- Tales of deaths, kidnappings, accidents
Kaduna-Abuja highway has gradually but steadily become the most dangerous road in Nigeria. It is now turned into a hub for kidnappers and robbers that travellers now subsist in their jaws nowadays. ISIOMA MADIKE, who has been following this ugly trend, reports
The Kaduna-Abuja highway appears to have assumed the status of kidnappers’ den as abduction has suddenly become a lucrative job for the criminals on that route. The fear this has instigated on the travelling along that road has forced many to now prefer going by train, which they consider a bit safe. Many who fell to the antics of the daredevil crooks died while a few lucky ones who survived were forced to pay ransoms to regain their freedom.
The female victims, according to reports, were raped and suffered all forms of humiliation. There were some that were reportedly dumped in the thick forest by their abductors. However, these ugly incidents along the now notorious expressway may not have been the intention of those, who spearheaded the construction of the highway. Indeed, the about 160 kilometres road, built during the military administration of General Ibrahim Babangida, had brought cheering news to the people of the northern region as it was the first of its kind at the time. But the gesture has since turned to lamentation as Nigerians now wish they never had such a road. Recently, a number of soldiers and policemen were among those killed in what has become a recurrent decimal, according to media reports.
The fresh casualties were suspected to have been killed by bandits, who specialised in robbing, kidnapping and causing crashes for the hapless travellers on the road. The gunmen, reports added, operates with sophisticated weapons, which make policemen’s guns at checkpoints look like toys to contain the outlaws. A special police security task force was deployed in strategic points on the highway, but it has been of little effect, as the criminals have continued to operate unhindered. The travellers, eyewitnesses said, now subsist in the jaws of kidnappers, who killed, maimed and left behind memories of the dead, butchered like animals, while the lucky survivors live in agonising pains.
One of the notable victims of the kidnappers was Sheriff Yazid, son of a prominent Northern technocrat, Abidu Yazid. The young man was said to be in his 30s when he was kidnapped with his wife. Media reports said the kidnappers killed him on the spot and took away his wife into the bush. According to a family source, which was quoted in the media, the kidnappers had initially demanded N20 million for the release of the deceased widow, but they later reduced the ransom to N10 million.
“I cannot actually say how much ransom that was eventually paid but she was released after payment of millions of naira,” one source said. Before Sheriff, an Assistant Commissioner of Police, Emmanuel Agene, his son and wife had been abducted also on the highway. Since then other high profile individuals such as a professor, former commissioner, military personnel and many politicians had been victims to the desperadoes, which now frighten quite a lot of people. The formal Kaduna State Police Commissioner, Agyole Abeh, once said that the majority of kidnappers on the Kaduna-Abuja Road were herdsmen. According to him, the police hierarchy discovered that they were involved in this act because many of them lost their cattle to rustlers and decided to be kidnapping people. He said: “Most of those we interviewed confirmed that kidnapping is now a lucrative business.”
He added: “We discovered that most of those involved in this criminal act were herdsmen who had lost hundreds of their cattle to rustlers. Frustrated, they decided to indulge in it (kidnapping) and when they realised that it is money spinning venture, it became difficult for them to stop. One thing we have discovered now is that even if you give them (herdsmen) hundreds of cattle it will be difficult for them to go back to grazing, that is the challenge we are facing.” On June 7, 2017, about 20 people were abducted along the ever busy expressway. Those kidnapped were on their way to Kaduna when they were forced to stop about 12: 30pm. Kazah Bulus, who was among the over 20 travellers kidnapped on that fateful day, told Saturday Telegraph that the kidnappers numbering over 15 took them through the forest for over 17 hours.
He said: “They stopped us around 1pm in the afternoon; we were trekking up till about 5am from the road to their camp in the forest. Many people were tired; they even left one elderly man on the way because he could not move with us. He was sick and tired. I don’t know what happened to him afterwards. “They were many that followed us behind with others in front, carrying different kinds of guns, machetes and some with bows and arrows; they were so many. As we were moving some of their people joined us and we met more in the camps.
They collected all our phones, it was when we were in the camp they now started calling our people one after the corother and demanding money. When they called my family and my brother, after begging for some time they agreed to take N500,000 including the N200,000 we had in the car, which they also collected from us. While we were there they killed one man that tried to escape. “Any time anybody wanted to go and urinate or anything like that, one person with a gun will follow him or her. This man said he wanted to urinate, they now went out with him, before we knew it, we heard a gunshot. They told us the man wanted to escape. When the ransom was paid, we left about 15 persons behind. Since then I have only seen one of them, who told me that his people paid money before he was released. I can’t say what happened to the rest. It was a terrible experience.”
Bulus recounted. About 120 persons have thus far been reportedly kidnapped, robbed or killed via accidents on the highway, which appears to have become the most dangerous road in Nigeria at present, between June 2017 and July this year. Many though were never reported. The killings were mainly instigated by kidnappers and armed robbers. Many were also said to have lost their lives through accidents while trying to escape the nuisance of the criminals. On July 22, four persons were killed by armed robbers, while 20 lost their lives in an accident on January 30. Also killed in an accident on January 28, were 20 people and on January 19, 20 more died via accidents.
On January 17, kidnappers struck, killing four just as they also killed two on January 16. By September 21, 2017, one person had been kidnapped and killed the same way they kidnapped over 20 on June 7, and one person on November 22 of the same year. Indeed, the activities of these kidnappers along the road in the last one year had caused so much pain and agonies to families across the federation. Accident had also claimed about 80 lives within the last one year on that road while reprisal claimed the lives of three persons on November 12, 2017. One of such tragic accidents was the one that involved a former Minister of State for Labour, James Ocholi, who was travelling with his sport utility vehicle (SUV) that somersaulted several times leading to his death.
However, many have alleged complicity by some security operatives, which they claim makes it difficult to end the menace. It will be recalled that the people of Rijana, a community along the now infamous expressway, once told the Minister of Interior, Lt-Gen Abdulrahman Dambazzau, who was on a fact finding visit in the area that the persisting kidnapping on the highway was as a result of the failure by the security operatives to protect the identities of the informants. This may have been the reason the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, ordered for the redeployment of all police officers and men that were stationed on Abuja-Kaduna highway. He later deployed his special squads, codenamed the IGP Intelligence Response Team (IRT), along the road with the mandate to fish out the hoodlums and bring them to justice. Though hundreds of arrests have been made thus far by the IRT, their efforts, some have said, appears to have paled into nothing as the carnage continued unabated.
Travellers have now identified three major spots on the highway as being the most deadly. They are the portions of the road that border Kakau, Rijanah and Jere communities. No major incident had attracted wide reportage like these killings on that road, though residents of communities along the ex-pressway said there had been pockets of minor incidences in some of the communities as well.
Worried by the resurgence of these kidnap activities along the Abuja-Kaduna highway, the military and police have ordered separate deployments of Special Forces, to take out criminal elements from the ever-busy corridor. There have series of kidnapping, armed robbery and other criminal activities in the highway that connects Abuja, the federal capital territory (FCT) to North West and North Central states in recent time. It will be recalled that medical doctors under the umbrella of National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), had earlier in the month protested the killing of one of their colleagues by bandits, along the road. Sometime in April, it was reported that a policeman was killed around Birnin Gwari Road, even as some members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), were said to have been abducted by the suspected bandits. Saturday Telegraph, however, gathered that authorities of the armed forces had been disturbed about the state of insecurity on the ever-busy road, which connects Abuja with Kaduna, a state that hosts the highest number of military establishments, including Command and Staff College, Jani, and the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA). A military source, who spoke in confidence with this newspaper, said specially-trained personnel had moved in to deal with threats on the road.
“I can tell you that our well-trained forces have been sent there, to take those guys out of that axis once and for all,” the source said. Acting Director of Defence Information (DDI), Brig-Gen. John Agim, confirmed the deployment to one of our correspondents. Speaking in a telephone conversation, Agim said the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Gabriel Olonisakin, had since ordered the deployment of troops within and around the axis. He specifically disclosed that 1 Division of the Nigerian Army was coordinating the special operation. He said: “We have some military personnel doing that. Before now, that was supposed to be the responsibility of the Police, and the Police at a time, changed the people that were there, and they started doing very well; they were checking it very well. I think they were even having helicopter that was patrolling that road, I think 1 Division is doing something about the road, and I know, the Chief of Defence Staff, when he saw what happened on Sunday, gave directive on what should be done about that road.”
In like manner, Idris has ordered the return to Kaduna, three Police Mobile Force (PMF) units. The three units, according to the police, will be deployed along the axis, for optimal security. Consequent upon the deployment, the police, a few days ago, paraded eight suspected kidnappers said to be terrorising commuters on the road.
The Force Public Relations Officer, acting DCP Jimoh Moshood, while parading the suspects, had said: “All the suspects have made useful statements to the police investigators and confessed to the killings in the affected villages.” According to him: “All Police Mobile Force units of the PMF Squadrons in MOPOL 1 Kaduna, MOPOL 47 Zaria and MOPOL 61 Kafanchan on special duties outside the state have been ordered by the IGP to return back to Kaduna to beef-up security, particularly on Kaduna-Abuja highway, Kaduna-Zaria- Kano, Kaduna-Birnin Gwari-Zamfara- Funtua-Zamfara highway and other flash points in the state.” Kaduna State sector commander of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Umar Ibrahim, has also said that about 20 persons were killed in a ghastly auto crash, along Kaduna-Abuja highway, not too long ago. The accident, he said, involved an articulated truck marked, AJG-118-XA and a 16-seater passenger bus marked, XA 866 MLF, which was recorded at Dutse U-turn, about 20 kilometres to Kaduna metropolis. Ibrahim explained that, the bus loaded with 20 passengers rammed into the truck, which was making a U-turn at Dutse junction. “The accident occurred when the truck that was coming from Abuja axis was trying to make a U-turn at Dutse when the bus coming from Kaduna axis rammed into it, killing 17 people instantly. “Ten others sustained injuries, and were rushed to the hospital by an FRSC official, where three of them also died. The bus was not only overloaded with passengers but also choked with dismembered motorcycles belonging to the passengers. We had to divert traffic to single lane before we were able to clear the wreckage and allow free flow of traffic,” he said. Residents of Sabon Gaya community in Chikun Local Government Area of Kaduna State had once appealed to the Federal Government to declare a state of emergency on the Kaduna- Abuja highway. Their reason, according to media reports, was as a result of the incessant kidnapping of travellers, robberies and accidents involving innocent citizens along the highway. The residents specifically want the government to deploy more security personnel and helicopters to flush out the bandits from their hideouts. Their request followed the gruesome murder of the head of the Civilian Joint Task Force by suspected kidnappers. The murder, according to the villagers, was one which shocked and angered “us and could not be condoned.”
Additional reports by Emmanuel Onani (Abuja) and Baba Negedu (Kaduna)
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