Sheikh Ahmad Sulaiman, a famous Kano Qur’anic reciter, was abducted by kidnappers along Sheme-Kankara road in Katsina State. He spent 13 days in captivity. In this interview, Sheikh Sulaiman recounted his ordeal in the hands of his abductors.
How were you kidnapped?
It happened on Thursday, March 14, 2019, while we were on our way back from Birnin Kebbi. There was a wedding fatiha of three of my daughters scheduled for Friday, March 15. Before then, I had a condolence visit to pay in Birnin Kebbi, but because it had to do with Government House, I had been trying to secure an appointment but couldn’t get it until the day preceding the fateful day. I was told that the wife of the governor asked me to come, first thing the following morning, which I did.
Our car was not sound enough for the long journey, so when we took off, it was giving us problems, such that we had to stop a number of times; hence we arrived Birnin Kebbi late. Consequently, we left there late to return to Kano. The incident happened after we left a village called Kakumi, before we reached Kankara in Katsina State.
The kidnappers appeared in army uniform and began shooting. One of the bullets hit our car. They brought us out, beat us and marched on our backs while we were lying on the ground. Initially, they collected N500,000 and asked us to go, but they later decided to take us with them. They dragged us into the bush. That was about 11pm. We trekked in the bush until daybreak. After trekking the whole night, they took us on motorcycles further into the bush and we arrived a hamlet with small huts that you have to crawl before you get in. After we crawled in, they began to shoot in the air.
Who were the other five captives?
They were my children, brothers and other relatives. That’s how we usually travel.
How would you describe your experience in that place?
It was a terrible experience. We were in constant fear, depression and anxiety. They were always threatening to kill us if their demand was not met. But fortunately, with the help of Allah and the prestige of the Holly Qur’an, they were not able to touch me, especially the leaders of the gang. But sometimes the stubborn ones among the boys attempted to molest us. In fact, one of them even slapped me on the face.
We stayed in a terrible condition. If one wanted to answer the call of nature, one had to seek for their permission. If the permission was granted, they would escort you and hold their guns and machetes until you finished. Again, they hardly allowed us to take a bath, but as the leader of my people, I was allowed to bathe three times throughout our stay with them. Eventually, they said I won’t bathe again, so I spent the last six days with them without taking any bath.
What about the food you ate while in captivity?
Initially, they used to buy food for us, but later, they began to cook. It was always rice, beans and spaghetti with some palm oil and salt. But when I complained about having a bladder problem, they always gave me pap. And that would be my food throughout the day. But food was not an issue for us, what worried us much was the condition we were subjected to. Two or four of them would lie down at the entrance to the hut with their guns facing us. Eight young men were assigned to guard us. They would smoke cigarettes and marijuana and blow the smoke into the hut, abusing and threatening to kill us since our people didn’t care to bring the ransom in time. They issued all sorts of threats.
However, I noticed that some of them are not happy with what they are doing. They complained that they didn’t have cattle and farmland, and when they entered into towns, they were constantly harassed. That’s why they resolved to engage in such dirty business. That’s my understanding of them. So I believe that, should the government intervene, a lot of them, especially the sincere ones, could be rescued. They claim that they are Muslims, but they don’t observe Sallah.
Which language did they speak?
They didn’t speak any other language among themselves except Fulfulde. It’s only when they wanted to talk to us that they would speak Hausa. That’s an indication that they are Fulani.
Were you allowed to recite the Qur’an?
For the 12 days we spent in captivity, I was able to recite the Qur’an from the beginning to the end, at least five and a half times. Every day, I would recite half of the Qur’an and a lot of other azkar (prayers). That was an opportunity I could not get at home. They didn’t prevent me from doing that. It got to a point that they regretted having us in their captivity. They said they had never been so terrified, to the extent that they asked us to pray for them so that they would not be attacked and killed. I believe that had to do with the fervent prayers of all the people for us and what we were doing by ourselves in terms of prayers to regain our freedom.
Did you observe the five daily prayers accordingly?
Sometimes they were the ones that would tell us to come out and pray, even though they didn’t pray themselves. One of them used to pray with us; if he missed he would pray later. He was the one that was telling me to pray for him to stop what he’s doing
Did you meet other captives there?
No, we were the only captives there. When they began to have disagreement among themselves, they changed our location.
What was the disagreement about?
Some of them said they should release us while others said it was a great opportunity to make money. As a result of that, they transferred us to another far location. They told me that the reason for the change of location was that another group was planning to abduct me.
I am the chairman of the State Advisory Council on the Prerogative of Mercy in Kano, so somebody called them and said I was responsible for whosoever was jailed in Kano. So one of them met me in the hut, abused me and threatened that when he returned he would break all my legs. As a result of that threat, trouble ensued among them. They said he should leave me alone since he was not the one that abducted me. I was later told that two of them lost their lives as a result of the fight that ensued among them.
Did you witness the negotiation?
Sometimes it was done in front of me, in other times in my absence. They negotiated in front of me just to scare the party negotiating on our behalf because sometimes they would hear me crying because of frustration. What usually frustrated me was the feeling that my people failed to mobilise the ransom to rescue us, maybe because they didn’t know the kind of condition we were in, not knowing that there was serious effort on the part of security agents who deployed intelligence to rescue us. I didn’t have any means of getting information.
How did the negotiation end?
I was told they were offered N33million, but the money was not completed. They threatened that even if the ransom was paid, they would kill us since one of them was arrested. Somehow they became very terrified. On the night before our release, they came to us and said we should quickly wear our shoes and come out as they learnt that a group was coming to attack them because of us.
We were escorted to a remote location by two of them who were not carrying any weapon, with the intention that if it was confirmed that it was that other group they fought earlier, they would show us where we would follow to escape. It was later realised that those who came were the people that would take us to swap with the mother of the leader of the gang, who was arrested for that purpose.
That was how we were brought, on one side by the kidnapers, and on the other side, the security agents brought the mother of the gang leader and we were swapped in the presence of some military personnel at Danmusa in Katsina State.
We learnt that the mother spent seven days in the hands of the security agents because she initially denied that the man was her son. But eventually, that was the reason for our freedom.
What do you think government should do to salvage the situation?
Government should negotiate with their leaders and provide them with what they said they were lacking, in terms of farming and cattle rearing. If that is done, I believe a lot would change for the better.