The recurring use of our inland waterways by kidnappers calls for greater attention to the security of these waterways. Some schools and residential areas located near these waterways have, for some time now, been traumatised by spates of kidnapping, with the security agencies having no answers to the problem other than to negotiate with the kidnappers for the release of their victims.
In one of the most recent cases, six students of the Lagos Model College, Igbonla, Epe, Lagos State, were kidnapped from two of the school’s hostels on May 25 by a group of men who raided the school in camouflage police uniforms. They were not released until they had spent 65 days in detention. This was the second time in seven months that the kidnappers raided the school. Earlier, some students and personnel of the Nigerian-Turkish International College (NTIC), Isheri, Ogun State, were kidnapped, and later released. The Babington Macaulay Junior Seminary, Ikorodu, Lagos also suffered the same fate. Apart from schools, Epe, in Lagos State, has also been traumatised by kidnappers. In almost all these instances, the criminals used the inland waterways. The nation has since expressed its appreciation of the efforts of the security agencies in securing the release of kidnapped students. Yet, we cannot but note the distress of millions of Nigerians whenever these kidnappings occur. This sad situation is a reflection of the poor state of security in the country.
Nigeria’s inland waterways are a great resource for transportation. They have also become a valuable get-away choice of armed robbers and kidnappers, insurgents and militants. It is the route through which they elude capture. Yet, these waterways remain unmanned by security agencies. Our marine transportation is also elementary, fragile and accident-prone. Boat accidents are rife, the latest of which occurred recently at Ilashe village, along the Badagry Creek in Lagos State.
Reports say the lives of the 12 people who died in that incident could have been saved if they had used life jackets, if the boat had not been overloaded, and if lifeguards had been available for rescue operations when it capsized. Apparently, there was no enforcement of the rule mandating users of water transportation to wear life jackets and to ensure that boats are not overloaded.
It is unfortunate that very little effort is made by the various state governments to develop what ought to be the swiftest means of transportation between the states with significant waterways and navigable rivers. True, we have heard of the Marine Police, which must be assumed to be specialised in securing the nation’s inland waterways. But, this arm of the police is hardly visible to the citizens or effective in securing the waterways against criminals. This, we presume, is a reflection of its limited resources in terms of equipment and personnel.
Yet, since the last decade that Niger Delta militant groups have been using the creeks to outwit our security outfits, one would have expected the Marine Police to develop some muscle and some expertise to begin to serve as a counterpoise to the insurgents and criminal elements operating on our waterways.
In the last 18 months, reports of bank robberies on Lagos Island, Ajah and Epe areas show that the robbers arrived and fled in boats through the creeks. The depredations of pipeline vandals in the creeks of Arepo and Ikorodu, which at one time became so dangerous even for law enforcement officials, require concerted efforts of land, sea and air security officials to bring the areas under control.
Even now, the areas have remained so dangerous that many of their residents have fled for fear of their lives. We commend the Lagos State Government for its support for security agencies in the protection of life and property in the state. We expect that extra measures have been taken to protect vulnerable schools against kidnappers and other kinds of intruders. Yet, the issue of developing and protecting our inland waterways, the choice thoroughfare for robbers and kidnappers, must be a cooperative effort among the littoral states, from Akwa Ibom and Bayelsa, through Delta, Anambra, Ondo and Lagos states.
The Police must coordinate the efforts of the various state commands and strengthen the Marine Divisions of each state in terms of their ability to respond to the challenge of criminals using our waterways as havens and thoroughfares.