Victim narrates how robbers terrorised passengers on Benin-Ore highway
By Cosmas Omegoh
Victims of the robbery on the Ore-Sagamu Road on Saturday, June 11 are still counting their losses days after the ugly incident.
Passengers and commuters who were travelling from the Benin axis on that day were allegedly handed a taste of hell by the robbers who waylaid them at a forested area near Ore.
A victim, Mr Edward Agbawo, who received a hit on his neck, said the incident happened at about 1pm. He said the bus he was travelling in, as well as other buses, was attacked shortly after leaving Ore, Ondo State. He said men of the Nigeria police later arrived at the scene and scared away the robbers after the bandits had had a field day.
In 2013, there was outrage following the kidnap of five people on a passenger vehicle travelling shortly before Ore. The victims’ family allegedly paid some undisclosed sums of money as ransom before their relatives could regain their freedom.
Last April, there was a reported incident of armed robbery and kidnapping of passengers on an overnight journey from Lagos to the East. The incident happened at Ore too.
According to a victim, Innocent Godsreal, the sad incident was allegedly committed by some robbers who admitted that they were ex-militants. They later collected ransom and released their victims after holding them captive deep in the forest for five days.
When Godsreal walked into Daily Sun office to tell his story, he described his experience as a real walk through the valley of the shadow of death. “But God was with us as we were redeemed five days later from the claws of death.”
He recalled how the bus he and his co-travellers were riding in encountered the robbers and kidnappers at a location near Ore when their vehicle ran into a roadblock which the robbers had mounted.
He said the bandits robbed no fewer than 30 passengers in the bus. Then they took away five people: four men and one lady including Godsreal deep inside the forest. The victims spent five days in the bush. Their relatives paid a ransom before their captors could free them.
The incident of June 11, according to Agbawo, happened early in the afternoon. He said everyone saw the robbers. He recalled that the robbers intercepted the vehicles in a commando style, forced the passengers to lie face down on the paved road and robbed them. He said the passengers might have numbered more than 20 because they were robbing motorists on both sides of the dual carriage way. He said while some robbed from the front, the other bandits robbed from the rear. They threatened terrified toddlers who were screaming, ordering the parents of such babies to keep them quiet. It was when the robbers heard the approach of the police that they fled, taking some people along.
Agbawo said: “I was returning to Lagos from the village on that fateful day. We left Anara, Isiala-Mbano that morning at 8am. Our driver did so well that shortly after noon, we had reached Ore. He then pulled up at a restaurant for people to have lunch and stretch their legs. Ore is the usual point where drivers stop to refuel and where passengers eat.
“It was approaching 1pm when we left the town and began to press for Lagos. Then we hit a long stretch of the road, from where we could see nearly a kilometre ahead. There were about four sprinter buses travelling ahead of us. I mean the one people call Hummer buses. Ours was trailing but there were other vehicles behind too. Then suddenly, two young men burst out from the forest, each wielding a raised AK 47 riffle. They kept yelling stop, stop, ordering the buses to stop.
“To announce their seriousness, they began firing sporadically into the air. Then commotion followed. There was screeching of tyres here and there; the driver all began to stop, with some avoiding hitting others or swerving into the bush or even hitting the road median.
“Ours was the fourth bus in the convoy. When our driver observed what was going on, he quickly stopped and engaged the reverse gear. So did other vehicles behind. Everyone was struggling to escape the scene when suddenly we began hearing gunshots ringing out from the back.
“Unknown to us, the robbers had divided themselves into many parts. While some were in front, some were at the back. They kept firing, so we all became helpless. That was how they swooped on us. Some of them had guns while a few wielded machetes and cudgels.
“When they stormed our bus everyone was terrified. Then one of the robbers started breaking the vehicle glasses, ordering the passengers out. As he broke the glasses, the broken pieces began flying all over the place. Then pandemonium ensued as people began scampering out.
“In the course of rushing out, a desperate passenger tripped a keg of oil in the vehicle and its contents began to spill. In a matter of seconds, the spot we were was covered with red oil. Without caring a hoot, the robbers asked everyone to lie face down on the oil-covered spot, threatening to shoot anyone who dared to disobey them. So, instantly everyone complied. Worse of all, it was such a hot afternoon, and the paved road was emitting terrible heat; it felt like hell and nobody dared say a word.
“Just as I was alighting from the vehicle, the robber from the back hit the lower part of my neck. He was apparently targeting my neck but missed it narrowly. Jolted, I fell to the ground and lay face down.
“While the robbers in front were raiding us, those at the back were dealing with the people at the rear. I observed that no vehicle was passing through the alternate lane, meaning that they were robbing people there too.”
Agbawo said as much as he knew, no life was lost during the incident. He said he was lucky that apart from the hit to the neck, he lost nothing substantial before the police arrived.
“As soon as the robber came over to the spot where I was lying, we started hearing gunshots at the back. What we later heard was that some policemen who were alerted to the robbery raced to the scene, and from afar, they started firing shots apparently to scare them away. So when they heard the gunshots, the robbers bolted. The one who was robbing us simply and leisurely walked into the bush. Still afraid, we were lying face down until the police arrived to ask us to stand up. Some of us were still in the position thinking that the robbers were still in command.”
He recalled that one of the robbers’ marksmen was such a young man in his early 20s. He informed that by the time they were gone, a man who lay beside him said minus the gun the robber was carrying, he could have subdued the young bandit with just a blow to the head.
He recalled that the fleeing robbers took along with them some passengers, one of them a young man. The robbers told the young to bring along the bag he was travelling with.
“We had concluded that they were robbers and kidnappers. We feared that they had taken the man away only to ask for some ransom later or to use him for some other purpose. But while everyone was bemoaning his lot, he emerged from the forest, but without his bag. The robbers asked him to fetch his bag which they later collected from him,” he said.
The Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) Ondo State Command, Mr Femi Joseph, said he was not aware of the incident. But he noted: “It was not impossible that our men on patrol in the axis came handy and foiled the robbery.”
The police spokesman was unhappy that the victims didn’t report the incident. “Since it involved people on transit, as long as everyone was safe, they probably moved on. But we thank God that no casualty was recorded,” he noted.
He told the reporter that the Ondo State Police Command had intensified action on the Ore axis, leading to the arrest of hoodlums and kidnappers who were terrorising the area.
“Just last week, we paraded the suspects who kidnapped two reverend sisters and asked for ransom. We also arrested one of their wives who kept their guns. We also arrested and paraded a man who threatened to kidnap his victim if he failed to give him the sum of N500,000. Also arrested and paraded was a man who kidnapped a bride in Ore area on the eve of his weeding.”
He described the June 11 highway robbery incident in Ore as unfortunate and assured travellers of their safety. He maintained that the police in the axis were doing their level best to ensure that hoodlums in the area were all subdued and despatched to jail.