Climate of Fear:‘Many Nigerians no longer want to travel because of kidnappers, killer herdsmen’

BAYO ALADE reports that the general state of insecurity in the country is a matter of concern to everyone, as it is now becoming difficult for Nigerians to move round the country as occasions demand.

AS of 2015 general insecurity across the nation was limited to certain areas. There was restiveness in the Niger-Delta and Fulani-herders’ clashes in the Middle Belt, coupled with Boko Haram insurgency in the North East. It was easier even for foreign embassies to advise their nationals on areas to avoid while moving round the country.

Now insecurity is everywhere to the extent that nowhere is actually safe. Major roads across the country have become no-go areas where people are kidnapped almost on a daily basis.

One of the notorious roads where kidnapping thrived is the Kaduna-Abuja road where high profile people including a foreign embassy official were kidnapped some years back. Cells of kidnappers are said to have embedded themselves in many forests around the country. The southern part of the country with abundance of forests seems to be the new focus of kidnappers of recent.

The situation had necessitated military intervention code named Crocodile Smile, Python Dance and a few others. But insecurity seems to be defying these interventions as kidnapping and banditry, including attacks by herdsmen among other crimes seem to be on the increase on a daily basis.

The major roads notorious for kidnapping are also expanding literally, with many Nigerians becoming victims; so many cases go unreported. Notable Nigerians who had fallen victim to attacks and kidnapping on major highways include Senator Iyabo Anisulowo; wife of a former Speaker of Osun State House of Assembly, Alhaja Muibat Salam; wife of a lawmaker, Mrs Folashade Onademuren, including foreigners and Nigerians visiting from abroad.

In May, gunmen operating near Okada junction along the Benin-Lagos highway killed one Kelvin Izevbekhai, a lecturer at the Igbinedion University, Okada, in Edo State while trying to escape from the kidnappers’ den.

Around the same time a pastor of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) and 14 others were abducted in Anguwan Kuli, a remote village along the border of Sabua Local Government Area in Kaduna.

Of recent, latest victims of attacks on major highways include Felix Akanbi, a naval warrant officer and Mrs Funke Olakunri daughter of Pa Reuben Fasonranti, Afenifere leader.

This general state of insecurity has now made many Nigerians to always weigh their travelling plans before embarking on them. It is an understatement to say that Nigerians are worried about the situation which they blamed on the Federal Government, lamenting that it had not done enough to bring the situation under control.

One Taye Fayemi, responding in a Sunday Tribune opinion poll to the issue of general insecurity in the country was of the opinion that government had been slow in its response. He blamed President Muhammadu Buhari’s government for the situation, saying “it is not keen about the security of Nigerians. We were told recently that the Federal Government is going to deploy soldiers on our highways especially in the South West Nigeria.

“Osinbajo›s visit to South West obas on the security situation is lip service. This government is not really keen on security for us; let us defend and secure ourselves. Baba Obasanjo advised the government, many uncivilised citizens started calling Obasanjo different names; if I were him, and I would hand off on Nigeria’s problems.”

Another respondent, one Matthew Anumati in a frustrated tone said: “those in government will only act when their relatives are involved. Government knows what to do. The primary duty of any government is to secure life and property. No more, no less.”

Prince Osuolale Oyetunji in his own contribution also blamed government saying that “In the first place, we don’t have serious government at the federal level; if not they ought to have tracked down those behind the kidnappings because in my own opinion not only the Fulani herdsmen are behind it but there are some people hiding under the herdsmen façade for these obnoxious activities.

Yet, some are of the opinion that the introduction of state police is the way out of the problem. Suleiman Abiola Sanni said: “Immediate passage of state police law by the National Assembly will stop kidnapping episodes; otherwise lawmakers too will not be able to travel to their homes and constituencies! A stitch in time saves nine.”

Joe Dazema feels so too. He is also of the opinion that “Nigeria is too large a country to be policed by the Federal Government (police). States should be empowered to have a police force that covers their territories.”

However, one Omoniyi Lawrence berated government’s attempt to bring out the military to mount road blocks on major high ways in the country. “Mounting road blocks cannot get these criminals (arrested), the highways need to be patrolled on a daily basis; apart from patrol, state governments should acquire drones, (not toys), to survey the forests. The criminals know how to beat check points,” he said.

On his own part, Valentine Akahome said: “Government highway patrol police should not be stationed (in one spot); they should do as their name implies and should be equipped with modern communication facilities. And also, I think it is time government gave right to people to have (their own) guns with age limit as a control measure.

Agwu Arisa Agwu also said “The government should enforce and ensure that police highway patrol teams patrol along the highway instead of staying in one place collecting money from motorists.”

Even regular travelers and commercial drivers are scared of being on the road these days. Tajudeen Laolu, a commercial bus driver who plies Lagos-Ibadan route from the Challenge motor park in Ibadan, lamented his daily losses to Sunday Tribune, blaming it on the rising cases of kidnapping on the road.

“Many (people) are not travelling by road again because of the menace of kidnappers. For those of us who usually make two or three trips to Lagos each day, making N10,000 on each trip, we hardly make N10,000 per day again compared to N30,000 which we could possibly make daily. You can only imagine what the lot of those who are only able to make a trip a day, or those who travel every two to three days in a week will be. It is no longer easy.

“To make matters worse, most of our regular customers, traders, who usually hire buses each time they have to buy products in Lagos, passengers now arrange with their marketers in Lagos to move their goods from a particular spot to any of the motor parks in Lagos and send them through our drivers coming to Ibadan.

“That way, we have been excluded from benefitting from rendering our normal services to Lagos and back to Ibadan. Without leaving Ibadan, many of them can now receive their goods without travelling. They are afraid of that road because of the reports of kidnappings, “Laolu lamented

Another driver, Wasiu Lawal, confirms the decline in passengers’ patronage. He blamed it on failure of the government to fix the highways, which, in its present state, allows not just kidnapping to thrive, but also armed robbery and other crimes.

“It is not only kidnappers that we worry about; we also have armed robbers to contend with. All these will reduce if government actually gets down to delivering on the dividends of democracy as promised,” he said.

A trader, who chose to simply identify himself as Prince, in an interview told Sunday Tribune that since the news of kidnapping and killings on Nigerian roads started doing the round, he had refrained from travelling to Aba on a regular basis. For him, phone calls and the social media has been of help in transacting his business.

“Long before the start of kidnappings and killings in the Ondo, Osun and Ekiti axis, I used to travel up to three times in a month, or even more, depending on how business moved. But now that our highways are dens of terrorists and kidnappers, I don’t travel as such again.

“What I now do is to place a call through to my customer in Aba, highlighting the clothing materials I need. If there are new materials he wants me to see before including in my stock, he will either snap or video record and send to me.

“I send money to him both for the material and the driver that will bring it down to Ibadan. That’s how I have continued in business despite the danger on the road,” he explained

 

Drivers want  roads fixed

Most of the drivers interviewed by Sunday Tribune were unanimous in their views on the state of the roads in the country as a contributory factor to crime of kidnapping.

“The government should fix our roads. When traffic is regular on major highways, it will be suicidal for anyone to try to stand in the front of vehicles moving on high speed. But the bad roads allow robbers and kidnappers to have a field day because we are naturally going to drive slowly as we approach these very bad roads. Robbers time themselves and usually spring from both sides of the road to attack passengers,” Tajudeen Laolu said.

Joshua Babalola, also a driver is still in the business because there is no alternative for now. What can one do? I don’t have another job yet. If I had an option, surely I would have stopped driving. That does not mean that others have not. Those who have been fortunate now drive company executives in Ibadan and hardly leave the city. I envy them,” he said.

Murphy Adewale, who once worked as a commercial driver, now employed as a driver to a Lebanese in one of the organizations in Oluyole Estate, Ibadan, confirmed to Sunday Tribune that a South African client that was invited to the country took the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and complained bitterly about its condition

“Following her arrival from Murtala Airport three weeks ago, I had to drive her to Osun State the following day. She was appalled by the state of our roads despite all they hear about Nigeria as a developed country over there. She said South African roads are far better than any of the best roads she drove on in Lagos.”

 

—Additional reports by TADE MAKINDE and OLAMIDE ENIOLA.

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