‘I Was Fed With Frogs’
THOUGH kidnapping of innocent people is gradually becoming a recurring decimal in Ekiti State, an ugly incident the government and security agencies are yet to nip in the bud, but the story of the abduction and release of a Catholic Priest, Reverend Father Emmanuel Akingbade, was a classic case of a priest, who refused to compromise his faith, even at the expense of his life.
Akingbade was kidnapped at the Mission House of St. Benedict Catholic Church, Ido-Ekiti by three gunmen about three weeks ago.
He was the 12th person to be abducted within two months in that part of the state.
While other victims, including a professor and medical personnel, did not regain their freedom without paying ransom, the case of Akingbade was different.
His abductors demanded N200million as ransom, but the church refused to pay, just as the victim also made his captors to understand that his abduction was not a good business for them.
They threatened to kill him, but the Bishop of Ekiti Dioceses, Bishop Felix Ajakaiye, told them that their victim had already sacrificed his life the day he was ordained as a priest.
The church went into prayers and there was confusion in camp of the abductors. And after eight days in the kidnappers den, Akingbade was released.
Narrating his ordeal at the dark room where he spent eight days with the kidnappers, Akingbade, at a launch for the media organised by Ajakaiye to celebrate his release from the wilderness of uncertainty, recounted: “It was an experience of one camp, two worlds.
“I was in my own world in the dark room, where I was locked, and there was another world among the abductors.
“Most of the time, I was the one making efforts to speak with them, asking them for what I want. ‘Please, I need water; please open the door for ventilation.’
“And from their own conversation, I discovered that they too were human beings, like us. For example, they have girl friends and they called and discussed with them.
“They always told their people on phone that they were doing business.
‘I would see you tomorrow or next,’ she would say, and things like that.”
He continued: “About the feeding, they tried. They gave me bread, sachet (pure) water, spaghetti and noodles.
“They also gave me eba. And the only proteinous food I ate there was frog.
“Initially, they fed me like anybody would feed his dog. They were feeding me with the cover of plastic buckets. They gave me too much of rice and I had to let them know that I only needed to eat small food.
“The best meal I had there was eba, and that was on Saturday. I would have loved to eat much of that eba, but they gave me small.”
Speaking further on where he was kept for eight days, Akingbade identified the place as a government school in Isan-Ekiti, built by immediate past governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, as a College of Agriculture, but which has not been put to use by the government of Ayo Fayose.
Akingbade said: “I know the place where I was kept when I had the opportunity to see the signpost of the place when they let me off the hook. It is a government college in Isan-Ekiti.
“The place is fully completed and very wide. The kidnappers had the keys to the doors of the rooms there. At least, in the apartment where I was kept, I saw the keys to some of the toilets and that of the room in which I was kept.
“When they took me in, the gate to the compound was opened; they didn’t break in. And when I was coming out, the padlock of the room wasn’t locked; I just removed it and went out.
“It was a completed building, with all the facilities. Even with new mattresses. When they took me in, the first night, I slept on a new mattress with a pillow. I felt the nylon on it with my hands.”
On what he missed while in captivity, the priest said: “I didn’t have the opportunity of reading newspapers, but I remember one Wednesday or Friday, my abductors came to me to say that the noise that the church was making in the media, especially on the pages of newspapers, was annoying. Because of that, I got to know that something was happening outside.
“But I thank God that everything went well and today, the joy has come.
“It has been a long story that one would continue to narrate, but it has a been a story from darkness to light, and for us Christians, it is a story that has given meaning to our faith.
“Silver or gold, we do not have, and when you find yourself in the hands of those that are interested in silver or even gold, then that necessarily creates a serious problem.
“So, if there was money to be given to those who decided to have me in their custody, there may not have a serious problem. But as a priest, who knows about the working of the Lord, I knew quite well that the journey was going to be a very long one.
“But the people outside did not have money; they went into prayers.
“For me also, I had to ally myself with prayers that the people were making. And this is our faith; when God wants to answer peoples’ prayers, if need be, somebody has to make a mistake, so that something positive would come out of it.
“Actually, where I was locked inside a very dark room, if not for God, they may have left me there to die. I do not think anybody would have been able to locate me if that had happened. If at all they would be able to locate me, it could be the smell of my corpse.
“That Monday afternoon, there was serious tension. I begged them to do me a little favour by opening the door for ventilation, so that I could still breathe in fresh air and suffocate inside the dark room.
“They did this and because of the little opening of the door, I was able to notice their movement and discovered that there was trouble.
“There was confusion among them throughout that Monday and as God would have it, in the evening, one of them came to me and said: ‘Father, some people are fomenting trouble at the gate. We want to go and attend to it.’
“ He opened the door a little and said, ‘I have opened this door, so that you would be able to receive fresh air.’
“ He didn’t say more than that. But I was in the dark and couldn’t say anything, so I couldn’t have attempted anything that night.
“I had to wait to see what would happen the following Tuesday morning. Not that I knew whether they were around or not, but I decided to take the necessary risk and the risk led me out of the camp.”
He talks about his way back to ‘the outside world.’ “I found myself by the road side. I asked the okada man that assisted me to the next town, which is Iludun, his name and he said Emmanuel from Ijelu. And my own name is Emmanuel.
“When I returned, the Bishop made me to realise that on Sunday, before my arrival, during the mass with my people, they asked one of the children to pray for my freedom and the little boy, who came out to pray, is named Emmanuel.
“Emmanuel means God is with us.
So, these are indications that God is involved.
“I got to understand that they have departments. They spoke Yoruba. Those who were with me in the dark room were three and their main function was to ensure that I did not escape from where I was kept.
“There was this other group that were always outside. They visited at night, only twice. I think on Wednesday and Friday.
“Three of them were with me throughout the ordeal. Then, I saw the negotiators. They didn’t mask, but they had their own way of making sure we did not see eye to eye.”
Asked if the kidnappers really came for him or he was just a victim, Akingbade said: “I am sure they didn’t come for Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Akingbade, because they didn’t know me.
“According to the man that was working in the living room when they came, they first asked him if he was the Reverend Father and he said no, and they asked where the Reverend Father was and put a gun on his head and asked, ‘where is the Reverend Father? He led them to my room, where I was abducted.
“They asked of my name on Wednesday. On Thursday and Friday was when they were asking me the type of car I ride, the colour and others.
“So, put together, they didn’t come for me as a person; they just wanted to kidnap a Reverend Father and I happened to be one.”
Talking about faith, he said: “For us Catholics, the powerful instrument of prayer is the Rosary. You know Mary, the mother of Christ, means the mother of all sorrows.
“This is the Bishop’s rosary. In my own case, I had to make my Rosary.
At first, I was using my fingers, but at a time, I discovered I wasn’t doing it well; I was skipping my fingers.
“I thought of how to make a Rosary right there in the room where I was locked and the only thing that was available was the rag with which they covered my face.
“So, I had to tear from the rag and used to make the Rosary, which should have a crucifix and other features. I made the Rosary with the rag and improvised all its features and use it to do the prayers.
“I strongly believe that if anyone finds him/herself in trouble, if he/she comes to the Bishop and asks for this Rosary and prays with it, the trouble would be over.
“So, once I made this Rosary, I was determined not to leave it there if I made it alive. I was determined to leave everything, but not this Rosary, which was the only instrument of prayer I used while there.
“Like I was saying the other time, while praying with the Rosary, I had an encounter with God that was almost like the story in the Acts of Apostles, Chapter 12, from verse 1 to 19. That biblical story is just the summary of my story.
“From my experience, I think what has led to rampant kidnapping is because they have made bank robbery so difficult, as the banks no longer keep huge money that could be stolen. So, they shifted to taking people and weighing their worth.
“In my own case, when they wanted to announce the ransom, two of them came, one of them first said N100 million, but his second said N200 million.
“These people also have their agents and they usually assess what the public or constituency of their catch is doing and how they feel.
“So, they thought this was a very big catch and everybody was disturbed and if everybody was disturbed, N200 million shouldn’t be too much to produce.”
He explained why kidnapping thrives in the country.
“Every generation has its own problem. Abroad, they have their own problem, but the problem I think we have with our own generation is that we appear not to be making progress in the area of tracking criminals.
“What we were made to understand over there is that you could run, but you won’t be able to hide, because they have a way of tracking and getting the criminal. But here, it isn’t like that.
“Some people that were earlier kidnapped have been paying the ransom. So, it has become a business.”
He pointed the way out. “The way out is for everyone to be at alert and use every means to support security operatives in tracking down criminals.
“For instance, it is possible to have cameras all over the places and also use some other technological devices for security purposes. All those security devices that are being used in advanced countries to track criminals can also be used here too.
“With that, even if a murder occurs and the culprit escapes from the crime scene, he/she can still be caught with such security devices.
“And justice for the murdered would be achieved, so that the victim’s spirit would rest in peace.
“But here, if such a thing happens, that would be the end. There is no means such a person (victim) would get justice, because our poor security system cannot allow the culprit to be caught.”
For the priest, it is a relief to savour for a long time, but not an experience to remember.