A Nigerian Kidnapping

Edozie
A Nigerian Kidnapping
At the age 18 Edozie was tricked into travelling to Nigeria for what he thought was a two-week holiday. With his passport taken by relatives, he was forced to stay there for sixteen months against his will. This is an extract from his memoir, From London to Enugu.

London 1982

I will never forget the summer of 1982. It was a glorious year for me. I was 18 years old and legally independent. I had my life planned out; I was taking ‘A’ levels in Art and English in the 6th Form at Clapham College Secondary school, which had transitioned from a grammar school to a comprehensive school. I was looking forward to getting my exam results, and getting ready to enjoy the summer holidays.  

The day after I broke up from school my mum said “Would you like to go on a holiday to Nigeria?” I said, “No I'm not interested”. Neither myself nor my siblings wanted to go, but she managed to persuade us by saying that it was just for a two-week holiday. 

I was the oldest of 6 siblings, with three brothers and two sisters. When my father died when I was 13, I became my own person. If there was anything my mother wanted me to do and I didn’t want to do it, there was very little she could say. It would stop there. But I decided to always do my best to help my mother.

My brother Chiatulah was a year younger than me. Before we left for Nigeria, my mum gave me and Chiat money to buy suits. She wanted us to impress the people in Nigeria, so we went to the West End of London and I bought three suits I really liked: a pale blue one, a white one, and a cream one. 
Really flashy ones. Me, my mum and siblings packed just enough clothes for two weeks.

I had a girlfriend Joyce whom I had met at a party in Battersea when she came to visit a friend of her cousin who lived close to me. We fell in love at virtually first dance, and exchanged address and phone numbers. We wrote long letters to each other and we developed a deep emotional bond.  

The night before I was due to leave for Nigeria, me and Joyce were at a party. I went out into the night for a cigarette. Joyce came out with me. She said, ‘Ed, I have a bad feeling about Nigeria. Don’t go.’ I told her not to be silly; I was only going for two weeks. But I had a bad feeling about it too. Something didn’t feel right, but I tried to be the macho man so that she wouldn’t be afraid, and to show her that I was strong.

Lagos

Landing in Lagos was a baptism of fire. We got off the plane and it was hot! Hell began in the airport. Because of our luggage they wouldn’t let us through the customs and immigration barrier until my mum had paid them a bribe. Because they wanted more than she was prepared to offer, we had to sit for nearly an hour waiting while she negotiated the amount she would pay. 

When we finally got out of the airport there was another rude awakening. About three or four guys ran up to us and tried to drag our bags our suitcases. We fought back screaming for them to get away. But they were just taxi drivers, who in order to get your custom try to grab your bags from you. It was the only way for them to get customers, because the competition was so fierce. 

Eventually we made it into a taxi and we went off to stay with a well-to-do family friend in Lagos. For twenty-four hours it gave us a false sense of security. We thought this is not too bad; it was a relatively nice place, in a nice part of Lagos. We stayed overnight and for another day, while I mentally prepared myself for our next destination, which was Onitsha. 

Onitsha 

I knew Onitsha would be a challenge because the relatives’ we were going to stay with there were very poor. Onitsha was a market town. At one point in time it was the largest market in the whole of West Africa; now the houses there were a mixture of low-rise blocks and falling apart sheds.

The coach from Lagos took about 18 hours, and it was cramped and hot all the way. The coaches were beaten, bashed and unsafe, and the driver behaved as if he had taken a cocktail of alcohol and cocaine. The good roads were treacherous, the bad roads were suicidal, and there were no traffic lights or markings. We stopped once or twice for everyone to go out into the bush - There were no toilets anywhere at all.

Onitsha was even hotter than Lagos. This is it, I thought to myself. We’ve really come to Hell.  The sandy streets were all a deep red. Every second shop was a music shop, but people seemed to play music in whatever shop it was. There were no laws or rules, so you could blast your music out at the highest volume - and everybody did. You couldn’t hear yourself speak.   

We met with my aunt MaPeter. Her name was a colloquial abbreviation of ‘Mother of Peter’ and she was the sister of my dead father. She was delighted to see us.

I felt so sad to see the conditions they were living in. Chiduve was seven years old and Nnabuike around nine. We had come from London, the lap of luxury, and Chiduve was barefoot in a ragged old t-shirt, selling water on the street. I thought to myself, this is my brother; this is the life he lives. I was barely able to contain my tears. He had the worst experience of the six of us. 

At the end of July 1982, about four or five days into the trip, I was sitting on the steps outside the room I shared with my brother Chiat in Onitsha. 

MaPeter’s son came up to me and said, ‘Let’s go for a walk.’ I thought fine; maybe we’ll go somewhere interesting. We were walking slowly along the road, which was tricky as there were no pavements, when Peter said to me, ‘How would you feel about staying here in Nigeria?’ 

At first, I didn’t understand the question. I thought he was perhaps trying to find out how I felt about my cultural heritage as I had been born and grew up in London. Part of me thought it was a ridiculous question. I had a place at Art School set up to study for a degree in Graphic Design. I said to him, ‘Well there are things I have to do in London. And I have a girlfriend who is waiting for me. We have plans.’

Peter said to me, ‘You are staying, whether you like it or not! Your passports have been taken and there’s nothing you can do about it!’ 

I felt sick to my stomach. I couldn’t breathe. I was bewildered and in total shock. I wanted to cry out in anguish. I felt destroyed and betrayed. Why did my Mum allow this? How could she do this to me? What did I do to deserve this? Was I such a bad kid? Why wasn’t I allowed to decide my own future? I was 18 years’ old - old enough to get married without anyone’s permission! My soul felt crushed. I quickly lost heart, and all hope of ever being free. 

It was as though my spirit left my body, and I was outside of my body looking down at what was going on. I couldn’t cry out although I wanted to. I knew that I was trapped with absolutely no way out, because they had my passport and I didn’t know where they had hidden it. It was the worst thing that had ever happened in my life and I couldn’t understand the injustice of it. How had I ended up trapped in Nigeria against my will? Surely this was illegal kidnapping? But then whom could I tell? Whom could I turn to? There was no-one. 

It was a deliberate plan organised by MaPeter, my mother, and her relatives in Nigeria. That’s the only way it could have worked. What was I to do? What kind of life did they think I would live in Nigeria? 

It became clear to me almost immediately that there was absolutely no plan for what I was expected to do in Nigeria - no plans for a job, no plans for further education, and no plan for where me and my siblings would live. We were on our own and had to fund a way to survive by any means necessary. 

The full freedom of my life that I’d had between the ages of fourteen to eighteen made it intolerably worse for my freedom to be taken away from me.

I thought of Joyce and how she somehow knew that I should not have gone to Nigeria. I wrote her a letter soon after I found out that I was being forced to stay. It was devastating for me to have to admit to her that she had been right. I poured out my heart and cried when I wrote about how unhappy I was and that I had no idea when I would return to London, or if I would ever return. We had planned to marry. She was more than the love of my life. She was my best friend. Throughout the 16 months I was in Nigeria I never received a reply from Joyce. I never knew if she realised what had happened to me, or if she ever received my letters.

Read the full version of ‘From London to Enugu’ - available online at Amazon.