•Commuters see hell on Benin by-pass over daylight robbery attacks •Our ordeal–Victims •The cattle rearers connection
By CHIOMA IGBOKWE
In 2002 the Benin bypass was opened to traffic by the Obasanjo administration. The bypass, stretching about 24 kilometers, connects the Ore-Benin road with the Benin-Asaba end. It was planned to save commuters the stress of getting stuck in the highly congested city.
When it was opened, it brought relief to motorists and residents of the Edo State capital. Just as commuters were about to heave a sigh of relief that their worst nightmares were over, armed robbers took over the by-pass. Now it appears that they operate almost on a daily basis, in broad daylight, without impunity. With yuletide season around the corner, their activities on that road seem to have heightened.
Saturday Sun reporter, who was on the spot shortly after robbers took over the road for 30 minutes, spoke with drivers and passengers who related their ugly experiences. One of the commuters, Madam Shola, lamented that she was ready to spend more hours in Benin than to board any vehicle that dares to pass through the by-pass. Shouting, she scolded her driver for daring to convince her that the road was crime-free.
“I warned him and he would not listen; I prefer to sleep in Benin because of the congestion along that road to okada to being caught in the fire of those robbers. I lost my cousin last year on this road. We were travelling home for an event with our private car. They robbed us and still killed him. It’s a painful experience. It’s terrible because then there were different police checkpoints along that road and yet they operated undeterred.
You can imagine what is happening now that the police have been removed completely.” Sir Aloysius, who was a victim, severally lamented that he stopped travelling to his village as often as he should because he has to save money to travel by air. “I am not planning to meet them, that is why I prefer to borrow and fly across Benin to becoming a meat for those highway robbers. They rendered my brother useless.
He was shot at in an attempt to escape. It became so regular that I decided that enough was enough. I prefer to travel once a year alive to passing that road. I pity those who are travelling to the village for the Yuletide season. All these experiences happened when roadblocks were still there. You can imagine the situation of things.
I live in Asaba and from Benin, fly to Lagos.” Another victim, Chigozie, a banker lamented that in one of the encounters, he left his car on the road and fled back to Benin inside a truck. “Severally, I have had course to flee into the bush on that by-pass. It’s a terrible situation and most annoying that police is not doing anything about it. Last week, on my way to the village, we saw them. Luckily for us, we were far behind.
I left my car and flee for my life. It took another 30 minutes for us to get signal that the road was clear. Who am I to enter that car again? I had to find my way back to Benin. This is one out of so many. The IGP promised that there would be regular patrol on the highway, why have they not been able to curb the excesses of these robbers.” Another victim Ben, said: “Few days ago, I lost everything to these men. I actually called the police in Benin and they told me to give the robbers what they wanted and be left alone.
We were lucky because I was actually carrying a corpse home, and the boys told me that they have respect for the dead, that’s why they will not hurt me. I pity the women, especially the young ones because those bad boys will end up raping them. It’s a terrible experience.” And for the drivers, it’s all about luck. Some of the drivers said some of the nomads who graze their cattle along that route also double as robbers in the night and dispossess travellers of their belongings. Steve lamented that in his years of driving Benin by-pass remains the most dangerous spot on the highways.
“It’s no longer news that this place is dangerous. We only pray that luck should be on our side. If you are travelling, for example, and you are on 80 kilometres per hour and crossing the by-pass, cross the place as quickly as you can. If you are approaching Agbor town, it is also dangerous. People complain also about Okada, Ondo; but for these places, it is once in a while. The Benin by-pass is worse. The Nigerian police are even tired of these boys who are normally heavily armed.” Just like Steve, Mr. Ekekwe insisted that it is only God and luck that can guarantee that the road would be free.
“It’s a terrible experience. That’s why, whenever I get to that spot, I will immediately change to a gospel music in the hope that God will help me pass through that road without stumbling into these men of the underworld. When there were police checkpoints, they operated freely. The IGP should help us, by ensuring regular patrol on that road. It’s so bad that I am forced to believe that security officials parley with them.”