Akure-Ilesa road: From deathtrap to robbers’ den

Following the infamous label the Akure-Ilesa road has taken in recent times, with reports of incessant robberies, leading to loss of lives and property, Hakeem Gbadamosi examines the trend of negative occurrences and efforts of security operatives to address the situation.

Over the past four to five weeks, no fewer than six people have been sent to their early graves, and millions of Naira lost to hoodlums who operate, unchecked and even in broad daylight, on the ever-busy Akure-Ilesha road, which has become a notorious lane for armed robbers, a situation which has sent fears into motorists plying the highway.

Investigation by Nigerian Tribune revealed that many Nigerians have fallen prey to robbery incidents on this road. Former Director General of Daily Times Nigeria, Adunuoyi Ojo Onukaba, was killed recently while returning from the 80th birthday celebration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo in Abeokuta, Ogun State. He was said to have unfortunately run into an ongoing robbery operation, which took place around Ero village before Ilara Mokin.

Onukaba, who was said to have abandoned his vehicle to take cover at a nearby bush, was however, not to make it out alive as a commercial bus which was trying to escape the robbers rammed into him in the bush where he was hiding, killing him instantly.

In another incident, a top official of a new generation bank in Akure, Ondo State, Sola Abe, met his untimely death when the highway robbers attacked him and his driver on their way to Lagos. Though his driver survived being shot, his boss was not so lucky as his remains were found some three days after the operation, in a bush between Igbaraoke and Ilara Mokin in Ifedore Local Government Area of the state.

The operations of the highway robbers are not limited to the Ondo State axis of the road as they are said to have extended their tentacles to areas such as Owena, Erin Ijesha and Ipetu Ijesha in Osun State.

Recalling his ordeal at the hands of the hoodlums, Adebisi Olotu, a driver who plies the Akure-Ibadan route, said he had been out of business for two months, as his vehicle was badly damaged during an attack by the bandits between Ipetu Ijesha and Owena in Osun State.

He said: “The robbers shot at the bus and I lost control of the bus. They came after us and ransacked the bus, carting away passengers’ goods and money and injuring occupants of the vehicle in the process. I spent about four weeks at the hospital nursing the injuries from the accident and the gun shot.”

Some of the motorists, who spoke to Nigerian Tribune, explained that the robbers usually operated during the day, especially during the rush hour such as early in the morning, during weekends and in the evening when most travellers were returning to their various homes.

They disclosed that the robbers, who operated in large numbers, usually used heavy tree branches to block the highway, in order to force their victims to stop before attacking them.

According to Olotu, the robbers are usually in groups; while some operated on the road, some of them would position themselves on the branches of trees while the third group who usually carried arms provided some form of support for those operating on the road.

Another motorist, Charles Okon, who said he had been robbed twice, further revealed that the robbers usually dressed like villagers or farmers returning from their farm to perpetrate their nefarious acts. According to him, the hoodlums mostly wielded cutlasses, knives and clubs. He, however, noted that the robbers had graduated from using crude implements as weapons to actual firearms, to rob their victims of money, handsets and other valuables.

He said several efforts had been made by the community heads in the areas, such as seeking the assistance of security operatives in the areas to curb the activities of the armed robbers who seemed to have made the highway their den.

Okon, however, said that the security operatives in the state should not rule out the fact that some of the perpetrators lived within these communities where these robberies were carried out, pointing out that the police had failed to curtail the activities of the bandits.

A community leader, who spoke with Nigerian Tribune on the condition of anonymity, said the police had not been as cooperative as they would have expected.  He noted that security operatives had failed on several occasions to respond to calls made to them and appealed to the state government to save the people from the hands of the hoodlums.

“Even when this road was so bad, people used to sleep on this road without fear, but the robberies, which evolved into a trend, since the construction of the road has made it more or less a taboo to travel anytime on this road without fear,” he stated.

Nigerian Tribune also gathered that some communities in the areas had formed themselves into vigilante groups. One of such vigilante groups, with the assistance of military men who were stationed at a checkpoint, caught up with some of the robbers which resulted in a shootout, and which led to the killing of at least one member of the six-man robbery gang which operated around Igbaraoke, along the Akure-Ilesha road, while others sustained injuries during the shootout with the military men.

The robbers were said to be operating in the early hours of last Tuesday, when the vigilante group, with the support of the soldiers manning the checkpoint at Igbara Oke, came upon the scene of a robbery, where the thieves were dispossessing night travellers of their valuables.

The robbers were said to have opened fire on the security operatives and the vigilante group, and the soldiers engaged them in a shootout, killing one of robbers in the process while others took to their heels.

Confirming the development, the Assistant Director of Public Relations of the Artillery Brigade, Captain Ojo Adelegan, appealed to the public to offer useful information that could lead to the arrest of fleeing members of the robbery gang.

He said: “The general public is hereby enjoined to please give useful information on any suspected criminals and their hideouts to the security agency in Ondo State. The Nigerian Army and other security agencies in the state would continue to ensure the security of lives and properties of the people of this state.”

Also, the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) in the state, Mr Femi Joseph, confirmed the development and said the security agencies in the state were working round the clock to ensure that robbers and criminals were flushed out of state.

Joseph, who noted that the trend had reduced drastically, assured that the state police had put some measures in place to check the activities of the highway robbers. He said the state police command had deployed both uniform and plain-clothes detectives to the highway, while the command had also established synergy with sister agencies to ensure safety of lives and properties on the road.