Reports of their release came with sigh of relief for the families of the abductees who had waited with bathed breath for a week for their safe return.
By 4.52 pm same day after the news came like a rumour, the chief press secretary to the governor Mary Noel Berje in a two-paragraph newsflash announce the victims’ freedom. She said, “Niger state government has secured the release of the abducted NSTA bus passengers. Government is intensifying efforts to also secure the release of the Kagara Government Science College students, staff and their family members.”
The governor waited till midnight same day to receive the rescued passengers. Most people had thought only 40 of them were abducted but by the time they arrived in two coaster bus at the lounge of the Banquet Hall of the Government House, Minna, they were 53.
The implication is that the government all along was not sure of the number of the people that were abducted. Notwithstanding their mere sight spoke volume of what they went through in the hands of the bandits.
Apart from the psychological trauma, it was clear that the abductees went through physical pains and severe hunger in the camp of the criminals.
LEADERSHIP Friday spoke to some of them where they shared their gory experiences in the camp of their abductors.
Most of them narrated how they slept side-by-side with the cattle the bandits rustled in the forest where they were camped.
They said they were harassed and made to go for several hours without food. They said apart from cohabiting with the herds, they trekked several kilometres and slept with over 2,000 stolen cows.
Some of them said that they were beaten daily and threatened that if ransom was not paid, they will kill them in the forest.
The released abductees also disclosed that the bandits sought for their forgiveness when they were released, adding that was the only humanism in them that played out.
According to one of the victims, Hajiya Jumai Isa, “it was a very terrible experience and I had given up hope of coming out alive.
“It was a terrible experience but we thank God that we are safe now. It was not easy. They were threatening us, they beat the men; they really beat the hell out of the men.
“They told us that they didn’t want anything from us but money. They said they want money, that we should give them money, that our people should bring money for them so that they will free us and that if not, they will kill us,” she said
On how they were fed, she said, “we were served food on our hands, there was no plate to serve us food, the water was very dirty but we had no choice, so we drank it like that.
“Their weapons, I have never seen that type in real life. They have rockets, guns, AK-47, and other weapons. The bandits were more than 1,000 in that bush,” she said.
Another abductee Mohammed Ndagi who was visibly in pains, said, “I sustained injuries when the bandits shot at us during our abduction.”
He said a bullet swiped his head and he was bleeding but was made to still walk into the forest in that state.
“One of the bullets brushed my head. When I saw blood, I thought I wouldn’t survive. But even with the wound, they forced me to move with them into the bush. We walked for about 24 hours. We walked all through the night. They gave us simple food. We drank the water that cows drink,” he said
Mohammed said all through their time with them they all slept on the bare floor and they were not tied but had guns pointed at them at all times.
He continued: “We slept on the bare floor. They did not tie our hands or tie us at all. They kept guns to our head and beat us all the time. There is one among them that didn’t care if you a man or a woman, he beats anybody. They beat us with stick”
“As they beat us, they kept saying, ‘we need money or you will die here’. They were all Fulani. When they want to speak to us, they speak Hausa and when they want to speak among themselves, they resort to Fufulde,” he said.
Mohammed stated that they were moved from one place to the other, adding that on the day they were rescued, the bandits had escorted them to where the people who picked them were to prevent them from being re-kidnapped.
“On the day they released us, they asked us to forgive them for what they did to us and we said we have forgiven them. They escorted us because they said if they left us to go alone; some of their partners may re-kidnap us. So they escorted us till when the people who came to collect us arrived.’”
Another freed passenger, Abdulkareem Abubakar, said, “The Fulani bandits were having about 2,000 cows. As we were moving deeper into the forest, they continued to rustle other cows they came across. We were staying and sleeping with the cows. Anywhere I slept, a cow will sleep next to me.”
According to him, the bandits gave him the beating of his life because he told them that he had no money when they demanded for N10million ransom and later reduced it to N5million.
He said, “The bandits at the scene of the attack collected all our money and phones, they carried the bag of rice in the bus. That was what they cooked for us and they gave us food once a day.
At a point they demanded for N10million or N5million from each person, we said we do not have the money. This angered them and they started beating us until they got in contact with one Sani who was pleading with them not to kill us.”
Abubakar said the bandits in the course of negotiation demanded for N50million ransom, saying “they agreed on a certain amount of money, one Sani they were talking with said he did not have N50million. They gave him two days to bring the money or they will kill us but Sani pleaded with them to spare our lives.”
The negotiations, according to him, went for another day before Sani told them to give him 10hours, adding that when the time came, they called him (Sani) to meet them in a certain place
He said, “When the time came they told us that we were going to a place and took us through a long journey. Then they told us to go in front and that we will meet soldiers who will take us home. We met policemen from Niger State headquarters after trekking for some distance. They picked us from a place under Kagara, near Madaka village and brought us to Minna.”
For Bunmi Oyeride, a widow and caterer who was coming from Kontagora where he was hired to cook for an event before her abduction, said they were starved and drank water from the same river used by the cows.
Oyeride said: “On the first day we slept under the mango tree separated from the men. The cold in the area was like ice block. None of us was able to sleep till day break. The next day they heard sound of a plane and they asked us to run, then they took us to another bush which they cleared for us to sit.
“They asked us to lie down and we were hungry. They went to the river which their cows also drink from to fetch water and they gave 10 of us to share one Ragolis bottle. After sharing the water, anybody that stands up they will threaten to kill. We begged them to allow us call our relatives because they seized our phones,” she said.
Oyeride said she appealed to them severally but the bandits showed neither sympathy nor care for whatever suffering they were going through.
“They did not allow me to contact my children; they refused until one Sani came to rescue us. Our children were crying and hungry. Some among us had high blood pressure. We did not known from where they brought Spaghett; they cooked it without salt and oil. They asked us to go and pluck leaves from defecation area to eat. There was no water to drink after eating,”.
“We were kept with the animals and we moved everywhere with them till we were released” she said.
Similarly, Ibrahim Usman, a civil servant said he was coming from Rijau on that fateful Sunday from a friend’s wedding when the bandits struck.
He said, “We went on barefoot into the forest, if you observed the way we walked you will understand, my legs are still in pains. They treated us so badly. There was harassment and lots of threats to our lives. When they abducted us, we trekked for a long distance before they allowed us to rest for an hour and later directed us to stand up and we began the journey deep into the forest. When they realised that the cows were slow they asked us to go ahead of the cows.”
He said they were asked for money severally and when they said they had money, the bandits kept on threatening to kill them .
It was the realisation of the likely effect of the pains on their health that Governor Abubakar Sani Bello ordered for their immediate medical examination, most of them have been united with their families, but the sour experience would be there for a long time.