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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Five grueling days in the jaws of death -Kidnap survivor Francisca Chioma

Francisca Chioma, a student at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State, was kidnapped by Fulani herdsmen on her way to a burial ceremony last week.

The captors demanded a ransom of N10 million, but her family could not afford to pay. The media soon went agog with the story of Chioma’s abduction and her friends’ fundraiser efforts to secure her freedom.

The kidnap survivor recounts her ordeals during the five-day nightmares in the den of kidnappers…

“It all started on Friday, 5th of April, 2024, when my girlfriend and I were heading to the Omasi Uno community in Ayamelum LGA of Anambra State. The father of one of our friends had died, and we decided to attend the funeral. Since we didn’t know the area, we  followed the directions given by our friend. When we got to a particular location, we boarded a motorcycle to the venue of the burial. And that was the beginning of the story!

He drove for over an hour, and I kept wondering if he was following the right route. Later on, we saw the burial banner and felt we were already close to the venue. Kindly note that the road leading to the village was isolated and bushy.

we were ambushed by six armed Fulani herdsmen. one of them flogged me with a machete, and I began to bleed. they shot dead one man who attempted to escape

At one point, we passed a farmland where cows were grazing. Immediately after passing the cows, we were ambushed by six armed Fulani herdsmen. At first, they asked us to lie on the ground, and when I started praying in tongues, one of them flogged me with a machete, and I began to bleed. Everything happened so fast.

The men were kidnappers and they had already kidnapped a medical doctor who was travelling with his family. They took him captive, but left his wife and children behind. There was also another young man, along with the motorcyclist who had carried us. In total, they abducted five individuals, including my girlfriend and me. However, they shot dead one man who attempted to escape.

It was around 5pm when they ordered us to follow them, and we kept walking for over six hours through forest paths. Earlier on, they had collected everybody’s phones. When they asked for mine, I claimed that it had fallen off along the way. Unfortunately, they discovered where I hid the phone and started flogging me. Those men were very mean. They warned us to never beg for mercy, say sorry, or cry while being tortured. We continued walking until we reached a hilly location around 11PM. Although exhausted, I couldn’t sleep due to the circumstances. At around 2AM, they woke us up, and we proceeded to an undisclosed destination.

By then, some of us had lost our shoes, so we walked barefoot along thorny bush paths. I sustained injuries to my feet. Despite that, the abductors mercilessly whipped anyone who lagged behind. Finally, on Saturday afternoon, we arrived at our destination, which was close to a river. While sitting down, I pondered over our whereabouts and what fate awaited us. After a while, they told us to pay a ransom, otherwise, we would be killed and dumped into the river. My friend and I were asked to pay N10 million each, while the doctor and the motorcyclist were required to pay N20 million each. After saying that, they gave us our phones to call our family and friends to raise the money.

It was around 5pm when they ordered us to follow them, and we kept walking for over six hours through forest paths

The moment I got my phone, I quickly turned on my data to check my location, and that was when I saw that we were in Nsukka, Enugu State. So that means we trekked from Anambra to Enugu State through some isolated routes!

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At first, I tried to reach my dad, but his number was unavailable. So, I called my friends, Collins Chimeze and Godswill Akan. They were very shocked when they heard the news. After listening to me, Godswill asked the kidnappers to reduce the amount, but they didn’t listen to him. Meanwhile, they gave us a 48-hour deadline, and I kept wondering how we would raise such a huge sum. The other captives also called their family members to inform them.

While we were there, those men tortured us mercilessly. In fact, I kept wondering what would happen to me if we failed to raise the ransom. Even when it seemed impossible, I kept praying to God to save me. Although the herdsmen had strictly forbidden us from begging for anything, my girlfriend and I pleaded for a fair reduction in the ransom amount and an extension of the deadline. Instead of heeding our pleas, they whipped us and even threatened to shoot us.

The moment I got my phone, I turned on my data to check my location. I saw that we were in Nsukka, Enugu State. That means we trekked from Anambra to Enugu State through isolated routes!

While my family members were trying to raise any amount, Godswill and Collins posted about the incident online. They also contacted some influencers, but raising the N10 million within two days seemed almost impossible. On the 7th of April, the kidnappers decided to reduce the amount to N2 million, and they also lowered the sums for the victims. Then, they warned us that if our families failed to pay the reduced amounts within the deadline, they would execute their threats without hesitation. Two million naira was still a huge sum, and my family couldn’t afford it within the deadline. Even my girlfriend’s family members were struggling to raise the money. So, we kept praying to God to help us.

Those men tortured us severely, and mocked our God. We slept on bare ground, ate bush mangoes, and drank dirty water from the river. I caught a cold because it rained very often.

By Monday afternoon, when I contacted my people, they said they had only raised N400,000 out of the N2 million. Meanwhile, they also told me that some influencers had shared the information on their social media platforms and that, hopefully, more donations would come in. By then, the doctor’s family had raised N4 million, the motorcyclist’s family had raised N2 million, while my girlfriend’s family had raised N300,000.

After that call, the kidnappers told us that they were tired of staying in that forest. So, they instructed us to tell our family or friends to bring the available sum in cash by Tuesday. They also warned that the police should not be involved; otherwise, we would be killed.

Those men tortured us severely, and mocked our God. We slept on bare ground, ate bush mangoes, and drank dirty water from the river. I caught a cold because it rained very often

At first, we found it difficult to believe that they agreed to collect these amounts but thankfully, God touched their hearts. So, all the representatives gathered the cash and gave it to the motorcycle man’s brother. He came with my girlfriend’s sister to deliver the money to the kidnappers.

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After they collected the ransom, they released us, and that was how we found our way out of the forest. When we got to the nearest community, the residents were happy that we survived the encounter because, most times, those herdsmen kill their victims.

I was held captive for five days, and I lost so much weight, fell sick, and my whole body ached. There are still wounds on my body and under my feet, but they are healing gradually. When I went to the hospital, they gave me drugs and injections. So, I believe that in the next couple of days, I will be very fine.

While dealing with the physical wounds, I am also dealing with trauma. After I returned, I was just crying all day and couldn’t eat anything. What if I had died? What if I was thrown into that river? All my dreams and investments would have gone without any trace. God gave me a second chance and I’m very grateful for it.

When we got to the nearest community after we were released, the villagers were happy that we survived the encounter because, most times, those herdsmen kill their victims

I also want to use this opportunity to say ‘Thank you’ to my family, friends and all Nigerians who supported me through donations and prayers. When I went online, I saw that a top Facebook influencer, Mr. Emeka Nobis, posted about the incident and media houses, such as The PUNCH. So many people prayed and donated for me. Although, most of the donations came later, over N3m was raised.

After I got back, my online family and UNIZIK student community have been checking up on me through phone calls and visitations. In fact, the love I have received so far is massive, and I am very grateful for it.

In conclusion, I pray that no one else has to go through what we experienced, and I hope that our society can find ways to create a safer environment for all.

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