OWERRI, IMO STATE (VANGUARD) -- A journalist in Imo state, 55-year-old Prince Chibuzor Ndukwe, has miraculously escaped from hired assassins who were paid N10m to kill him. He was abducted from his residence, blindfolded and taken into a thick bush. Few days later after his abductors confirmed payment of N10m for him to be killed; he succeeded in escaping from their grip. His narrow escape was as miraculous as it was bizarre. He gave a vivid account of the incident. Excerpts:
My travail started with the destruction of my house in the village by some hoodlums. They came with sledgehammer and were busy destroying my house in broad daylight while armed policemen were there.
Later, another group came and kidnapped one of my guards, they thought I was the one. Unfortunately, when they discovered that it was not me, they connived with their police collaborators, tagged him an IPOB member and threw him into the cell at the Anti-kidnapping Unit, Owerri.
When we got information that my guard was in their cell, we moved in, pacified them with some money and he was released.
On the day of my abduction, I was lying down on the bed at 7:15 pm when one motorcyclist rode into my compound. When my wife asked what he was looking for, he said he came to drop something from my wife’s school for her.
My wife wanted to know why he came at that time of the night but he assured that there was no cause for alarm and left. We did not know that he came to monitor us.
Fifteen minutes after he left, some other men came in a red Toyota vehicle, drove inside my compound and one of them, armed with a dagger, proceeded straight to my bedroom.
When they dragged me outside to the sitting room, I saw one of them pointing a gun on my wife’s head. As soon as we came out, he directed the gun at me and shouted that if I talk, he would kill me.
They asked where I kept the money and I said I didn’t have money in the house, I don’t normally keep money in the house. They said, ‘go and bring your ATM card, where is your car key? Where is your phone?’
I brought my two phones which they collected as well as my wife’s phone before they asked me to lie down. I then asked them, ‘why do you want me to lie down, tell me what you want, is it not money, let me look for money and give you, leave me alone’, but they said no, that I should go out.
They led me out and I followed them. They went to the car, asked me to open it and enter. They then collected the key from me immediately I entered, blindfolded me and asked me to lie down flat.
But when I demanded to be allowed to sit since I had already been blindfolded as it would not be easy for me to lie down, one of them hit my face with the butt of the gun which forced me to lie down in the car.
I was sandwiched between two of them with another one behind the wheels while three of them entered another other car and zoomed off to an unknown place.
Exchanges with their paymasters
That was how these people took me away on that Friday night. They took me to one small old building on the road where we spent the night.
When we were going, they were calling the people that sent them, what I heard was, ‘pay the money now. We are with this man now, if you don’t do it, we will leave him oo. We don’t need to waste time with this man inside this vehicle, we want to complete the mission and go our way’.
It was like they had a little misunderstanding with the people that hired them. The people didn’t pay that money that Friday evening, so the following day, being Saturday, I was still in that small building, blindfolded.
There were tiles there. I managed to know this because I raised the blindfold after they locked me inside and went outside the building.
I saw the window, I saw that it was a burglary proof that they used in that room and when they started coming, I put back the blindfold. I was there that Saturday.
In the night, they picked me, took me to a bush where I was kept in a two-storey building.
In the building, they left one of them, who was armed with a gun, to keep watch over me. Meanwhile, they tied my legs and hands. They then started to beat me and told me that I should forget this world, that it was over for me.
They were beating me with something like a metal; they hit it on my head and cut a small part of my head, they did same on my legs. On my hand, there were bruises, they cut my hand also and tied me with chain and other things.
So, I was there till Sunday when the money they were asking for came. I heard them when they were quarreling with the people that hired them. They were telling the people, ‘you raise the money na, what is going on, what is happening, we will leave this man o’.
They were speaking in Igbo. The person replied them that they should exercise patience, that they would bring the money in cash that night, that it was not going to be by transfer again.
On Sunday morning, their boss, called Mopol left. They left their member called ‘Agile’ to stay with me and monitor me. In the same building they kept me, there were three or four churches where people were singing praises.
The one who was guarding me pointed gun at me saying that if I made the slightest noise he would kill me there. I stayed there till the people at the church dismissed and left.
‘N10 million paid for my head’
Their boss came back at 3pm. I knew the time because they were openly talking about time. I gathered all information while they were communicating.
They were freely behaving as if my fate was already concluded and nothing would make me survive and tell any story. In fact, they had already condemned me and that must be why they were discussing not minding whether I heard or not.
One of them said it was ten million naira that was given to them to kill me. He said “this night, at least, we go go rest now, after tonight we go go relax’.
I kept on asking myself the meaning of that. After that, they brought bread to me to eat, I said I don’t want to eat, they brought water, I said I didn’t want to drink.
They said ‘ok, make you no think say na this thing go save you, whether you eat or not’.
Going to the ‘gallows’
On Monday morning, they walked me downstairs and crossed a tarred road. I discovered that the building was near a tarred road and nobody knew that something terrible was happening in that building.
This is because, as we walked down, we crossed the tarred road and I heard voices of other people around. The one that took me down handed me over to another person.
After crossing the road, another person took over and we started walking inside the bush. After sometime, he asked me to sit down, he called the other person and told him, ‘come now, let’s go and waste this man and get away’.
I was crying, pleading with them to spare my life because I have five small children, that they should not waste me. As we were walking inside the bush, we got to a certain point where they removed what they used in covering my eyes.
I now saw the kind of hefty men that were holding me. The next thing they did was to show me a dead body around.
They said, ‘do you see that dead body, na so you go be very soon.’ We passed that one, they showed me another dead body.
By then, they had removed the rope with which they tied my leg, leaving the one on my hands. I then told them I wanted to urinate and they agreed.
While we were trekking, one of the abductors was in front, the second one was behind. After I requested to urinate, the one at my back moved in front, following his colleague and they were walking slowly while waiting for me to finish urinating.
When I was about to finish, the other one turned and said ‘come, haven’t you finished?’ I said ‘it remains small,’ he said, okay and turned because I was watching them.
As he moved, a voice came to me saying, ‘man, can’t you run away now?’ It continued like a whisper saying, ‘run away’.
Immediately that voice came to me, I turned round and started running inside that bush. When they noticed it, they turned back and pursued me.
And the place I entered was a thick forest, so I entered one small bush and stayed quiet, they fired shots but they didn’t get me, they flashed their torch light but they didn’t see me.
Inside the bush, I used my teeth to untie the rope with which they tied my hands and I started creeping slowly on my knees like an animal.
They were looking for me here and there and I heard them quarreling and asking the one at my back why he left me to escape. As I was creeping away from them, crying in pains, they continued blaming each other.
How succor came
When I got to one road, I started walking fast heading to nowhere in particular. I walked till I got to another road and saw a light from a generator.
I didn’t know that one of them was around that place and I started to move fast.
Unfortunately, the sound of my feet alerted them and they pursued me until I got to a fenced compound and I jumped into the place and continued running when one of them shouted on his colleagues warning that they should not follow me because vigilante men were around the place.
If they had followed me, they would have caught up with me because when I ran into the compound, nobody came to my rescue because they were all asleep and there was also no vigilante men there.
I had to run into one man’s house and started knocking at his door, I pleaded with the man to help me but he refused. I started telling him that ‘I am Prince Ndukwe Chibuzo, the son of a traditional ruler, I came from Ihitte-Uboma, I was kidnapped from my house’.
I began to explain to the man but I think the man was afraid; he didn’t open that door. I now said ‘ok forgive me, help me, let me stay at the corner of your compound till the morning so I can explain myself better’.
He didn’t say anything, he left me. I stayed there. I think the man contacted the vigilante people on his phone.
So, vigilante people came from nowhere to where I was and began to flash light. I wanted to run, but they said “don’t run, we are here for you’.
When they flashed that light on me, I asked them ‘are you vigilante?’ they said, ‘yes’ and I said ‘God, thank you’. They now took me to a better place. That was how I was saved.
I cannot imagine my escape, up till now; I have never believed that I am out of these people’s hands. The vigilante people later told me that we were in Anyara in Isiala-Mbano, about seven kilometers to Owerri town.
Later, the vigilante people gave me hot water to drink because I had not tasted anything for days. They called their President General and other notable men in the community including the chairman of the Local Government.
They later invited policemen from Anti-Kidnapping Unit in Owerri. We met them while we were on our way to Owerri.
Initially, I was very skeptical to go with them. However, after much persuasion including making a call to their Commissioner who assured me of my safety, I followed them.
I later heard that a team of policemen from IGP’s Intelligence Response Unit also came to the place after getting information that I escaped and they frantically searched for me.
But the network was very poor and they missed where I was with the vigilante team.
Meanwhile, it was gathered that after he was rescued, he made a statement with the operatives of IGP’s Intelligence Response Team in Owerri, IRT who swung into action.
Sources said few weeks later, men of the IRT succeeded in arresting one of the key suspects in the kidnap saga. The suspect, according to reports, turned out to be one of the escapees from Oweri Prisons during the end SARS protest.
Police sources said he played a prominent role in the kidnap of the journalist in connivance with other suspects still at large, said to be close relatives of the victim.
It was also learned that the police team arrested a serving policeman suspected to be the supplier of arms to the kidnappers. Police sources said he was later taken to the Commissioner of Police for interrogation after which he was dismissed from the police and handed over to the investigating unit.
So far, it was further learned that the team was closing in on other major suspects in the crime, including those that allegedly paid N10m for the journalist to be killed.