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Opinions of Sunday, 27 June 2021

Columnist: Joel Savage

I never had any experience with armed robbers in Ghana, until the day I was kidnapped in Nigeria

The victim, Joel Savage The victim, Joel Savage

Many Nigerians get angry when someone says that armed robbery was exported from Nigeria to Ghana because Ghana is a peaceful country that never sets armed robbers ablaze like what Nigerians do.

As matter of fact, I didn’t have any experience with armed robbers in Ghana, until the day I was kidnapped by armed robbers in Nigeria. In the early eighties, I was kidnapped twice by armed robbers in Lagos, this publication is one of the stories.

One late Sunday afternoon, as soon as I had finished lunch, I took my backpack and set off to visit my cousin living at Alago-Meji, a suburb of Lagos, near Yaba, another suburb of Lagos state. Few minutes from the house, I met Mensah, a friend who lived at Oyingbo, a commercial center in Lagos.

Since both of us were heading in the same direction, we joined the same bus towards our destination. When we got down, along Okpebi road, in Ikeja, a suburb of Lagos state, as we were conversing and laughing, a white 504 Peugeot car suddenly stopped close to us.

In the car, was a civilian, who was behind the steering wheel and two armed men in military uniform sitting at the rear. The soldiers were focusing their attention on the little backpack I was holding. Presumably, they were thinking there was a large sum of money in it.

One of the soldiers descended from the car and subjected me to interrogation, asking what was in my bag. “Please, an only half loaf of bread and some books,” I replied.

“What else do you have in the bag?” The soldier pressed me with more questions. Actually, besides the bread and the books in the bag, my passport and a flight ticket were also inside because I was due to leave Nigeria finally to Europe the following month.

Like a flash of lightning, I was kidnapped and pushed into the car. “These are the kind of men we are looking for. You are a thief,” said one of the soldiers. I was driven off, leaving Mensah behind. Apart from Mensah who witnessed the scene, there were few people around who also saw when I was forced into the vehicle.

Mensah stood speechlessly watching me drive off. Sandwiched in between the two soldiers at the rear, they struggled with me, trying to get hold of my bag. It wasn’t an easy task since the bag was firmly held in between my knees.

There was no money in the bag. I should have given it to them to avoid any injury or possible death but for the sake of my traveling documents, I made it a ‘do and die’ battle with them. I knew that once the bag was in their possession, I would never see my passport and the ticket again.

This has happened to many people in Lagos. Stolen passports and tickets were sold to individuals who were desperate to go to Europe. The visa requiring procedure is sometimes so difficult that many applications were rejected. In this case, stolen passports with visas when sold were taken to an expert, who gets the old picture removed and fixes the eager traveler’s picture in it.

When the change of picture is neatly done, it becomes very difficult for immigration officers both at home and abroad to detect. Some years back, most international airports were not equipped with devices that can detect false passports.

Hence, many of those people who bought passports are today living in Europe and America under false names and identities. But at the moment, both in Africa, Europe, and America, one can’t beat the immigration with such fictitious documents. Most airports are now equipped with modern devices that could read—or signaled—a fake passport.

When the soldiers couldn’t get the bag from me, they started hitting me repeatedly with the butts of their rifles, hoping I would let go of the bag. Meanwhile, I was screaming in agony, “I’ve been kidnapped!” But since the glass of the car remained shut, all my scream for help was in vain.

At the other end of the road where I was kidnapped, the police had mounted a barrier, checking the particulars of vehicles. The armed gang saw the police. They knew perfectly well that if they went further, they would be in trouble. The struggle alone going on behind the car could expose them.

The driver didn’t go any further. Instead, he made a U-turn, heading towards where I was previously kidnapped. They were still beating me up, but I was determined not to give the bag to them. It was like a movie but this was real.

When the car was getting closer to where the kidnapping scene took place, I saw Mensah standing at the same place, with a few people gathered around him, as he explained to them the incident. He hasn’t seen me yet.

As soon as the car reached the exact spot where he was standing, I dived from the rear of the car to join the driver at the front seat, leaving the two soldiers behind. I got hold of the window roller and quickly rolled down the right window as fast as I could.

Then with all my might, I screamed to call Mensah and threw the bag out of the window towards the direction where he stood. As soon as the bag landed on the ground, Mensah went for it and took it to his heels. He vanished within seconds.

When the gang saw that their plans had failed, they gave me a very severe beating and pushed me out of the moving car. I fell on the ground like a bag of rice and rolled to the opposite side to avoid the vehicle's tyres running over me.

I stood up, wiped away the dust from my body, and headed towards Mensah’s home. He was surprised to see me. In his lifetime as a young man of twenty-five, he has never witnessed any incident of that sort before. He was in trauma and looked more frightened than I who was the victim.

For over ten minutes since my arrival, Mensah didn’t have the breath to talk to me. The sun was at its peak and after the beating, I was feeling hot, therefore I removed my shirt for some fresh air. It was a terrible thing to watch.

Every part of my body was covered with bruises and swellings. Could this be my worst tragedy? I asked himself and smiled at Mensah. This happened in 1985, yet the marks from the beating I received from the hands of the notorious armed gang could be seen on my body today.

I received my passport and ticket from my friend and a week after the incident, I said goodbye to Nigeria and flew to Europe.