Expressway of terror: Travellers in dread as kidnappers return to Akoko/Owo-Akure/Owo highway
The increasing rate of kidnapping on the ever busy Owo / Ikare Akoko road has continued to defy all solutions and has become a nightmare to travellers; giving both the residents and the state government sleepless night. HAKEEM GBADAMOSI examines the kidnapping trend in the area, causes, rise and possible solutions.
The recent kidnap of three members of staff of the Federal Medical Centre, and a member of the state owned Rufus Giwa Polytechnic, both in Owo, Ondo state in Amurin community, along the Akure /Owo road, after their close of work road penultimate week, climaxed to what the people of the state referee to as the height of criminality in the state.
Within the last one month, no fewer than twelve people have been abducted in about three or four kidnap incidents, while millions of Naira had exchanged hands as payment for ransom with every victims having ugly tales to tell while in the captives of their abductors.
Most travellers, especially traders who regularly ply this road usually embark on a prayer and fasting session before embarking on any journey on the road. Travelers have identified about four or five major spots on the Owo / Ikare Akoko road as being the most deadly. This is one of the reasons the state government embarked on the reconstruction of the road, even though a federal road, to serve as palliative measure to ensure free vehicular movement on this road.
But to the chagrin of the residents of the state, the kidnappers relocated to the Akure/ Owo axis of the road, operating on the road unhindered even with the presence of security operatives in the road. The last incident where the hoodlums in police uniform, took over the road, stopping vehicles, shooting sporadically and randomly picking their victim while some of the victims were shot and injured during the process.
An eye witness told Nigerian Tribune that at least four people were abducted by the armed men who are wielding dangerous weapons, such as cutlass, axes, knives and guns. He said “the men who are armed with dangerous weapons stopped vehicles and started ordering passengers out of the vehicles and started kidnapping passengers in any of the vehicles that caught their fancy.”
The source who escaped being kidnapped after being dragged to the bush, said the suspected hoodlums who are of Fulani origin operated without fear and explained that one Mr. Taiwo Akinyemi, a Non-Teaching Staff of Rufus Giwa Polytechnic was ordered to embarked from an official car while some medical staff from FMC, including a pregnant medical doctor, who were on their way to Akure after the day’s job were also abducted.
The kidnappers wasted no time in demanding for ransom some few hours after their victims were whisked away. The pregnant medical doctor was released the second day but not without paying for her freedom. However the other victims also regained their freedom after payment of ransom ranging from N3m to N5m, but the RUGIPO staff, Taiwo Akinyemi, never survived the trauma as he was found dead in a farm six days after his abduction.
The killing of Akinyemi by the kidnappers however threw the academic community into mourning while the the staff, students, lecturers and management of the institution protested over the gruesome murder of one of them, as they moved round the school in possession as a mark of respect for the death of the deceased.
Academic activities were paralysed and the second semester which was billed to commence last Monday was suspended.
While addressing journalist over the death of Akinyemi, the Chairman of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Polytechnic (SSANIP) RUGIPO chapter, Mr Chris Olowolade, described the death of father of three as sad and unfortunate. He explained that the union had entered into negotiation with the kidnappers in order to secure his release but said “we lost him to the kidnappers and we received his corpse yesterday.
“The kidnappers placed a ransom of N100m on him which nobody can afford but they reduced it to N7m after two days and later grudgingly asked us to come with N.5m. The money was taken to them and the person who took the money was directed by the kidnappers where he should drop the money. They asked him to stop, reverse and move just to confirm if he was the actual person bringing the money
“But after some hours they called that the man bringing the money should come back to the spot that they couldn’t see the money, only to be called by the Rector yesterday evening to go and identify a corpse.
“We rushed to the morgue and discovered it was Akinyemi’s corpse. He was tied to a stick with his clothes and left his remains in the bush. The body was recovered by the police and deposited at the morgue, it show he was badly maltreated before he was killed.”
The state governor, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu, also suspended all official assignments and rushed to the school to commiserate with the academic community. Akeredolu described the death of the Akinyemi as unfortunate and uncalled for.
The governor explained that the efforts of the state government and the security operatives in rescuing the deceased.
Akeredolu lamented that “it is unfortunate that the man couldn’t return home alive. The incident happened some five minutes after I passed the place and I had to deploy some security men in my convoy to the place to rescue the victims”
The governor assured that the state government would be committed to the security of lives and property saying he has directed the security operatives in the state to increase road patrol to curb the activities of the hoodlums on the roads.
He said, “these kidnappers have become more daring and desperate, this is because we are moving towards festive period but the state police command have assured that they will not limit their operation to stop and search only but they will also increase the road patrol”
He called on the people of the state to inform police about any strange movement or people in their community and said “community policing and investigation can be done by the people of the community because police cannot be everywhere.
“I am assuring you on behalf of this government that this government will do its best to ensure this will be last case of kidnap to be recorded in this state and the perpetrators will be brought to book”
Apart from the recent abduction, it will be recalled that some gunmen along Oba Akoko town in Akoko South West Local Government Area of the state kidnapped five members of the African Democratic Congress, (ADC) in the state.
The victims included the Senatorial candidate for the Ondo North senatorial district of the state, Hon. Jide Ipinsagba, the State Chairman of the party, Bisi Ogungbemi and three other members of the party were under captives for almost a week.
The family of the four victims however parted with N15m as ransom while they explained the harrowing experience which they were subjected to. Ipinsagba while narrating his ordeal, described the four days spent in the den of the kidnappers as horrible saying that they were made to live like animals in the forest. He explained that they were forced to trek for over four hours in the jungle before getting to the kidnappers den, and said “ they fed us with garri and water for about three days while we were forced to sleep on the bare floor in the cold”.
Condemnation have been trailing the act of kidnapping in the state, the foremost socio political group, Afenifere, in one of its meeting lamented over the continued rate of kidnap in South west region, especially Ondo state
Afenifere said “the continuous criminal activities of armed herdsmen in the South West as evident in the kidnapping of six Ondo indigenes on November 14 as they were returning from Akure to Ikare Akoko.The people who were kidnapped at Ago Ajayi, a farm settlement between Ose and Ikare in Akokoland included five men a woman in two cars.
“They were released after three days in captivity after being subjected to life threatening experiences and ransom paid. Their abductors made them to view the horror of decapitated bodies of their previously Killed victims as they wielded AK 47 rifles.
“These unhinged security challenges continue to daily show that the country’s security architecture has collapsed under the crushing weight of unitary arrangement that concentrate the country’s Security apparatus only in the hands of the Federal government and we cannot continue without decentralizing the police for proper security at state levels.”
Most residents who spoke with Nigerian Tribune laid the blame at the doorsteps of the Federal and State government. A resident of Ago Ajayi in Oba Akoko urged the Federal Government to take fundamental steps to address the root causes of kidnapping and other crimes by dealing with the high unemployment level in the country.
Also showing concerns over the incessant cases kidnapping of citizens in Owo and environs, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Owo branch, declared that no lawyer from its branch shall henceforth defend anybody that is alleged of kidnapping.
The association disclosed this while protesting against the incessant kidnapping in the axis which has become money spinning venture.
The NBA Chairman in Owo, Alhaji Tajudeen Olutope Ahmed, who led members of the association on a protest on major streets of Owo lamented that no routes was longer safe for commuters in the area, said the government had failed in its responsibility of providing security to citizens.
“The kidnappings ad infinitum in Owo and her environs, which one of our member was once a victim is an indication of total collapse of security in Owo and the triumph of kidnapping and armed gangsters.
“It is on this note that we hereby invite the Government of Ondo State and that of the Federal Government to declare a state of emergency on kidnapping on Owo roads and that of the entire federation,” he said.
While calling on the police to be alive to its responsibility we, Ahmed said the NBA is worried and disturbed that the police could not give a correct account of the citizens that were kidnapped recently on the Owo-Akure road and said “we therefore call on the police authorities to wake up to the present security challenge in Owo.
“This is not the time to slumber. It is not the time to be supine as well. Police must, as a matter of necessity be alert to the security situation in Owo and her environs. To this end, we suggest that the idea of mounting police checking points, which are nothing but avenues to rake bribes from commuters, should be reviewed.
“Constant police patrol of the roads should be embarked upon. In this way police will be able to foil any attempt by the men of under worlds from showcasing their daredevil skills on the roads,” he said.
The Chairman of Owo NBA however advocated that government should henceforth pay ransom on behalf of abductors with the security votes saying “ we demand that the Government of Ondo State and that of Owo Local Government should henceforth settles whatever ransom that might be demanded from any victim of kidnapping on Owo roads.
“This can be payable from the security votes of the chief executives. Security votes are not meant to be put in pockets of chief executives. We learnt that the Rufus Giwa staff was killed because the money for his ransom was not raised on time after all other victims were freed”.
Some residents who spoke with Nigerian Tribune called on government to put an end to the activities of kidnappers in the state.
A teacher turned farmer, Mr. Moses Olubadejo, said “the government should ensure that the Nigeria Police Force and other crime fighting agencies are adequately funded, trained and equipped with modern crime-fighting facilities to deal with crime.
“Most of these criminals move about with sophisticated weapons and apart from this, government should try and fix all our roads. These hoodlums usually take advantage of the bad portions on the road to perpetrate this crime.”
A legal practitioner, Barrister Hafees Hassan called on the state government to introduce stiffer punishment for perpetrators of the offence. According to him, “Nigeria must strengthen its laws for combating crime if it truly wants to fight and reduce kidnapping. Efforts must be made to ensure greater efficiency in the operations of the law to achieve greater impact.
A community leader from Uso, Adeogun Adetula, called for synergy between the security agents and the community leaders across the state. He said the people of the community have a great role to play in keeping criminals at bay.
However, worried by the rising cases of kidnapping in the state, the State Police Command has cleared several hideouts of kidnappers around the North senatorial district of the state in a ‘sting’ operation.
The operation which was led by the State Commissioner of Police, Gbenga Adeyanju, and the Senior Special Assistant to Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu on Security Matters, Alhaji Jimoh Dojumo, as part of efforts to ensure the security of lives and property in the state and to flush out kidnappers in the state.
Adeyanju who vowed to rid the state of criminals said periodic exercise would be carried out by the police from the state. The Police Commissioner disclosed that no arrest was made during the sting operation, but said the command has put necessary measures in place to checkmate activities of criminals on the road.
Similar exercise was carried out by men of the 32 Artillery Brigade in Akure, at the Akoko axis of the state , arresting seven suspected kidnappers.
The state Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) Femi Joseph, who described the killing of the kidnapped staff of RUGIPO, as unfortunate, saying the command has put some measure in place to make kidnapping a thing of the past in the state.
Joseph while speaking on the effort of the state police said men of the state police command have been deployed to be patrolling roads within the state, especially during the yuletide period. He said “we have resolved to increase our manpower on our roads with more patrol to reduce the activities of these criminals to the barest minimum
He enjoined the people of the state to be more security conscious and report strange faces or movement to the police. He urged members of the public to always provide the command with useful information that would lead to the arrest of criminals.
“I can assure you that justice will be done and the search is underway for those who are behind these evil acts to find those responsible and bring them to justice.
“We will make no distinction between the kidnappers who committed this act and those who harbour them.” Joseph said.