Saturday, July 23, 2016, was one day that will always give 18-year-old Praise Adelakin nightmares. That day, a journey from Ile-Ife, Osun State, to Ibadan, Oyo State, that was supposed to take her about two hours only, almost turned out to be a journey of no return.
A 300 Level Law student of Obafemi Awolowo University, Praise had gone to the school in the morning of that day to check whether her things were still intact in her hostel before resumption after some weeks of strike by lecturers in the institution.
Around 4pm, when she ensured she had put everything in place, she left for the Mayfair Motor Park in the town to board a bus going to Ibadan, where her family resides.
All things being equal, she should have been back in Ibadan by around 6pm on the same day, but by 12 midnight of the following day, she found herself in Ilorin, Kwara State.
Narrating the incident to our correspondent in Ibadan on Tuesday, she said, “We’ve been on strike for some weeks. Meanwhile, freshers had resumed three weeks before the strike, but due to the action, they were also sent back home. On July 23, I decided to go to school to check if my things were still intact and probably whether they had allocated my space (at Moremi Hall) to someone else. I got there and saw that my things had been scattered; my mattress had also been taken away with my buckets and other things, so I had to go round the rooms to gather them together. When I did that, I put them in my locker and locked them up.
“When I finished all that, I decided to return home and that was around 4pm. I had arrived in school by 11am.
So I went to the Mayfair Motor Park in Ife to get a bus back to Ibadan. It’s a popular motor park in the town because it’s a public one. When I got there, there were only two passengers in the bus and the driver was hanging around somewhere. All the same, I entered the bus to wait until we had enough passengers to take off. As of 7pm, we were only nine in the 18-seater white Mazda bus. It was getting dark, so everyone started complaining. We begged the driver to take off and told him that while on the way, it was possible he would get more passengers. He agreed and we took off.”
Praise and other passengers were happy the driver heeded their pleas. Nothing in the driver’s appearance or the look of the bus suggested anything sinister. After all, they boarded the bus in a motor park, Praise thought.
The journey proceeded normally until the driver swerved off the major road. He told them it was a short-cut to Ibadan. But the path turned out to be a ‘long-cut.’
She continued, “There is a university outside Ife town called Oduduwa University. A few minutes drive past it, our driver said he wanted to pass through a short-cut. He said because it was weekend, there was traffic in front. So he took us through the route. When we turned to pass through the so-called short-cut, we saw a bus in front of us and there was another bus behind us. It was a bushy path, but we were not so afraid because of the other two buses which were also taking the route. We thought it was a route which would take us to Ibadan faster.
“As we were going through the path, we got to a junction where we saw that the bus which was in front of us was already parked. The passengers had disembarked. As we got there, we were also flagged down by a group of about five men; our driver stopped and he himself ordered us to get down. Everyone was shocked and we wondered what was happening, but nobody talked. We were all just looking. The bus behind us was also stopped and all of us passengers in the three buses were up to 40. They asked us to lie face down. At that point, I became afraid as I knew something was wrong. As I lay down, I quickly sent a message on my phone to my dad, reading, ‘Dad, I am held hostage and I don’t even know where we are.
I think I am in danger. Please pray for me.’ I could use my phone to send the message because when they ordered us to lie down, the men went for a meeting at a nearby bush, together with our driver. My dad called me back after a few minutes, but I couldn’t pick it. The phone rang out. When they heard that my phone rang, they came back and collected my phone and others’. After collecting our phones, they went back to their meeting.
“After a while, they returned and surprisingly, they asked the passengers in my driver’s bus to get back in. They instructed our driver to go and ‘dismiss’ us off. I was afraid. I thought ‘dismissing us’ meant ‘killing us.’ Our driver looked disappointed, so he shouted at us to get in; he was now holding a gun.
Everybody kept quiet. Then he drove away inside the bush till it was really dark. When it was around 10pm, he started dropping us one by one. He would drive for about 10 minutes, drop a passenger and give him or her their phone and bag, then drive for another 10 minutes, drop another passenger, and on and on like that. He would spread the phones out and ask the person to pick their phone. It finally got to my turn and I think I was the sixth passenger to be dropped, I can’t remember full well because at that point, I had become so confused.”
When Praise got out of the bus, it was then that it dawned on her that she was in another world, in the middle of a forest and the screech of insects. By then, tt was around 11pm.
“He stopped me at a T-junction and gave me my phones, but they were already dead, so I couldn’t contact anyone. When he dropped me, he told me I was at Share (Kwara State). I didn’t know where Share was then. It was very dark, around 11pm. The village was quiet. Anywhere I turned to, it was forest all around me. I got to know later that Share was very close to Niger State. It’s a border town between Kwara and Niger states,” she said.
Suddenly, in the midst of the the forest and darkness, she heard the sound of a motorcycle coming towards her direction.
She continued, “I flagged down the rider and he stopped. I asked him, ‘I was told this is Share. Please, where is the nearest town or somewhere where I can get help from?’ The man simply said, ‘Ilorin.’ I know Ilorin quite well because my grandparents stay there, I once schooled there and my aunt still lives there. I got on the motorcycle and he took me from the jungle to Ilorin. When he dropped me, I could recognise the area and found out that the place was actually close to my aunt’s house, around Basin area.
“I was dumbfounded. From where the motorcyclist dropped me, I trekked to my aunt’s house for some minutes and when I got to the door, around 12 am on Sunday, I knocked. She was a bit scared because she was expecting no one. She asked who was knocking. I replied, ‘It’s me, Praise.’ She retorted, ‘Which Praise?’ I said, ‘Praise Adelakin.’ She asked again, ‘Praise Adelakin from where?’ We often talk and so she recognised my voice. She then said someone should open the gate for me. She just didn’t know what to do when she saw me in the middle of the night.”
In the morning of that Sunday, Praise’s parents came for her in Ilorin to take her back home. But up till now, she has yet to recover from the incident.
She said, “I wouldn’t know what happened to the other passengers in the two other buses. I’m still trying to get over it because I’m still scared of boarding buses right now. I used to enter any bus as long as I see people inside it, but my experience has taught me to be more conscious. I am still amazed. It was not the first time I would board a bus from the park, and it is even a public park. It wasn’t a lift.
“My parents came over to Ilorin to pick me up on Sunday to return to Ibadan. They said they immediately started praying for me when I sent them the message. They also told me they went to the police station in Ibadan and contacted another one in Ife to report the incident, but the police said they couldn’t do anything about it.
“The police said they should go to MTN office to track my phone to know where I was. MTN said they needed a police report, which the police couldn’t give because they didn’t know about the incident. Everything was complicated. They said they had to resort to prayers throughout the night. I just thank God I am still alive to tell this story. I don’t know what would have happened to the passengers in the two other buses. I will be back to school this weekend as the strike has been called off.”
Could she describe the driver, his conversation with his fellow suspected ritualists and the area they were taken to?
Praise said, “I didn’t hear their conversation because they really went far away, but they could still monitor us. They talked in low tones. I can’t really describe the area but I know it’s a few minutes’ drive after passing the Oduduwa University that he branched into the bush.
“Our driver was wearing an ankara dress that day; he has an average height and dark-complexioned. Except one old man, almost all other passengers were students. I suspect that the drivers of the other two buses too belong to the gang because they all held the meeting together.”
Praise’s father, Timothy Adelakin, who is a pastor, said when he received his daughter’s message that she was in danger that day, his heart jumped out.
He said, “I just thank God for how He acted in the situation. When she was about leaving Ife that day, she called to say she was returning home and I thought she should be home two hours later. We were attending a prayer meeting in the church; we were rounding off when her message came in that I should pray for her. She said they were held hostage and she didn’t know where they were.
“When I got her text, I told the church members what had happened. I called other pastor colleagues to pray for us. We prayed again till 11pm. Around midnight, her aunt called me and said, ‘Speak to Praise.’ The next voice I heard was hers. I was filled with joy.
“I would like the authorities to investigate this incident because it is surprising that a driver from a public park could do this. They must have been doing it before. Praise told me the passengers of their bus and the two other buses were mostly students, so I am worried what would have happened to her colleagues.
I have already instructed her never to board private cars and she doesn’t do it. But with something like this happening in a public park, it is worrisome.”
Meanwhile, Saturday PUNCH learned that the Mayfair motor park closes by 4pm and vehicles no longer load passengers from the park after this time.
The Chairman of the National Union of Road Transport Workers, Ife 1 Branch, Mr. Gbadegesin Asiyanbi, when visited at the park, said Praise could not have boarded the bus from inside the park at the time she got there.
Asiyanbi said activities at the park close by 4pm, after which any driver is allowed to pick passengers on the road irrespective of where they come from.
He said, “There are no kidnappers in our motor park. I have never heard of anything like that. There is no way such thing can happen, we know ourselves, our members are true drivers.
“We lower our flag by 4pm and as you can see for yourself now (around 5:30pm when Saturday PUNCH visited on Thursday), there are no vehicles on queue, so anybody who boarded a vehicle between 6pm and 7pm here and is claiming they boarded it from our park is either ignorant or telling lies.”