29 years old Jennifer Iorliam was one of the two corps members and four others kidnapped by bandits on October 19, 2021 at Tsafe village in Zamfara state while on her way to Kebbi state for her NYSC. In this interview she recounts how it happened, her ordeal while in the kidnappers’ den. She paints a picture of how they were whisked into the forest and where they were camped. She also discloses that a community exists in the state where everyone is into kidnapping as a business.
How did you fall into the hands of bandits in Zamfara state?
On October 19, 2021 we were on our way to the NYSC camp where we were posted. I was posted to Kebbi state.
So we left Makurdi very early that morning and at about 6pm we got to Tsafe community in Zamfara state, that was where we were kidnapped.
When our vehicle, a Benue Links bus got to the community we saw some persons in military camouflage. I thought they were soldiers until they started shooting and asking us to come down from the vehicle.
When we got down from the bus, they pushed us into the bush. Some of us thought that they were out to rob us and then allow us to go.
But while in the bush they asked us to lie down. We obeyed. And after a while they asked us to get up and they started dragging us further into the bush. A very thick forest.
When we got far inside the bush they brought some motorbikes to pick us. They took us very far into the bush.
We travelled up to a point where we got to a stream. At that point we were asked to disembarked from the motorbikes. We thought they were about to kill us and dump our remains inside the stream.
How many were you?
When they kidnapped us we were eight but two escaped and we were remaining six.
At what time did you get to the stream?
I couldn’t know the time but it was already dark because the trip was a long one. When we got down from the bike we were asked to cross the stream by foot.
They held our hands and dragged us across. When we got to the other side of the stream, they brought their motorbikes and we continued the very long ride until we got to their destination.
The place was like a hill; we also saw some other victims who were also kidnapped by this gang of bandits.
How many were the people you saw?
They were many but they were more of Hausa people. They had their children and babies, and some were little children.
It was in the night and they were covered and sleeping. They asked us to disembark from the motorbike, we got down and sat with the other victims. Some of the kidnappers left and some others stayed with us and kept guard till day break.
Did they give you food?
They did not give us food that night but the following day they gave us bread which was what they fed us with throughout our stay. They gave us Noddle once. Some of us refused to eat till the next day when they came back.
At that point they pointed guns at us that they would kill us if we refused to eat the bread they gave us. So after two days they brought us to a place where they looked for mobile phone network to call our people and inform them that we have been kidnapped.
The place they took us to in search of network signal was very far from where they kept us. They said we should tell our people to bring money to secure our release or they would marry us out or kill us. We appealed to them not to harm us, assuring them that our people would reach them.
That day we slept where they took us to in search of network and the following day they took us back to where they camped us which was in the open.
They gave our people till the next Monday to pay the ransom. On that day we went back to the area where they could reach our people in order to call them to get the money across to them to ensure our release.
So when we called home our people started bargaining with them. They insisted that the ransom would cover everyone they kidnapped from the bus before we would be released.
On that Monday we couldn’t get what they wanted, our parent could not afford what they were asking for. So we had to sleep at the area where we went in search of telephone network. And on Tuesday I cannot tell how the money was gotten and taken to them right inside where they were hiding.
How many days did you spend with them.
We spent seven or eight days with them. They took us on Tuesday October 18 and released us the following Tuesday.
How was the ransom dropped, was it in cash?
The money was cash. When they knew that the money was being brought, they took us to another hill and were showing us the road, though it was very far.
So when they got information that the money near, they directed that two people should bring the money and describe what they were wearing. They, at that point, dropped us at another point.
They did not take us to were they were going to pick the money. Some kept guard while some went to collect the money. After collecting the money and confirming that it was what they asked for, some of them returned to where they kept us and asked that we should be brought and handed over to our parents.
Did they manhandle you people while you were with them?
Yes, they did; especially when our people said they couldn’t afford the money they were asking for the six of us. They then started mistreating us.
They beat you up?
Yes, but some of us were lucky, they didn’t touch us. But the guys among us suffered a lot.
How many were they?
They were three, but the two that were with us were the ones that were beaten. Three males and three females were kidnapped from our bus.
There was one Hausa man who was kidnapped with us in our bus. He acted as the interpreter between us and them but he was the most tortured because his people couldn’t pay his ransom. And our abductors were all speaking Hausa and some of them looked like Fulani people.
After your return, do you feel traumatized?
Since returning home, I haven’t been able to sleep well. The trauma is simply out of this world for me right now. Sometimes, I would not even sleep at all.
Was there anytime that you felt you might not make it back home?
While, at the kidnappers’ den, at a point, I felt maybe that was the end for me especially the day I had fever while in their den.
You know, we were kept in the open and it rained that particular day and there was so much cold, so I had fever and I thought I was going to die. I told God that even if I was paying for the sins of others, I think I have paid enough.
So, I begged God that if He was going to do something, He should please, make it fast. Or if our abductors were going to kill us they should make it fast rather than leave us to suffer like that.
You slept in the open?
Yes, the place we were taken to was deep inside the bush and there were no houses close to that area at all. The place is surrounded by hills.
It was when they were taking us to where to look for network that we would pass some houses and you could see a gathering of people too. You see shops and people playing draught game as we passed by but nobody could question our abductors.
The people will even greet our kidnappers and they respect them a lot. They are not the only kidnap group in that community because when we were going to look for network, we saw some other people in military uniforms with guns moving freely in that community.
Initially, I thought they were real soldiers and that they had come to rescue us but I was shocked when they greeted each other warmly and went their separate ways. I think it’s a community of bandits because the group that kidnapped us were different.
When we were going to look for network, there were other groups that were bringing some persons that they kidnapped too.
So, I’m thinking that is what that whole community does and there’s nobody to challenge them. It’s just a community of bandits, of kidnappers.
We saw a trending picture on social media of you and the bandits who were armed, was it really you and the bandits?
Yes it was us.
So who took the pictures and posted it on social media?
I think someone posted it because the pictures were taken from one of our phones.
They allowed you people to snap them?
Yes, when they heard that the money they asked for was coming, they became so happy and asked that their pictures should be taken and posted on social media.
And that we should go and tell the world that these are the people that kidnapped us. They are very proud of what they do.
How much was paid as ransom for your release?
I wouldn’t know because I wasn’t there. But it ran into millions.
Was there anyone among them that was compassionate at all?
Yes, their was one among them. The man wanted to accept the initial offer our people made to them but when others realized that he was being soft, they collected the phone from him and started shouting on the phone.
From that point if our parents called, the man would not pick but asked the others to answer the call.
Are you going back to Kebbi for your NYSC?
No! I have been redeployed to Benue State by NYSC.
What role did the NYSC play in all of this?
NYSC played the role of redeploying us to Benue State and nothing more to my knowledge. My batch is still at the orientation camp but I’m home right now because I need time to heal from the trauma I went through.
If you’re asked to go up north again, will you ever go there?
No! I won’t; I can go to neighbouring Nasarawa state but up north, I will never.
What if your husband is coming from that part of the country?
My husband cannot come from there.
Any words of appreciation?
I want to thank the Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State who contributed a lot to ensure our release.
Also, my thanks go to the parents of all of us that were kidnapped who also gathered something to ensure that we were released.
I also commend the two ransom-bearers that risked their lives to come into the bush to deliver the ransom to the kidnappers. In fact, one of the two ransom bearers had no reason to risk his life for us because his brother was one of the two who had already escaped while we were being taken away.
He knew that his brother had already escaped that very night that we were kidnapped yet he risked his life to ensure our release. Most especially, I thank God for sparing our lives because it wasn’t all about the money.
In some cases, people were kidnapped, ransom were paid, yet they were not set free by their abductors. But in our own case, we were set free and I know God did it for us. Some of the victims that we met there were still being held hostage when we left. We met them there and we still left them there.
At this point I would also want to advice the federal government that there is need to tighten security across the country because if we could be abducted at about 6pm when it was not yet dark, then what will happen to people who travel at night?
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