Nice Narrow Escape

Yahaya Muhammad Khalil

© Copyright 2020 by Yahaya Muhammad Khalil

Photo of Nigerian rebels.

Muneer is a young and ambitious man that lives in Kofar Mata area of Kano, in Nigeria. As a local bank agent he has a small office located close to the city’s stadium where he provides cash and mobile banking services on commission for customers who find going to the bank a difficult and time wasting exercise.

One fateful day in 2019, Muneer went to his bank and withdrew the sum of One million, six hundred thousand in Naira (the Nigerian currency). Coming out of the bank with the money packed in a leather bag, Muneer stopped a commercial Rickshaw, the most popular means of local commuting in the cities of Nigeria. ‘I want you to take me to the Stadium, but you won’t carry any other passenger, how much do I pay?’ Muneer enquired. The tricyclist said ‘Two hundred naira Sir’. Muneer boarded without saying another word, placed his cash-containing leather bag on the vehicle’s floor and marched his legs on it. The Rickshaw began to move.

No sooner than they started gathering momentum when they sighted a man standing by a commercial RICKSHAW, holding an empty petrol gallon (gesturing he has run out of fuel). The tricyclist said to Muneer ‘Please sir, this is my friend, he’s out of fuel. Allow me to take him along to the fuel station, I hope you won’t mind’. Muneer was silent. The man entered their RICKSHAW and sat beside the driver. Moving further along the road, the trio sighted road traffic officials, who arrest and fine tricyclists if they carry anybody on the driver’s seat. For the second time Muneer was asked by driver to allow the man to sit beside him to the fuel station to avoid arrest. Again, Muneer refused to talk; probably sensing danger in his subconscious. Muneer’s obvious apprehensions, though intrinsic, proved true as he was from that moment, to be thrown into the deadliest and most traumatic experience he will forever live to remember.

As the man sat beside Muneer, he opened his seemingly empty gallon and, surprisingly to Muneer, a whitish substance blew towards his face and instantly, Muneer’s bright, sunny day turned into a pungent, murderous darkness. Muneer could not open his eyes, the lids felt as if sutured together and glued. In a bid to save his life, he forcefully managed to open them for no more than a few seconds, he found himself being carried to a red car parked nearby, one of his captors was even saying, ‘so this man is a banker’. The red car quietly slid on to the road, its tinted glasses blocking any hope of rescue for Muneer. Muneer has been kidnapped. He has fallen prey to the latest wave of insecurity and organized crime avalanche in Nigeria. Crime cartels no longer block roads to rob innocent travelers. Instead, they simply kidnap people, call their families and demand millions of naira in ransom and if the ransom is not paid within the given time or if the families alert the police, the captive gets killed.

After eighteen hours in oblivion, Muneer woke up. He found himself in a terrifying state. The place was a deep jungle, placed on the ground, he as facing a man sitting on a plastic chair with two AK-47 rifles resting on his shoulders. His face was ugly, horrifying with a couple of red shot eyes. He spoke softly in a local language and with confidence. Muneer heard one guard call him ‘Boss’. So you have woken up, I hope your family’s got money’. Muneer said nothing while Boss, who looked every inch the cartel’s leader continued, The guys who first kidnapped you were paid two and a half million naira, those who took you to the edge of this jungle were given five and a half million and the ones that brought you here got ten million. So your people need to have a lot of money if you have to leave here alive.”

Muneer looked around the place. There were many captives among whom he recognized one European, he also saw an old man in white clothes frantic with running stool because of fear. There were children of both sexes all chained on upper and lower limbs while armed men were on guard, each one strolling back and forth with two rifles. They were under a big tree; by the tree’s trunk were heavy bags all containing money. Bags were places one on another to about half the tree’s height, he fathoms the money could reach up to a billion naira. Gazing straight forward, Muneer saw scores of young men each with a cell phone in his trouser pocket and earphones on both ears, some of the kidnap ring members are as young as twelve or thirteen years old. They were listening to music and dancing. Some were smoking marijuana which they place in a cash note and light up for there was no paper in the jungle. Dazed with fear and hopelessness, Muneer slept off again.

In the morning they were given breakfast, it was some saucy food which one can only eat to avoid being manhandled. Minutes after, Muneer heard the sound of a heavy duty motorbike. On came two armed men, they were wearing face masks. They masked Muneer and put him in their middle on the bike. They rode as fast for three hours in that jungle before reaching the banks of a river. They stopped by a big canoe, unmasked Muneer and together they hauled the bike into the canoe. They all sat down in the canoe which reached the shore after some 30 minutes of paddling. The bike was set aground and they continued with Muneer’s face masked again for about an hour, they reached a hill. On reaching the hill’s top Muneer saw a Jeep with outdoor communication gadgets, obviously this is where the group makes their calls for there were no communication facilities in the jungle. Muneer’s cell phone which was rake when he was first kidnapped was used to call his immediate brother. ‘Muneer!’ shouted his brother in fear and apprehension. He was sure of trouble as for the past two days they searched all over, used radio announcements but Muneer was nowhere to be found, only now. ‘Shut up’, shouted a voice from the other end, ‘We have only three things to tell you. One, this man is with us, two, he is in good condition and three, go and get money, real money, we will not call you again until after two weeks’.

Muneer was returned to the base only to encounter a heated argument between two of the cartel’s top rank and the subject of the argument was Muneer. While Boss insists that a profit of twenty million naira must be paid by Muneer’s family for his freedom, the other argue that tem million shall be charged. When they failed to settle, Boss used his AK-47 to spray the other with bullets on head and chest. He fell lifeless, Boss bowed and picked up the two AKs and dragged the body away. Muneer’s heart wanted to blow out of his chest because of fear. Obviously, he thought, this is a ruthless gang that even members are not spared. Meanwhile, Muneer’s brother Abdu was conspicuously agitated by his phone encounter with the kidnappers, he informed the family. They began organizing prayer sessions while Abdu began to auction Muneer’s and his own properties to make money available in case the kidnappers call to make ransom demand. However, what worries Abdu was what amount will the kidnappers demand? What of if they demand 5 million or ten million? As of now, he thought, only seven hundred thousand naira was realized, not up to a million.

For Muneer, the event of the ensuing night was yet another horrifying experience that left his hope on horary decrease. A fight ensued between two armed guards who were keeping eye on the captives to ensure they do not run away. The fight lasted for quite a time with one insulting the other, after some time they seem to have reconciled. One was saying to the other, ‘you caused it all, don’t do this to me again.’ Few minutes later, the one who spoke went to ease himself a few meters away. As he squatted to urinate, the other guard shot him at the spine and back of head; he also fell lifeless, like a stack of cards. The killer guard took his rifle and dragged him away. This is the end of the road, Muneer thought, he kept praying for some miracle to happen.

On his fourth day of captivity, came with a miraculous twist that made Muneer’s escape nice and narrow. It happened that a ransom of one captive was paid and a member of the gang has been sent to pick him up and drop him where he could walk to meet his family. It certainly not Muneer as the gang told his brother Abdu they will call in two weeks. When this gang member came on a motor bike to pick his assignee, all the captives were sleeping except Muneer. The man asked Muneer, ‘are you the one whose ransom was paid?’ Muneer nodded to affirm. ‘Follow me’. He took Muneer on the bike, and rode fast for about three hours. There was no communication with the top ranks to confirm if the right captive was to be freed. Finally, they stopped by a footpath. Muneer Alighted and the man told him to follow that path and not to talk to whoever he meets on the path. ‘If you talk to anyone, or anyone talks to you and you reply, you will be returned to our base, be careful as there are many kidnap cartels round here.’

Muneer walked as fast as he could not paying attention to whoever he meets along the path. He sighed for relief when he sighted a big road with cars moving in both directions. Muneer saw some farmers working on their farm and asked them where he was, they told him he was at the edge of Birnin Gwari jungle in Kaduna state. He narrated his ordeal to them and they helped get a ride to reach Zaria some 120 kilometers away. On reaching Zaria, Muneer summarily walked the distance to his sister’s house where she stays with her husband. Sister Maimuna nearly fainted with joy; she called the family in Kano to break the good news.

I am  from Nigeria, formerly editor of The NIgerian Optimist, a development magazine and now founder of ORCHID Africa, an NGO to support African street children.  This is a real story and happened in 2019.

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