Noah Ebije, Kaduna
Travellers can exit Kaduna, the State capital and as well come into it through major four highways, depending on which one they choose to travel to their destinations. The highways are: Kaduna- Abuja, Kaduna-Zaria, Kaduna-Kachia and Kaduna-Birnin Gwari highway.
But in the last few weeks, travelers on these major highways have been in perpetual fear as kidnappers and bandits have taken over the roads, kidnapping motorists as well as farmers, demanding millions of naira as ransom. This is aside incidences of female students and school staff being kidnapped in Chikun and Kajuru, among other local government areas in the State.
Highways of banditry, kidnapping
The story is not palatable along Kaduna-Zaria highway as hundreds of persons from about 17 villages in Igabi local government area have fled their homes due to threat of attack by armed bandits. The 17 communities border Birnin Gwari local government, which has been terrorised by bandits and kidnappers over the years. The villages include: Sauran Giwa, Kyauro, Jura, Anguwan Gide, Dallatu, and Kosau among others, all in Igabi West constituency.
The villagers in their hundreds are currently taking refuge at the Birnin Yero primary school along Kaduna-Zaria expressway. Some of the victims, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they received threat messages from bandits on a daily basis and were left with no option than to flee their villages for their dear lives.
At the camp, the villagers mostly women and children, were seen with some household materials, including sleeping and cooking items. One of them, Salamatu Mohammed, who said they were living like Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), disclosed that a top government functionary has come to their aid with bags of rice to cushion the effect of hunger.
According to her, the government functionary, who she said was a Commissioner but could not tell which of the ministries, sent in 10 bags of rice and 20 litres of oil for their feeding.
Again, almost at the same time the Kaduna-Zaria incident happened, armed bandits kidnapped some travellers along Kachia-Kaduna highway, and abandoned two cars belonging to the victims by the road.
Soldiers on patrol along the highway were said to have arrived the scene of the incident after the kidnappers had taken the occupants of the two cars- Golf wagon with registration number Lagos, EJ 970 and Toyota Sport KUB 572 AA away, into the bush. The kidnappers were said to have abducted the occupants of the vehicles at gunpoint between Sabengi and Ido villages, along Kachia highway.
However, a motorist, Bege Mark, who escaped the kidnap incident by the whiskers sent a text message to the Kaduna State Chairman, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Reverend Joseph Hayab, saying, “ Pharmacist Boat Barnabas of Federal Ministry of Health has been kidnapped with other people along Kachia-Kaduna road. I am at the scene, but three minutes delay of travelling saved me, I would have gone”.
For Birnin-Gwari highway, gunmen suspected to be kidnappers allegedly killed one person and abducted five others including a primary school head teacher in what appeared to be coordinated attacks in some villages in Birnin Gwari local government area.
A source in one of the affected villages who spoke on condition of anonymity alleged that, the gunmen attacked a filling station in Doka village along Funtua road at about 1pm on Wednesday (last week), shot and killed one of the fuel attendants, injured two others and later took two other persons away.
However, Chairman of Birnin Gwari Vanguards, Ibrahim Nagwari in a statement identified the abducted head teacher as AbdulHafiz Abdullahi of Dangamji primary school. Ibrahim said, “armed bandits have abducted the head teacher of Dangamji primary school, AbdulHafiz Abdullahi and two others at Doka filing station, while two others were shot and seriously wounded.
“Earlier on Wednesday morning around 8.30am, heavily armed bandits, opened fire on vehicles around Polwaya and abducted a bread vendor, about 10 kilometers from Birni-Gwari. Similarly, the armed bandits struck again on Wednesday near Gayam village, wounded three vigilantes and abducted people from vehicles.
“The notorious Unguwar Yako, Kwanan Mahaukaciya and indeed entire Birnin-Gwari-Kaduna highway has been overtaken by bandits terrorising and abducting innocent people especially women and children. In the last three weeks, armed bandits have launched a major onslaught against innocent civilians and motorists across the length and breath of Birnin-Gwari local government.
“On a daily basis, the armed bandits carry their nefarious act along Birnin-Gwari-Kaduna highway in broad day light without any challenge from the security personnel that are stationed in Birnin-Gwari.
“The strategic Birnin-Gwari-Funtua road has been deserted, while the entire Eastern part of Birnin-Gwari neighboring Zamfara and Katsina States is now surrounded by armed bandits. It is apparent to state categorically, that, Birnin-Gwari is once again under siege by bandits and the handful security personnel and state officials are paying leap service to the our plight of general insecurity of lives and property.
“We have noticed with dismay, the way and manner our people are subjected to horrified and traumatised situation by the armed bandits that prey on human beings every day on various communities, villages and settlements in Birnin-Gwari local government area.
“While we appreciate previous efforts by the security personnel against armed banditry in Birnin-Gwari, we hope the government of Malam Nasiru El- Rufa’i, will not treat our people as prodigal sons. With the current tension, fear and inability of peasant farmers to go to their respective farms because of activities of bandits, we strongly call on the federal government, Kaduna state government and the security agents to act decisively on the bandits and their collaborators before we are consumed by the bandits. Enough is enough.”
Closing in on the city
To worsen the situation, the invaders appear to have found their way into the capital city, marking and monitoring their targets. It was gathered that about two weeks ago, four men suspected to be kidnappers entered a church premises in Kakuri area of Kaduna metropolis, where the Pastor of the church and his family live, and requested to see him.
According to an eyewitness who attended to the suspects, they wanted to ask the Pastor to follow them to Kaduna-Abuja expressway to pray on a plot of land they had bought. The eyewitness said when he told them to call the Pastor on phone, they said they didn’t have his number, and they left in a car, which already had its engine running with a driver on the steering.
Unfortunately, it was gathered that a week after the suspected kidnappers visited the church premises, the Pastor’s son and two members of his household were kidnapped on the farm near a village called Sabo Maro, along Kaduna-Abuja highway.
Luckily for the Pastor (name withheld by Saturday Sun) he was not on the farm that fateful day when his son and two others were kidnapped. The kidnappers, according to the Pastor’s son (name also withheld) demanded N100 million as ransom, adding that at the end of the day, he escaped with three other victims from the kidnappers’ camp without paying a dime.
The Pastor told Saturday Sun, “Following the kidnapping of my son and two other persons from my family and their miraculous escape from the kidnappers’ camp along Kaduna-Abuja highway, I am appealing to the government and all security agencies to beef up security around my residence and the church. This appeal has become necessary because the kidnappers told my son that they were actually looking for me. Apart from the fear of kidnapping around my community, there are also cases of robbery because recently somebody was attacked either by men suspected to be kidnappers or armed robbers. The victim was admitted in a general hospital. So police should help us to patrol the area both day and night.
“I can also recall that a week to the kidnapping of my son, some strange persons came to the church premises, asking after me, but I was not around. I had gone out of the house at about 9 am for a naming ceremony of the child of our general secretary. The person who attended to the strange faces said they were four in number. He said three of them entered the church premises, while one of them remained inside a car by the gate of the church.
“The strange faces suspected to be kidnappers told the man they met at the church premises that they needed me to pray over a plot of land they bought along Abuja road before starting work on it. But the man told them that they should call me on my phone. They said they don’t have my number. At this point, they drove away. It was on a Friday. My son, one other boy staying with me, and my son-in-law were kidnapped on Wednesday, October 16 on the farm. They had gone to harvest rice in my farm”.
How I escaped
The Pastor’s son narrated his ordeal in the hands of the kidnappers. “After kidnapping us on the farm, the kidnappers took us to their camp far away in the forest. They tied us together with a very strong rope in such a way that moving any part of our bodies was difficult. After they tied us, they asked us to straighten our fingers, and if they find out that the fingers can be straightened, it means we are not properly tied. So they tied us the more from our back to the front. When I began to feel feverish because of cold, I asked them to make fire for me by the place they tied us. So they brought firewood closer and made fire for me. While the fire was burning, I pulled a small knife from my key holder and heat it up in the fire. I used the heated knife to cut the rope that we were tied with. We were loosened from the rope, including a boy of about five years old whom we met there. The boy’s father had earlier escaped, and the kidnappers held unto his child even after the father paid them N200, 000 ransom.
“So after loosing ourselves from the rope at about 12 midnight, we started running in the bush to nowhere in particular because we could see hills everywhere. I told everybody to take different directions in order to cause confusion in case the kidnappers started looking for us. There was nothing like road anywhere in the bush. By 1 o’clock in the morning, I was still walking in the bush. I was confused and all of a sudden I found myself back again in the kidnappers’ camp after two hours of trekking.
“By then, the kidnappers were already awake. They flashed torchlight in my direction, and they started shooting because they were well armed, but God helped me I somersaulted into a ditch of mud water. They had earlier boasted that they are experts from Zamfara State. So I started walking gently again from the spot I fell into a ditch in the dead of the night. In the thick forest, I decided to follow the moonlight till I appeared at the village. And by 7am I found myself in a village called Malam Mamman along Abuja road. I met a man on the farm and I explained my predicament to him. It was the man who helped me with his phone with which I called my father who brought a car to pick me. The other family members had arrived another village called Sabo Maro at about 6 am. We all later reunited at home around 10 am.
“Earlier, the kidnappers told me that my father was their target, but that they discovered that strong security has been mounted around him. They said they mounted surveillance on me for three days around the farm before they eventually got me on that fateful day. They said they will not release me until my father pays N100 million as ransom to them. They said they know the type of car my father drives, they know the colour of the roof of his house, they know the kind of person he is. They said they have informants everywhere. They said prayer will not work on them, and that the only thing that will work on them is the N100 million. We thank God that we escaped without paying a dime. We went to the farm to harvest rice. I pleaded with the kidnappers to help me call my friend to go to the farm to take my motorcycle home. And they did. We were about 20 on the farm, but they said since I am the son of the pastor they must kidnap me and two other members of our family”.
Assurance from govt
The state government through the Commissioner for Internal Security and Home Affairs, Samuel Aruwan however assured that, “Interfacing with the representatives of Jura, Kosau, Dallatu and other adjacent villages at Birnin Yero, Igabi LGA over the unfortunate banditry and criminality in the villages, Kaduna State Government and security agencies are working round the clock to rout out criminals in the general area”.