Tackling insecurity on highways
…Stakeholders Seek Effective Policing Strategy To Curb Violent Crimes On The Road
The killing of Mrs Funke Olakunrin, daughter of Afenifere leader, Pa Reuben Fasoranti, penultimate Friday, has been generating reactions from across the country since that fateful day. There have been expressions of anger, hate, pessimism, threats, counter threats and ultimatums as a result of the incident. But from the Presidency and security agencies came the assurance that her killers would not go unpunished. And in a move to empathise with Pa Fasoranti’s family, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo swiftly paid a condolence visit to them on Sunday, July 14, where he said the Federal Government would explore all options, including deploying soldiers on the highways towards addressing the growing security challenges of the country.
Osinbajo’s statement was understandable. Olakunrin was reportedly killed by gunmen between Kajola and Ore along Ondo-Ore road on her way to Lagos. The incident was not the first time travellers had been waylaid by criminals, not just on that road but also other highways across the country, and were either robbed, kidnapped, raped or killed outright. Somehow it appeared as if government had no answer to the security challenge, thereby leaving road travellers to their own fate. Commuters devised means of outwitting the criminals in their game. Aside other strategies, they know the roads to avoid and the periods of the day and night when the criminals would be off ‘duty’. And until they get to their destinations, they cannot heave a sigh of relief. On the other hand, people who had the means to travel by air but hitherto preferred the road option quickly embraced the flight alternative. Others who live in places with train services have also embraced that option, all in a bid for self-preservation.
Thus, the outrage that greeted Mrs Olakunrin’s death, apparently because of her royal background, was not out of place. Nigerians, including the ordinary man on the street, is unhappy with the spate of insecurity in the country. So, they saw the incident as yet another opportunity to draw the attention of the Federal Government to its failings in this regard; and they appropriately seized it. No doubt, some of the reactions that trailed the incident have generated a lot of tension in the land. The bottom line, however, is that Nigerians want to feel secured while going about their legitimate daily activities, whether on the highway or elsewhere. They want to see those perpetrating heinous crimes across the country nabbed and brought to justice so as to serve as deterrent to others. And they believe this can be done if the government is determined and then takes some critical steps.
The reports below chronicle the highways across the country where criminals are having a field day, their modus operandi, people’s experiences in their hands, what the security agencies had done and/or are doing, and expert views on how criminality could be curbed on the roads.
‘Port Harcourt-Owerri Road, East West Road Now Criminals’ Den’
From Ann Godwin, Port Harcourt
In the past, residents and visitors to Rivers State rode smoothly for about 50 minutes to one hour to other neighbouring states in the South-South and South East zone through the federal highways. However, the story is different today as fears grip travellers and motorists on the roads following rising insecurity.
Some of the affected highways include the Port Harcourt-Owerri road, the Ahoada Ndele-Rumuji Emohua axis of the East-West road, the Mbiama, Nkpolu, and the Ogoni and Akwa Ibom areas of the East West road, among others. Many people have fallen victims of armed robbery, kidnapping and rape on these roads while some others had been killed.
Findings by The Guardian revealed that as a security measure, some wealthy Nigerians who reside or do business in places like Edo and Cross Rivers states, among others, now fly to Lagos first and then board another flight to Port Harcourt anytime they have something to do in Rivers State. On the other hand, some drivers and commuters who cannot afford such expenses now avoid the roads once it is 5.30pm.
In January 2019, four corps members and six other persons were kidnapped by hoodlums operating around the Emohua axis of the East West road. On April 26, 2019, two police escorts were killed and two staff of Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) were kidnapped by the bandits terrorising the Ahoada Ndele-Rumuji -Emohua axis of the East -west road. Also on June 18, a 14-passenger bus was hijacked at Iveku community axis of the East West road. All the passengers were abducted including the driver while the bus was left on the roadside.
Similar incidents had been recorded along the Port Harcourt-Owerri road as well as the Ogoni and the neighbouring routes to Akwa Ibom and Cross Rivers states.
Speaking on the ugly situation, an environmental activist in Port Harcourt, Mike Karipo, said it was untenable that the nation was experiencing high level of crimes on the nation’s highways without any appropriate action against such.
He said: “Everywhere you turn, you have kidnappers and armed robbers holding sway and it appears the government has lost its primary responsibility, which is to protect the citizens; it has failed woefully.
“I think something can still be done. I remember when former governor Chibuike Amaechi was in charge of the state, he vowed to eradicate criminals out of the state and he made progress. So, government can handle these challenges if it is serious,” Karipo said.
Karipo lamented that it had become difficult for residents to embark on any road journey immediately it is 12noon due to insecurity.
He lamented that the problem was affecting the nation’s economy, stressing that the idea behind the state police should be institutionalised, adding that new security architecture should be put in place to ensure the reduction of criminality in the country.
Also speaking with The Guardian, some drivers of a major transport company in Port Harcourt attributed the security challenges on the highway to bad roads and irresponsibility of the security personnel manning the highways.
One of the drivers, who identified himself as Chibueze said: “Our roads are very bad; the potholes give the kidnappers and armed robbers the opportunity to attack us because we cannot speed. Also, the police and army contribute. From Owerri to Port Harcourt, you have over 20 police check points. They will be there and yet these boys will attack us. What they do is to manhandle us and take money from us,” he said.
Drivers of another transport company in the state also raised similar concerns. They, however, called on the government to rise to its responsibilities and restore security on the highways.
Meanwhile, the State Police Command said it has adopted a new strategy to end perennial kidnapping along East-West road and Elele-Owerri road in the state.
The new Commissioner of Police in the state, Mustapha Dandaura, announced the strategies last week during his maiden briefing.
He said: “The state has been in the news for violent crimes such as cultism, kidnapping, armed robbery, killing and pipeline vandalism. I strongly pledge to end the attacks on the East-West road with my new deployments and re-strategisation to produce results in the shortest possible time. My administration will rest on five strategies, including intelligence-led policing, constructive engagement and community partnership as well as recovery of illegal arms.”
Imo Residents Bemoan Activities Of Hoodlums On The Roads
From Charles Ogugbuaja, Owerri
Chioma, a promising young lady working in one of the sprawling hotels in Owerri, the Imo State capital, was escorting her friend who had visited her last month when hoodlums forced them into their vehicle. They were immediately blindfolded and after several hours, they found themselves in a bush.
Her story after six days in captivity was really pathetic. “My brother, only God saved us. It was really an experience no body should encounter. The hoodlums just came in a commando style, forced everyone and zoomed off. The forest they are keeping people is terrible. Many were there, paying ransom of varying degrees. Those six days there was like years,” she said.
Investigations by The Guardian revealed that many people go through this situation on a daily basis in Imo State.
At the Imo Transport Company (ITC) and other loading bays, stories told by drivers and regular travellers to Rivers, Anambra and Enugu states were scaring. They narrated how hoodlums terrorise road travellers especially along Owerri-Umuapu-Elele-Port Harcourt road; Owerri-Okigwe- Enugu road; Orlu-Ideato road and Enugu-Onitsha road.
Checks also revealed that as a result of insecurity, commuters restrict their movements. Some who have the financial resources now resort to air travels.
Dr. Ada Isabela- Igbokwe said she preferred to travel by air, not only because it takes her faster to her destinations, but also to escape from insecurity on the roads.
Residents who spoke on the situation urged the government to beef up security on the affected routes.
“There are crimes everywhere. I want police to work harder and protect the citizens,” said Alex Mmanu, a resident.
Imo State Commissioner of Police, Rabiu Ladodo, however, assured that the Command was working hard to clear the forests where the abductors usually take their victims to in Elile, Ohaji /Egbema local councils.
His words: “We care for everybody. Security of lives and property is our primary mandate and must be carried out to the letter. Operatives of this command stormed the forest in Ohaji, killed three of the suspected kidnappers and freed the victims. I am accessible. Anybody that has useful information on how to arrest the hoodlums should feel free and come to me. I am a man of justice. I love anyone who practices justice.”
Okada-Ofosu Junction, Benin-Auchi Highway Flash Points In Edo
From Michael Egbejule, Benin City
The flash points of notorious criminal elements terrorising residents and motorists in Edo State include Okada Junction-Ofosu axis on the Benin-Lagos highway and Benin-Auchi highway, especially between Ehor and Ekpoma axis.
Recently, suspected kidnappers along the Benin-Ore-Sagamu highway killed a lecturer at the Igbinedion University, Okada (IUO), Mr. Kelvin Izevbekhai, when he attempted to escape when being marched into the forest by his abductors.
But the most recent kidnap case in the state occurred along Benin-Auchi road with the abduction of two Chinese nationals working with a glass and aluminum company in the state. They were abducted in Utesi community along the Benin-Auchi Road.
The victims were said to be on their way home after the close of work when the gunmen blocked their vehicle, killed their police guard and abducted them.
In an interview with The Guardian in Benin, the immediate past Chief Medical Director (CMD) of the University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH), Prof. Michael Ibadin, narrated his ordeal while in captivity some years ago as a victim. He described kidnapping as a highly organised crime.
“Commonly the victim would have been identified much earlier by an insider source who provides needed information on the victim. The location where the victim is kept is determined by the need to evade arrest. They will settle for hard to reach areas including places with natural barriers. Quite often, the agent of the sponsor handles negotiations,” he said.
The Professor of Pediatrics expressed dissatisfaction with the spate of insecurity ravaging the country, urging government to be committed to redressing the situation.
Highways Within Akwa Ibom Safe, Say Commuters
From Inemesit Akpan-Nsoh, Uyo
The persistent occurrences of kidnapping, robbery and killings on major highways in the country can be said to be history in Akwa Ibom State.
Few years ago, kidnappings and killings were common place in Iwukem, Etim Ekpo and Ukanafun local council areas of Akwa Ibom State and Azumini in Abia State. But the intervention of the state government through the amnesty programme in the last quarter of 2018, which made perpetrators of the heinous crimes to drop their arms, has restored peace to commuters plying those routes.
Other long distance routes used by transporters from Akwa Ibom State include Uyo-Lagos, Uyo-Port Harcourt, Uyo-Abuja and other northern states, Uyo-Calabar and Uyo- to eastern/western states, among others.
Speaking with The Guardian, a driver of the Akwa Ibom Transport Company who plies Uyo-Lagos routes, said the era of criminal activities on highways leading to the state was over.
“Since after the amnesty programme of the state government we have not seen kidnapping, killing or robbery on the roads especially within Akwa Ibom State. But once in a while we still see such incidences on our way to Lagos especially in Benin-Ore-Sagamu axis,” he said.
The Police Public Relations Officer in the state, Mr. Odiko MacDon, said that in order to sustain the peaceful atmosphere, the Command have been deploying more personnel to man interstate boundaries.
“I want to thank other sister agencies for the synergy and the state government for the support, which has gone along way to help reduce the issues of kidnapping and robbery on our roads,” he said.
Reconstruction Works Aiding Crimes On Enugu-Onitsha Road, Others
From Osiberoha Osibe, Awka
The Onitsha-Awka-Enugu expressway, Onitsha-Adani-Nsukka road and Onitsha-Owerri-Port Harcourt are the three major roads in the state where criminals strike with reckless abandon. The ongoing reconstruction of the Onitsha-Awka-Enugu and Onitsha-Owerri-Port Harcourt expressways by the Federal Government have forced transporters and commuters to ply arterial and hinterland link routes where kidnappers, armed robbers and cultists have continued to have a field day.
Recently, one Dr. Achugbu Paschal was kidnapped at Nawgu-Enugwu-Agidi-Amawbia road, off the Onitsha-Awka axis of Enugu-Onitsha expressway. His abductors demanded for a ransom of N4 million.
Similarly, the Onitsha-Adani-Nsukka expressway traversing Onitsha and Ayamelum local councils of the state have become hideouts for kidnappers and armed robbers who deal ruthlessly with their victims. Ditto the abandoned federal highway linking Anambra West local council with Ibaji area of Kogi State. Criminals have also turned the Anaku-Otuocha axis into a kidnappers’ den.
A commercial driver with a transport company in the state, Ozowia Onwuh lamented the situation, saying people were now afraid of traveling by road due to the menace of kidnappers and armed robbers.
Meanwhile, the newly posted state Commissioner of Police, John Bassey Abang, has directed both officers and men under his Command to brace up to the challenge of confronting various criminal activities currently bedeviling the state.
Plateau: High Hills, Rocky Terrains Serve As Hideouts For Highway Criminals
From Isa Abdulsalami Ahovi, Jos
In Plateau State, the major highways are Jos-Abuja road, Jos-Mangu-Pankshin-Langtang road, Jos-Mangu-Shendam road, Jos-Bauchi road, Jos-Kano road and Jos-Kaduna road. These highways link Jos to other states.
The hazardous experience in traveling along these highways is always the incident of armed robbery and kidnapping. There are high hills and rocky terrains along some of the major highways in the state, apart from forests and bushes, which serve as hideouts for criminal activities. The roads are also mostly in dilapidated shapes, as they are riddled with potholes and gully erosions.
These factors give criminals the opportunity to operate with impunity. The most dangerous axis are Kura Kampe around the hills in Barkin Ladi, Kwana Majiji along Mangu-Shendam road, and Pankshin-Kanke-Langtang hills where kidnappers operate and run back to the hills.
Last month, in Barkin Ladi, a lecturer at the Plateau State Polytechnic had his relative kidnapped but later released near Mararaban Jamaa after payment of ransom.
A victim of armed robbery on the highway, Mr. Dalyop Rwang, also narrated his experience to The Guardian. He said: “On July 12, when we finished selling our goods in Mangu and were returning to Barkin Ladi, we got to Kura Kampe about 7.00pm. It is less than half kilometre from the soldiers’ checkpoint at Dorowa in Barkin Ladi. We saw a very big stone rolled to the main road and a log of wood.
“There was no way the driver could move around it. He had to march automatic brake. Three people emerged with touch lights and guns and ordered us to bring out our phones and cash. It now dawned on us that the men were armed robbers. We gave them everything we had on us.
“Many other vehicles that came later also got the same treatment. After collecting everything from us, they ran back to the hills. We were still there when they left firing guns.”
Another victim, Peter Luka, also narrated his ordeal. “On July 10, 2019, we were coming from Abuja to Jos in a commercial vehicle. On reaching Gitata in Ja’ama local council of Kaduna state by noon, we saw somebody stopping our vehicle with a stick. Our driver slowed down. The next thing was that the man hit the vehicle with the stick.
“Suddenly, four people emerged from the bush in masks. One of them fired a gun in the air. They picked three of the passengers and took them into the bush. I did not know what yardstick they used in picking those three people. We discovered later that they were kidnappers. We later managed to come to Jos. Only God knows what happened to them.”
A driver with an inter-state transport company in Jos told The Guardian that marching brakes because of potholes led to his being attacked on a fateful day, adding that at times, vehicles breakdown as a result of bad roads only for armed robbers to seize the opportunity and attack.
‘Police Have Largely Secured Highways In Ogun’
From Charles Coffie Gyamfi, Abeokuta
In Ogun State, there are three major expressways that pass through the State — the Lagos-Ibadan, Abeokuta-Lagos and Sagamu-Ore expressways.
Kidnapping and armed robbery on these highways have not been rampant. This might be as a result of the daily patrol by the Highway Patrol team of the State Police Command.
In fact, the last kidnapping occurred in the state about a year ago when two medical doctors were kidnapped on the Sagamu-Ore expressway. Men from the State Police Command managed to rescue them. In the process, they shot two of the kidnappers dead.
An executive member of the Kuto branch of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Mr. Ekundayo Sotonwa, however, stated that armed robbers occasionally attack commuters on the roads due to their deplorable conditions.
He said: “The bad roads do not really cause kidnapping on the expressway; they only cause accidents. Though, I don’t really know much about kidnapping and robbery on the road but because of the deplorable conditions of the road, it is always easy for armed robbers to perpetrate their evil works. Once they see a driver slow down on the bad road, they attack immediately. But robbery and kidnapping in the past two years have not been like before. Before, it was dangerous to ply the road, especially Sagamu axis but now it has reduced.”
Spokesman of the state Police Command, Abimbola Oyeyemi confirmed that for the past one or two years, there hasn’t been any serious armed robbery or kidnapping on the highways within the state, saying the highway patrol team of the command was always on the alert.
The Commissioner of Police, Bashir Makama, also said: “We have our take away on this issue of kidnappings. We will not rest on our oars. We have identified the areas where cases of kidnappings are reported most and we have taken the fight to them. Even in the forest where we know that their camps are, we have taken the war to them there between Odogbolu, Ikenne and Sagamu. There is a very thick forest of rubber plantation there where they stay. We have combed that area and we are getting close because the place is so large. We are working in conjunction with the local hunters.”
In Bauchi, Drivers Allege Extortion By ‘Uniform Men’ At Night
From Rauf Oyewole, Bauchi
Drivers of different transport companies who ply Borno-Bauchi-Onitsha roads have expressed dissatisfaction with the conduct of some security men on the highway, who they accused of extortion.
A driver, who confided in The Guardian said: “I have been on the steering for more than 35 years, but what we face on our roads is very disheartening. I don’t like speaking about highway robbery because I know it won’t change anything. But it is very painful when uniform men that we have entrusted with securing lives and property now rob our passengers and us.
“I can tell you that our security men in some routes stop and rob us daily. Last week, two of them pointed gun at me and threatened to pull the trigger. They destroyed our passengers’ luggage and asked us to submit our cell phones and money; they went with it. We buy water, bread and other things for them because they keep lamenting their poor take home pay.”
A kidnap victim, Andy Bature and two other friends who were kidnapped on May 27, this year, while returning from Kaduna to Bauchi, told The Guardian how a victim was shot dead after a ransom of N46 million was paid by the victim’s relative.
“They asked us to cover his spilling blood with sand. Traveling by road is no longer safe. They collected N10 million each from us; it was God who saved us. We could have been killed but I thank God Almighty. We trekked more than 60 kilometers in the bush,” he said.
An official of GUO Transport Company said there has been a sharp drop in road travellers because of people’s concern for their safety.
“Normally, a luxurious bus caries 59 passengers and within a short period of time the bus is full. But now, we have to rake in passengers from neighbouring Gombe State before this bus gets full. Some of them complained that their lives and property are no longer safe,” he said.
A driver at the Bauchi State Transport Corporation (Yankari Transport), Yakubu Sani, said drivers now avoid traveling to Abuja at night because of the fear of robbers.
“We don’t pass through that route at night; it is very dangerous. We leave for Abuja at 6:00am and before 1pm we must have arrived. Some of our colleagues have been killed on that route,” he said.
‘Robbers Take Advantage Of Bad Spots To Attack Us’
From Tina Todo, Calabar
Although kidnapping has been a major problem within Calabar, Cross River State, of late, major highways in the state have been devoid of the insecurity plaguing Nigeria’s expressways. There are, however, occasional robbery incidents on Ikom-Ogoja highway.
The major challenge on the highways is their deplorable states. There were remedial works on the Calabar-Itu-Ikot Ekpene highway and Ikom-Ogoja highway sometimes last year but the roads have gone bad again.
Some road users plying the Ikom-Ogoja highway said the major problems they experience on the road are robbery, harassment by security officers and deplorable state of the roads.
A driver, who plies the road on a daily basis, Ekim Mbo, said that armed robbers take advantage of the potholes at night to rob massagers and drivers.
“As far as driving is concerned we are managing our lives but our roads are bad. The government only patched some parts of the roads sometime last year but the job didn’t last; now we are having more potholes on the highway. We don’t understand because they keep telling us how they are going to fix the roads but we are still where we are.
“When it comes to security agencies, check points are everywhere and most times we are apprehended for no reason. In terms of robbery, our roads are not safe. Armed robbers take advantage of the bad spots to carry out their actitvities. On kidnaping, we don’t have it on Cross River highways but we have been hearing of such within town; but not on the highways,” Mbo said.
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