30pm and, since we were home after attending a burial in the village and before that I had on Friday represented my principal Governor Samuel Ortom at the burial of the late Batholomew Oche, a former SSG, I felt good visiting home to see my people.
So, it was from there that I dashed to my home town, Utonkon, for another burial. Throughout Saturday and early hours of Sunday, my phone’s battery was already low. So, when we were abducted they took the phone but it was off. Moreover it would have been difficult for them to operate it.
They used my driver’s phone to make contacts. They asked for numbers, I gave them and they were not talking in my presence but I realized they spoke with my wife. And at a point we started hearing gunshots from the personnel drafted in by the Commissioner of Police.
I must commend him because he was proactive and I cannot thank Governor Samuel Ortom enough too because he did not rest until my release. Up till this moment I am yet to meet with my elder brother who travelled for the festivities to discuss with him.
Didn’t he tell you he paid ransom?
No, he didn’t tell; not to my knowledge. What I noticed and appreciated is the efforts of my family members, the Commissioner of Police and His Excellency, Governor Ortom who really did his best to ensure that I was released. The Police Commissioner jokingly told me that the Governor clearly told him that he must rescue his Commissioner alive.
I must also note that our abductors familiarity with the terrain and the forest in particular is astonishing.
Does it mean that they have been residing there for some time?
It’s likely because they did not take us to any building, we were just moving within the forest. And what baffled me is that there were no activities going on there. Our people seem to have abandoned their ancestral homes and farms and fled. Because throughout the hours we spent with our abductors we didn’t see anyone going to the farm and even the normal hunting activities that our people are known for is no more going on. Life in the communities has been shut down completely. That is the kind of the impression I have about our communities. We are gradually abandoning our ancestral homes for the herdsmen to take over. It’s so sad.
Were you released at the same spot where you were taken?
No, it was about one kilometer from where we were taken but within the same vicinity. The four of us: myself, my driver, my wife’s younger brother and a friend.
Why do you think kidnapping has become rampant in Benue South? Road users, priests and even a serving Commissioner like you have become victims?
We are all aware that the security situation in this party of the country has become a major concern for all. That is why Governor Samuel Ortom is always raising the alarm and calling on the Federal Government to act fast to tackle the challenge. And the situation is getting out of control except drastic measures are taken to stem the tide because the level of insecurity in the country should be a source of worry for all.
That is why we found ourselves in the very terrible situation the four of us passed through after being abducted. I know that aside my ordeal, many other people are also passing through the same experience.
Are you certain that the people that took you were armed Fulani bandits?
Clearly so, though they were masked, from the language they spoke, one could easily tell where they came from. But we give God all the glory because they ambushed us and opened fire on us and got the tyres of the Hilux van deflated.
They opened the four doors and I was the first to step down. And they asked my driver and others to come down.
That’s my experience in the ordeal that I went through from the 4th of December which was on a Sunday to the 6th which was a Tuesday. I wasn’t a pleasant experience at all. We pray God to put an end to this ugly development in our dear country.
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