‘What I saw in kidnappers’ den carrying ransom for my abducted brother’s freedom’

Olakunle Agboola, a journalist and a brother to Mr Wole Agboola, a farmer who was kidnapped and later found killed by now arrested Fulani herdsmen, in this interview by SAHEED SALAWU, speaks on how the tragedy unfolded and the family’s expectation from the authorities, going forward. 

You are Mr Wole Agboola’s brother, how did you know of his kidnap? 

On the 28th of December, 2020, I was called on phone on my way to work that my brother had been kidnapped from his farm in Aba Odo, Ibadan, and the abductors were demanding a ransom of N50 million. I was devastated. I did not know what to do. I called my elder sister in Lagos who told me to check a WhatsApp message for a Zoom meeting link for all members of the family. We had a meeting and we came up with plans on what to do and how my brother could be rescued from the hands of his abductors. 

We reported the matter to the police while we started negotiating for my brother’s release. The gang leader spoke pidgin English fluently and anytime he called, he spoke with my brother’s line. He introduced himself as a kidnapper and told us we had to be fast in paying a ransom of N50,000,000. They allowed us to speak with bro Wole, who said he was in pain and whatever they demanded we should ensure it was done. Little did we know he was begging for his life and nothing mattered apart from his safety and release. 

We were blaming him for talking about where the wife could get money and quickly pay the abductors. He was in pain and had been seriously beaten while we were begging the abductors to accept N400,000 for his release The abductors would switch off bro Wole’s phone and when they wanted to ask for progress on the ransom money, they put a call through. On the 30th of December, 2020, we became uncomfortable. My brother in Lagos put a call through and their team leader, who sounded like Fulani, picked it. My brother begged and told them we could only raise N1 million. They insisted on N5 million as my elder brother continued to persuade them and we finally arrived at N1.65 million. 

The next day, we set out putting the money together to await their call and instruction in the afternoon on how they would get the money and release my brother. We were a bit happy that all would end in praise once bro Wole was released. We had countless of testimonies of those who were abducted and released once a ransom was paid. We were told not to involve the police and not to mark the money which might make his release to be complicated.

 

You took the ransom to them? 

I knew it was time to do what I had never done before in my life. I knew it was time to enter the lion’s den as my mind was made up to take the money to them. At exactly 1.00 p.m., they called and asked if we were ready to bring the money to them. 

We told them we were set and I would be coming with the money. I was asked to speak with the abductors so that they could recognise my voice. I did and I told them that I was ready. They cut the phone. At exactly 5.00 p.m., they called. They gave me the address of where I would find them and that is the quarry site in Aba Odo. 

We prayed together as a family and I set out on the journey. I got to Aba Odo at exactly 5.30 p.m. I called them and they told me I should find my way to the quarry site. We parked the car at Aba Odo gate and I picked a bicycle from the gate to the quarry site. When I got to the quarry site, I called them and they told me to start trekking towards a prayer mountain just ahead of me. 

 

Did you not fear for your life? 

I was a bit scared but I shook it off. My destination was on my mind. I just wanted the release of my brother and nothing else mattered. Ahead of me were three local security guards. They came out of nowhere with guns. It was like a movie as I thought I had gotten to my final destination. They walked towards me and questioned me in Yoruba? What are you doing here? Do you have a mission here? What are you looking for? I knew immediately that they were not the people I came to see. I told them to relax; that I had only come there to pray. Then my phone rang. It was the abductors. I told the man who was questioning me to excuse me as I moved forward a bit to speak with the abductors. I told their team leader that quarry site was not safe as there were local security guards with guns. The gang leader told me the guards were Amotekun and that he and his gang members were ready to waste them if they tried to get in their way. 

They told me to move past the quarry site and if the Amotekun guards followed me, they would kill them. I pleaded to change plans and look for a better location in order to avoid trouble. I didn’t want anybody to die and I did not come with the police or Amotekun just to ensure that we had a smooth ride. He cut the call as the Amotekun operatives walked up to me. I told them I was waiting for my friend who said we should meet at a prayer mountain there and that he would soon be there. 

They directed me to a prayer mountain close to the quarry site. A few minutes later, my phone rang and I excused myself to pick the call. The abductors had changed their plan and I was told to find my way to a second prayer mountain very close to the quarry site and once I got there, I would see them. I was a bit relieved as I thought my brother would be there and I could give them their money and take my brother home. 

 

How did you deliver the ransom? 

I found my way to the second prayer mountain which was a bit close to the quarry site but it was getting dark. I checked my time, it was 6.35 p.m. On getting to the second prayer mountain at the quarry site, I called them and I was told to walk towards them. I was surprised to see four Fulani herdsmen in army uniform and heavy guns. Three of them covered their faces. Their team leader did not cover his. 

I looked deep into his eyes as he was approaching me but on getting to me, he covered his face with a handkerchief. He told me in pidgin English that I had done well. He said if those Amotekun operatives had followed me, they would have killed them. 

I tried to look around if I would see my brother as I asked where my brother was? He said, ‘your brother is at his farm at the moment and once you leave here, you can pick him up where he was kidnapped. I gave them the money, N1.65 million, which I told them to count to be sure it was complete. He asked me if I trusted myself. I said yes. 

He said ‘if you trust yourself, you can go and rest assured that your brother is waiting for you to take him home’. 

 

What happened next? 

I was happy, thanking them profusely. It was really getting dark. I checked the time and it was 7.15 p.m. I started running so that I could get out of the bush in time. I picked my phone and called my brother’s wife that I had given them the money and I had been told to pick brother Wole from the farm. She was happy and a bit relieved as I ended the call. I called a brother from bro Wole’s church who parked at Aba Odo gate to start coming with the car so that we could pick him in his farm. He got to me quickly and we drove to bro Wole’s farm. On getting there, we met Mohammed, one of his staff members. I asked him if he had seen my brother as he had been released. He said he had not seen any trace of him. We shouted his name and we moved round his farm. I was a bit confused and perplexed. I called the line again but this time the line had been switched off. 

I called the wife to relate to her and bro Wole’s friends, Professor Femi and Pastor Bayo, whom I left at home with her, what had happened. They were surprised as we all reasoned together what could have happened now that his telephone line had become unreachable. I waited in his farm till 12 midnight if he would be released but to no avail. He was nowhere to be found. We were told to start coming home and maybe he would be released very early in the morning. We got home and we deliberated on what could have happened but very early in the morning and that was 31st of December, 2020, we went back to the farm to check if he had been released but nothing like that had happened. We came back home by 11.00 a.m. to think about the way forward. There were mixed reactions, suggestions and advice from different quarters and what surfaced most was that the abductors would call to demand for more money. We waited and waited for their call but they never called back. At this juncture, the anti-kidnapping squad from Eleyele Police Station had taken over and they began trying to get to the root of brother Wole’s kidnap. 

On the 12th of January, 2021, my other brother called in the morning that I should meet him in a private hospital near Agodi Gate. I asked questions but he said I should meet him there and all my questions would be answered. I was a bit curious and troubled. I found my way to the hospital and the news of the death of brother Wole was broken to me. He had died about 10 days earlier, after the ransom was paid. I could not believe it but it is now a reality that the whole family has got to live with. 

 

How did his abductors become close to him? Were they his workers? 

Two of the arrested suspects were working for him on his farm and they are Fulani. I understand they have been arrested. One of them, Mohammed, who is a Fulani man, lived in the farm with his family. He brought other Fulanis who also lived on the farm. I was surprised by his statement that he knew his Fulani friends were plotting evil against my brother and he did not report them to stop their deadly attack. Maybe bro Wole would still be alive by now if Mohammed had not concealed the evil. 

 

Can you give us a little background information about your late brother? His education and why he decided to go into farming? 

Oluwole Agboola was a graduate of Agronomy from the University of Ibadan. He was born in 1973 into the family of Professor A. A. Agboola, the first agronomist in Africa. He was the fifth child of the clan. He loved business growing up and while in the university, he started a printing and publishing business. After graduation, he became more established as his company became one of the top publishing and printing outfits in Ibadan. He opened up a branch office in Lagos. Oluwole saw the future of farming in Africa and decided to go into agriculture. He bought a large expanse of land in Aba Odo area of Ibadan and went into poultry, fish farming, piggery and animal production. 

 

What is the family’s expectation from the authorities? 

We want those who killed my brother to be diligently prosecuted. Bro Wole should not die in vain. This case should serve as a deterrent to other evildoers.

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