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Nigeria: Travellers in Trouble as kidnappers turn Edo roads into dark spots

 Nigeria: Travellers in Trouble as kidnappers turn Edo roads into dark spots Edo State is in the news again as kidnappers have found safe ha...

 Nigeria: Travellers in Trouble as kidnappers turn Edo roads into dark spots

Edo State is in the news again as kidnappers have found safe haven forests by the sides of highways in some parts of the state, ADEYINKA ADEDIPE writes that many motorists and commuters have fallen into the hands of the evil men

Drivers and commuters have continued to face a harrowing experience in the hands of daredevil kidnappers on the Benin-Ekpoma-Auchi Road, which serves as a link between the southern and the northern parts of Nigeria. The last two weeks have witnessed some of the most heartless attacks on unsuspecting members of the public, who are either killed or held captive in the forest for huge ransoms. What is more heart-wrenching is the fact that some of the victims are the downtrodden, who cannot afford the ransoms that the men of the underworld are demanding.

The first victim of the recent surge in kidnapping activities is the Chairman of the Esan Central Local Government Area of Edo State, Prof. Waziri Edokpa, who was abducted on November 20 by suspected kidnappers along Benin-Ekpoma Road. On the same day, all the passengers in a bus of a popular transport company travelling to Abuja from Benin were abducted and the driver reportedly killed.

Immediately the news of the abduction of the local government chairman got to his colleagues, a reliable source confirmed that the chairmen of the five local government councils in Esan met with the Commissioner of Police, Johnson Kokumo, to find a lasting solution to the problem.

READ ALSO: About 400 pupils kidnapped after gunmen stormed secondary school in Katsina Nigeria

It seems that the efforts of the local government chairmen did not yield the needed result as the kidnappers became more daring in their operations, attacking commuters at will. The next victim was a schoolteacher at the Iriwa Primary School, Ohordua, Mr Paul Aluola, and his wife, a petty trader at Ewatto in the Esan South East Local Government Area of the state. They were abducted on November 30 while returning home from another part of the state.

It was learnt that the couple were travelling on the Ewatto-Ubiaja Road and had approached the bridge on the Ellah River when gunmen opened fire on the vehicle in which they were commuting and forced it to stop. The kidnappers then dragged them out of the vehicle and marched them into the bush.

The kidnappers demanded N15m as ransom for the couple. However, the couple were said to have regained their freedom late on Friday, but it was not clear whether ransom was paid or not to secure their release.

It was the turn of an Edo councillor to taste the bitter pills of kidnappers. The councillor representing Ward 1 in Ewohimi, Esan South East Local Government Area of the state, Israel Inyanabor, was abducted on Wednesday last week in the same place where the Aluola couple were seized by gunmen.

The councillor was said to be driving on the dreaded road when armed men suddenly emerged from the nearby bush and opened fire on his car, which forced him to stop in order to avoid being hit by bullets.

With the success recorded in previous attacks, the gunmen took their nefarious activities to a new level when they took over the road on Thursday last week      causing accidents and abducting some commuters with an eyewitness saying they had a field day selecting from their captives, who to take into the forest before demanding ransom.

The eyewitness told The PUNCH that the kidnappers, after seizing a commercial bus, forced the passengers to disembark and led them into the bush, while forcing the driver to block the road with his bus in an attempt to force oncoming vehicles to stop.

The source stated that a lorry driver, who saw that the road was blocked, suspected that it might be the handiwork of kidnappers, refused to stop and rammed his vehicle into the bus, while other drivers who sensed danger on the road, parked their vehicles and hoped that security operatives would come to their rescue.

In this particular raid, a member of a vigilante group in the area was shot dead when he attempted to disrupt the operations of the gunmen.

The state Police Public Relations Officer, Chidi Nwabuzor, confirmed the development and gave an assurance that efforts were on to rid forests in the state of criminals.

He said, “Yes, the command is aware of the incident, but we have yet to ascertain the number of passengers kidnapped. Unfortunately, a member of one of the vigilante groups was killed during a gun duel with the kidnappers. Efforts are currently ongoing through bush-combing to free those kidnapped.”

While it was becoming unsafe on the highways, the streets of Benin were also heated as kidnappers in November seized a younger brother of the Deputy Governor of Edo State, Frederick Shaibu, while he was driving his kids to school in Irhiri, Benin. He was released two days later and it is not known if a ransom was paid.

A pregnant woman, Uju Okwudili, was also kidnapped in Irhiri, with the abductors demanding a ransom of N5m; she was later released a few days later.

A commuter, Christiana Tanimola, told The PUNCH that the bus that conveyed her from Auchi to Benin had to stop when they got a hint that kidnappers were on the road abducting passengers and motorists.

She said, “I was on my way from Auchi to Benin about two weeks ago, when we saw buses and lorries parked on the road. The bus conveying me also parked and when I inquired what was happening, some people were surprised, while others simply asked if I did not know that kidnappers and armed robbers were kings on that road.

“I was shocked because the people acted as if it was a normal thing in that area. Some portions of the road are also very bad, which aid the activities of the gunmen, while the bushes close to the road need to be cleared. I believe if these two things are done, it will help commuters on that route. I also saw that the police, who mounted a roadblock a few metres away, were not bothered and did not intervene.

“If the security situation does not improve, people like me who come from the North to do business in Edo will not be encouraged to do so any more.”

However, the joint efforts of the vigilantes, hunters and the police yielded result in one of their operations to arrest the hoodlums as two suspected kidnappers were arrested in Ibillo, Akoko-Edo Local Government Area of the state.

The suspects were said to have kidnapped two boys, who were running an errand for their boss on the Igarra-Ibillo Road, and the vigilantes and police were promptly alerted, who mobilised and stormed their hideouts somewhere in Ibillo, where they were arrested.

A bus driver, Obobaifo Imasuen, commended the police for the arrest but noted that more needed to be done to rid the road and the entire state of unscrupulous elements.

Imasuen stated, “I think the police did well to arrest the two kidnappers, because it will send a signal to the others that the security agencies are ready to dislodge them from the road.

“However, some of us plying this road are always scared and we pray not to encounter the people on the road. I once escaped with my passengers from an attack, but some drivers have not been lucky and they have lost their lives. What do you want the family of such drivers to do? How do you want them to survive when their breadwinners have been killed? I hope the state government will work with the security agencies to rid that road of kidnappers and armed robbers.”

A resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity, lamented that the activities of men of the underworld had robbed Benin City of nightlife with residents rushing home after the close of work or business.

He said, “We rejoiced when the joint security team led by the Army battled the cultists to a standstill and arrested criminals, who were paraded at the police headquarters. But it seems that as the government and the police finish one battle, another one comes up.

“If anyone had told me that the highways would again turn to a kidnappers’ den, I would have argued. But it seems that the bad men are not relenting, which means that the police must redouble their efforts to combat the menace, and I believe they also need the cooperation of the general public.”

Kokumo, while condemning the activities of kidnappers in the state, gave an assurance that the state police command, with the help of other security outfits, would rid the state of kidnappers and other criminal elements.

He stated, “I said some time ago that we have the support of the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, to increase police visibility on our roads. If you go on that route now, you will see that the police are stationed at reasonable intervals. We have also embarked on intelligence gathering and some of the kidnappers have been arrested. But we don’t want to make their arrest public because they are still helping us in our investigation to apprehend more of their members and very soon, we will have them in the net.

“We are also trying to re-arrest the almost 2,000 escapees from the Oko and Benin prisons. If we still have them in circulation, definitely one should expect an upsurge in crime. We want to return them to where they belong, so that we will have respite in the state and also ensure that the good people of Edo State can sleep with their two eyes closed.

“We have it on good authority that those who escaped from prison are part of the gunmen terrorising people on that road. We have arrested some of them and paraded them last Friday. We will not rest on our laurels until we get rid of all of them and make the entire road peaceful and passable for commuters.”

The CP added that the state government was supporting the security agencies in the fight against kidnapping and other criminal activities.

He said, “We have the support of the state government in this fight against crime. Currently, we have the joint security patrol comprising the police, Army, Air Force, DSS, civil defence and Immigration. We also do joint shows of force and we also go out together to confront criminal elements. We also make arrests to deter would-be criminals.

“The government is also helping to clear bushes around the road, which is partly responsible for kidnapping on that route. The government is also supporting us with patrol vehicles, while government engineers have already gone to inspect the police stations that were burnt down when the #EndSARS protest was hijacked by hoodlums. Hopefully, they will be rebuilt very soon to help us fight crime in those areas.”


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