‘We were fed once in a day’
LIKE ENCOMIUM Weekly exclusively reported last week, famous constitutional lawyer and human rights activist, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), was freed in the early hours of Thursday, September 12, 2013. He returned to his Lagos base that same day to the warm welcome of his family and associates.
It was indeed a celebration of a sort at the Edo High Chief’s Igando, Lagos expansive home where he narrated the chilling story of his 20-day captivity in the hands of dare-devil kidnappers. Abducted on Friday, August 23, 2013 at the Ehor stretch of the Benin-Auchi Expressway, Ozekhome explained that he was held in solitary confinement before his son, Ilugbekhai and Head of Abuja Chambers, Dominic Ezeoriha were surprisingly lured to the kidnappers den.
While thanking the government and people of Nigeria for their prayers and support all through his ordeal, Chief Ozekhome commiserated with the families of the four policemen who lost their lives in the fierce gun duel to foil his kidnap that fateful Friday (August 23).
Meanwhile, Chief Mike Ozekhome and wife, Josephine reportedly left for the United States of America over the weekend for medical examination after his horrific ordeal.
Both had earlier declined comments on speculation that the family may have paid a ransom of over N20 million for the release of Chief Mike Ozekhome, his son, Ilu, driver, Chinedu and staff, Barrister Dominic Ezerioha.
You were abducted by a gang on Friday, August 23, 2013. How did it happen?
I travelled home for some appointments in Edo, Delta and Calabar, Cross River State. I was still speaking on phone with my people on how to go to Mary Mount Secondary School, Agbor, by 10 a.m, on Saturday, August 24, 2013, for interview for promotion to Third degree when I ran into the kidnappers. That was some minutes past three that Friday afternoon of August 23. I had wanted to leave there and attend a friend’s chieftaincy title ceremony in Delta State, after which I was to proceed to Calabar for the Nigerian Bar Association Annual General Meeting. I had only paid my registration fee and my hotel had barely been booked but all these were not to come to pass because the perilous security situation in the country that has made Nigeria very, very unsafe for both the citizens and investors. A vehicle had already been used to block the road. God bless my driver, Chinedu. He went through all the ordeal with me. He is in Benin now. He said, “Oga, e be like say na armed robbers o.” Then I said, enter the car, reverse. As he put it on reverse, a gun was on my head. They had automatic gun. They said don’t move an inch, if you do, we will shoot you. I told Chinedu not to move. They dragged me out of the car, dragged my driver out of the car, shot the tyre of the vehicle and dumped Chinedu in the boot and put me inside the car. They said, if we dare look up, they will kill us. We closed our eyes, we were pressed to the ground inside the car. As we were pressed down, I heard them say, “Police, police, police.” Then, one of them said, “No retreat, no surrender, lets meet them.” I could hear guns booming. It was a staccato of bullets raining. Here comes Armageddon, it was a war situation. As they were firing, the car was moving. One was telling them advance a little. Then I heard a shout again, “Another vehicle, another vehicle, shoot.” Then, I heard them say, “We killed some of them, tomorrow now they would come out and lie that some of us were killed or injured.” The good news is that we were delivered safe, unhurt, unharmed. The bad news is that I was never profiled or targeted. Meaning that they merely operated randomly. It is bad news because it could have been any other person. It was when we were kidnapped that they started preliminary questions. They asked me, “What is your name?” I said, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN). They searched my pockets and brought out my complimentary card and asked me again. I told them, Chief Mike Ozekhome, constitutional lawyer and human rights activist and Akpakpa Vighi Vighi Of Edoland. They said, “You are a man of truth. That’s what is written on your complimentary card.” I didn’t even know they were holding my card. They said, “So, you are a lawyer?” I said yes. They asked me how long I have been practicing, I said 32 years. That was how we were driven for about four to five hours. Through rough roads, highways, you could feel it that you were on the highway. You could feel it on the body that you were on a rocky path, in a swamp, inside a forest and footpath for four and a half hours. We were dumped in an uncompleted building far away from civilization. And it was 24-hour security guard. We are not talking about toy-carrying kidnappers.
Of course, all of them are usually hooded but whenever they are talking to you, you must still close your eyes. The death sentence was always hanging on us, 24 hours a day.
So, how else would you describe your experience?
It was one of horrendous tragedy. It was horrific. We were psychologically tortured, we were mentally, excruciatingly tortured. We suffered from a trauma. It was spiritually unnerving. It was physically debilitating, it was nearest thing on earth to hell. If hell is worse than that, let all of us pray we would never got to hell. The bad news is that any Nigerian anywhere could be a victim. There were also other victims where we were detained. There was a woman with her two small sons, a little girl (her daughter) and a driver. There were two other women too. We were about thirteen in number. So, it shows that when they strike, they do not really care who you are. The important thing is that they have struck and people must come for you. That is the danger.
So, what are your suggestions to the Federal Government in view of this?
We have in our hands, a national calamity and a great danger and a situation of monumental and gargantuan proportion. A situation that calls for urgent national rethinking, a situation that calls for presidential intervention. Not today, not tomorrow, not next week, it is as urgent as yesterday. Let no man deceive you that we are dealing with a little phenomenon.
Do you suspect any political undertone in your abduction?
There was no political undertone because they made it clear to me they never profiled me. They said that if they had known me, they would have dropped me. In fact, I’m even thanking all the political parties in Nigeria, the PDP, APC, Labour…There was no political undertone. Like I said you, it could be anybody.
I believe that the Federal Government should do certain things as a matter of extreme urgency. It is not because I was kidnapped but I’m going to alert the nation of the dangers of kidnapping. They said they are now ready for politicians. As urgent as yesterday, I want the Federal Government to grant amnesty to all kidnappers and institute an amnesty programme so they can come out of the jungles, remove their hoods and masks and drop their guns. They should deliver all their guns to the government. They assured me that if they won’t be arrested and killed, they would co-operate with the Federal Government.
The Federal Government should also declare a state of emergency on insecurity in Nigeria. Having declared the state of emergency, the Federal Government should approach the National Assembly as provided for in Section 9 to amend the Nigerian constitution to bring about state police. We need state police.
I suggest that the Federal Government as a matter of urgency should convoke a National Talkshop.
We also learnt that your son, Ilugbekhai and Head of Chambers of your Abuja office were also kidnapped?
Yes, my son Ilugbekhai and Head of Abuja Chambers, Barrister Dominic Ezerioha were also kidnapped on Friday, September 6, 2013. They joined me there. We were released at 7 a.m on Thursday, September 12, 2013. They left me with words that were ironical and paradoxical. They said, “Sir, from what we have read about you in the papers do not give up the struggle. And because of that I promise my God, I promise Nigerians and the masses of this country to rededicate myself to the cause of the Nigerian masses. I rededicate service to the cause to the Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, the rejected, the denied, the ignored, the oppressed, the repressed, the marginalized, the subjugated, the voiceless, those who have been confined to historical oblivion, those who are treated as if they are not citizens of Nigeria because they cannot aspire to leadership position in Nigeria. Those who have nobody to speak for them. Those who are not counted as Nigerians. Those because of circumstances of their birth are denied their fundamental human rights, I will return to the trenches because of you. I’m talking about the poor, peasants, the helpless, the hopeless who don’t have no food to eat, the drawers of waters and hewers of woods, the wretched of the earth. And to God most importantly, I glorify your name, I give you all the thanks and adoration because you are the Lord of lords. You delivered us like you delivered Paul and Silas from the prison, Daniel from the den of lions, Shedrack, Meshach and Abednego from the furnace of fire. You also did it for us like you delivered Jesus Christ from the tomb after three days. I, therefore, promise you today that I will rededicate myself to you. Your word is eternal. I promised You that I will not cry for the devil. That the first tear I will shed would be tears of joy and it was when we were released I shed my first tear for you. I thank You Lord.
How were you feeding all these days?
We were eating most of the time once in a day. They will bring ogbono soup and eba. We also ate jollof and white rice.
Where were you held?
We were locked up in a room in solitary confinement. It was very hot. The day the windows were opened on two occasions, a colony of mosquitoes descended on us and feasted on us like barbeque, like in a buffet. I fell ill on two occasions. Then they brought their doctor who was also hooded. He gave me malaria drugs. Then, penultimate Thursday, when I was really shaking because of the threat of horror and death, I fell ill and I was shivering. Those I was with started fanning me and pouring water on me. They said I should speak with their doctor on phone. I did and they brought drugs for me. He came and gave me injection. And to assure it was safe, he brought out the syringe, showed it to me and said sir, look at it we are not going to poison you. So, they gave me two injections, one on my buttocks and an intravenous fluid through my vein. They treated me for malaria and typhoid. And the next day, I became better.
We were meant to understand that ransom was paid to secure your release. How much was paid?
Because we have been in detention, I don’t really know. All I will say is that a hunter does not narrate details of his encounter during his odyssey.
CHIEF (Mrs.) Josephine Ozekhome naturally missed her better half who was violently abducted, kidnapped for almost three weeks. ENCOMIUM Weekly asked her how she coped all these while and how she received the news of her husband’s release on Thursday, September 12, 2013.
What do you want government to do now as kidnappers have taken over the nation?
We have all known there is problem in Nigeria. I don’t think they need to be told again. I think those in government should fight more than us, who are not there. Because if this is happening to the Ozekhomes, I think it will gradually spread.
How much ransom was paid?
I can’t say because I wasn’t involved in it. So, I don’t really know what happened.
How do you feel now that your husband has been freed by his abductors?
I’m filled with joy. I’m just so happy.
Chief Ozekhome spent almost 21 days in the den of kidnappers, which of the days was the hardest for you?
I think the first day I heard of it, I went dumb. I didn’t know what to say. You know how any dutiful and loyal wife would feel, I can’t express how I felt. And I pray nobody goes through such a situation. I just pray for our society. It is a matter of values. The boys, however, want something for themselves. So, you can’t blame them. All of us just have to be concerned and pray for ourselves.
From your exclusive phone conversations with ENCOMIUM Weekly during your husband’s ordeal, you always sounded confident, how come?
Oh, the Bible did. The Bible has always given us confidence if we have any problem. And I knew that. Everybody prayed. All Nigerians across the globe were praying. So, I can’t thank everybody enough. I never knew Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) was loved this far and wide. I got calls from high and uncommon quarters.
If the kidnappers were caught today would you forgive them?
I will pray for them. God said that when it comes to vengeance you should leave it to Him. We will forgive them.
What was your immediate reaction when you got the news of your husband’s release?
I had overwhelming joy.
What was the first thing you did when you first saw your husband?
I gave him all the kisses he wanted.
BARRISTER Ilugbekhai Ozekhome is the first son of Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN). Married and blessed with three children, he lives in the United States of America. He was incidentally in town when his dad was abducted on Friday, August 23. It was while he was negotiating with his abductors on terms of his release that he was also kidnapped by them.
Barrister Ilu narrates his six-day ordeal in the hands of the kidnappers…
How were you kidnapped?
We got a call to meet with the kidnappers. We had to join their vehicle. I was in the front of their vehicle. They put my friend, Dominic Ezerioha at the back seat in-between two of the kidnappers. Then, they started driving us to unknown destination. As we were going, they said, “Don’t worry, we are not going to harm you guys. Just make sure you don’t have any chips on you and that you were not followed.” Initially, I believed them but after driving for about two hours, I knew they wouldn’t let us go. So, altogether, we drove for about three, four hours, and we got to their destination, which I don’t know. All the while my eyes were closed. I was so scared. They later took us to a place I saw my dad.
How do you think government can tackle this menace of kidnapping?
It’s very simple, I spoke with a couple of them. Believe it or not, these guys are educated. They are very analytical. So, it all boils down to the fact that some of these people have no jobs. So, I think it is about time, the Federal Government should live up to its responsibilities. Jobs should be created. The Federal Government should pay attention to its youths. It should no longer be business as usual. These guys from what I saw are well-organised. They mean business. They have close to 15 captives in that place. They will give you breakfast, lunch, hot or cold water. They are well organized. And that is scary. That means anybody can be abducted at anytime. There is no profiling now. So, we need to keep our unemployed youths busy. They need to be told there are more rewarding things they can do as opposed to carrying guns.
You were directly involved in negotiating your father’s release only for you to kidnapped with one of his staff by the same gang, what an irony?
It is an irony and a very funny one at that. It was never in my wildest imagination that going to negotiate for the release of my dad, that I would be captured as well.
When was that?
That was Friday, September 6 at about 6 to 10 p.m.
And how come nobody knew?
I don’t know. I guess nobody knows me.
So, how would you describe your abduction for almost seven days?
It was a nasty experience, very horrible. It’s a kind of experience I wouldn’t even wish my enemy. It was torturing and mentally challenging. You don’t know what is going to happen. You don’t know whether you would be killed at anytime. Your life is in their hands. And you have no say.
Did you guys had any interaction with Chief, there?
Yes, I saw him. We talked.
Who took over negotiation with them after your kidnap?
I honestly don’t know. You know they released us this morning (Thursday, September 12, 2013).
Neither do you know how much ransom was paid?
I have no idea.
What then is your advise to the public?
I think we should all be security conscious now. It is about time, the Federal Government starts doing their job. Politics has to benefit the people. Any transformation that does not affect youths is not it. We must all come together and build this country.
Let’s get personal? How is family life?
Family life is good.
You live in the United States of America?
You are with your wife there?
Yes, I live with my family.
So, you have got kids there?
I have three children, I have twins and another a girl. We are all girls for now.
What does it really take to be Chief Mike Ozekhome’s son?
It takes a lot. It puts you on your toes. You have to be alert.
Are you also going to be an activist?
Yes and no (laughs).
– UCHE OLEHI