The ever-busy Benin- Ekpoma-Auchi Road in Edo State, a federal road, that links the South South, South East to the northern part of the country has lately become a nightmare owing largely to the terrible state of the road which kidnappers have capitalised on and turned it to their den. FRANCIS OGBUAGU, takes a look at the agony of communities around the axis and road users, and what the government and security agencies are doing to address the situation
Flor anybody who has any reason to go through the Benin-Ekpoma-Auchi Road, Edo State, a federal road, it is akin to going through the “valley of the shadow of death,” as the road has become a death trap for road users in the recent years. Aside several failed portions of the road, it has arguably become the most dangerous road to ply in the South South geo – political zone owing to the incessant kidnapping by killer herdsmen in collaboration with locals. The road which serves as gateway from the South South and South East to the North, also leads to several tertiary institutions in Edo State, including the Ambrose Ali University, Ekpoma; Auchi Polytechnic, Auchi; Edo University, Uzaiure among others, has become the travellers nightmare, as several kidnapping incidents indicate that the dare devil criminals take advantage of the impassable nature of the road to hack on their unsuspecting victims.
Ehor as the Den of Kidnappers
Chilling tales of dread, agony, savage like terror and death are everyday occurrence at Ehor, a transit community in Uhunmwonde Local Government Area of Edo State and the epicenter of kidnapping in the state Travellers are ambushed, shot at and scurried into the bush, scared with death threats and forced to contact their loved ones, where they demand huge ransoms in exchange for the abductees.
Commercial Drivers Experience
on the Road Joseph Okosun, a driver with one of the transport companies in Benin City that ply the emotion torturing road, was kidnapped in June,2022, he was held by herdsmen for three days His experience, according to him was inexpressible, as his car was shot at from ambush, the bullet shattering the windscreen of the Toyota Sienna he was driving and killing the passenger sitting beside him.
“It was in June, I was coming from Auchi with passengers in my Sienna bus, around 7.00pm,as I got to Ehor. Ah! I just heard gun shots like thunder and at the same time bullets were raining on the vehicle, the passenger in front of my car was hit on the head and he died there, the windscreen was shattered, the side glasses were destroyed, one other girl died and many people were injured. “Five of us were taken into the bush, we trekked for more than five hours in the tick bush almost all through the night. Finally, we got to a point (an uncompleted building) which serves as their hideout. They were beating us with logs of wood. Later, they demanded for #3 million as ransom, but after three days, my people raised about #2millon before I was released.
In fact, I don’t wish my enemy that experience, it was a horror. “Do you know that I was even carrying a monkey as a way bill, but the monkey died, and we had to pay for it. “Kidnapping is as a result of the bad state of the road, if not the bad road, they will not be able to stop or kidnap anybody,” he said. Another driver, Lucky Osaigbovo, who also works with one of the transport companies in Benin City, said the situation was terrible before now, but that the government has sent soldiers, police and other security agents who helped to reduce the rate of Kidnapping on the route.
“The situation of the road is terrible, it is a total write-off, because of those big lorries, that are destroying the road, we are begging the government to come to our aid, the major problem is the road. Now, because of the bad state of the road and kidnappers, we don’t go through the Benin-Ekpoma, Auchi road, we use Auchi- Igarra – Ibillo road. “For now, kidnapping has reduced to the barest minimum. It is not as bad as it used to be,” he said.
Loss of Man Hours to Gridlock
The loss of working hours by road users, especially those driving articulated vehicles cannot be quantified, as they spend days on the failed portion of the highway. Motorists who spoke with the New Tele-graph said what was required to end their nightmare was a permanent fixing of the road rather than the yearly palliative measure of filling portions with debris.
“You can see the long queue here. I have been here since yesterday and no movement for articulated vehicles. “Cars easily manoeuvre their way through Ekpoma town,’’ laments Musa Bawa, an articulated vehicle driver who was in the gridlock overnight.
“This was our experience last year and we have started again,’’ he said. Another articulated vehicle driver, Christopher Eze decried the deplorable condition of the highway and appealed to government to deploy a permanent solution as soon as the rainy season ends. “It is pitiable that we are practically stranded here,’’ he lamented. Another driver, who simply identified himself as Musa, said government needed to question contractors who execute palliative repairs on that portion of the highway as jobs delivered never last beyond a rainy season. “In the alternative, a total reconstruction of the highway should be effected to avoid the perennial gridlocks,’’ he said
Frustrated by the incessant cases of kidnapping along the Benin-Ekpoma-Auchi Road, residents of some of the affected communities in June,2022, took over the road and completely blocked it to both human and vehicular movements. The blocking of the ever-busy road was the second of such in less than two months, leaving commuters stranded for hours as the road was blocked by the protesting locals. It was gathered that the anger of members of the Urokhuosa, Ehor and other communities in Uhunmwode Local Government Area were triggered by some suspected Fulani herdsmen, who, attacked a Sienna bus, injuring many passengers. The protesters while reeling out the daily abductions of travellers on the road, said a driver of one of the popular transport companies was shot dead on the same spot the previous week, and threatened not to vacate the road until Governor Godwin Obaseki or his deputy, Philip Shaibu shows up.
Police Efforts to Decimate Violent Crime
In an attempt to decimate and reduce kidnapping and other violent crimes on the notorious Benin-Ekpoma-Auchi road, the Edo State Police Command made several efforts, which in turn produced some results. For example; the Command on July 28,2022, at Ogwuweka Forest, Egba, Uhunmwonde Local Government Area of the state arrested two suspects; Mohammed Umar alias Smallie Bokolo ‘M’ 23yrs and Bashir Saidu ‘M’ 30yrs, several arms and ammunition were recovered from them. Announcing their arrest, the Edo State Police Command Deputy Public Relations Officer, ASP Jennifer Iwegbu in a statement said, “The Edo State Police command in its operational mandate of curbing the menace of violent crimes and other related vices on the 28/07/2022 at about 0150hrs through its Divisional Police Headquarters at Egba in Uhunmwonde Local Government Area of Edo State arrested two suspected kidnappers.
“Following credible information during the police routine night patrol, the Divisional Police Officer led his police Operatives to a kidnapper’s hideout at Ogwuweka forest, off the Benin-Auchi Expressway. In the operation, two suspects were arrested who identified themselves as Mohammed Umar alias Smallie Bokolo ‘M’ 23yrs and Bashir Saidu ‘M’ 30yrs.
“They also led the police Operatives to their operational camp which is deep inside the forest in the same community. “The following items were recovered from the suspects, one AK-49 rifle with 34 rounds of 9.9MM Ammunition; two single barrel guns with 5 live cartridges. “The suspects volunteered to lead operatives to another of their hideout and operational camp at Powerline by Urokhosa community, off Benin-Auchi road at about 0430hrs of the same date, but were met by aggressive gunfire from the gang members at the camp which led to a gun duel with the police Operatives.
The suspects were fatally injured and were confirmed dead. “Meanwhile, intense bush combing of the area is ongoing for possible neutralisation or arrest of other fleeing gang members.” Earlier, on March 25,2022 the command also rescued a bus belonging to a popular transport company travelling from Ogoja in Cross River State to Lagos with eleven passengers, including a soldier that were kidnapped and taken into the bush.
The command’s spokesperson noted. “On receipt of information that passengers of a commercial bus have been kidnapped, the Deputy Commissioner In-Charge of Operations, DCP Miller Dantawaye immediately ordered the Divisional Police Officer, Egba Division to mobilise for rescue operation and arrest the suspects.
“The DPO Egba Division immediately swung into action, mobilised police operatives from the division and local vigilante for bush combing around Ute Community in Uhunwonde Local Government Area of Edo State. “The operatives on sighting the suspected kidnappers who already tied their victims in the forest opened fire on them, the superior fire power from the operatives made the suspected kidnappers to abandon their victims, flee further into the forest with various degrees of gun wounds.
“One of the victims, who is a soldier and was recognised by the kidnappers as military personnel, was stabbed all over his body, they also collected his uniform that was in his bag. The eleven passengers were rescued alive,” ASP Bello Kontongs, who was the command Police Public Relations Officer then, said.
Edo Government’s Reactions to Insecurity and State of the Road
Reacting on July 10, 2022 the deputy governor, who was then the Acting Governor, Comrade Philip Shaibu gave marching orders to all communities and their traditional rulers across the state to engage local hunters and vigilantes to flush out criminal Fulani herdsmen in all the forests in the state.
Shaibu, after an emergency security meeting with traditional rulers, opinion leaders and security agencies, ordered that the rampaging killer herdsmen be flushed from forests in Edo State. Part of the resolutions which was made available to journalists also directed heads of the eighteen local government councils in the state to provide stipends and needed resources for the vigilante and hunters on a monthly basis to comb the forests and flush out the suspected criminals and said that traditional rulers would henceforth be held responsible for any act of kidnapping and terrorism that occurs in their domain. “That everybody currently residing in any forest in Edo State in the guise of camping should vacate such areas with immediate effect.
The acting governor has mandated all acting LGC heads to use all the security apparatus including the police, army, Vigilance groups, hunters and others to forcefully remove any groups or individuals within the next 10 days. “That henceforth, any traditional ruler and village head who have collected money from any herdsmen therefore permitting any form of camping or grazing in any Edo State forest should refund such money and ask the herdsmen to leave with immediate effect.”
The resolution also said that after 10 days from the day of the meeting, traditional rulers would be held responsible for kidnappings in their areas. On the state of the road, Edo State Commissioner for Road and Bridges, Hon. Newton Okojie, said the Edo State government is very concerned and is working closely with the Federal Ministry of Works to see what can be done in order to find a lasting solution to the problem “We’re very concerned, but we don’t want a situation where we will come to do palliative every year, we want a lasting solution.
Edo State government is in talk with the Federal Ministry of Works, so that from next year, we will not be having this crisis anymore. “Our technical team met with the Federal Ministry of Works about five weeks ago. The meeting was chaired by the deputy governor, Comrade Philip Shaibu with the Federal Controller of Works, and myself (Hon. Newton Okojie), the contractors working on the road, which are RCC, Dantata, Mother Cat and one other. In that meeting we agreed that we are going to start palliatives measure. We asked the ministry to come out with a permanent solution. And that is what will happen,” he said. According to Prince Ozioruva Aliu, a former Secretary of the Nigerian Union of Journalists in Edo State Council, who plies the road regularly, “Plying the Benin-Ekpoma- Auchi road has become a nightmare for everyone who uses that road, the only place you can enjoy good driving is from Benin to Heartland Farms and few meters before Iruekpen, then after Ekpoma, aside that, more than two third of the road is in a very bad state.
“A journey that should take me two hours from Benin to Igarra takes more than four hours and sometimes if you’re not lucky, you spend the whole day and that has even further created the security challenges on that road, because you now have to divert from the main road to unknown roads and that has aggravated robbery and kidnapping. For me to go to Igarra from Benin City, I have to first go to Ondo State, before coming to Edo and that is a very dangerous terrain, just to avoid the Benin Auchi Road.
“Meanwhile, in 2013 when the Federal Gove r nment awarded the expansion of that road, I remember clearly the then Minister of Works, Arch Mike Onolememen telling us that the road will be completed within 30 months, insisting that the project will not be affected by budget constraints and he boasted that as long as Nigeria sells oil, the project will be completed, unfortunately after 9 years we are still where we are. “He even went ahead to say that because of its expedition that is why the government awarded the contract to three different companies and today they are still there. Sometimes, they go off the road, sometime they come there, all they have been doing are skeletal works and it has been a breeding ground for kidnappers and that has become a big challenge for those using the road, as you must slowdown in every kilometer.
This has made traveling not an easy thing, it has made traveling a nightmare. “The economic implications are much, those who are to transport their goods waste working hours on the road, sometime the goods gets spoilt on the way. Our farmers, who are good in plantain farming and other food crops, their wares get destroyed even before they get to the market, it has affected the whole area economically and even the vehicles, you spend more money going to the mechanic and also you spend working hours repairing your vehicle. “I think government is one and people plying that road are also Nigerians and many of them are from Edo State and that road is very strategic, because it can connect you to the North and other southern states.
There is nothing wrong if the state government takes over that responsibility, infact two years ago, the state government boasted that it is going to take over that responsibility, but it has not gone beyond mere talk. “If the government has the resources, there is nothing wrong with that. The Federal Government has given their condition, all they have to do is to inform the Federal Government and they will bring their own auditors and personnel to give you their standard and if you meet that standard there is every possibility that you will get refunded. The Federal Government has refunded many states and even Edo has benefited from such refunds.
If there is fund Edo State can go ahead and do it. I believe the Federal Government is concerned about the quality of job to be done. I believe even the deputy governor, Comrade Philip Shaibu sometime navigates that place while going to Auchi.” On security, he said that 80% of the kidnapping take place at the bad spots. “There are bad spots before Heartland Farms, Ojeduma and another one before the Jehova Witness Church, these are the spots for kidnapping on that road.
“There is still another bad spot between Agbede and Aviale .The fortunate thing about the one at Ekpoma is that that one is inside the town. So, you can see that the state of the road has encouraged Kidnapping. “If the road is good, nobody can stop a vehicle that is driving at 110km per hour, you will not have the mind to come and stop it, except you are on a suicide mission,” he said.
Also, Lucky Ikpasa, an indigene of Ora, in Owan West Local Government Area of Edo State said the Benin -Ekpoma-Auchi road has become a festering wound that has refused to heal and that government at all level is to be blamed. “The Benin-Ekpoma-Auchi road problem has become like a festering wound that has refused to heal, government at all level has failed us and are responsible for the incessant kidnapping, because if the road is in good state the herdsmen that are kidnapping people will not stop a fast moving vehicle and kidnap the occupants.
“The whole places where they kidnap are all bad portions of the road. What is wrong if the Edo State Government fix the road? That road leads to the North and other parts of the South South states. Some of us from Edo North use to go round to Ondo State and then you now turn to Edo State, which have it’s own cost implications. And most times you spend the whole day going round before you get to your destination.
Most times I don’t go home with my car again, because you end up spending ten times what you should spend to maintain the car.” However, the spokesperson of the Edo State Police Command, DSP Chidi Nwabuzor said the police in collaboration with other security outfits have worked to reduce the problem of incessant Kidnapping in the area. “The security situation there has improved tremendously, owing to some measures applied, you know we have the good, the bad and the ugly, so it is not time to begin to expose the measure put in place, but the most important thing is that we have reduced incessant kidnapping.”