Ayorinde Owolabi, the brother of a hotelier, Olugbenga Owolabi, who was abducted and killed along with two others on August 3, recounts the heartbreaking incident in this interview with OLAMIDE FAMUWAGUN
Can you narrate how your brother was abducted and killed?
Some armed men came to my brother’s hotel, Tala Suites, around 7pm in the Aba area of Ogbomosho. They were heavily armed. There were seven of them, and they initially took two ladies who were working in the hotel. They started asking who the director was, and he (my brother) answered that he was the director. He told them that they didn’t need to take the two girls. They took all three of them but later dropped one. They left with Rachael and my brother.
The following day, they called me through the girl’s phone around 3pm that they needed N100m as ransom, but I told them that I didn’t have that amount. They told me not to worry that my brother had pleaded with them and the money had been reduced to N50m. I begged them to reduce it to N2m or N3m, but they insisted on N50m.
By Saturday, they called me again and I told them that N1.4m had been raised, but they said I wasn’t serious. In the evening of the same day, they called me again and I told them I had been able to raise N2m.
By Monday, I already had N5m and I had told them, but they again insisted that they would not take anything less than N50m; I broke down crying and pleading with them. On that Monday evening, they called me and said I should bring the money, but that Monday was a public holiday, so I told them there was no way I would be able to get the money in cash since banks would not be open that day.
They gave my brother the phone to speak to me, and he told me to go to a particular point-of-sale (POS) in Ogbomosho. I went there, but I didn’t succeed in getting the money. When they called back, I told them that they should wait till the next day.
On Tuesday morning, my brother spoke to me, and he was in very high spirits because I told him the money was ready. I put the money in a bag and went to the traditional ruler’s place in Aba. While I was there, they called me, and I asked if I should bring the money; they said it didn’t matter who brought the money. The Alaba of Aba told me that it might be dangerous for me to go and drop the money since I had an uncanny resemblance to my brother. He said they could take me after releasing my brother so as to get the balance of N50m which they initially requested.
They called again, and someone at the palace told me that he would carry it for me instead. I was relieved a bit because the guy that had volunteered to go was strong traditionally. He picked the bag and when they called around 6pm, they asked that we come to Winners Chapel at Ogbomosho. The guy picked a bike man; the abductors only attended to them around 9pm.
They (the abductors) told them to turn on their phone flashlight, put the phone on speaker and put it on their head. They took both their phones and the money; two of them with guns were manning the bike man while another two were manning the man with the money. They counted the money and confirmed it was complete. They asked them to move down where they (the bike man and the man with the money) met my brother and the girl lying down. They asked my brother if he knew the man with the money, but he said no. They asked the bike man and the other man to lie down with my brother and the girl. The abductors were speaking the Fulani language.
Two others joined them, and they moved back a little and started shooting them. The four of them were shot dead, but the fourth person, who was the man who went with the money, did not die because of his traditional charm. He was the one who relayed everything that happened to me. Around 12am, when the police in the area were informed, they told us they couldn’t do any searching at that time. It was around 3 o’clock when I was informed of my brother’s death. I fainted, and it was only after a while that I got myself.
What was the relationship between you and your brother like?
We were very close. I am 10 years older than he is, but we were close.
How did the family raise the ransom?
It was my brother’s old schoolmates, my brothers abroad, and even our children that contributed to the ransom. We even had extra so we could take him and the girl to a hospital once they were released, but unfortunately that didn’t happen.
What have the police done?
The police went to comb the area where the abductors were, but they were no longer there. Up till now, they have kept telling us they are conducting their investigations, and because it is a security matter, they wouldn’t want to disclose some things.
Can you recall the conversations with the deceased while in the den of the kidnappers?
My brother was quite hopeful that he would be released to carry on his business of hospitality and farming. He expressed hope that he wished he could be released so as not to return to Nigeria for a while. On the day of his abduction, he had a meeting with his staff a day prior to his abduction, and he told them that with or without him, the hotel and the farms would still function, but he was still hopeful that all would be well and fine. He had committed his children to keying into his business, encouraging them to feel at home in the Nigerian environment.
A certain Femi Owolabi, in your family was said to have been arrested as a conspirator in the abduction. Is this true?
It is not true. When I heard the news, I looked carefully at the blog that disseminated that information, and it was written in Arewa Republic Post; that thing emanated from the North. It was a diversionary tactic to distract us from the main perpetrators of this act. There is no iota of truth in that report. The younger brother we have is in the United States. I went to the police headquarters to find out, but they told me that no one had been arrested.
With your brother’s death, what are your thoughts on the rate of kidnapping in the country?
Honestly, it is getting worse. It’s something that can happen to anyone. Some people were even saying I didn’t negotiate well with the kidnappers, but it takes someone in that situation to understand. I don’t know if there’s a special school for negotiating with kidnappers. Having to deal with bandits is not easy. Sometimes these people would insult me, curse me, and I would still have to say “sorry sir.” I’m sure these guys are younger than I am; even my brother was 55-year-old.
My brother and the girl’s abduction was the third in the series of kidnappings in Ogbomosho. The first one was the supervisor of Alao Akala’s farm. I was the one who gave them the voice note of negotiations for investigations. I even discovered that it was the same boys who abducted the supervisor that abducted my brother because the voices from my brother’s negotiation and that of the supervisor were the same. The second abduction was of a man who had a clinic in Benin Republic, and they took N3 million for his ransom. They dropped him on Wednesday and took my brother on Thursday. These abductors are just doing it one after the other. One of the things the abductors told me was that if I didn’t pay up to N50m for my brother’s release, they would kill him and go and pick someone else.
Do you think the country failed your brother?
Nigeria failed my brother. I even told the USA, where my brother resided for the most time, that they had also failed my brother. They were also following up on his abduction, but they didn’t do what they would have done for a white man in that same situation.
What were his unfulfilled dreams?
Did you know that he was already bringing his children home? When the hotel opened in December, his first son was with him. In March, he bought 20 acres of land, which his children paid for. He had a farm too. My brother had a lot of dreams, but they had just cut short his dreams.
His immediate family is in deep sorrow. His wife isn’t happy with the way the Nigerian government is handling the matter. It’s a huge blow for the family.
What will you miss about him?
I will miss his humour. He was very humorous and even his staff had nice memories of him. He didn’t deserve this, but the country failed him.
What is your advice after all of this?
All I will advise is that the Fulani bandits are already with us and the war is close by. All over the Southwest, they’re there. They’re in every nook and cranny, and the government should get ready so that they don’t succeed.