Premium Times, Nigeria: The Prelate of the Methodist Church of Nigeria, Samuel Kanu-Uche, has recounted his experiences in the hands of kidnappers who attacked him in Umunneochi Local Government Area of Abia State, Nigeria’s South-east.
Mr Kanu-Uche was kidnapped last week, while returning from a programme in the area alongside his chaplain, Abidemi Shittu and the Church’s Owerri Bishop, Dennis Okechukwu.
The clerics were released nearly two days later after paying N100 million to the kidnappers.
In an interview with Arise TV, on Thursday which was rebroadcast Saturday morning, the prelate said their vehicle was attacked by a group of eight heavily-armed young men dressed in black attire.
He said his driver had attempted to circumvent the kidnappers when they jumped out of the bush, but they fired shots and deflated their vehicle’s tyres.
“After two of them fired shots at our tyres, our vehicle started swooping and fell,” he recalled.
The cleric noted they forced them inside a forest after the leader of the kidnappers introduced himself as the commander-general of the forest in the area and also in charge of kidnappings from Lokpa, Isuochi, Ihube and Isikwuato, all in Abia State.
According to the Methodist Prelate, the commander told him that they were not robbers but only kidnap for ransom, assuring that they would be freed if they were able to pay the agreed ransom.
The Commander later warned the cleric that they would behead them and dump their corpses in a big gully without being traced if they failed to pay the ransom.
Mr Kanu-Uche said they were joined in the vehicle by two male officials of the church who ran away during the attack.
The cleric said they threatened to kill one of them when he pleaded with the kidnappers to accept N50 million as ransom.
“They said the least money you can pay us and we will accept is N100 million,” the cleric said.
Mr Kanu-Uche said the kidnappers said the money would be shared with their sponsors.
He said the church rallied around to bring the money to the kidnappers before they were asked to go.
“When they went to collect the ransom (from our people), they brought in more people hidden somewhere with more guns.
“And they were heartless. When they said, ‘you can go,’ they didn’t even give us even N200 to board a bike. Nothing. They just allowed us to walk like that. It was the worst humiliation I have ever witnessed in life,” he said.
He said they stole his wedding ring worth $150 and other valuables.
Who are the kidnappers?
Mr Kanu-Uche also revealed the identities of the kidnappers, insisting that members of the outlawed Indigenous People of Biafra had no hand in his ordeal.
“It was a full kidnapping by Fulani herdsmen. Their cattle were very close there. And I am suspecting that those who cut off peoples’ heads are not really Igbos. Igbos are not known for cutting peoples’ heads,” he said.
The Methodist prelate, who hails from Ihube in Imo State, said when he spoke to his colleague in Igbo language, the leader of the kidnappers interrupted in Igboland language explaining to the prelate that he grew up in Umuahia and also understood the language.
The gang leader also told the cleric that he joined the kidnapping business because he has been shouldering the responsibilities of fending for his younger siblings after he lost his parents.
“There are Fulanis children born in Igboland. You cannot differentiate them (from original Igbos). They grew up there (in Igboland) and integrated themselves into Igbos,” the cleric said, trying to explain the leader’s fluency in Igbo language despite being a Fulani.
On the kind of people the kidnappers are, the cleric said, “some of them are stack illiterates. Only one (of them) was communicating fluently.”
Explaining further, Mr Kanu-Uche said, “their leader said he was a Fulani from Sudan and that about five of them are all Fulanis from Sudan and two of them were from Mali and one of them was from Songhai. But they have lived in Nigeria for many years.
Soldiers complicit, Mr Kanu-Uche insists
Earlier, the Nigeria Army has denied claims that its troops were complicit in the kidnap of the cleric and his colleagues, but Mr Kanu-Uche insisted that soldiers whose checkpoint was close to the area cannot deny complicity.
“In fact, people saw one (unidentified) boy at the front of the military checkpoint (close to the area). So, our man wanted to harass him (by shouting) ‘what are you doing there? Who are you?’ (but) the military said ‘hey! hey!! hey!!! Leave him. He came to drop something for us.’
“And it is the same military people that normally say to people, ‘don’t cross here, if you cross this line, we will fire you. Don’t go inside the bush,” he narrated.
“So, why are they shielding the people (suspected kidnappers)? Why are they shielding them?” the cleric queried. “Some people have plan to do something in this country. But only God will foil it.”