•How journalist escaped from kidnappers in Ibadan
TWILIGHT was just setting in, and everyone was heading home after the day’s activities. A middle-aged man flagged down a taxi at an intersection around the Mobil area of Ibadan, the Oyo State capital. As the taxi stopped, he hopped in and sat in the passenger’s seat beside the driver – the only vacant seat in the vehicle.
But as he made to pull the door shut, another burly male passenger settled in with him in the same seat, almost sitting on his lap. He had barely pulled the door shut when the driver engaged gear and moved on.
In a jiffy, the middle-aged man surveyed the interior of the taxi as it pulled away, beginning from the face of the new hitherto unexpected passenger that had just huddled up beside him. He looked back at the three passengers on the back seat – they were all young men, but there was something else about them: they looked generally unkempt and were in rough work-clothes.
In desperation, his heartbeats now increasing, he swung around to look into the driver’s face: he was a young man as well – in a rough T-shirt and a pair of jeans! He had a sly look on his face too as he ‘tried to concentrate’ on his driving.
These people all wore bland expressions on their faces (apparently trying very hard to keep a straight face), and there was a strange, sinister quietude in the car. His hormones went into overdrive: an alarm had gone off in his head! He became agitated and told the driver he wanted to alight.
Either he didn’t hear or was pretending, the driver maintained speed. The middle-aged man, now further agitated, began to scream for help at the top of his voice and started to wrestle the steering wheel with the driver, trying to force him to stop. He succeeded eventually after a few metres, having locked down the steering wheel to the right.
The taxi had barely come to a halt when he jumped out, breathing the air of ‘freedom’ and leaving the hitherto ‘co-passengers’ (who were now also out of the now stationary car) asking one another questions he never bothered to answer as he walked away swiftly, looking over his shoulders in fright.
The above scenario happened sometime in November last year to a journalist who briefed Saturday Tribune, but in the light of the horrific incidents of the past one week, it is certain there will be more of this kind of mutual distrust (?acts of discretion) in Ibadan and its environs (and perhaps even in the whole of the South-West and beyond) in the next few months.
The past seven days have been a week of unease in the Oyo State capital, since the blood-curdling news of the discovery of ritualists’ den in the Soka area of the city broke.
Last Saturday, 15 malnourished or starved people (police claimed they were seven) were discovered chained down at an abandoned property inside a forest in the Soka community in Ibadan, in the Oluyole Local Government Area of Oyo State. It emerged that scores of people that had been kidnapped and declared missing from different parts of the South-West and Edo states had been brought to the forest allegedly for the purposes of selling their body parts for ritual purposes.
Eyewitnesses reported sighting several decomposed bodies that had been dumped in shallow pits and human bones in a dry well in front of the eight-room building.
Identification cards, ATM cards and loads of other personal effects, including shoes, bags and clothes were also found inside a container in the building, while some of the abductees still alive were in a terrible state, some already looking like walking skeletons and barely able to stand out of extreme starvation. The whole place reeked of putrefying human flesh.
The discovery of the evil facility – aptly tagged by the media as the ‘House of Horror’, was made when a group of people searching for their missing relatives (commercial motorcycle operatives) found some individuals chained down in the forest, and further down some decomposed bodies and dry skulls.
Operatives of the Operation Burst and policemen from the nearby division at Sanyo later arrived the scene and made arrests – first some six men who claimed to be security guards. One of them claimed he was brought to the facility by one Gbadamosi to watch over the ‘inmates’. According to him, Gbadamosi used to bring people who looked unkempt to the place.
“We could bring them and shave their heads,” he said.
But it turned out that not only people that looked unkempt were abducted and taken to the place, as some of the items recovered from the ‘House of Horror’ and testimonies of rescued abductees revealed.
A woman told reporters that she remembered boarding a taxi at the Oke Bola area of Ibadan three months ago, intending to go to Challenge (another community about three kilometres away). That was the last thing she could remember – until that day she was rescued from the forest house.
Another rescued victim, Tunji Alabi, sad he was as bus conductor when he was abducted. He said he had spent seven months in the horror chamber. One Titi Adeniyi, 45, recounted how some women were raped, starved and flogged by their captors.
“They collected N9,000 from me. They could bring cooked four cups of rice for nine of us. They flogged me. I begged them to buy drinks for me, but they never did. They raped the women among us. I didn’t eat for the first 16 days
“They arrested us, saying we were mad. I am from the Tejuoso family in Oke Bola, Ibadan. I am not insane,” she told a newspaper (not Tribune), adding that she was suddenly grabbed by some men who claimed she was under arrest, “but we did not see any police.”
Yet another victim, Ola Michael, 28, said he was going from Oyo to Owode/Egbado in Ogun State when he was kidnapped on Iwo Road, Ibadan.
Mrs. Cecilia Obaikhena, 72, had been abducted from Iruekpen in Edo State since 2008. A mother and grandmother, she had gone to the market, according to Vivian, her granddaughter, and never returned.
Her children and grandchildren had searched and lost hope – till the news of the forest broke and the photograph of Mrs. Obaikhena graced the pages of newspapers as one of the rescued victims. Unfortunately though, Cecilia is missing again, as she mysteriously disappeared again, simply walked away after her release from the building.
Another rescued victim, a young man, Adewale Atoyebi, had been missing for three years, probably abducted from his home town in Ada, Osun State.
Seven of these visibly malnourished and/or disoriented rescued victims were still receiving medical attention at the State Hospital, Yemetu, Ibadan, while suspects arrested are currently said to be helping the police in their investigations.
When Saturday Tribune visited the State Hospital, Yemetu, Ibadan on Friday, there were seven of the rescued victims still receiving treatment.
And though the matron of the hospital who led this reporter to the ward said they were “responding to treatment” (meaning they had improved tremendously compared to when they were brought in), Saturday Tribune could affirm that the patients were still far from full recovery.
In fact, the first one interviewed, named Michael Ola, could barely make a coherent statement by himself. With each question, he visibly struggled to utter words that were barely intelligible.
With the assistance of the matron, however, Saturday Tribune gathered that he was abducted while he took an okada (commercial motorcycle) around the Challenge area of Ibadan. He still looked unkempt though. In fact, they all still reeked of filth.
Another of the victims, Titi, who still looked traumatised, emaciated and weak, told Saturday Tribune that she was 45 years old and a native of Ibadan. According to her, she was abducted right from the front of her residence at the Oke Bola area of Ibadan.
“I had spent almost three months there (before rescue came),” she said.
Did she ever notice their captors receiving strange visitors in that facility? Titi said once in a while, those who kept them there used to go out to receive visitors but she never saw those visitors brought into the facility.
Titi’s legs and arms looked spindly.
When one of them saw Saturday Tribune and the accompanying matron approaching her for a chat, she motioned that she was not in mood for conversation. She winced and squirmed as if she was still in pain.
Yet another one, a native of Ode Omu, Osun State, said she was a hairdresser-in-training. She was abducted around Oshodi, Lagos and she had spent four months in captivity.
“I learnt hair dressing, but I had not got instrument to set up on my own. They took me from beside the road somewhere around Oshodi. They tied my hands and bundled me into a vehicle and drove off,” she said.
She said the ‘inmates’ were fed only once a week.
Nafiu Shittu (apparently in his 60s) was munching some bread desperately when Saturday Tribune approached him. He looked gaunt but he sat upright and responded fairly better than the rest.
“I’m a native of Osogbo and I sell jedi jedi (pile) medicine. I was abducted around the Bus Stop (area in Ibadan) over four months ago. They were three (captors); they just swooped on me and bundled me into a small vehicle and sped off,” he said.
According to him, he was abducted in the morning. But didn’t he struggle with his captors or at least shout for help? Shittu said he did initially, but he was hit with something hard; and when he realised the futility of struggling with his captors, he surrendered and he was taken away.
Shittu also confirmed that inmates often heard voices of passersby as they went by, but during such periods, why couldn’t they shout for help? “We could shout till tomorrow, they would never hear,” he said.
His people were yet to come for him, he further told Saturday Tribune.
The Certificate of Occupancy (CofO) of the offensive property at Soka has been revoked by Governor Isiaka Ajimobi after he visited the place in company with hordes of curious residents and government officials. He also ordered the demolition of the property – though the demolition was halted almost as soon as it commenced on Wednesday on the orders of the state’s Commissioner of Police, ostensibly to give room for certain forensic experts that were on their way to conduct investigations on the site.
It is not yet clear, however, how far the investigation into this latest criminal incident will go and whether or not the patrons and masterminds of this evil trade will be exposed and punished.
The police have, as usual, been talking tough about leaving “no stone unturned” in bringing justice to those whose rights to life and human dignity have been abused, but Nigerians have heard and seen this before. When one Clifford Orji was arrested under the bridge at the Toyota Bus Stop in Oshodi, Lagos, in 1999, a lot of such tough statements were issued.
After investigations, a certain list of sponsors/patrons unearthed by the investigators never saw the light of the day. There were unconfirmed reports that the list contained names of some powerful people in the society who perhaps used their influence to ‘douse the flame’.
Many are already arguing that the current ‘House of Horror’ could not have survived for so long without the protection of some powerful people in the society. Will the current case go the way of those before it?
Already, the case has become a subject of politics as the state’s chapters of the All Progressives Congress and the Accord Party have been bandying words and trading accusations over who is responsible. Even the seemingly well-intentioned forensic investigation of the site for which the demolition of the offensive facility has been halted is being taken with a pinch of salt by many who believe there is more to it than meets the eye. Is someone trying to buy time so that some sensitive matter could be evacuated from the facility before the machines roll in?
There is considerable unease in the state capital now as people who appear unkempt or destitute have become targets of the people’s ire following incidents of such people arrested in the past one week with incriminating items that suggest they might be working with ritualists, but only feigning lunacy. Indeed, this was the cover used to great effect by Clifford Orji in Lagos before he was arrested in 1999.
On Tuesday around the Oni and Sons area of Ibadan, a ‘lunatic’ was apprehended with what looked like fresh human tongues in his possession. It is said that the items are currently being subjected to forensic tests to ascertain what they truly are.
These are, indeed, difficult times in Oyo State, as far as security is concerned. From reports of these bizarre events that have been breaking almost on a daily basis since the ‘House of Horror’ was discovered on Saturday, security has become an expensive commodity in Oyo State.
No doubt, unless the police can solve this crime (and in good time too) with the sponsors and patrons of the crime duly exposed, night life will be affected in no small way; public transportation will be approached with a great dose of distrust; mutual suspicion will thrive, and worst of all: innocent people will die unnecessary deaths as victims of misplaced suspicion and pent-up anger.
The clock ticks.