Sola Ojo, Kaduna

In the early 2000s, kidnapping in Nigeria was almost exclusive to oil-rich South-South, where criminal gangs, and sometimes, activists abducted expatriates for ransom or to call for attention. Then, the cases of kidnapping were not widespread and were on many occasions dislodged by security agencies in a manner of days.

However, the game has changed. Today, kidnapping is a booming industry, recruiting thousands of youths. Thousands have been successfully kidnapped across Nigeria while hundreds of innocent souls have been killed, either by their abductors or as a result of the horrifying environment of during captivity.

Even worse is that the menace has migrated from the South-South to other parts of the country including the North, residing particularly in Kaduna State. This combined with other forms of crimes have become a horrifying experience for the people. There is hardly a week, without an awful story of kidnapping on the Kaduna-Abuja Expressway or on the Kaduna-Birni Gwari highway. Travellers have all fallen to kidnappers on these highways of hell while millions have been extorted from their relatives.

For example, in 2017, two German archaeologists were kidnapped and their tour guard gunned down around Jere axis of the road. It was on the same highway that a former education commissioner in Katsina State, Professor Halimatu Saadiyya, was killed. He was murdered near Gidan Busa village.

Chairman, Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), Muhammad Abubakar, and his daughter were equally abducted while his driver was killed on that same road. And just recently, a pastor with the Living Faith Church, Angwan Romi, Jeremiah Omolewa, was killed on his way back to Kaduna from Abuja while his wife was whisked away and held in captivity until ransom was paid to the gang.

Three students of the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, were abducted along the Abuja – Kaduna Highway. They were Fatima Jalingo, Maryam Bello and Umar Sagir, all final year students. The university’s Director of Public Affairs, Dr. Ismai’l Shehu, had informed the public:  “Three students of the Faculty of Law were kidnapped on the Kaduna-Abuja Expressway. But efforts are being made by the university and parents of the affected students to secure their immediate release.”

State Police Command, formally announced their freedom: “The three ABU students involved in the incident of August 26, 2019, along Kaduna-Abuja road have been released today and they were reunited with their families accordingly.

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“At about 6:50pm on Monday, armed men in military uniform intercepted some commuters along Kaduna-Abuja Expressway and opened fire on the vehicles and in the process kidnapped six persons.

“But, due to the prompt response of the police and other security agents to the scene, three people were later released by the hoodlums due to intensive combing of the area. The rescued persons alongside the abandoned vehicles were recovered to police station.”

A victim who recently escaped being kidnapped along the same highway told Daily Sun: “Those guys are wicked. They have good guns with them. Some of them looked un-kept. My experience happened like three kilometres away from the NYSC camp. I have decided never to travel on that road until the dust is settled. We were coming from Abuja. We were waylaid by fake soldiers, but somehow, our driver was able to escape.”

The state wing of the Christians Association of Nigeria (CAN), condemned the incessant abduction of Christians and members of other faiths along these highways. Its chairman, Reverend Joseph Hayab, lamented that several people were killed. He added that huge amount of ransom was paid to these criminals by the relatives of their victims even as he decried the seeming inability of the security agencies to secure the people from the menace of kidnappers.

Chairman, Council of Ulama, Sheikh Ibrahim Nakaka said: “Kidnapping has become a nationwide security challenge and the criminals as well as their victims cut across ethno-religious divides. For instance, along Birnin Gwari-Kaduna Road alone, between June 22 and July 30, 2019, over 55 persons were kidnapped and over 20 persons killed, including five Nigerian Air Force and Army personnel, according to news reports.

“Specifically, majority of the citizens killed and kidnapped along Birnin Gwari, Giwa, Igabi and Abuja-Kaduna roads and the border towns with Niger, Katsina and Zamfara states have been Muslims. We have always condemned the act of criminality and have called on the state and the Federal Government to protect the lives and properties of all Nigerians, irrespective of where they are or how they worship.

“Government, through security agencies need to do more in the area of local intelligence.” He urged the agencies to identify and purge themselves of bad eggs within their folds, “so that the identity of the local residents who give intelligence to them would be protected.

“Already, due to past experiences, local residents prefer to concede perceived criminal elements among them so they could live.” Nakaka also enjoined the various tiers of government to invest heavily in technology to address the multiple security challenges.