My 120-hour Ordeal in Kidnappers’ Den — Kogi Varsity Professor



•Says he was blindfolded for six days, couldn’t tell when it was day or night • Ate once daily without seeing what he was eating

• Wife took loan to pay ransom

The Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the Kogi State University, Professor John Olatunde Alabi, could be regarded as the Daniel of our time after his safe return from the den of kidnappers following his abduction from his residence in Anyigba, the university’s host community, by dare-devil gunmen on September 27. The difference, however, is that the biblical Daniel left the lions’ den unscathed while Prof Alabi returned emotionally bruised and traumatised. He relived in this interview with GBENGA ADERANTI the trauma of being kept in a dark and lonely room blindfolded for five days. He would, however, rather blame the system more than his abductors for the ugly fate that befell him as he warns eloquently that the nation is sitting on a keg of gunpowder.

Alabi, who was still looking exhausted when he spoke with The Nation more than one week after he was set free by his abductors, recalled that he was accosted at the gate of his private residence, which is about 10 minutes’ drive from the campus of Kogi State University. 

Unknown to him, his assailants had been trailing him since he left the campus on that day for home. So, it was no sooner than he alighted from his car that his abductors emerged like a bolt from the blue and pointed guns at him. They told him that they were neither robbers nor assassins, but it would be in his interest to cooperate with them.

He said: “They did not allow me to remove my belongings from the car. I attempted to remove my key, but they said no, we are going with you in your car.”

Alabi said he had thought initially that they would not be able to take him away because the car he had just parked in the compound started but refused to move after the many attempts they made to take him away in it.

He said: “I didn’t install any security device in the car, but by divine intervention, it refused to move. One of the car’s tyres just got stuck as they tried repeatedly to move it out. Some of them accused the one behind the steering wheel of not knowing how to drive, so they appointed another member of the gang to take over. But the second person also tried and the result was the same.”

Out of frustration, they dragged Alabi out of the car and made him trek for about 100 metres all in their attemptto get him into captivity.

“At that point, I started shouting the blood of Jesus. I couldn’t get anybody to assist or intervene because they were armed and they were firing gunshots in the air. Meanwhile they had already contacted their roving car. They pulled me into it as soon as it arrived, and that was all I knew,” Alabin recalled the near-death experience.

Life in the dungeon

From his residence, Alabi was transferred to a house where he stayed for five days. He said that throughout the period, he was blindfolded such that it was impossible for him to know when it was day or night except the cocks were crowing or his abductors were smoking, drinking and playing their loud music.

Alabi said although he was not the only one in captivity, he had no way of seeing the other captives because he was blindfolded and kept in a ‘VIP’ cell.

He said: “They had a camp where they detained people. It was a cell with only a small window. The windows had been blocked anyway. No light. I was there from Monday September 27 till October 2nd.

“I never knew when it was night or day. I could guess that we were in the morning when the cock crowed, and I knew it was night when they started drinking, smoking and listening to loud music. I would know that they had returned from their exploits that night.

“It was horrendous. They drank at night. They watched films, because I was listening to the sound system. They were in the habit of watching films that inspired them to do what they do.

“I sit down for 14 hours and lie down for 10 hours. That was how I was spending my 24 hours for about six days,” Alabi explained.

The professor of Entrepreneurship said he was not allowed to stand up or move around as he was guarded by a gun-wielding member of the gang whose main duty was not only to keep watch over him day and night but also inflict psychological torture on him.

“They threatened me continuously, asking, ‘What do you have? Who are your people? What are they going to do?’”

He said they also told him that keeping him with them in the house was the first stage of the operation. If he failed to deliver, the second stage would be to take him into the bush on top of the rock “where I would sit on a stone with my hands and legs tied backwards. If that did not produce a result, the third and final stage would be to whisk me away to human parts dealers who would take me for a fee, and dismember my body without firing a shot.”

But he said he found favour with his abductors as he was not taken through the other stages or taken outside to be tortured.

“They would ask me whether I wanted to eat solid food or rice?” he said. At other times, they would ask him ridiculous questions which he said he was not afraid to answer.

He said they must have thought that university lecturers are wealthy people and that made them to demand a ransom of N20 million.

He said: “I asked them why are you asking for N20 million from a teacher? But one of them told me that if I had been saving N1 million every year, I would have been able to provide the money they asked for.

“I asked them from which salary? From the state government? The guy pointed a gun at my belly and threatened to shoot me,” Alabi said.

While he lost appetite for food in captivity, he said that praying and fasting also helped. He said the few times he had to eat he did so without seeing what he was eating.

“They would put food on my lap and say eat. I could perceive the aroma of good soup. What I usually did was to use a spoon to remove the top of the rice and eat the white rice without soup or meat. By the time I ate between six and ten spoons, I would be okay.

“They gave me food once a day, and they could bring it at any time.”

By divine coincidence, he said, he was not given any food until evening on Wednesday, which incidentally is the day of the week he usually fasts.

He said: “I was eating rice every other day. I was only entitled to a sachet of ‘pure water’ in a day. When there was no sachet water, they would give me water in a bowl. I loved it that way because if you take too much water, the system would be disturbed and you would want to pooh whereas it was the same place where I was kept that I had to pooh or ease myself.

“They gave me a paint bucket to urinate in and would not empty it until a day or two had passed. So I had to live with the stench.”

Typical day in captivity

For the period he was in captivity, the university teacher said he would sit down for 14 hours and lie down for 10 hours.

“You can’t sleep anyway on a bare floor or a mat. It was an undulating ground. My sides and buttocks were aching. I was not allowed to stand up.

“But God was with me all through; I never received any beating from them.”

With the benefit of insight, Alabi could tell from the voices of his abductors that they were young people in their 20s and definitely not up to 30.

Interestingly, the Kogi-born academic said the young men were generally friendly, contrary to the shock treatment kidnap victims get in order to force their family members to pay ransoms.

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“I enjoyed the grace of God. They said they had information about me that I was a nice person, that they had no quarrel with me. But they said they had a problem with my generation because we were wasting their lives.”

‘Why they are into kidnapping business’

Alabi said from his interactions with his abductors, they were not really happy doing what they were doing but were largely forced by country’s economic situation. “Can you imagine a kidnapper asking you, ‘do you think I like what I’m doing?’

Alabi recalled that one of his abductors told him that he graduated in 2018, but because he was unemployed, he came to Lagos to do okada (commercial motorcycle) business. Unfortunately after a while, the business was banned in the area and he was invited to Kogi to join a kidnapping syndicate.

“The other one said he had graduated for more than six years. He got employment with the state government during the last regime but was told that he was on the waiting list, so he had not been paid for four years.

“The third one said he dropped out of Kogi State University and asked if I could help him to get the institution’s certificate.

“I said if you are sure you dropped out of school and you have medical reasons, write to me. As a Dean, I would make a case to the school to consider giving you extra years. If it is not medical, if it is financial, write to the school.

“He said his case was different, saying that he dropped out because he needed money to buy the certificate. I said we don’t sell certificates in the faculty. I said it is the Senate that issues certificates.”

Apparently miffed by Alabi’s response, the last speaker insisted that Alabi must pay N20 million as ransom.

“I will not reduce it,” he threatened.

Kidnapping no longer exclusive to any group

While many believe that kidnapping is exclusive to a section of the country, Alabi warned that kidnapping is now localised because every group in Nigeria is involved in the ugly business.

“You just need an insider to form a gang. But these ones are collaborators. We have collaboration of locals joining outsiders. The youths are ready to be used by outsiders,” he said.

Alabi described the members of the gang as young and intelligent.

He said: “The message they have for Nigerians is that our education system is in shambles. We produce graduates but we don’t match them with skills. They leave school but no job.

“Politicians engage them during elections, arm them and they cannot wait till the next election.

“They believe that our generation is corrupt. They can’t get jobs. Our generation is enjoying it and we cannot pay N30,000 minimum wage to them while politicians feed their dogs with N100,000.

“They believe that our generation has failed them, and what we are seeing now is a tip of the iceberg because the youths are angry.”

He said his abductors confirmed that they abducted him not because they had anything against him but to make a statement.

“One of them said he knew me; that he is a graduate of Kogi State University. I asked what department and he threatened to blow my head off.

“He said I told you I’m a graduate and you want me to remove my hood?”

Unknown to Alabi, those who abducted him had information because his profile was not only checked on Google, the abductors went round town to know the kind of person he was.

“They said I was a nice man; that I help people,” he said with a tinge of excitement.

Unfortunately for the professor, raising the sum demanded was a big issue, as it is the policy of the Kogi State University not to pay ransoms for their kidnapped staff. This is on the premise that the kidnappers would be insatiable and would be encouraged to keep abducting lecturers.

Alabi said as unpalatable as his experience with the kidnappers was, “the incident made me resolve that whatever opportunity I had, I would let people know that we have serious problems on our hands as a country. Kidnapping business has been localised and it is no longer an exclusive activity of any group of people.

“These are an army of unemployed youths. These guys are very intelligent. They said they were businessmen and ransom must be paid.”

It was not until four days after he had been captured that he was allowed to reach out to his family members, using his own phone to call them.

“They said they were businessmen and ransom must be paid. I was worried. I had to reach out to my HOD (Head of Department), who reached out to my wife,” he said.

Although he would not disclose how much was eventually paid as ransom, he said he had no way of paying the amount demanded so his wife had to take a loan. The professor of entrepreneurship said he was in serious debt, which might take him a while to offset.

He said: “As a salary earner, it will take me up to two years to repay the debts. Where do you want me to get that kind of money? I’m a professor, but I have not earned the salary of a professor for two years.

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