Insight

Ogun in the grip of hostage takers

On assumption of office in 2019, Governor Dapo Abiodun vowed to take the war on abduction for ransom to the doorsteps of kidnappers. However, two years on, people are being kidnapped, almost on a daily basis, on the doorsteps of the governor, reports OLUFEMI ADEDIRAN

In 2019, Governor Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State declared that his administration would henceforth demolish any property found to be harbouring criminals, especially kidnappers. The governor also said that any property used as a criminal hideout will not only be demolished, but the owner of such property would be arrested and prosecuted.

He said: “Let me use this opportunity to sound this very strong note of warning to our landlords and any property owner that any property or facility found to be serving as a hideout to criminals will not only be taken over by the state, but we will demolish them.

“The landlords will also be arrested and handed over for prosecution for harbouring criminals; we will consider and treat them as accomplices.” Abiodun gave the warning when five members of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) were kidnapped in Ijebu-Ode axis, on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway while on their way to the Redemption Camp for the popular monthly Holy Ghost congress of the church. During the rescue mission of the victims, the Federal Government released a helicopter to the state government on the request of the governor for aerial surveillance of forests, suspected to be kidnappers’ hideouts in the state.

The helicopter which is still in use by the state Police Command has been helping the state in the fight against kidnapping and other criminal activities. But two years after the governor’s warning, kidnapping for ransom has become a lucrative business in the Gateway State. In the last three months, kidnapping has assumed a dangerous trend in the state, as no fewer than 25 people have been kidnapped in different parts of the state by gunmen.

The abductions occurred between February and May this year. Some of the victims included three medical workers, two Chinese expatriates, two students of the Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), community leader and traders, among others. Kidnapping for ransom was almost alien to the people of the state until a former Minister of State for Education, Senator Iyabo Anisulowo, and her security aide were abducted by armed men while returning from her farm, on Igbogila Road in Yewa North Local Government Area of the state in 2016. She was, however, rescued seven days later, while three suspects were arrested in connection with the abduction. In 2017, seven students and an official of the Nigeria Turkish International College at Isheri area of the state were abducted by gunmen who attacked their school.

The abductors demanded N1.2 billion ransom to free the students. To fight kidnapping and other criminal activities in the state, Abiodun, upon assumption of office, relaunched the “Security Trust Fund” to allow individuals, corporate bodies and other stakeholders make voluntary financial contributions, to procure patrol vehicles, motorcycles and other security apparatus for the police and other security agencies.

In May 2019, the patrol vehicles, equipped with communication gadgets and motorcycles, were distributed to all the security agencies in the state. Despite the state government’s efforts, kidnapping seems to have defiled all solutions due to the spate of abductions of people by armed men in different parts of the state. The recent upsurge in kidnappings cannot be unconnected with the dislodgement of criminals from neighbouring Oyo State. It is widely believed that criminals who were dislodged from Oyo State have since settled in Ogun State as their new home.

This is because majority of the recent kidnappings in the state were recorded on roads linking Ogun and Oyo states. Some of the hot spots for kidnapping in the state are the Ijebu-Ode-Ibadan Road, the Lagos- Ibadan Expressway, the old Ilaro Road, the Ayetoro-Olorunda Road, the Rounder- Igboora-Eruwa Road and the Abeokuta- Imala-Ayetoro Road. Two kidnappings took place within a month on the Abeokuta-Imala- Ayetoro Road.

In April, kidnapping became almost a weekly occurrence in the state. The latest kidnapping in the state occurred on the evening of Wednesday, May 5, at Ibara-Orile in Abeokuta North Local Government Area where a police officer was shot dead by the abductors. The assailants also abducted another policeman, alongside a couple and a civil servant working with the state Ministry of Agriculture.

A source close to the family of one of the victims told the New Telegraph that the couple had requested the help of the ministry to set up a fish farm in the state. In response to the request, the ministry asked the civil servant, an agricultural extension expert, to go with the couple to the farm. They were escorted by the two police officers who served as guards.

“On getting to Ibara-Orile, the kidnappers stopped their vehicle, shot dead one of the policemen and abducted the second policeman alongside the three other people, the source said. This came barely 24 hours after three traders and a driver were abducted by gunmen at Olubo village, on the Abeokuta- Imala-Ayetoro Road in the same local government area. The four victims were said to be returning from Ilara Market in Imeko-Afon Local Government Area of the state. The health workers were later released after an undisclosed amount of money was paid as ransom by the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA).

Dislodged Oyo Fulani herdsmen’s link

Testimonies from victims, relatives of victims and survivors of the recent kidnappings indicated that criminal Fulani herdsmen who were recently dislodged from Oyo State might have migrated to Ogun State and might be responsible for the criminal activities. For instance, the three traders and driver abducted at Olubo village spared a Fulani man, two Hausa men and two other women who were travelling in the same vehicle, a Toyota Avensis (Verso) SUV with registration number, FFF 654 TK. Narrating their ordeal, Mrs. Akewugberu and Mrs. Rofiat Oladeinde, who survived the abduction, said the commercial vehicle was abruptly stopped by four gunmen, who shot sporadically into the air.

They explained that the assailants, armed with AK-47 rifles and machetes, abducted the driver and three women who were selected randomly among the passengers. About two months earlier, herdsmen, suspected to be of Fulani extraction, abducted two traders on the Ayetoro-Olorunda Road in Imala also in Abeokuta North Local Government Area.

The state Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), DSP Abimbola Oyeyemi, later confirmed the arrest of one of the kidnappers. “One of the suspects we arrested is a Fulani man,” he said. In March, the command arrested a suspected kidnap kingpin, who escaped from Oyo State after killing one of his victims.

The suspect, Usman Hassan, whose accomplices had earlier been arrested in Oyo State for allegedly kidnapping a farm owner at Solalu village and subsequently killing him after collecting ransom, ran to Ogun State to hibernate. “On getting to Ogun State, Hassan started recruiting other Fulani men to form another kidnap gang. He ran out of luck when detectives of Ogun State Police Command got information about his activities from those Fulani he had tried to recruit into his kidnap team. “His hideout in the Imala area of Abeokuta North Local Government Area was stormed by the detectives and he was promptly arrested.

“On interrogation, he confessed that he conspired with his biological brother, Tahiru Usman, and others to kidnap their victim in Akinyele area of Ibadan and that they decided to kill the man after collecting ransom because the man could identify them,” the PPRO said. The Commissioner of Police, Edward Ajogun, paraded the suspected kidnappers of the OOU students and a community leader at the command headquarters, Eleweran, Abeokuta. Also paraded were suspected kidnappers of a doctor and nurse who were abducted in April. The suspects are Umaru Usman, Mohammed Bello, Babuga Abubakar, Nura Bello and Abubakar Bello.

The police boss said the suspects confessed to the series of kidnap cases in Ayetoro, Olorunda, Imeko and Ijebu areas of the state. Also, the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in the 2015 governorship election in the state, Prof. David Olufemi Bamgbose, has raised the alarm that criminals have invaded the state. Bamgbose attributed this to the sustained bombardment of camps belonging to criminal herdsmen in Oyo State by Sunday Adeyemo, popularly known as Sunday Igboho, Amotekun Corps and the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC).

He said: “You will notice that we are not having the problem of kidnapping in Lagos State as such, what happened is that the government of Oyo State is trying to dislodge criminals, bandits and kidnappers in the state and we have strong reasons to believe that those people migrated to Ogun State and they are setting up camps in the state. That is why Ogun State has now become the flashpoint for kidnappers. “Many of these migrant criminals have settled in many bushes in Abeokuta and Yewa that border Oyo State. They are now finding Ogun State a very convenient place to stay.

“You will see some activities going on in Oyo State, you will see that the Amotekun Corps is very active in Oyo State, we have reasons to believe that the criminals who were dislodged in Oyo State relocated to Kwara and Ogun states. Bamgbose called on Abiodun to urgently convey a security summit of all heads of security agencies, traditional rulers, representatives of local vigilance groups and hunters, as well as other stakeholders to address insecurity in the state.

He added: “We all know that the security architecture is in the hand of the Federal government, but the state governments all over the country have become more proactive by using vigilance groups, paramilitary organisations and the local hunters to fight insecurity. But, here in Ogun State, it took our governor a long time to set up the Amotekun Corps and up till now, it is not functioning.”

Agonies of victims

“I went through hell before I could secure the release of my boy. I would not even wish for my enemy to experience what I passed through when my son was kidnapped.” These were the words of Mrs. Bisi Ajibola, the mother of a 13-year-old boy, Gbolahan Ajibola, who was abducted at their residence at Obada-Oko in the Ewekoro Local Government Area of the state on Saturday, April 17. The abductors demanded N50 million as ransom or Gbolahan would be killed. “We paid ransom to the kidnappers before they could release my son to me. It took us about three days to raise the money.

“His abductors demanded that we pay N50 million and threatened to kill my son if we failed to pay the money. “After negotiations, we eventually paid N2.5 million. My son was released three days later,” Ajibola told the New Telegraph. The families of the two students of the OOU also confirmed that N2 million was paid for the release of the students, even though the state government and the police vehemently denied that any ransom was paid. Also, an undisclosed amount of money was paid as ransom by the state chapter of NMA to secure the release of the medical doctor and a nurse who were abducted in the Imeko area.

Gunmen had on Wednesday, April 7 abducted the medical doctor and the nurse working with the state-owned General Hospital, Imeko in Imeko-Afon Local Government Area. The victims were Dr. Oladunni Odetola, the head of General Hospital, Imeko, and the nurse, Mrs. Bamgbose. They were kidnapped barely seven days after two Chinese expatriates working with a fishery and poultry firm at Oba in Obafemi-Owode Local Government Area were abducted. The abductors of the health workers demanded N10 million before they could be released. To raise the ransom, the NMA in the state directed its members to pay a compulsory sum of N10,000 each.

The New Telegraph was told that those who could not immediately pay the money were asked to do so immediately their salaries were paid. One of the doctors in the employ of the state government, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said they were asked to contribute N10,000 each. “The money was raised within members of the association. We had to do something since the state government was doing little or nothing to ensure the safe release of our colleagues. “We could not afford to let our members die in the hands of these criminals, so we paid the ransom and eventually they were released safely to us,” the doctor said.

But the state NMA Chairman, Dr. Oladapo Ogunlaja, declined to comment on whether members of the association were asked to contribute the ransom paid to secure the release of the abducted member. When asked if the NMA members were asked to contribute money for the ransom paid for the release of their member, Ogunlaja simply said, “I have no comment about that”.

Police, OPC talk tough

The state Commissioner of Police, Ajogun, has vowed that the police will relent in its efforts to rid the state of kidnappers and other criminals. Ajogun said the command is working with other security agencies, including local vigilance groups and hunters in combing the bushes along the roads that are suspected to be the flashpoints of kidnappings.

He said: “The vigilantes, the farmers and the hunters have been very useful to us. They actually monitor our bushes because these guys (kidnappers) may be in the bushes as people travel along the bushes; so many things that they are assisting us in doing. “We have sustained the combing of the bushes and that is paying off. We have increased our visibility.

The helicopter is still going to stay with us. We have pleaded with the governor to continue to allow us to use it; we know how much it is causing the government to maintain it. “The governor is also thinking of replicating the JSIS (the Joint Security Intervention Squad) that has been constituted in the Yewa area at the Ogun Central and East.

“We are working together and synergising to ensure the security of lives and property of the people of the state. We only need the cooperation of the good citizens of the state.” The state chapter of the OPC has also vowed to do everything possible to fight bandits and criminal Fulani herdsmen, “who on a daily basis kidnap, rape and slaughter our people like a ram”. The group in a statement signed by its state Coordinator, Adesina Jimoh, alleged that the security agencies have failed in protecting the people and bringing the menace to a permanent halt.

“OPC in Ogun State will no longer sit back, fold our arms and watch our people being kidnapped, raped and slaughtered like a ram by these bandits or Fulani herdsmen, who on a daily basis, commit crime with impunity. “For close to two years now, Ogun State chapter of the Oodua People’s Congress (OPC) has observed with disgust, the unabated spate of armed robbery, cultism and in particular, the new trend of ‘kidnap for money’ of our kinsmen and women across the three senatorial districts of the state and we are saddened about it….

“These Fulani herdsmen, who have now become kidnappers on our soil, collected N34.5 million in three separate operations carried out in one week in Ogun State. “Now, the question is: for how long are we going to wait for the security operatives to do the needful? For how long should we wait and watch our people die in instalments in the hands of these criminals who felt they are only the lords of the jungle?” OPC said.

Amotekun yet to commence full operations

The Commander of the Ogun State Security Network, otherwise known as Amotekun, Dave Akinremi, said operatives of the corps, with the help of other security agencies, have begun combing the forests to flush out kidnappers from their dens. The commander said although the corps was yet to commence full operations throughout the state, Amotekun has identified some of the hot spots of kidnappings and deployed operatives to these areas. He said: “We deployed personnel in some local government areas which we considered volatile as at the time we started our operation.

“The local government areas included the Yewa North, Ipokia, Imeko-Afon in the Ogun West Senatorial District; Ijebu- Ode, Sagamu and Ijebu-North in the East Senatorial District. Those are the areas we started work, based on our security assessment which were quite volatile at the time we started. “But we have commenced training for another set of seven local government areas now so that we can spread our tentacles to a larger portion of the state before the final batch will be trained. “The area we are having challenges is the Ibadan-Ijebu-Ode axis which has been taken care of. For some time now, we have not heard of any case of kidnapping in that area.

“Our men are combing the bushes, gathering intelligence and working locals – the hunters, the OPC, the vigilantes, So Safe Corps and other security outfits, including the conventional security apparatus we have in the state, the police, the Department of State Services (DSS) and Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC). “We are identifying areas where intels have it that these people (kidnappers) normally hibernate and very soon we are going to burst them. By the time we have credible intelligence that we can act on, we are going to burst them.

“The main trust of our corps is to gather intelligence and we are partnering with traditional rulers and other stakeholders to sensitise the people to the need for them to give us credible information. “The state government is working seriously to make sure that the corps commences operation in Abeokuta, the state capital, so that we can push these criminal elements out of the state. “We have vehicles, we have communication equipment and some other equipment purchased for us by the state government to contribute positively to the security architecture of the state.”

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