Cynthia Dirigo is a student of the Federal University Dutse, Jigawa State. Her dream of becoming a foremost microbiologist was threatened when she was kidnapped while going to school. She said the incident left her traumatised, having spent three days in captivity with minimal food and water.
The 26-year-old, who is based in Abuja, is however bent on completing her university education despite the incident having stayed at home awaiting admission for seven years. She however expressed fears that the experience might have affected her psychological wellbeing.
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The 200-level student said her decision to study in Jigawa State seemed fine until she was kidnapped while returning to school after the New Year break in January. She had boarded a Bauchi bound vehicle in Abuja as she decided not to follow her usual route of the Abuja-Kaduna Road due to frequent cases of kidnappings on that axis, not knowing that she would eventually end the day in the kidnappers’ den.
She was joined in the vehicle by three other passengers and they embarked on an apparently safe trip until they got to Gitata.
“Immediately we entered the corner. The vehicle was shot at and the driver stopped. We were rounded up by the gunmen and told to walk into the bush. The older man told the driver he was going to run, before the driver could persuade him not to, he ran into the bush. Two kidnappers ran after him and then we heard gunshots. The two gunmen joined us later,” she said.
Cynthia said after walking for a long distance, their phones were collected and a call placed to their parents that they had been kidnapped. She said at first her parents could not believe it until the kidnappers spoke with them asking for N20 million. The walk, she said, continued for several hours until the older woman who was asthmatic told them she left her inhaler in the vehicle. After a failed attempt to retrieve the inhaler, they proceeded on the journey until the woman started gasping for breath due to the dusty paths they followed. She said the gunmen later carried her and dropped her by the roadside while they continued with the walk.
“We got to a spot, and they told us to sit down when we saw a motorcycle because it seemed some villagers were there. They told us to bend down and keep quiet if not they would shoot us. One of the guys plucked a stick and said he wanted to flog us. And they also asked about our religion; I was the only Christian there. After we passed the village, we came to a spot and sat down. They told us to lie down, so we laid down, and two of the guys left. They were five in numbers; with one of them being elderly. It was an open field, there was no hut or house, we just laid down under a tree.
“When they came back, they soaked garri, added pepper and gave us to eat, but nobody among us could eat it. That night, they called our parents, and gave us the phone to speak with them. After they spoke to them about the ransom, they gave us the phone. They told us to eat the food that if we refused, they will flog us. But I told them I will eat my portion the next morning. In the morning, we started walking for a long period of time, and we got to a place and sat down.
“They spoke Hausa; telling one another that it was better for them to go to the road and get more people because they were not sure if good money will come out of us. Two of them left. In the afternoon, we heard gunshot but did not know what happened. I approached the elderly man among them and begged him that my parents do not have N20 million, but he ignored me.”
She said they were given bread and a soft drink which led to stomach upset for the other woman with her.
She was released to her father on a Friday, after three days in captivity.
Though she later returned to school, she said she has been struggling with her studies as flashes from the experiences with the kidnappers – seeing a woman gasping for breath and another battling for her life – have affected her health.
“I couldn’t read for a while. And while wondering how I will cope, ASUU started a strike so I quickly returned home,” she said, accepting that there are still uncertainties on how she would cope with her studies when school resumes.
A medical report obtained from the Police Hospital Garki and signed by Dr Akpabio Nsikan Nseobong, said she suffered from psychological trauma and abrasion to the kidnapping incident.
Her father, Dirijo Dani Densley, who works with a construction company in Abuja, said the situation unsettled the family but he was delighted that his daughter returned home alive. He said a ransom was paid alongside garri, sugar, fish, cigarette and seasoning to the kidnappers before his daughter was released.
He also commended his daughter’s courage and determination to continue her university education in Jigawa State.
Taiwo Adeniyi & Aishah Saleeman