Nigeria’s highway is giving many sleepless nights as kidnappings and deaths are gradually but steadily becoming the order of the day. ISIOMA MADIKE, who has been following this ugly trend, reports
On May 5, a trailer-load of gunmen suspected to be kidnappers attacked travellers on the Ilesha-Ife Expressway. It was gathered that the trailer conveying the attackers suddenly stopped in the middle of the highway at Ikoyi town in Osun State about 6.45pm, while the gunmen disembarked and started shooting at everyone in sight. The Public Relations Officer of the Federal University of Technology, Akure, Adegbenro Adebanjo, whose wife and son were caught up in the attack, gave an account of the incident in a Facebook post. According to information gleaned from the post, they managed to escape the brigands, who seemed to be targeting travellers on that highway.
Mayhem was said to have ensued as vehicles rammed into one another while occupants exited through windows and other openings in desperate dash for safety in the bush. While many were bruised and battered, some were not that lucky, as they were taken away.
Their adaptors later demanded ransom before they were released. There were also countless tales of broken limbs and head wounds resulting in deaths as the kidnappers held their victims by the jugular. Also, a professor of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Yinka Adegbehingbe, was kidnapped near Ikire along the Ife-Ibadan Highway about the same period.
He was, according to SaharaReporters, travelling with his wife from Lagos to Ife before he met the evil harbingers. Ransom was said to have been paid after several days before Adegbehingbe was allowed to reunite with his family. Before then, the Director of the Lagos State Fire Service, Rasaki Musibau and seven others were kidnapped along Itoikin-Epe Road in Ikosi-Ejirin Local Council Development Area of Lagos State. His happened in April. It was gathered that the kidnappers stormed Iwoye Bridge about 8.pm and stopped vehicles conveying the victims.
They were said to have ordered them to alight from their vehicles before whisking them away to an unknown destination. Sources however, said that the axis had become the new den for kidnappers lately. They had, reports said, abducted the Ikosi-Ejirin council chairman, Ajijedidun Adebisi and vice-chairman of Lekki LCDA, a month before Musibau kidnap. While reacting to the incidents, the Lagos State Police Command assured Lagosians of their safety at all times as, according to it, the command has intensified patrols and surveillance along Itoikin-Epe Road, Ketu, Ereyun and other major highways in the state. However, the command’s assurance was not enough to stop the armed bandits’ incursion into the Yoruba forests, where they were said to have set up temporary camps.
From these camps, according to reports, they intermittently stormed the highways and kidnap travellers, who they only released in exchange for ransoms. They terrorise, defile and sometimes kill their victims. The Akure/Owo Highway has not been spared either. Not too long ago, three members of staff of the Federal Medical Centre, and a member of the state-owned Rufus Giwa Polytechnic, both in Owo, Ondo State, were kidnapped in Amurin community, along that highway after their close of work.
Within the last few months, no fewer than 12 people were said to have been abducted in about three or four incidents, while millions of Naira had exchanged hands as payment for ransom with every victims having ugly tales to tell while in the captives of their kidnappers. Most travellers, especially traders who regularly ply this road usually embark on a prayer and fasting session before going on any journey. They have now identified about four or five major spots on the Owo / Ikare Akoko Road as being the most deadly.
This, according to reports, is one of the reasons the state government embarked on the reconstruction of the road, even though a federal road, to serve as palliative measure to ensure free vehicular movement on this road. The ugly incidents on the highways across the South West region may have given the Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, headaches that he had to outline plans of his government to stem the tide of kidnappings and other security challenges confronting his state. Fayemi had explained that the clearing of bushes on the major highways was part of measures to tackle kidnapping, armed robbery and other crimes.
He explained that the clearing of the bushes on the highways was being carried out so as not to give a hiding place to suspected kidnappers and armed robbers to perpetrate their nefarious activities. He said the state Ministry of Works and Infrastructure had been given a marching order to clear the bushes on the highways and urged traditional rulers to ensure that the job is well done.
had said: “We want you to help us about security; before robbers and kidnappers’ attack they would have carried out surveillance in the day or an insider might give them a hint on how to carry it out. So, we want you to be vigilant; if you know bad people around you, let us know we will not expose your identity. The kidnappers dwell within us in Ekiti, the robbers live with us in Ekiti, if they are within your vicinity, please let us know.” However, the South West kidnappings are not isolated cases. This has been happening in other parts of Nigeria.
For instance, the Kaduna-Abuja Highway, which has now assumed the status of kidnappers’ den as abduction 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. Incidentally, 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 unknown gunmen, reports added, operates with sophisticated weapons, which make policemen guns at checkpoints look like toys to contain the outlaws.
A special police security task force was deployed at 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 subsists 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. At least, 42 other people have been kidnapped on Kaduna-Abuja and Kaduna- Birnin Gwari highways in the last three weeks. Following repeated attacks and kidnappings of motorists plying the highways, the Kaduna State Security Council has resolved to intensify patrols along the routes to minimise the attacks.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reported that incidences of kidnappings and armed robbery have become common along the routes, with the latest occurring on Sunday.
Reports on the latest abductions indicated that about 30 were whisked away along Kaduna-Abuja highway and 12 on Birnin Gwari road between Sunday and Monday. Although the police have disputed the figures, a statement by its spokesman in the state, DSP Yakubu Sabo, confirmed that only three, a man and two women, travelling in a Hilux vehicle at the time were abducted. In response to the growing insecurity, Governor Nasir el-Rufai, who was away when the last incident happened discussed the issue with the Security Council via teleconference, and agreed to tackle the problem head on.
According to a statement by the governor’s media aide, Samuel Aruwan, apart from intensive patrols, more robust security measures would be adopted to secure all parts of the state. The government assured residents that it would continue to partner with security agencies for effective protection of their lives and properties. The statement urged residents to use the available security helplines in case of emergencies. Nonetheless the Kaduna-Abuja Highway remains the most notorious according to those who ply that road. The Senate a few days ago joined many to describe the expressway as the most dangerous in Africa.
To try and reduce the menace, the Inspector- General of Police, Muhammad Adamu, recently launched operation Puff Adder aimed at tackling the nuisance and reducing to the barest minimum if not totally eradicating the criminal act. But barely two weeks after the launch of Puff Adder and supposed show of force by the Kaduna Police Command which told travellers that the highway is now free and safe, the daredevil kidnappers struck again with the abduction of several travellers including the Chairman, governing board of the Universal Basic Education commission, (UBEC) Dr. Mohammed Abubakar and his daughter Yesmin Abubakar.
In a meeting with traditional rulers from across the North within the week in Kaduna to try and fashion out a way out of the increasing insecurity, Adamu told the monarchs that 685 persons were kidnapped between January and April this year alone across the country’s highways.
He however, said that majority of those abductions took place in Zamfara State and Kaduna-Abuja Expressway. The IGP said 546 or 79.8 per cent on the national total were recorded in the three northern geo-political zones with the highest zonal prevalence occurring in the North West where 365 persons were reportedly kidnapped within the period. “This is followed by the North Central zone where 145 persons were kidnapped,” he added.
The Kaduna-Abuja Highway is located between the North Central and the North West zones of the country. In the last two years since the kidnapping on the road gained notoriety, no one has been spared, ranging from businessmen, government officials, petty traders and even foreign nationals. A former Minister of Environment, Laurentia Malam, and her husband, Pius, were one time kidnapped on the road. So was the Sierra Leonean Deputy High Commissioner to Nigeria, retired Major General Alfred Nelson Williams, who tasted the bitter pills of the kidnappers along the route. Recently, it took the intervention of el-Rufai to chase the kidnappers off the road for motorists as his convoy also ran into them while trying to abduct travellers.
On a single day in early April about 30 persons were said to have been stopped on the highway and matched into the bush by this daredevil kidnappers. Worried by this scenario and the seeming inability of the security operatives to protect travellers, many people moving from the northern part of the country now prefer to take the new train service from Kaduna to Abuja, while others disguise as ‘poor’ to evade the scrutiny of the marauders.
Before now many commuters did not see the necessity of the train service because apart from the fact that they pay more to get to their destination, others complain about the location of the train station and the effort to get in and out.
But all that is now a thing of the past as the train had become the proverbial beautiful bride of Kaduna and even northern travellers. When our correspondent visited the station in Rigassa, confusion and pandemonium could only best describe the scene as the ‘battle’ to get ticket was fierce and intense. Even though the usual alleged underhand dealings for tickets is no longer pronounced, sources in the station disclosed that some high profile travellers still call some of the staff to reserve tickets for them.
Politicians, businessmen and even security operatives are not left out as everybody now prefer the train service for their Abuja trip. Our correspondent also gathered that many people now delete their bank transactions and their Mobile bank application before setting out on the road, as the kidnappers check all those to ascertain what demand they should make for ransom. No period in recent times did kid
napping become as worsened as happened in the past few weeks; rising to a disturbing level since after the release of the Kano-based Muslim cleric, Shaykh Ahmad Sulaiman, who regained his freedom after days in captivity.
The cleric and his children were said to have been kidnapped along Kakumi- Kankara Road in Kankara Local Government Area of Katsina State on March 14. Kidnapping has progressively become a popular crime in the northern part of Nigeria with Kaduna–Birnin Gwari, Kaduna-Abuja, and Abuja– Lokoja roads being the worst hit. Zamfara has, however, taking a lead as the most notorious state for kidnapping and banditry in the country in recent months. But Katsina, Plateau, Niger and Taraba states have joined the infamous list of states invaded by kidnappers.
The abduction of an 80-yearold mother in law of Governor Aminu Bello Masari of Katsina State, Hajiya Maisitiyari, exposed that axis as kidnapping den. However, Delta State has not been spared as highway kidnappers had inflicted psychological trauma on victims and sent some victims to early graves within the axis. For instance, four Nuns (Reverend Sisters) of the Order of the Missionary of Martha and Mary were kidnapped recently. The Catholic Diocese of Issele-Uku Reverend Sisters were abducted around the Railway Line near Agbor town in Ika South Local Government Area of the state while they were returning from a function. Also, an Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP), attached to the Ashaka Police Divisional Headquarters was waylaid, kidnapped and killed at Umuachi Afor Community Road in Ndokwa East Local Government Area.
There was equally the kidnap of the Zonal Commander of Security of the Movement for the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and Biafra Independent Movement (BIM), Ignatius Adili-Ajana.
He was lucky to have been released unhurt after spending weeks in their hideouts. Four Catholic priests were victims also.
They are, Rev. Fathers Victor Adigboluja, Anthony Otegbola, Joseph Idiaye and Obadjere Emmanuel. The clerics were kidnapped at gunpoint between Agbor in Ika South Local Government Area and Umutu Road in Ukwuani while returning from their alumni meeting at the All Saints Catholic Major Seminary at Uhielle in Ekpoma, Edo State.
The other major highways connecting Edo with other states in the country have not been spared as well. It is evident that states across the country are facing precarious security challenges following permeating cases of kidnapping and other crimes.
This may be the reason the adaptors are taking advantage of the Port Harcourt-Owerri Road and East-West Road which are very strategic to the economic growth of the government and people of Rivers State as well as visitors to the state. While the Port Harcourt-Owerri Road links Rivers State with other states in the South-East geopolitical zone, especially Imo and Anambra States, the East-West Road connects Rivers State with other states in the South-South geopolitical zone of the country. Sadly, these routes have recently become hideouts for suspected dreaded kidnappers, who have eventually made travelling on these two major highways a nightmare for motorists and travellers.
On a daily basis, passengers and motorists are abducted and taken hostage along these roads bordered by thick forests. Despite the presence of combined team of men of the Nigeria Police Force and Nigerian Army, as well as many road blocks mounted on the road, kidnappers are still having a field day.
Giving this disturbing trend, Mike Ejiofor, a former Director of the State Security Service (SSS), in an interview with Sunrise Daily crew on Channels Television recently, said he would prefer the federal government to declare a state of emergency in the security sub-sector. He said the earlier the government does that the better for the country. Ejiofor said: “People now travel in fear and apprehension, it’s that bad.
Even the trains moving towards Kaduna are not also safe. I understand helicopters now fly over the trains just to secure the people and that is not good enough. We must as matters of urgency develop to that state where technology will be deplored, drones can be deplored; armed drones. We must try as much as possible to see that this issue is solved. “If you look at the police, people say police is not doing what they ought to be doing, how you expect a child to perform when you have not provided the necessary tools to go to school?
The police are handicapped; they are challenged in terms of manpower, equipment and we cannot continue to over flog this issue. It has now come to a point where every Nigerian must speak up irrespective of political, religious or ethnic coloration because we are all concern about the security of this country. “When I talk of emergency in the security sector I’m talking of prioritising and funding of our security, given money to the necessary agencies for them to fight this scourge because nobody is safe anymore. So, if you prioritise our security by funding them, the government can go out of its way to ask for extra budgetary allocation for the security agencies to function properly.”
Additional stories from Baba Negedu (Kaduna), Dominic Adewole (Asaba) and Cajetan Mmuta (Benin)