The region near Port Harcourt is a known hotspot for kidnappings by groups looking to receive ransom pay-offs and was the scene of an abduction that saw 16 people snatched earlier this month.
“They ambushed us at about 9.00 pm… and after asking us to come out from the bus, they tried to take us inside the bush. But five of us escaped before police and military personnel arrived,” said Amiekro Princewill.
Security forces searched the area following the attack, according to another passenger who managed to escape the gunmen.
“They had gone far into the forest with the victims before the security operatives arrived,” said the escapee, Bright Belekwe.
“Hoodlums ambushed us and tried to take us inside the bush. I and four others escaped before police personnel arrived at the scene.”
The kidnapping is the third such incident in just two months.
Rivers State Police Commissioner Ahmed Zaki confirmed the kidnapping at a press conference at command’s headquarters in Port Harcourt, adding that efforts to locate the victims were ongoing.
“The incident is quite unfortunate and the police is on top of the situation in ensuring that the hoodlums are arrested and brought to book,” he said.
Kidnapping for ransom used to be confined to Nigeria’s oil-rich south, where criminal gangs would typically target expatriate workers.
But the practice has spread across the country as the economy has faltered with Control Risks consultancy warning that the phenomenon has become “entrenched” nationwide.
Nnamdi Obasi, senior Nigeria researcher at the International Crisis Group, said poverty had made “anybody” a target and had led to a rise in “spontaneous” kidnappings.
Most victims are usually released unhurt after ransom money is paid.