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Govt responsible for insecurity across Nigeria – Methodist Prelate

Prelate of the Methodist Church, Samuel Uche, recounts his ordeal in the den of kidnappers saying it was 48 hours of agony, perplexity, and indescribable trauma in an interview with Arise TV and monitored by JAMIU AFOLAYANKA

Where were you coming from before you ran into these hoodlums?

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I went to a church function to induct the national officers of the Boys Brigades, which we called the Association of Methodist Brigade that took me to Umunneochi. I conducted the service; induction, dedication, and preached the word of God. I was rushing towards Owerri Airport to catch up with my flight back to Lagos because I had an assignment to carry out the following day. So, as we were rushing, we just ascended the hill from Ndiawa, Isuochi and we were trying to descend to Leru in Umuchieze all in Abia State. So, as we were approaching the valley, three boys came out from the bush pointing the gun at us, they were all wearing black and introduced themselves as kidnapers. They were three, as our driver was trying to speed up, these guys fired at our tyres and the motor started stumbling. So other kidnappers came from the back, they positioned themselves in three-three-two, they were eight of them. And their leader said “yes, you have run into our hands” and introduced himself as the Commander General of the forest, He said “I’m the Commander General of the forest, from Lokpa”, he mentioned the names accurately to Isuochi, to Ihube to Isikwuato, “I’m the Commander General of these areas. In any kidnapping case, I’m responsible. “I control these people; these are my boys”. And they said to me, “just cooperate, we are not robbers, we kidnap for ransom. If you can pay us what we agree with you, we will set you free, but if you don’t cooperate and pay us you will just follow us to the gulley. We shall show you where there are decomposed bodies and when we get there, we first cut off your head then we shall drop your body inside the gulley, very big gulley.”

How many of you were traveling at the time of the abduction?

We were five. I was supposed to be with the Bishop at the back, but because the Minister in charge of Communication would have been stranded and he agreed to go with us, so we had to take him, he was in between me and the Bishop, my Chaplain was in front and the driver was, driving. So, all of us were moving together when this thing happened. So, the two young boys, the one in between me and the bishop and the other boy ran away, they were able to apprehend us. So, that was how it happened, they took us far inside the bush, and in the first place they said we should walk barefooted, they took our shoes, it was around 10.30pm, remember this incident happened around 3:30pm. Our arrest was by quarter to three in the afternoon, by 3.30pm we were already in the bush just moving on as if there was no destination. We were on the move until it was dark, but around 10.30pm or so, they started asking about “how much can we pay” and they said: “We can relax here a bit and negotiate, how much are you going to pay as ransom?” I said N10m, and their leader said, “you are joking… shut up there” and they said, “ok continue you will talk the truth when we kill you, you will know how you are going to pay.” So, we stopped at another place, then it was around 11.30pm. They said, “Now the final negotiation, or we kill you here and nobody will know”. Now, they pegged the amount at N150m and I said N150m is humongous nobody can afford N150m in Nigeria now. So, he said “how much can you pay?” And I said let us beg our people to raise N50m it was then, that they raised a knife and asked my Bishop from Owerri, Dennis Mark, to lie down, threatened to cut off his head saying his blood will spill on my clothes, and stains my body then it will have an indelible impression on your mind. They raised the knife, and I looked at the knife, even when I lived in the North that type of knife they don’t use to cut anybody’s neck twice, just once. I said no, no, no, no, don’t kill him, he asked, “What are you saying?” He said, “The least money you can pay us, and they will accept is N100m”. He continued: “We are not joking because we share this across the board. Aside from eight of us here, we have other people,” but he didn’t go into details. They said, “We have many people that we share this money with and that they have grades, some of the boys I see here may get only N200,000 and there are people outside there, who will get millions” and I understood they have sponsors, so he called somebody; their leader, that leader, according to him, was a Fulani from Sudan, that about five of them were Fulani from Sudan, about two of them there were from Mali, and one of them was from Songhai (Sudan, Mali, and Songhai), but they have lived in Nigeria for many years. So, I told my Bishop in the Igbo language, “can you hear what this man is saying, that he has lived in Nigeria for a long time” he now interrupted and said “so you are speaking Igbo, Oga you are speaking Igbo you think I don’t understand Igbo, I grew up in Umuahia, don’t do nonsense here, I grew up in Umuahia, I played ball on the field of Umuahia here, we lived where is called Amuzubo. Their leader said all that in the Igbo language. According to him, he lived in Umuahia with his parents, and his father was a cow dealer, but unfortunately, his mother died, leaving him and his siblings, and he’s the one feeding his siblings. He insisted that we must pay N100m ransom. He continued: if you don’t pay it if we allow him to take matches, that what he’s smoking here is ordinary cigarette, can I see it, I said yes, that he has another dangerous one, once he lights it and smoke, that he would not understand whether I’m an old man or not.” I said please don’t smoke that one. He called the name; I don’t know the name and that if he should smoke it now “his eyes will turn red, and he can do anything against me.” I said please I’m your father …. He replied, “father what, old man my father, I respect your old age but don’t talk nonsense”. I said, “yes sir.” While the negotiation was going on, we kept on walking in the bush till 1.00 am. Having walked for many hours, and we were already tired, they later said we would soon get to a place where we’ll finally settle down. It was at that point, that he said they should return my pair of shoes to me, to the Bishop and they said the boy should walk barefooted, and I said “you want to kill the boy, my Chaplain, he should have his pairs of shoes” so gave him. We continued with the journey that we did not know the destination until we got to Mmirirule Omara Road towards Ibie towards Ihube, I know the terrain, but I kept it to myself. When we arrived somewhere, there is a gully stinking…it is only God knows what they put there but they told us that anybody that didn’t cooperate, that wanted to waste their time in paying the ransom they will cut off the head and dump it and the body in gully. It is a massive, massive gully, so we sat near that place, we relaxed a bit, and stayed there till 2am. He said okay let’s go to the final place, we crossed another road; old Ihube Road, remember we crossed the one from Nneru, we went to the bush, we crossed old Ihube Road again, near Ibie that is where people say they normally release them. So, when we get there, we relaxed, we all sat down, they slept and we slept, I used my hand to cut some shrubs or trees, I slept until 9am, they said we should call, I called my people. It was then I got to know that people were gathered somewhere at Isochi while I was communicating with them. My Bishops- those from Umuahia, from Okigwe, from Isiukwato, from Oturu all gathered somewhere, as we were communicating with Lagos. I was coordinating while in the den of the abductors to ensure we raised the money meant for the ransom. I asked them how far they have gone. And they said they have raised between N60m to N80m cash, but they were expecting N50m from another centre, but the problem was how to bring it to Umunneochi because of IPOB sit-at-home order. I said “move, just move” and I held the men, I told them something, that if the IPOB people see you, speak a language they will understand, they will allow you to pass. Let them know that your Oga is in the bush. Your Oga, you know they are Rev. Minister, your Oga patapata is in the bush they will give you the way. So, they travelled from where they got the money to Umunneochi, they gathered the whole money N130m. I called them eventually by 3pm, they said the money is intact, and I said “bring out N100m and give to these people that our lives are most important, wherever you borrowed money, and whoever contributed after, we are going find how to make refunds. Because the church will always know how to gather and mobilise money.

How did you sustain your eye injury?

My injury, you know was dark, and they were pushing me and saying, “Move fast, move fast”. I didn’t know there was a tree ahead of me, my eyeglasses had broken, what I heard was a hard bang on my face and there was blood all over my shirt, so I placed one handkerchief on my eye, it was all soaked. How I knew was that one of them was using a touch behind me, so it was all soaked with blood. I did as if I wanted them to see it, but they didn’t care. So, I removed the handkerchief and threw it away, one of them picked it up and put it on the side of my coat, so I was using it soaked while we continued with the journey. I brought out another handkerchief, fully soaked. Since they didn’t allow me to throw away the other one, so I put it in the same place (side of my coat) then I brought out another handkerchief. At a point, I stopped and took a leave of one plant squeezed it, water wasn’t coming but I spat into it, no liquid, I spat again, and then liquid came out and applied it to the injury. Miraculously, the bleeding stopped but there was a serious pain, it was my reverend and bishop that said, “Sorry sir sorry sir”, those guys did not bother.

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How did you negotiate your release?

Eventually, when the money was available, I called the attention of their leader asking how the money will be delivered. Their leader said “Oga, we are going to take the money by ourselves waiting for final instruction either to fire or let go. “Two people will be here with you and what they will hear is fire or go, if I say a fire, they will kill three of you, which means your people are playing pranks with us but if you hear ok you can go, then you are free to go.” So, we resorted to prayers, panting, and panicking. Eventually, maybe they counted the money in their five Ghana-must-go N20m in each bag as instructed. They brought the money towards Ibie, the old road, this is Nwaomara junction, Isiochi, Nwaomara, Ihube, Nnelu, and they went towards Ibie. I was told that within a short while three motorcycles arrived, and they were packing the money, tying them and a truck came without a number, and they put in the money. They are well-coordinated, they have a network, and the truck zoomed off. So, the man left with them and told the other boys to release us. The boys said, “You are free to go.” I said free… where are we going to? They said let’s show you the road. They walked a little and showed us the road unknown to them that I was conversant with the area right from my childhood. I knew it was the road to my village. I’m from Ihube in Imo State. You know when there was this creation of states, the Okigwe division agreed that they will not all go into Imo or Abia so it was an agreement that part of us should go to Abia and get our share, while others go to Imo and get their share. So, Umunneochi, Isiukwato went with Abia, while Ihube and Onuimo went with Imo. It was agreed by our political elites that is why you are confused if you come there, you may not know the difference between Imo and Abia. It was an agreement during the creation of states.

Will you say IPOB have been vindicated in their denials?

What they did has nothing to do with IPOB, It was clear kidnapping by Fulani herdsmen because their cattle were very close there, manned by some people. So, I’m beginning to suspect that those who cut off people’s heads are not Igbos, Igbos are not known for cutting peoples’ heads but these are Fulani children born in Igboland, you can’t differentiate them, they went to school there, their parents were big men (cattle dealers), their mother used to fry Akara (beans cake), which they called “Ekwesi” we bought it when we were young, so, they grew up there before they integrated themselves into this. There is a serious problem, you know, when you don’t start a problem is that when you start a problem, it can just escalate so there are different groups in Igbo land now. So, there is also the IPOB that is divided into two, somebody broke away from Kalu. I’m not advocating for them but when Nnamdi Kalu started, he was saying it was a freedom fighter, “don’t kill, just demonstrate.” However, I have never been a member, have never been a part of it, and all I know is that as an Igbo man and every Igbo man has lost faith in Nigeria. I was an elder statesman want a united Nigeria but a united Nigeria where there is equity, fairness, and justice. Look at what is happening in political primaries, they conspired that no Igbo man should be a presidential candidate, is it fair? When it is the turn of the South-East to produce a president, they say no. It can either go to North-East or South-West or South-South, is it fair? So, for me, it is something you can negotiate not by killing. Nobody knew that Israel will become an independent nation, nobody knew they were scattered here and there until 1945 when the state of Israel was pronounced and they made the capital, Tel Aviv but Netanyahu returned it to Jerusalem supported by the Trump administration. So, whatever God has ordained would come to pass. For me, I believe in a united Nigeria, where there is justice, righteousness, equity, and fairness; I believe in that.

What kind of President should Nigeria vote for?

What we are looking for is a nationalist, once we get a nationalist who believes in Nigeria, everything will be fixed. But if we get somebody, whose interest is Igbo, Yoruba, Fulani, Hausa, and the likes, we will go back to square one. For instance, I’m not boasting, after this interview asks cross station of Methodist I don’t know where you come from, I believe in Methodist Church Nigeria. I see that church as a family, so all the scholarships we gave to minister to study, we will not discriminate, when there is the opportunity for a scholarship, I will call the former HOC who do we give this form, he may say this or that, but that area has not gotten, we make sure that our four pillars were represented. You know we have four pillars in the Methodist church, the South-East extraction, South-South extraction, South-West extraction, and Northern extraction. That is how we are balancing our scholarships, so nobody is grumbling. When it comes to the distribution of offices, that is what we do, there have been promoted deputies. I can boast that I’m loved by everybody because I don’t play on tribal sentiments and I don’t believe in ethnicity. My people sometimes accused me that “I am a sellout, you are an Igbo but you are a sellout. Sell out what? Because I’m fair, I’m not looking at tribe like I would have died if God was not with me. So, if I die, if I am tribalistic, and you think I am going anywhere? Heaven is not for any tribe or ethnic group; heaven is for those who are children of God.

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Who should be blamed for the insecurity in Nigeria?

I don’t blame any government, but I blame the leadership in government, the Bible says that when the righteous are in authority the people will rejoice but when the unrighteous are in authority the people groan. Are we not groaning? Are you eating well? Do you have all the money you made? Are you paid all the salaries? What is happening with ASUU? What is happening with NASU? What is happening with Labour? That means unrighteous administration, I’m not a politician, am not against APC, nor am I against PDP, nor Labour Party nor any of the parties, but all I want is whoever is in power, be it Igbo, Hausa, Ijaw, Yoruba, Fulani, let there be justice and let there be equity.

Were you tortured by your abductors?

When they told us to look head down, they were analysing my passport, they didn’t take the visas I used to go to the US thrice they saw it there. They saw the visa I used to London, they saw it there, the one to Belfast they saw there, the one to Dubai, they saw there, the one to South Korea they saw there, and various places. So, they must know that this man that travels outside the country must be somebody. So, they were analysing the passports one by one.

Any personal effect of yours taken by the kidnappers?

They took my wedding ring, which I bought when I went to Israel. I bought that wedding ring for $150. So, it was pure gold, they took it and my wristwatch, a very costly wristwatch, they took my chain, every money in the pocket they took, but life is more than that if you are alive you will get them. They were heartless when they said we can go, they didn’t even give us N200 to get a bike or motor, they just allowed us to walk like that. It was the worst humiliation I would ever witness in life

Describe the group of kidnappers

Some of them are stark illiterates only one was communicating fluently and I guess that the way he spoke, maybe he went to a level above secondary school, and that was the one that claimed he was born in Umuahia. He said he was born at Amazukwu, Ibeku. You can’t look at their knives or guns. When they went to collect the ransom, they brought in more people, who were hidden somewhere with more guns. People saw one boy at the front of the military checkpoint, so our man wanted to harass him, what are you doing here, who are you? The military man said no, no, leave him, he is our boy, and he came to drop something for us. And it is the same military that says to people, if you cross this line, I will fire you, don’t go to the bush. So, why are they shielding the people? Why are they shielding them? Some people have a plan to do something in this county, there is a plan, they are planning but only God will foil it.

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