April 26, 2020, was like every other day for Princess Filia Henshaw Etim, until 7 pm, when an incident that changed the course of the day occurred.
The 57-year-old self-employed woman was on the dining table with her 16-year-old son, taking supper, when the power generating set went off, throwing them into darkness.
Her son left the sitting room to check what could be wrong with the power generating set, only to be accosted by some armed men, later discovered to have put it off, as part of their strategy to carry out their sinister motive.
The teenager tried to put up an act of bravery by resisting the strangers. But on hearing one of them addressing his colleague as MOPOL, he recoiled in fear, apparently thinking they were policemen. Before he could regain himself, one of the invaders stabbed him close to the eye, causing him to pass out.
Crime Guard gathered that the armed men were five. One of them stayed inside the gang’s waiting vehicle in front of the building, another positioned himself inside the building, while three others made for the door, turned its handle only to discover it was locked from inside.
Apparently thinking her son was trying to reenter the apartment, unsuspecting Etim opened the door, only to behold the gun-wielding men, who shoved her aside.
One of them was said to have pointed the gun at her while another tried to forcefully collect her phone from her. The third one ordered her to follow them outside.
At that point, it dawned on her that they were not just robbers but also kidnappers! She managed to ask where they were taking her to but one of them threatened to test their weapon on her if she tried to play smart.
Like a lamb being led to the slaughter, the political activist who was in her lingerie, obediently followed them barefooted, to the waiting vehicle. Surprisingly, some residents of Magnus Henshaw street, who were drinking adjacent Etim’s house never knew one of them was in danger until the vehicle zoomed off.
Meanwhile, back in the house, her injured son had regained consciousness. He managed to crawl out of the house and raised the alarm over her mother’s abduction.
News filtered in ten days later that she had been found by the bank of a river in Akwa-Ibom State alive, unlike other victims who were killed and buried in shallow graves by their abductors, even after collecting ransom for their release.
In this interview with the former governorship aspirant under the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Princess Filia Etim revealed how she miraculously escaped from the kidnappers den on the fourth night of her abduction without paying the N200 million ransom demanded by her abductors.
She also shared a chilling story of how she spent six extra nights in the forest trying to find her way out.
JOURNEY TO KIDNAPPERS DEN
Her story: “They drove me in their car from my house to a bush track at Esierebom, where their stand-by canoe was, but the engine did not start.”
“They had to paddle the canoe to a destination that took two hours. It was while we were going that I knew my son was stabbed.”
One of them said ‘Oo..I stabbed that little boy with poison. Oh, I should not have done that, but the boy was resisting me.’
“They stopped to have their bath in a mud- swampy area, at about 10pm. By then, I was cold because I had only a night gown on and I had to sit on the wet floor because there was no chair.”
“When they were conducting me into the forest, they asked me to remove the blind and warned that I must not look at them in the face. I was in front of them but I couldn’t see anything at that time of the night.”
“It rained on us that night and in the morning they conducted me farther into the forest where I was kept. The place was a forest, there were no thatched roofs.”
When she was asked what she was fed with while with her captors, she said, “They brought rice and they also had pot which means they have been cooking with firewood around the place.”
“They used the water from the river to cook the rice, added oil and pepper and that was it. They offered me to eat by force at gun point.”
“When I put the food in my mouth, I couldn’t swallow it because my tongue was dried and there was no water to drink. I had already started getting dehydrated.”
“So, I pleaded with them that I couldn’t eat it. They showed me graves of five persons who died while in their custody. They said the victims stayed long in their den because their relatives could not pay ransom and that they died due to ill- health and failure to get their medicines.”
“At night, my abductors made campfire where they slept. Out of fear, I would leave my position and plead with them to let me stay close to the fire. In the morning one of them would lead me back to where I was kept.”
“On the fourth night around 4pm, a voice said to me ‘my daughter run! If you can run I will protect you’. I was wondering where I would run to because I was taken there in a canoe and they had warned that the place was a thick forest.”
“The voice spoke again, ‘can’t you see I have made them sleep for four hours and nobody has come to check on you?’”
“At that point I had to run as fast as I could. I did that until it was night and I slept off along the way because I had not eaten for four days and I had no energy.”
“Next day, I saw that everywhere was bright. As I attempted to rise up, I found out that I could not use my feet because I was too weak and I fell.”
“I managed to stand because I needed to continue to run. This continued until I spent the 10th night. It got to a point when I ran and began to dig for water and I was able to get little water to quench my thirst until I got to the larger river where I could fetch and drink.”
“At that point, I thought I needed to use my survival instinct to break through on realising I was in the forest where wild animals were because I saw footprints of big animals and I needed to take a decision on whether to face their direction or not.”
“At times, the sound from the animals would be so close that I would pass out and by the time I woke up, the sound would have ceased.”
“All my body was full of tsetse flies bites. In some places I passed, I picked periwinkles and snails which are found where crocodile lives.”
“So, I probably would have even stepped on some crocodiles unknowingly. I spent nights in the virgin forest. In my confused state, I kept roaming in the forest until finally, I got to the river bank where I could see the sky.”
“With the last breath, I shouted for help to alert fishermen who were paddling their canoes. They came but were a bit confused, as they thought I could have been used as a bait by pirates.”
“They went to alert their colleagues that they had found a woman in the forest.”
“When others came, they asked me to come out of the forest to the river bank If I wanted them to save me because they were afraid for their lives too. I crawled with the last energy to where their canoes were and they took me to a fishing port.”
“They asked me questions and I explained my encounter to them. I begged them to take me to the Marine Police in Calabar from where I would be taken to the Navy hospital for medical care.”
“But they had difficulty about who will sponsor my bill. I had to beg them to give me a telephone to call my son.”
“When my son heard my voice from the other end, he screamed and they believed my story. He (son) asked where I was and the fishermen said it was the fishing port towards Akwa-Ibom state.
“I pleaded with my son to send some money for them to fuel their engine boats that would take me to Calabar.
“It took 35 minutes to get to our destination in Calabar where some security agents were waiting for me. I was taken to the DSS clinic, where I was given cloth to change and hot water to bath. I also took some energy drink”, she said, trying not to betray her emotion as she recalled what she described as the worst moment of her life which she would never wish her enemy to experience.
Since her escape from the kidnappers’ den, she has not slept in her house out of fear that her abductors could come again.
She has been lodging in different hotels in Calabar with her son, until the ease of the lockdown when she had to leave her state of origin.
Though she was full of gratitude to God for seeing her through the moment of trial but she expressed shock that since her return, nothing had been done by the state government or the security agents to ensure the arrest of the kidnappers.
She said: “The day I escaped there were security agents who came to receive me from the fishermen but after then, nothing was done.
“Nobody asked me how I survived or made attempt to go after the kidnappers. No official of the state government came to visit me either, having been an appointee of the government.”
ONE KIDNAP TOO MANY
Crime Guard gathered that the abduction of Princess Filia Henshaw Etim was not the first in the capital city.
In fact, record showed that there had been over ten cases on kidnap before hers, with that of a businessman, two days before her kidnap.
One would have expected the Cross River State government to tackle headlong the worrisome trend kidnapping has assumed in the state, if the state would retain its acclaimed status as the best tourist attraction centre in West Africa.
@ Vanguard Newspaper