From Oluseye Ojo, Ibadan
As Nigerians join the rest of the world to celebrate the 2022 Christmas, it is a mixture of joy and apprehension for many residents intending to travel for the festival within the South West of the country.
Their fear stem from cases of kidnapping, armed robbery and other forms of crimes and criminality that have occurred in the past and in recent times on the major highways across different states in the zone.
Investigation conducted by Saturday Sun revealed that passengers, commercial drivers and private car owners have been very sceptical about unknown things that could befall them on the major highways.
The roads that bring fear to the minds of manhy people include the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Ibadan-Ijebu Ode Road, Ibadan-Abeokuta Road, Ibadan-Ikire-Gbongan-Ife Road, Ife Ilesha-Akure Road, Ilesha-Ado Ekiti Road, Oyo-Ogbomoso Road, Ondo-Ore Road, Ado Ekiti-Akure Road, as well as the road that leads from Akure to Edo State.
But this reporter, who travelled from Ibadan to Lagos, Ibadan to Ife, Ife to Ilesha, Ilesha to Akure, Akure to Owo, Owo to Akoko and Akoko to Kabba in Kogi State, as well as Lokoja to Abuja, observed that many Nigerians, have been travelling for Christmas, events, and businesses, on the highways in spite of the apprehension over insecurity in the country.
But there are a lot of checkpoints mounted by security agencies, including military, police, Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Special Forces, and Amotekun Corps at every strategic spots on the major highways.
An Akure-based elderly woman, Mrs. Rachael Tunmishe, in a chat with Saturday Sun, said: “I travelled to Abuja from Akure this week for the wedding ceremony of my son, who came from the United States. The wedding was held on Tuesday. I went with my friends and there was no way I could put everybody on the flight. If I alone took a flight and asked others to come by road, it meant I am mean. It is true that we have heard news repeatedly on the rising cases of kidnapping on the road. It was a journey that we must make and we prayed to God to protect us to and from Abuja. We went and came back peacefully by God’s grace. I think the security agencies have upped their game.”
A commercial driver, plying Ibadan-Akure route, who introduced himself as Ajagbe Onileowo, told Saturday Sun at Iwo Road in Ibadan that “we have some bad spots on the road. But Ilesha axis is the most dreaded of all. Then, between Ilesha and Owena, we have some sharp bends too that we fear. Criminals do hide in those places too. We implore the security agencies to be more proactive. They are working. Still, they need to do more.”
Police Public Relations Officer for Oyo State, Adewale Osifeso, a superintendent of police (SP), assured travellers on every road in the state of adequate security of lives and property. He stated that the state police command has emplaced a comprehensive security arrangement with sister security agencies.
He added that more than 120 police personnel from the public relations unit of Nigeria Police Force, held a national conference in Ibadan some days ago. According to him, majority of the participants passed through the roads being talked about. He stated that critical things that would ensure adequate security within a state, between two states, and among states were thoroughly x-rayed and pragmatic solutions were also proffered to strengthen security architecture across the country.
Some of the kidnapping cases that have taken place in the South West occurred on the Ibadan-Ilesha-Akure Road, Ondo-Ore Road, Ilesha-Ekiti Road, Akure-Ekiti Road, and Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.
Those that have been victims of kidnapping in the past included a former deputy Vice Chancellor, University of Ibadan, Prof Adigun Agbaje, who was kidnapped at Onigaari axis of Lagos-Ibadan Expressway; a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Chief Olu Falae, abducted on his farm in Ondo State; and an Ibadan-based lawyer, Mr. Musibau Adetunmbi, who was abducted at Iwaraja in Osun State along Ilesha-Akure Road.
The list also comprised a professor of orthopaedic surgery and traumatology, Adeyinka Adegbehingbe, of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, Osun State, who was kidnapped between Asejire and Ikire towns while travelling from Lagos to Ile-Ife; as well as Adedayo Adewole, son of a former Minister of Health, Prof Isaac Adewole.
As gathered, ransom were taken before many of the victims were released. But some victims were unlucky, as they lost their lives to the menace. One of the prominent Nigerians who lost her life to the menace was Mrs. Funke Olakunrun, daughter of a former leader of a pan-Yoruba socio-cultural and political organisation, Afenifere, Pa Reuben Fasoranti, between Ondo and Ore.
Nigerians also heaved a sigh of relief on Thursday, this week, when news came that nemesis had caught up with 10 among suspected kidnappers that have been terrorising the popular Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. They have been apprehended by the men of Oyo State Police Command with the support of other security agencies, including Amotekun Corps.
The suspects, according to the police, were responsible for the abduction of a former deputy vice chancellor, University of Ibadan, Prof Adigun Agbaje, who was kidnapped at the Onigaari axis of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway around 6pm on October 28, 2022. A ransom of N10million was said to have been collected before he was released. But he sustained a gun bullet injury on his head.
The suspects’ names were given as Mohammed Salfa, 20; Usman Hassan,22, fondly called Yellow; Mohammed Bello,28; Babangida Buhari Awalu, 34; Kabiru Aliyu,25, fondly called Dangata; Mikailu Yahaya, 25; Muhammadu Umoru,30; as well as Ayanwola Samson Gbenga,22; Adewuyin Adewumi Sunday, 34; and Rafiu Abdulmajeed,40.
The Commissioner of Police in Oyo State, Mr. Adebowale Williams, who paraded the suspects before journalists at Eleyele, Ibadan, revealed that exhibits recovered from the suspects include N7.5million cash, four AK-47 rifles, 75 AK-47 live ammunition, two pairs of military camouflage, one mobile beret, and a victim’s bag.
On the suspects arrested in connection with kidnapping on Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Williams stated: “On 28th October, 2022 at about 1700hours, some members of a dreaded kidnapping syndicate, who were reportedly armed with AK-47 Riffles and some other sophisticated firearms attacked and kidnapped an academic don and seven other persons, who were travelling along the Ibadan end of the Lagos/Ibadan Expressway.
“The dare-devil gunmen equally attacked a team of responding policemen while heeding the distress call in a bid to rescue trapped victims on the highway. This in turn led to the death of an Inspector of Police, who paid the supreme price in a fierce gun duel.
“The kidnappers later whisked the victims away to an unknown destination through the thick forest along the said Ibadan/Lagos Expressway, while their relatives were contacted for monetary demands in exchange for their liberty.”
Williams explained that “some of the abductors in a carefully arranged identification parade in line with professional standard practices were identified by the victims from the incident at full glare.”
The police boss added that some were arrested at Ojoo, and Ago-Are in Oyo State, while a number of them were also arrested at Gbugbu area of Kwara State.
According to him, investigation revealed that the monies received from the victims were moved into the bank accounts of Adewuyi Adewumi Sunday, Ayanwola Samson Gbenga, and Rafiu Abdulmajeed for onward distribution to other members of the kidnapping syndicate. The suspects, he said, confessed that the transactions were made into the three suspects’ bank accounts via Point of Sales terminals at choice locations to evade arrest.
“The manhunt for other members of the criminal syndicate continues as further development will be communicated accordingly,” he said.
In a related development, three suspected kidnappers, who allegedly killed a United States-based Ogbomoso born hotelier, Mr. Gbenga Owolabi, were also paraded by Williams before journalists. They were also said to have been responsible for the kidnapping and killing of a final year student of Fine and Applied Arts, Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), Ogbomoso, Rachael Opadele. Both Owolabi and Opadele were abducted on July 28, 2022 and were killed on Tuesday August 2, 2022 after a ransom of N5milion had been paid.