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Criminals on the highway

•Robbers, kidnappers, ritualists takeover major roads

By Henry Umahi ([email protected])

While returning from the 80th birthday celebration of Nigeria’s former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, which took place in Abeokuta, former Managing Director of the Daily Times of Nigeria Plc, Dr Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo, was involved in a motor accident. And the man died.

He was trying to escape from an armed robbery blockade few metres to Akure when he was hit by an oncoming vehicle. Indeed, the Adinioyi-Ojo experience best illustrates the situation in the nation’s highways.  Nigerian roads have become death traps to travellers  because of the deplorable state and the grave insecurity.

Nigeria could be said to be in the Hobbesian state of nature where life is nasty, brutish and short. Putting the matter in perspective,  Mr. Sammy Ajah,  remarked: “Armed robbers are kings in the country. Or, so it seems. How do you describe a situation where,  on daily basis, you hear reports about men and women of the underworld taking over major roads and expressways in broadday light and subjecting travellers to all manner of physical, emotional and psychological torture? It’s is as if the common people have been abandoned to their fate.”

Travelling on the nation’s highways is like a journey through the valley of the shadow of death. It is akin to dancing on a mine laden field. If you travel successfully from one point to another, count yourself lucky. In fact, anything can happen to you on the highway anytime.

Like robbers, like kidnappers

The unsafe nature of the highway is not resticted to the operations of armed robbers. Kidnappers are also running riot unchallenged. Consider this: A few weeks before Adinoyi-Ojo met his end, Mr Charles Idemudia, a staff of the Nigeria Breweries Plc, was kidnapped close to Ehor while traveling to his village, Ewhohi, in Uromi in Edo State. Initially, the kidnappers asked for a N100 million ransom but later settled for N5 million. However, the family was only able to raise N900,000.

Perhaps, angry that their demand was not met or that the Idemudias did not act fast enough, the kidnappers told the family, after about six days, that the situation had changed. They told the Idemudia family that it should use the ransom to buy coffin for son’s burial. They shot him on the shoulder and fore head. His corpse was dumped along the highway.

Similarly, the president of the United Church of Christ in Nigeria, Rev. Emmanuel Dziggau, was kidnapped alongside two other clergy men, his deputy, Rev. Illiya Anto and Yakubu Dzarma, along Kaduna – Abuja Expressway.  Rev. Anto did not survive the ordeal.

For the family of  Emenike Ihekwaba, an architect and principal secretary in Imo deputy governor’s office, life cannot be more cruel. For sometime, the family has been weeping in the valley of tears, following the kidnap of their bread winner without a trace.

Recounting the incident that turned the family’s story upside down, the technocrat’s wife, Dr Chinyere Ihekwaba, in uncontrollable tears, told the reporter: “There were two functions we set out for that morning. We left from our house here in Owerri that morning for the thanksgiving service at Awka-Ugiri. At exactly noon, we left the church after giving what we had. On getting to Amaraku, we stopped as we usually did to buy goat meat because my husband likes goat meat pepper soup. As we got there, we called the boy selling the meat and told him we were around. We parked the car by the side of the road and my husband stepped out. I was inside with the driver. He came back with the boy and the boy dropped the meat in front of the car (passenger’s side). My own door was open because the car engine was switched off. As he was about opening his own door and I closing mine, a white SUV parked in front of us and three hefty men wearing bullet proof vests with the inscription ‘Police’ and carrying heavy guns came out. They forced him into the boot of their vehicle and took him away.”

She added that the family coughed out N10 million and three bottles of Hennessy as ransom to the kidnappers but they have not seen him. No one knows if the man is alive or dead. 

Take this from Dr Ona Ekhomu, a security expert: “Let me give an example that I know personally from my own area in Edo State. I am from Edo Central Senatorial Zone; in that area there are herdsmen armed in the bushes. The herdsmen use to come from the bush and stay on Igwegbe road. When a car is coming, they start firing at the car until it comes to a halt. Some people will be killed; some will be injured. They will rob every one and kidnap one or two persons in the car. Thereafter, they start calling the relatives of the victims, who will arrange money for them. Eventually, the people in my local government got angry and they defended themselves.”

He added: “Kidnapping is the biggest security threat we have right now in this country. Sometimes they even assassinate people. You know that in Nigeria, instead of solving problems we try to romance the problems  or dance around them. Based upon police reports and victims’ testimonies, we know that herdsmen are all over the country and many of them are committing the crime of kidnap. They do it because of the large ungoverned spaces in the country. Nobody is protecting the bushes. So, they do whatever they like unchallenged. They are used to trekking in the bush. So, when they kidnap people and take them on a three hour trekking, just know it’s a herdsman job. I’ve started telling people to always travel with trekkers so that if they kidnap you, you put on your trekkers.”

Ritualists too

Ritualists also see the highway as favourite hunting ground. A 400 level student of Osun State University (UNIOSUN), Adebisi Rofiat Damilola, was a victim of ritual killers recently. A commercial bus driver, Elijah Oyebode, confessed that a herbalist gave him the contract to procure a young lady for ritual and he got Adebisi.

“I took her (the victim) from Ipetu-Ijesa. There were other passengers in my vehicle that day. The girl matched the specification that the herbalist gave me. He said I should bring a lady that has never bore a child. When I saw the student, I was sure that she had not given birth to a child,” he said in Yoruba.

Disclosing that the medicine man gave him a charm with which he hynotised the girl, making her lose her senses, Elijah added: “After dropping other passengers at their various destinations, I took the lady to the herbalist’s house in Ikirun and he gave me N10,000. I pitied the lady when I was leaving because I knew she would not come out alive. My conscience was telling me that what I did was bad.”

Despite Elijah’s conscience pricking him as he claimed, he went to a bush to dump Adebisi’s luggage. Then he took her phone and removed the sim card. He sold the phone for N20,000, meaning that a human being is by far cheaper than phone by the consideration of killers.     

There are stories of women being raped on the highways. A student of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka who refused to identify herself said that she had tasted the bestiality of a gang on the highway.

Hear her: “The other day, I was going back to school from Lagos and along the way some men started quarelling inside the bus. There was a heated argument over something. Later, they started fighting seriously. The driver continued as they fought but some passengers were shouting, asking the driver to park before someone gets injured. But as soon as the driver cleared off the road, somewhere in Edo State, those men fighting pulled out guns. We did not know that the men were members of a gang. They took our phones, money and other valuables. That was not all. They took some women inside the bush and raped them. A woman and her daughter were raped.” 

Way out

Ekhomu opined that local knowledge and local input are needed to solve the problem. He canvassed for something similar to the civilian JTF battling Boko Haram in the north.

According to him, “retired soldiers and policemen in various communities  should be involved. These people already have training orientation. We can make them part of the town or community JTF, vanguard or vigilante; tell them that you don’t want criminals to come and kidnap people anyhow. They can stop or prevent kidnap from occuring because they can challenge, a lot of them can handle guns. I’m not saying that we should give anybody automatic weapons because that will become a threat to the whole community. Dane guns can be issued by the local police division or station to them for work and returned. And if there is any incident, they should be investigated. But in a situation where we are thinking that the under manned, under equipped, under managed police force is going to do anything, they wont do anything. The police will only come after the victim had been killed or whatever. Then they will go and arrest some people. That is medicine after death. We don’t want anybody to be kidnapped. In case we don’t know, kidnapping is terrorism.         

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