Magnus Eze (Enugu), Lucky Osauzo (Benin), Noah Ebije (Kaduna), Emmanuel Adeyemi (Lokoja) and James Ojo Adakole (Lagos)
There is palpable fear and tension among Nigerians living in states now regarded as kidnap and banditry flash points even as the states and security agencies are adopting new strategies to combat crimes and criminality.
The worsening security situation has taken a toll in several states, particularly Kaduna, where the state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, revealed that over 500 Christians have been abducted by kidnappers along the Abuja-Kaduna highway in the last two years. Even more disturbing is the fact that the sum of N300 million has been paid as ransom to secure the release of the victims.
The state Chairman of CAN, Reverend Joseph Hayab, who made the disclosure alleged that the emerging picture is indicative of a determined quest to exterminate Christians even as he noted that armed bandits and Fulani herdsmen have turned kidnapping and other acts of criminality into profitable business venture.
“We have been computing the number of Christians kidnapped in Kaduna State in the last two years; over 500 of them that we know, either in the villages or in town have been kidnapped.”
He pointed out that the activities of the armed kidnappers have forced inhabitants of 10 villages to flee from their homes to other parts of the state, noting that the people affected are predominantly Christians residing along Abuja-Kaduna highway.”
Travelling by train for security reasons
In the face of the terrible security situation on the Kaduna-Abuja Expressway, people living in either Kaduna or Abuja, and wish to visit either city now scramble to travel by train, to avoid being abducted on the road. One person who has found train a safer means to travel is Mr Isaac Aga, a businessman who used to shuttle between Kaduna and Abuja on weekly basis, using commercial vehicle. But of recent, Aga like other travelers has resorted to travel by train because of insecurity arising from kidnapping activities on Kaduna-Abuja highway.
He told Sunday Sun his experience: “I used to travel to Abuja from Kaduna by commercial vehicle almost on weekly basis for my business. But the day our driver narrowly missed running into kidnappers on the highway, I stopped travelling by road. I now use train, which is safer for me. In fact, many travellers to and from Kaduna now use the train. Today, we hear almost on daily basis how people are being kidnapped and huge amount of money paid as ransom. I call on both the Kaduna State and Federal Government to beef up security along the highway for the safety of road users.”
Also speaking to Sunday Sun, Mr Baba Negedu whose family resides in Abuja said: “Without travelling by train to visit my family in Abuja, I wonder which means of transportation I would use. This is because I can’t risk the menace of kidnappers and other.”
Assertions of the CAN state chairman were given credence penultimate Wednesday, when the Kaduna Police Command paraded 79 suspected criminals in Rijana village, along the Kaduna – Abuja expressway. The suspects included kidnappers, armed bandits, armed robbers, cattle rustlers and other criminals.
The state Commissioner of Police, Ali Aji Janga, who paraded the suspects, disclosed that 35 guns and 439 cattle were recovered from the suspects.
Janga said that the suspects were arrested in various locations within the state in July alone.
CP Janga said: “The gallant determination of our crack operatives such as Special Armed Robbery Squad, Anti-Kidnapping Unit, Intelligence Response Team and other units have again recorded some successes with the apprehension of 79 suspects for various crimes.”
Meanwhile, Kaduna State governor, Nasir El-Eufai, has commended the officers and men of 1 Division Nigerian Army, Kaduna, over their commitment in tackling security challenges in the state.
The governor, who stated this in his remarks at the closing ceremony of the 2019 edition of the 1 Div Inter-Brigade Combat Proficiency Competition held at Ribadu Cantonment, Nigerian Defense Academy, Kaduna, also assured the command of his readiness to provide support to security agencies fighting crimes in the state.
Represented by his Commissioner of Internal Security and Home Affairs, Samuel Aruwan, the governor urged the soldiers to redouble efforts to rid Nigeria and Kaduna State of all forms of insecurity.
Also his deputy, Hadiza Balarabe, who visited Randa community of Fadan Ninzo Chiefdom in Sanga Local Government Area of the state on August 8, sympathised with the people over the security challenge in the area, which was attacked by bandits in the early hours of last Sunday.
According to eyewitness, when alerted, security personnel operating under the Operation Safe Haven responded promptly and engaged the bandits in a shoot out. In the ensuing exchange of gunfire, one soldier lost his life while a native assisting the bandits was also killed.
Police raid, arrest 150 criminals in Kogi
In Kogi State, the police command rounded up over 150 suspected armed robbers and kidnappers from various hideouts.
The Commissioner of Police in the state, Hakeem Busari, who spoke with Sunday Sun correspondent in his office on Friday said that the police operation had reduced the level of crime, noting that the result was achieved through adoption of “stringent security measures,” which the command put in place.
He explained that the measures include “thorough intelligence gatherings, 24-hour patrols and surveillance of the state, involvement of community policing and constant interface with other security agencies in the state.”
The CP said the command also solicited the cooperation of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBAN) and other socio-cultural organisations in the 21 local government areas in the state, a development he said paved way for the reduction of farmers/Fulani herdsmen clashes in the state.
He said that the few cases so far recorded especially in Ogah community in Yagba West where some Fulani herdsmen were killed have been put under control as some arrests have been made and investigations still being conducted to arrest fleeing culprits.
The CP also disclosed that the command had put noted flash points in the state under constant surveillance and adopted other security measures, which he refused to disclose.
While appealing to members of the public not to panic whatsoever, he said plainclothes detectives and undercover agents have been deployed all over the state including anti-riot policemen who are on red alert to deal with security issues in the state.
Relations of the rich now abducted, killed on Benin-Ore road
Travellers on the Benin-Ore stretch of the Benin-Lagos expressway like regular commuters on the Abuja-Kaduna highway are equally filled with concern over the deteriorating security situation. A legal practitioner based in Benin, Olayiwola Afolabi, alleged that some security men were part of those committing crimes on the road.
“To me, our security men are part and parcel of these people. Why are they on the road if they cannot fight crime?” Afolabi queried.
He alleged that soldiers, who are yet to be identified, hijacked some goods being taken to Ore, calling on the Chief of Army Staff, Lt-General Tukur Buratai, to investigate the incident.
Afolabi while calling on the Federal Government to deploy drones to fight crime in the country, also suggested that a tracking system be put in place to monitor the activities of security men on duty posts along the road.
Also reacting, another legal practitioner, Jefferson Woghiren, said that of all the major responsibilities of government to the citizens, security of lives is the most important.
“The daily harvest of hapless Nigerians on Nigerian roads by bandits, with the Lagos-Benin expressway being the most prevalent, is indicative of governance failure. Nigerians just want to go about their businesses in peace and the prevailing snatch and grab criminality on our roads has led to the death of many people, left hundreds of others terrified and dissuaded from embarking on road travels, thus putting heavy strain on air travels with the attendant risks of the same.”
Meanwhile, the Edo State Commissioner of Police, CP Danmallam Mohammed, has revealed that the state Police Command in synergy with other security agencies in the state has adopted multiple strategies in dealing with security challenges to ensure protection of lives and property.
“With regards to the security challenge in the country, we have put a lot of security measures in place to ensure that the good people of Edo State and other citizens within the state, go about their normal businesses without any fear or intimidation, sleep with their two eyes closed.
“We discovered that some hoodlums always emerge from the bush along the major highways to harass travellers, kidnap and demand for ransom. So, we reviewed our security strategy. We discovered that the bushes are too close to the highway. We approached the state government and luckily enough, the governor granted our request. He gave us about five graders and that is how we started the project.
“It may interest you to know that since we started that project 17 days ago, there has not been any incident of such along that road because we carried out our own survey and research, and when we were doing that clearing too, we were patrolling inside the bush because now the issue is beyond patrolling on the highway because we discovered that they are all necessary.
“Now, we are taking the fight to their doorsteps. As I am talking to you, a lot of their camps have been destroyed. In fact, I believe that they are on the run or have shifted elsewhere.
“Another security measure which is helping us is this issue of synergy with the members of the public under the community policing initiative because the concept of community policing when you look at it, the summary of it is the confident-building between the public and the police.
“And it is we the police as an institution, we should give them that confidence that we need their support because security issue is everybody’s business and that they should know their civic responsibility. Whenever they see bad people they should alert the security or the nearest police station,” the CP said.
Enugu State and the murder of priests
In Enugu State, the recent brutal murder of Rev. Fr. Paul Offu, parish priest of St. James the Greater Catholic Church, Ugbawka, along Agbada-Ihe Road in Awgu Local Government Area of the state on Thursday, August 1, caused priests in the state to carry out a protest march to the Government House, and subsequently led the Catholic Church to express concern over the spate of insecurity in the state.
Speaking when the diocese celebrated a special mass for peace and security in Enugu State, last Sunday, in honour of the murdered priest, Bishop of Enugu Diocese, Most Rev Dr Callistus Onaga lamented that people now live in fear and apprehension in the state.
According to him, people were living in a state of anarchy, total breakdown of law and order with alarming number of people-including priests and government officials being killed by murderers.
“Our people are now afraid to embark on normal farming activities; for the fear of being raped, our women can no longer carry out regular activities in the villages, particularly farming and other businesses. All these catastrophic evils have hampered peaceful coexistence and development in our state.
“Against this background, we demand that government should as a matter of urgency, flush out bad Fulani herdsmen from our state. Government should effectively equip the local vigilance groups to provide protection and security for their various localities,” he stated.
The church also urged every family to pray one mystery of Rosary every day for the security of the diocese.
Immediate past Commissioner for Information in the state, Chief Ogbuagu Anikwe, concurred with the position of the Catholic Church.
Reacting to Fr. Offu’s murder, Anikwe said: “He joins a growing list of our people who are daily being assaulted in the farms, and motorists being robbed and kidnapped between Awgu and Nkanu stretch of this highway. The herdsmen are implicated. In some other instances, it is home grown bandits. In all cases, everyone is terrified, but I guess a point has been reached when the people will rise up and defend themselves, defend their means of livelihood (their farms) and defend their dignity.”
Also, an Enugu resident and President, Civil Rights Realisation and Advancement Network (CRAN), Olu Omotayo, regretted that security had degenerated in the state from what it used to be, five to six years ago.
“Everybody is feeling it. I can’t say that Enugu is not safe, but the security situation has gone very bad. And the police, the appropriate body to handle it is handicapped. I even learnt that many of their vehicles have broken down. The number of crimes in the state is becoming unbearable,” Omotayo said.
Similarly, a community leader in Ugbawka, who would not want to be named, said that their people could no longer sleep with two eyes closed. He urged the governor to sit up, noting that it was not enough to say that, “Enugu is peaceful; Enugu is in the hand of God, when actually, the people are dying and being killed, mindlessly.”
In response to the growing insecurity in Enugu State, the government has reviewed, redesigned and beefed up the security architecture of the state, in the last one week after the series of security breaches that occurred in parts of the state, and believed to have been perpetuated by herdsmen.
Barely a week after the South East Governors’ Forum (SEGF) rose from its meeting in Enugu and announced the resolve to set up joint security with the control domiciled in Enugu, kidnappers upped their game and became more daring in Enugu.
Commissioner of Police of the state command, Suleiman Balarabe who addressed newsmen after the meeting at the Government House, unfolded various measures to stem the increasing insecurity in the state.
In line with the resolve of the government, security agencies have commenced joint air surveillance around major forests suspected to be hideout of hoodlums in the state.
Balarabe said that the joint surveillance would further strengthen the security architecture of the affected areas.
He said that the meeting approved the employment of 1,700 forest guards and also strengthening the neighbourhood watch groups in the state.
“The state government has resolved to employ the services of forest guards and also strengthen the neighbourhood watch guard as a way of ensuring adequate protection of lives and property in the state,” the police boss stated.
Sunday Sun gathered that communities in the state are already working hand in glove with the local government authorities for the effective implementation of the new security arrangements in their domains.
For instance, at the Igboeze North Local Government Area, the council boss, Uwakwe Ezeja has judiciously recruited 400 able-bodied men to beef up the neighbourhood watch.
The screening and recruitment exercise which took place at the council headquarters on August 7 had the Department of State Services (DSS) and many other stakeholders, including Deputy Whip of the State House of Assembly, Hon. Ethel Ugwuanyi, zonal and local government chairmen of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and traditional rulers of the various communities.
Ezeja explained that the 400 persons would not be added to the local vigilance groups at the various communities, but instead serve as central body with the entire local government as the jurisdiction.
He warned that anybody caught engaging in kidnapping would have his property/assets confiscated by the government.
He advised those living at the boundary areas to work hard to protect their people and places, adding that they should promptly apprehend any unknown faces loitering around their locality.
So far, security has been beefed up along the Awgu axis of the Enugu-Port Harcourt expressway, with more police checkpoints. Another military checkpoint has also been created between Ihe junction and Ogbaku, while bushes at the middle and sides of the road were being cleared as at Friday evening. Our reporter saw labourers building what seemed a permanent bay for the military team.
Meanwhile, all the traditional rulers and Presidents-General of the town unions in Enugu State, last Thursday, unanimously passed a vote of confidence in Governor Ugwuanyi’s efforts at sustaining the existing peace, security and good governance in the state.
Arising from a closed-door meeting summoned by the governor to brief the traditional rulers and the PGs on measures being taken by his administration to address the security challenges in the state, and also seek their support and cooperation, they prayed for the governor, urging him not to relent.
Fear of road travel spreads to Lagos, Oyo
The fear of travelling by road is fast catching up on other Nigerians residing in other states, especially if they have to pass through the kidnapping flash points. Take the case of Susan, a corps member undergoing her compulsory National Youths Service Scheme (NYSC) in Ibadan, Oyo State.
Each time she thinks of travelling to Lagos to visit her uncle, her heart skips a bit for fear of the unknown. Her fear, she said, is not unconnected to the worsening security situation in the country. Like Susan, many Nigerians are living in fear of encountering the unexpected on their way to their various destinations.
Speaking on the worsening security situation in the country, Mr Ambrose Igboke, a public affairs analyst, stated that it was unfortunate many Nigerians were being killed on daily basis due to the activities of kidnappers, bandits and Fulani herdsmen when the country was not at war.
He told Sunday Sun: “The security situation in Nigeria, can at best, be described as tottering. There is a near collapse of security in the country. While Nigeria is not at war, we have people armed with assault rifles going into farms and villages, killing, raping and looting.
“In all these, the Nigerian government seems to look the other way. I have reiterated in many fora that the Nigerian security structures have the capacity to decimate these terrorists within hours. But it is left for government to explain to us why this has not happened. Even the Chief of Army Staff has joined the blame game and openly berating his officers and men. Many parts of the country have been locked down by gun wielding bandits. The failure of security in Nigeria is not lack of military capacity, but not deploying the full weight of our military might. Some have argued that what is happening is political, but politicians are Nigerians, and since the government knows them, it should go after them. Insecurity in the country has cost many lives and investors are fleeing in droves while new ones have refused to come in. The number of Nigerians that have relocated from the country is alarming. Nigeria is in the ICU (intensive care unit) yet our leaders and even many of the citizens are pretending that all is well. It is a terrible situation people are facing in this country. Government at all levels should rise to the occasion to save the situation.”