By Jonathan Ugbal and Patrick Obia
Five out of the 17 people abducted by kidnappers along the Calabar channel on Monday have been released.
The quintet – a child aged four, a pregnant woman, an old woman, a gunshot victim and the driver were blindfolded and dropped off at about 10:00AM at a beach in Akpabuyo Local Government Area on Wednesday. The remaining 12 including a naval rating and a Professor at the University of Calabar are still in bondage.
The passengers were on their way from the Safe Journey beach in Calabar, Cross River State to neighboring Akwa Ibom State. Water transport has boomed in recent years due to the dilapidated nature of the Calabar – Itu federal highway.
The earliest recorded attempt was in October 2020 when a boat was attacked and a passenger was shot. Sources say the passenger later died.
The abductors are demanding a ransom of NGN3 million each for the remaining 12 which equals NGN36 million, Bassey Udo Essien, the speedboat driver told the Police and Nigeria’s secret police, the SSS.
10 males including Mr. Essien and seven females were aboard the boat which was taken few minutes after leaving the Calabar Safe Journey beach.
Mr. Essien who is currently in the custody of the SSS, said the heavily armed abductors wielded AK-47 rifles and shot at his boat while he tried to speed away and a bullet grazed a passenger simply identified as “Jesam” on his face and close to his ear. According to him, the abductors used an engine more powerful than his.
He said he was freed to go in order to take Jesam for treatment because the abductors had no form of medication in the camp adding despite robbing them of all their valuables.
The Calabar channel is 87 kilometers long and is usually patrolled by the Marine Police command as well as the Nigerian Navy Ship victory.
Below is a transcript of Mr. Essien’s conversation that was obtained by CrossRiverWatch.
“In the morning of Monday, 17 January, 2022, we loaded from Calabar to Oron. Immediately we passed all the rounds and close to the Marine police at about 9:00AM, we drove at the middle of the water because if we drive by the side of the water those sea pirates will quickly attack us. Just few minutes, about ten minutes drive we saw them driving to meet us, I increased the speed of our boat to the highest but unfortunately, it was not fast enough because our engine is 115 (horsepower) while theirs is 200 (horsepower).
“I couldn’t slow down because I was trying to escape from them, they started shooting. They shut sporadically at us and unfortunately the bullet caught one of the passengers by name Jesam on the face, close to the ear who sat at the second bench of the boat.
“Those pirates were up to eight in their boat fully armed with AK-47 rifle, some masked their faces while some did not mask face, although I don’t know any of them.
“I was speeding up to cross to the Marine Police territory so they can return but my boat cannot speed than their own. They Kidnapped us and took us to one dangerous creek, we just departed Calabar and had not approached Oron. At the creek where they took us to, they robbed us and collected every single thing we had – phones, money, shoes, wrist watchs, bags, ATM cards, necklace, my boat; everything and also beat us.
“The rest are still in their camp, they are demanding three million Naira for each of us and we are 17 of us. I and the passenger who sustained gun shot, Jesam did not escape they saw he was at the point of death with the gun injury since on Monday and maybe they thought if they allow him there he might die because nothing like treatment in their creek. They collected his phone, money, laptop and since I was the one taking care of the man there, they collected my money about NGN49,000, phone and seized my boat and allowed me to go with him. They beat me up and forced me to tell them my ATM pin which I don’t know if they have removed everything in the account because they collected my sim card as well.
“They carried five of us in their boat and told us to lay down. They five of us they freed to go were; one pregnant woman, an aged woman and a boy of about four years and are still left with 12 more persons in their camp. They dumped us where we don’t even know or find our way somewhere in Akpabuyo, let say 10:00AM because I have no time with me. Luckily for me and Jesam we were able to find a bike.
“We were seven (7) girls and ten (10) boys in the boat. My fear for those girls is that those pirates might rape them.
“There was a Navy personnel amongst us but we didn’t disclose the person because they saw the uniform and asked who the person was, they would have killed the personnel or any uniform man. I told them the uniform is a waybill. The place they kept us is so horrible, mosquitoes and other insects biting us. They kept women one side, men one side.
“While they were taking us to their camp, they forced us to close our eyes and bend down without looking up to see where they were taking us to. Even while they were taking five of us out to free, they blindfolded our eyes especially me. It was a terrible experience; they will cook whatever and anyhow food they like and say if you like you eat, if you don’t, leave.
“Eight of them came to kidnap us but in their camp they are so many, they don’t even have one camp, we learnt they have up to three camps – outside camp, inside camp and their main camp which they took us to their outside camp, how much more their inside and main camps. One of the victim who tried escaping was recaptured and was well beaten.”
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