Rev. Emmanuel Dziggau, 63, is President of the United Church of Christ in Nigeria (UCCN). He was among the clergymen recently abducted by alleged Fulani herdsmen in Kaduna State and held for nine days before they were released. In this interview with John Shiklam, in Kaduna, Dziggau speaks on his traumatic experience at the hands of the kidnappers and the need for government to secure the highways and bushes. Excerpts:

How were you abducted?
It happened when we went to work on a piece of land we have along the Abuja expressway. We bought the place for the church about 15 years ago and we wanted to clear it. The church plans to build a seminary there, so as a leader of the church, I wanted to start the project before my tenure expires.

So we arranged for a bulldozer and we went there and started clearing the place on Saturday (March 12, 2016). We went back again on Monday (March 14) to continue with the work. Everything went on smoothly again until when we were on our way back home around 4pm. Myself, my vice president, Rev. Iliya Anto (who died after he was abandoned by the kidnappers), and Rev. Yakubu Dzarma were driving out of the place. We wanted to see the community leader of a village around the area before attending a wake keep in Television area (of Kaduna city) of one of our members who died.

We were just driving out when these people came out from a nearby mango tree. They immediately surrounded us. We wanted to escape, but there was no way we could escape, because they had already rounded us up. They ordered us out of our cars. They were many and they started beating us and ordered us to follow one bush path. They were about 16 and were armed with guns. About 12 of them were carrying AK47 riffles while others were carrying cutlasses.

We started trekking into the bush with them. After sometime, they asked us to pull up our clothes. They were beating us. Rev. Iliya Anto was resisting because he was not feeling fine. He told them that he will not follow them because he is not well, but they were beating him, insisting that he must follow them. We got to a point that he could not move and they wanted to kill him. But I begged them and pleaded with them not to kill him. Later we left and they gave him N500 and dropped his clothes for him.

When they met us far ahead, they told us that the man refused to walk and they killed him. But they later told us that they didn’t kill, they said if they had killed him, we would have heard gun shots, so I believe they abandoned him there. From there, there was no information related to him.
We kept on trekking towards west and east, we spent 24 hours night and day trekking. I was not having shoes; I left my shoes in the car so my legs became swollen. We got to their camp and we stayed there with them.

How does the place look like? Was it just a forest or some kind of shelter?
The Fulani kind of shelter, a hut thatched with leaves. The leaves were even dried and had fallen so we had to get fresh leaves to cover the hut. It rained one day and they had to bring something to cover the place.

Do you think they were they Fulani?
No doubt, they were Fulani. They were speaking Fulani language. We understand their language.

Was it only two of you that they abducted or were there other people you met at their hideout?
I will not know because there were different huts across the bush. So if they were holding anybody in any of the huts, I would not know. They told us that people don’t stay with them for long. They said normally people pay ransom between two and three days and they are released. Later on, they abducted four girls who met us there. We stayed with the girls for some days then we left.

Do you know if the bush was within or outside Kaduna State?
Unless you know the geography of the area, you wouldn’t say. But I think it is a part of Kaduna, Abuja and Niger State. You cannot precisely say it is located in one state. It very, very far from the Kaduna- Abuja expressway.

How did they treat you?
They were nice. I left my shoes in the car when we were abducted and my legs were swollen as we were trekking. They went and bought drugs for me to ease the pain. There was water that was not good and we were not bathing. They gave us food: rice and beans. They were the ones doing the cooking. That food was just to sustain our lives. We drank the water in the river where cows also drink from.

When we were about to depart, they begged us to forgive them. While they were driving us on a bike, they gave us their guns to hold for them. They were smoking Indian hemp as they rode on the bikes. When we came to the point where they dropped us, they said, “Baba, please, forgive us if we treated you badly.” We thank them for releasing us and even embraced ourselves, they were crying and we also broke down in tears. They gave us N2, 000 each to go by the main road and transport ourselves home. They even advised us to buy water and drink to regain our strength.

Have you forgiven them?
Of course, I have forgiven them.

So if you see them you will not call for their arrest?
How can I see them and identify them when they covered their faces throughout. They were wearing masks the day they kidnapped us. Throughout the period they held us captive, they made sure that we don’t see their faces. If they wanted to speak to us they will never allow us to have eye contact with them. They will turn their backs half way to speak with us. Some of them wore the masks throughout because they don’t want to be identified.

When we were chatting with them in the bush, they asked us to pray for them so that they will come out of this mess. They know that what they are doing is not good. But they said the economic condition pushed them into it. They said they didn’t have money and they didn’t have any means of livelihood. They said their cows had all gone, so they had to look for means of survival. The main issue is that they are looking for food. They smoke a lot of Indian hemp and they take a lot of hard drugs to make them charge. We are praying for them.

Did they threaten to kill you if the ransom was not paid?
Yes, they threatened to kill us on three occasions but some of them kicked against it, saying we are elderly people and they are sympathising with us. That gave us some hope that one day they will release us. There was a time we almost gave up. We were hopeless and wondered whether we were going to survive. My colleague (Rev. Dzarma) refused to eat the food they gave us, saying that it was a waste eating the food since we were going to die. But God in his infinite mercy changed the direction of everything. We are grateful to God for sparing our lives.

How were you released, was the ransom paid?
We don’t know what they decided with our brethren that they were communicating with. So they came on the morning of that fateful day and told us that they were going to release us. We didn’t take their word seriously, but the following day, they released us. They took us out of their den to the main road. They took us on motorbike to the main road; the trip lasted for four hours. They dropped us about three kilometres away from the Kaduna –Abuja expressway.
We couldn’t walk properly because throughout the period they held us, we didn’t move anywhere, we were just kept in one place except when we wanted to ease ourselves, they will escort us. We had to cut sticks to support us as we moved.

Based on your experience at the hands of the kidnappers, what would you advise the government?
The responsibility of the state is to protect the citizens. We need an efficient and proactive security system. Government should pay serious attention to security. If we had an efficient security system, the kidnappers would not have succeeded because the security agencies would have located them in the bush before they took us too far. We were trekking in the bush for 24 hours; the police would have used a helicopter to locate us. Things are going to be very difficult if government does not address this issue of kidnapping and other violent crimes. Unless they do something about this, a time will come when nobody will drive on the highways because of the activities of kidnappers and armed bandits.

As it is now, criminals seem to be in control of the highways and bushes while governors are in control of the cities. Many people are being kidnapped frequently. Look at where we were abducted! It is very close to the city, we spent hours trekking in the bush. The police in Kaduna have a helicopter, they could have used the helicopter to locate and free us. So I want to appeal to governments at all levels to take the issue of security very seriously or else it will consume all of us.