IBADAN passengers: At the mercy of kidnappers?

In Ibadan, passengers of cabs are still confronted with the danger of running into kidnappers. Recent incidents in the ancient city confirm the stubbornness of the perpetrators. TUNDE BUSARI, YEJIDE GBENGA OGUNDARE, TUNDE OGUNESAN AND OLAWALE OLANIYAN report their findings.

From whichever part a visitor enters Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, it is certain that he will be confronted with a choice between entering a cab and commercial bus to his final destination in the ancient city.

If in haste, cab is the option because of its pint size containing five passengers instead of the weather beaten 18-seater bus which operates without much care for time its passengers get to their respective destinations.

As a consequence of this, the Ibadan intra-city cabs record huge patronage, evidence of which is seen in the increase in their number.

Paradoxically, as their number increases so also is the attendant danger to which they expose unsuspecting passengers on a daily basis.

Nigerian Tribune gathered that some gangs of kidnappers and ritualists have found Ibadan cab a useful tool to carry out their nefarious activities either in broad daylight or in the evening.

While the public outcry over the rage of suspected kidnappers appears to have subsided, there is, however, a strong indication that the danger is not yet over.

An Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago Iwoye undergraduate, Adeola (Not real name) was a victim three weeks back but had mother luck to thank for his escape.

He had boarded a cab from Challenge to Orita and in the course of the trip informed his co-passengers of his plan to board a bus to Ijebu-Oru along Ibadan-Ijebu-Ode road.

The driver, according to him, quickly interjected and said he was Ijebu-Ode bound, thereby offering to drop him at his destination.  Adeola was instantly excited because he saw it as an opportunity and indeed a relief from his long wait under the scorching sun.

“I even thank God that I spoke out not knowing that the driver and two other passengers were into the same business. They acted as if they were not familiar with one another,” he recalled.

Adeola would later realize his miscalculation when the driver refused to stop at a police check point some metres after Lagos-ibadan expressway. Shock enveloped Adeola who did not see any reason the driver should behave in such manner.

He even pleaded with the driver to stop so that the police would not attempt to shoot the cab. But other passengers’ response revealed to him that he was in a wrong cab. They barked at him and ordered him to either shut his mouth or get wasted.

On hearing the violent directive in a very terrifying voice of Indian-hemp addict, Adeola complied, held his lip and began solemn prayer to God. He was recalling cases of victims of armed robbers and kidnappers. He was also thinking of how he flashed down the cab and rushed into it.

His prayer was answered when he sighted another police check points some miles after Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN) at Idi Ayunre. He had planned to shout to draw the attention of the police to the cab. Fortunately, the police team had already been alerted of the cab and was in ready position to slug it out in case the driver wanted to make a repeat of his earlier escape.

The proactive measure did the magic and the car was forced to a halt and all the occupants rounded up including Adeola. A further search of the cab uncovered the real identity of the driver and his gang. Adeola was released after he had been confirmed as a prospective victim of the gang.

“I am one of those who don’t take our police seriously again after my encounter with them some years ago. But this incident changed my mind and made me to seek forgiveness because the way they operated that day impressed me. The worst could have happened but I thank God and the police,” he said.

Similarly, a corps member identified as Hannah boarded a cab from Gate to Dugbe. On entering, she lost consciousness in a way she could not explain, after which she found herself at Ojoo.

Hannah disclosed that all she could only recollect was how she entered the cab and met two passengers, none of whom gave her any sign of the danger awaiting her.

“I was going to Dugbe so I took a cab from Gate. I met two passengers in the cab, one in front and one at the back but I can’t explain what happened the moment I entered the cab, all I can recollect is that the next conscious thought I had was when I saw a big roundabout which I knew was not on my normal route. I was scared and tried to ask where we were, but I was ignored.

“Luckily for me, there was a traffic warden regulating vehicular movements and at that point, he stopped our lane. I quickly opened the door on my side and jumped out and people around started screaming at me. In the commotion, the car zoomed off.

“It was after I explained to the people around and the traffic warden that they told me I was at Ojoo and the cab from which I alighted took off in the direction of Oyo town. I know I was just lucky. It was God that saved me,” she said.

This incident is a further attestation that public transport in Ibadan still goes with risk.

It was, however, learnt that not all cases ended with a song of praise sung by the duo of Adeola and Hannah.

About four weeks ago, a cab passed some policemen around Sonbeam school in Bodija and a girl inside was seen screaming for help. When the police stopped the cab, the driver refused to wait, rather, it ran down an okada man with his passenger.

The policemen swiftly responded and caught it in front of a guest house at Oluwokekere in Basorun in the driver’s desperate attempt to enter the Ikolaba estate gate, which is not usually left open.

The residents, who were apparently suspicious of the reckless cab were gathered to give the police the needed support. One of the suspects in the car had already disguised as a Muslim cleric and was walking away from the scene. But a vigilant policeman recognised him and pulled him back.

After interrogation and fear of mob action, they confessed that they indeed kidnapped that girl and had used something on her to make her disappear but promised to take the police to where the girl was. Till now, no one can ascertain whether the girl was finally rescued or in what condition they met her.

Oyo State NURTW chairman, Alhaji Taofeek Ayorinde a.k.a Fele and Oyo State Police commissioner,  Mr. Leye Oyebade
Oyo State NURTW chairman, Alhaji Taofeek Ayorinde a.k.a Fele and Oyo State Police commissioner,
Mr. Leye Oyebade

Another route that has been described as dangerous to commuters is the Gate to Akobo-Ojurin route. Caution and discernment are the watchwords for those that take cabs in this area as the route is said to have high incident of kidnapping by commercial vehicles that many do not allow their children commute by themselves.

According to a teacher in one of the prominent schools in the area, Funso (surname withheld), it is a dangerous thing for students to commute without chaperone as even adults offer words of prayers before entering cabs.

“This route is notorious. This is not news here and that is why many parents engage the services of the school bus while many ensure there is a chaperone to take their children to and fro.

“Even as adults, when we want to take a cab, we pray and try to check the faces of people already in the car, and if something about the car makes you uncomfortable, you quickly alight even before getting to your destination.

“It is only God that protects on this route especially with so many strange vehicles. We learnt once they kidnap you, they take you somewhere after Olorunda village. At least that is what a friend that luckily escaped from their den told me.

“Even as teachers and adults, we are still scared of these dangerous cabs and those of us that live in the same neighborhood move together when it is possible with the hope that there will be security in numbers,” he said.

Another source informed Nigerian Tribune that a neighbour of his was kidnapped around Oke-Bola, Ibadan only to be found somewhere around Benin/Ore expressway few days later.

“The victim could not talk for few days. He is a business man in a popular market in Ibadan. He was very smart to have hidden one of his phones and used same to send a text message to her sister, after which the family contacted the police who eventually rescued him,” he said.

The source also said that the experience had forced him to sit either behind the driver or behind the second seat in front.

“Never will I risk sitting either in front or enter the middle of the back seat in these suspicious cabs again, except on queues. My brother, the most important, may God help us because government seems not be serious about these criminals. In fact, I feel more comfortable on okada now, despite risks associated with it,” the source also said.

The Police Public Relations Officer of Oyo State Command, Adekunle Ajisebutu, a Superintendent of Police, confirmed cases of suspected kidnappers in the ancient city, describing them as unfortunate.

He, however, pointed out that no recent incidents had been recorded or better still reported at any Divisional Headquarters or police posts in the state capital or outside it.

Ajisebutu said the command, under the Commissioner of Police, Leye Oyebade, had successfully provided a counter-force, which, he stated had made such crime a risk for the suspects. The PPRO reminded our correspondent the breakthrough the command had made in bringing suspected kidnappers to book and treated them accordingly.

Ajisebutu said, “Those suspects we had arrested in the past were paraded before the media and prosecuted accordingly. You must have observed that our stop-and-search strategy is tighter now. It is an effective way, which is yielding positive result. Even at that, we are not resting on our oars.”

The PPRO asserted that the command is more vigilant and proactive in quelling not only kidnapping but other forms of crime in the state. He recalled the response of the police to the labour and the students’ protest, which, according to him, earned the command applause.

“What we are, therefore, saying is that Oyo State Police Command is on top of the security of the capital and all towns, communities and villages that make up Oyo State. You can also observe high police visibility and presence of our anti-kidnapping squad. They are on ground searching vehicles and reading the countenance of the drivers and passengers to ascertain their true identity.

“I have also given out my phone number for easy accessibility. I don’t switch off my phone. I can be reached any time of the day. Number of our control room is also available for the public. We urge the public to make use of these numbers for a quick response to crime scene,” he said.

Chairman of Oyo State branch of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Alhaji Taofeek Ayorinde, expressed shock at our correspondent’s question on the continued rage of kidnappers inside cabs.

Although he denied knowledge of a recent incident, he stated that his union has put in place a functional Task Force with a view to helping members to chase the kidnappers out of Oyo State.

“I am telling you that they are no longer in the state. We gave them a close monitoring and they ran out of town. I want to advise passengers to board buses at motor parks. Motor parks are sited everywhere and they are safe.

“Standing by the road side is too risky no matter how cheap the fare is. The cheaper the product is, the poor the service. If such vehicles break down on the way, passengers will be stranded,” he explained.

The chairman popularly known as Fele also advised parents to always educate their children on the advantages of going to the motor parks to board vehicles. He regretted seeing adults also standing by the road side and running after buses.

“This is common somewhere after toll gate. You see them running into trouble. How do you trace such people in case anything happens along the road? I am again advising our people to patronise us instead of putting their lives on the line,” he said.