Wednesday, October 28, 2009

'Guinea scam cost a year of my life'

Jonathan Ngolo, a 65-year-old retired lecturer from Kenya, tells the BBC how he was kidnapped and held hostage for one year and 16 days after being scammed in Guinea's capital, Conakry.

When you get beautiful business, think twice. Make sure that you have physical contact with those people who are saying they are doing business, and do not rely on e-mail. What happened is that my son who lives in the US got in touch with some people in Conakry. He told me he was going to Guinea to set up an agreement with a Guinean mining company to supply his people in the US with 1,000kg of gold dust. But then he was unable to fly as his travel documents were not in order and so I went on his behalf. Guinea does not have an embassy in Kenya and so the people in Conakry sent me a form to allow me to enter into the country and get a visa on arrival. I flew via Accra. On arrival in Conakry, I came out of the arrivals, and the ones who were receiving me shouted my name and so I went to them. They said they were taking me to the company's guest house; what they called a villa.

Blasting water

But then when we got to the villa they told me they were arresting me under the terrorist act. The place they confined me in was a six-by-six room with no ventilation. I stayed inside that room for one year and 16 days.

They only opened it to give me food three times in a week but it was very, very irregular. I was sleeping on the floor without anything to cover myself. They stole all my belongings - my clothes, my phone, my wallet, everything I had on me. All I was left with was underwear and a vest. They would clean me by blasting water on me every morning. This was usually at the same time as when they were giving me my food. Every now and then they would make me call home and ask for money. They said if they didn't get money, they would not be able to feed me. My family sent them money - they sent a total of 900,000 Kenyan shillings [almost $12,000, £7,000]. My son, he didn't know what to say when he heard about what was happening to me. He got in touch with the authorities in the US and they in turn contacted the Guinean ones. But all that time, they never traced my location.


All that time the people who were holding me were telling me they had consulted their oracle and they had been told they couldn't sacrifice me to their god and so, instead, I should pay them some ransom. The ransom they wanted was $500,000. They used to say that I was not keen to ask for the bail money to save my life - because no-one was sending the money, and so, they tortured me. The one that was in charge - the older one - put a cigarette in my eye and another would hit me. I still have the marks. They beat me. They kicked me severely, they broke three ribs and they hit me on the legs. One is very swollen, even now, it is very painful. I didn't wonder would I ever get out of there or would I survive? I had faith. It is faith in God. What kept me going was prayer. I was praying to my nation, to the world leaders.

Strangely on the 25 September they came to me, they opened the door. Then they told me to come out and they took me to another room. They told me their spirits had said they were to release me on the condition that when I went home, I must then send the ransom.

'A lot of joy'

They told me: 'Thank your God, you are going to be going back home to your family to your country.' They shaved me and gave me back one of my shirts. Then they decided I should leave and so they allowed me to use their telephone to call my family. They gave me 25,000 Guinean francs [$5] and told me to leave. I made my way to the airport and stayed there until my family could send me money to pay for a flight. The money they gave me wasn't even enough to pay for a good meal. I was so hungry. Now I am back in Kenya I am thankful. I thank my God. My neighbours, my family members were praying for me and thinking about me; it gives me a lot of joy. I thank God for them.

I prayed for peace in that country [where there was a coup in December after the death of long-time Guinean leader Lansana Conte]. And when the killing happened [of opposition supporters at a stadium last month] I prayed for restoration of peace, even now I am praying for peace in that country.

Submitted by Martha Mutale

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