How kidnapping turned Nigeria’s interstate roads to fear zone for commuters, transporters
Kidnapping has taken on a ubiquitous level in Nigeria with reports of abduction of people in different parts of the country filtering across airwaves daily. From every corner of the country, North, South, East and West, the story remains the same. ADEOLU ADEYEMO (OSUN), OLAYINKA OLUKOYA (ABEOKUTA), KOLA OYELERE (KANO), HAKEEM GBADAMOSI (ONDO), WALE AKINSELURE (IBADAN), ‘YOMI AYELESO (EKITI), INIOBONG EKPONTA (UYO), AYODELE AJOGE (KEBBI), in this piece, report that plying Nigeria’s interstate roads is now like a journey through the valley of the shadow of death.
WHETHER from East to the West or the North to the South, it is the same story for commercial drivers who lament the fear with which they ply the various roads across the country. According to the various drivers, incidences of attacks launched on them by armed robbers and kidnappers have become a recurring decimal.
They pinpoint various spots on the various roads as being notorious for kidnappers and robbers to launch attacks on commercial drivers and their passengers.
More baffling for the drivers and transporters is that some of the incidences of attacks continue to occur with little or no opposition from security agencies.
They note that the most dreaded times to ply the roads are in the early hours of the day or from 6pm with some noting that they do not make night journeys anymore.
According to the drivers, routes notorious for kidnapping and armed robbery attacks are the Kano-Kaduna road, East-West road, Ibadan-Ilesha-Akure road, Akoko-Kogi-Lokoja-Abuja road, Akure-Benin road, Akure-Lagos road, Ife-Ibadan, Akure-Owo Akoko road, Owo-Benin road, Akure-Ado-Ekiti, Ado-Aramoko.
Other routes identified are Ijebu-Ode to Sag- amu road, Ita-Oshin to Imeko Afon, OsogboIkire-Ibadan, Ilesha- Akure road, Lagos-Ibadan road, Ibadan-Ijebu, Ibadan-Oke Ogun zone, Ibadan-Ibarapa zone.
A driver plying Akure-Lokoja route, Daniel Aibinuori, said people are abducted on daily basis, with the attackers stopping commercial vehicles at will, abducting drivers and their passengers.
He said, “People are abducted for ransom on daily basis. While some pay for their freedom, some are killed. Empty vehicles are seen daily with their owners abducted. Motorists have become increasingly fearful on this highway because of the in- creasing and intensity of kidnappings.
“They have turned kidnapping into big business here, and it is shameful. Security of the people has evidently meant nothing to the government. This is getting out of hand and if care is not taken, they will be coming to our homes to pick us one after the other,” he said.
Sharing his experience in the kidnappers den, a commercial driver, Wale Adenrele, said he was in the forest for 10 days after his abductors took him and four passengers into the bush along Ago Ajayi on his way to Ikare Akoko.
He explained that he was abducted with four other passengers including a military officer and taken into the bush during the incident.
“We ran into these kidnappers around 7.25am, and they were all in police uniform. When I saw them, I did not identify them as kidnappers because I thought they were policemen. But when they started shooting, we submitted ourselves to them and we were taken as hostage for more than ten days. I’ve stopped plying that axis of the road for the past six months and not until the state government and the security agents drive these herdsmen who have turned kidnappers away.
“Despite the constant arrest of suspects and presence of police officers on the road, the kidnappers continue to have the upper hand so much that commercial transport operators are avoiding the Ago Ajayi-Ikare Akoko route,” Adenrele said.
Another driver, Abayomi Ilemobade said he had stopped plying the Ibadan-Akure road after he was in the kidnappers den for seven days and had to part with N1m before he was released with some of his passengers.
He said, “It was late in the night and we ran into the road block. Initially I thought it was police but when they started shooting and ordered us out of the vehicle and marched us into the bush. We were blindfolded and dispossessed us of our valuables, handsets, money, ATM cards and other things. They beat us and sub- ject us to untold treatment.
“I was shot on the leg on the fifth day when my people failed to respond to their demand and I was delaying the release of others. They sent the picture of my leg to them and they had to come with the ransom on the second day,” Ilemobade said, adding that he had stopped driving but gave his vehicles out to some drivers who deliver to him on daily basis.
Ade “Bendel” Azubike who plies Akure / Lagos route said the reconstruction of the Ore /Benin road had reduced the rate of kidnapping in the road.
He said he had been guest of the kidnappers at three different times, saying these hoodlums are fearless.
He specifically said the hoodlums were Fulani herdsmen, who had lived in the bush for many years, saying the criminals operate unhindered with weapons, including sophisticated guns and machetes.
He noted that the state of the roads in the South-west region contributed in no small measure to the crime, adding that the Ife-Ibadan, Akure-Owo Akoko road, Owo-Benin roads are said to be the most dreaded roads in the region as most of the highways are either riddled with potholes or repair works on them have been abandoned and this makes it easy for hoodlums to attack their victims.
“Our roads are very bad; the potholes give the kidnappers and armed robbers the op- portunity to attack us because they know we cannot speed in these areas. Some of these kidnappers usually attack us very close to security post and they will be there doing noth- ing but only to collect and take money from us,” Azubike said.
Several passengers told Nigerian Tribune that they no longer travel in the early hour or late hour of the day. They noted that the hoodlums now operate in the early hours of the day and late in the night when security operates must have retired to their stations.
Transporters plying major roads, especially those travelling from Kano to Kaduna axis said driving on Zaria road at night was a no-no, noting that the practice is to sleep over at Zaria.
Those plying roads at night said they had adopted the practice of mounting security horns on their vehicles to scare away men of the underworld from the roads.
Speaking in the same vein, Baba Tajudeen, who usually conveys passengers from Ibadan to Kano, disclosed that prayer is the master key for those travelling at night.
He added that drivers are aware of flash points on the roads and are mindful when they get to such spots, whether at night or during the day.
Commercial drivers and commuters in Ekiti also noted that, in view of the recent cases of attacks and kidnappings on major roads in the state, they have their hearts in their mouths while plying the roads.
A motorist, Mrs Bola Akinlami said clearly said she no longer ventured into travelling into Ekiti State any time after 6pm.
Akinlami who delivers goods in the state, said that reports of abduction and attacks had taken place at night in Iju axis of Akure-Ado-Ekiti route.
“If you notice, you will know that majority of the cases along Akure-Ado-Ekiti happen at night, which means it is not safe to travel on that route at night in your own interest. I will prefer to pass the night in Ado to taking the risk. Get me right, I am not saying it happens every day, but one will not know when this gunmen will strike so it is better you prepare ahead,” she said.
A journalist from Ado-Ekiti who works in Akure said he could no longer alternate between the two state capitals on daily basis like he used to owing to series of criminal attacks along the route.
Pleading anonymity, the journalist said, “Under normal circumstances, you know if not for the bad road, the journey between Akure and Ado is less than one hour and that was how I moved to and fro everyday but I dare not try it now. The bad condition of the road also helps these criminal elements to swoop on travellers at night on the road. It is that bad now.”
A driver, Jacob Olaoye said the fear of herdsmen had made many people to abandon the Akure-Ado Ekiti route at night.
He said, “As a driver we know what is going on the route. At times, we encounter these people along the road but escape due to our brave driving skills, but not in all cases. We are pleading with the government to ensure maximum security along these roads by deploying more Amotekun personnel to the Akure-Ado Ekiti route.”
Another transporter plying the Ado-Aramoko road, Femi Ajayi noted that the routes had witnessed series of abductions in recent time, which had made many of the drivers to shun night travelling, adding that “It is only God that can save us from these gunmen on these roads because we have seen a lot. Majority of the attacks happened in the night so the only way to avoid it is to stop moving at night. It is really a difficult situation and we hope government will do something in renovating the road and ensure constant patrol by security personnel.”
Speaking with the Nigerian Tribune, Saidi Adetola, a commercial driver who plies Odogbolu to Ketu Garage in Lagos on a daily basis, said whenever he approaches particular junction between Odogbolu and Ilishan junction, he is enveloped with fear.
He, however, said that the routine patrol of policemen and men of OP-MESA on the Sagamu highway has drastically reduced the activities of kidnappers and restored confidence in them wherever they are traveling on the road.
Also, Joshua Abatan, who plies Ijebu-Ode to Sagamu route said he panics when he gets to two spots between Ikenne and Sagamu.
Musa Sowemimo, a commercial driver, who travels from ItaOshin garage to Aiyetoro enroute Imeko-Afon said the daily news of kidnapping had made some of them to change their regular route.
He said, “Travelling from Ita-Oshin to Imeko Afon has become a nightmare at any point in time of the day. The hoodlums take advantage of the bad portions on the road from Oke-Ata through Mango in Abeokuta to Aiyetoro axis and other parts of the state in Yewa South Local Government to act stupidly by kidnapping or robbing motorists. We entertain fear anytime we carry passengers to their destinations because of the uncertainties that might occur on the highway. We pray fervently to God to protect us and our commuters to and fro for safety.”
For motorists and commuters along the Akwa Ibom-Port Harcourt axis of the East-West road, heading to and fro the two neighbouring states is regularly a tortuous and fearful journey.
They report that the ever-busy road has become one full of encounters with bandits and night marauders. It’s the same situation for the Ogoni road in Rivers state which connects the Ikot Abasi and Oruk Anam areas of Akwa Ibom, where travellers mostly recount that they are easy preys to criminals who rob, kidnap and sometimes kill their victims.
Kennedy Udouko, a bus driver from Uyo to Port Harcourt narrated his harrowing experiences traversing the road.
He said “a lot of nasty things happen even during day time along that road. I was returning to Uyo from Port Harcourt the other day and my bus was flagged down by somebody dressed in police uniform. I obliged.
“But as soon as I stopped, the man I thought was a policeman turned out to be an armed robber. He ordered everyone to disembark and took time to search every passenger and dispossessed them of cash, phones and other items. Some women who tried to raise the alarm forced other accomplices to emerge from the bush. Some of them were raped by the roadside, while others were marched into the bush. When they eventually released the vehicle, some of the women were nowhere to be found,” Udouko said.
In the same vein, Effiong Bassey, a traveller along the road, who deals on second wears, said “I have survived being killed at close quarters along that road. There was a time the bus I was travelling in rammed into a barricade on the expressway, because the driver refused to stop on seeing a flashlight. “On that day, I lost all my savings because they collected the liquid cash I had on me. They had a POS machine and demanded for our ATM cards through which they withdrew all our cash in the bank. I was there, receiving alerts on my phone. What annoyed me most was that after the raid, the criminals seized all our phones and disappeared. One of the travellers whom they discovered to be an oil worker was marched into the bush for negotiation for ransom payment afterward,” he added.
Archibong Daniel, a commercial bus driver blamed the problem on the collapse of other connecting roads to Port Harcourt, especially the Azumini-Obehie road leading to the Aba-Port Harcourt highway and the Uyo-Ikot Ekpene-Aba-Port Harcourt road.
He, therefore, asked the Federal and state governments to “as a matter of urgency increased security on the roads, while making plans to effectively fix the roads for smooth movement and effective security surveillance.”
Mercy Obot, a palm oil dealer lamented that she had to seek alternative route of ferrying her goods to the big market in Rivers State, following rampant cases of killing and kidnapping on the road.
“I have been dispossessed of my entire earnings on my way back to Akwa Ibom through Ogoni road. Since then, I can’t use the road again. I now have patience as my second name and take the pains to pass through the Iwukem-Azumini-Obehie road still under construction. Since I escaped narrowly being killed or kidnapped by those daredevil criminals on that road, my children warned that I should stop using that road or stop the business entirely,” she explained.
Pointing to incidences of kidnap in recent times, a driver who usually plies the Ibadan-Ijebu road, Lateef Bello said going through the road can be classified among the most risky ventures currently.
A commercial driver for the Lagos-Ibadan road, Rasheed Salawu noted that Ogunmakin and Alapako areas on the road remained notorious spots where drivers moved on high speed and with very watchful eyes.
On fear of transporters, plying intrastate routes in Oyo State, State Chairman, Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN), Kamorudeen Idowu said the transporters were not unaware of the challenges of insecurity in the transport sector but were keen to work with the state government to address the challenge.
A transporter, Adewale Olaore, plying Ilesha-Akure road, said he usually engages in lengthy prayers before embarking on journey on the route.
Describing his experience with armed robbers on Akure-Ilesha road, he said many were shot and killed adding that if not for divine intervention, he would be dead by now going by various incidences on the Akure-Ilesha road.
He, however, charged the Federal Government to speedily swing into action and find a way of curbing criminal activities on Nigerian roads.
Another transporter, Aderoju Adelani likened the security challenges on the Akure-Ilesha road to a bone hung on the neck of a dog which could not be removed by the dog itself but by somebody else. He consequently called on the government to deploy adequate security on Nigerian interstate roads to wipe off the tears and fears in the minds of transporters. Transporters across Kebbi State, however, noted that records of attacks on them have been minimal. Alhaji Garba Abdullahi, a transport leader in Kebbi, reported that the route from Birnin-Kebbi to Lagos via Ilorin has been free from kidnappers, same as from Birnin-Kebbi to Abuja via Kontagora. “No problem between Kebbi, Sokoto and Gusau route up to Zuru and the other adjoning towns or villages, we thank Allah for that mercy,” Abdullahi said.
Meanwhile, the Coordinating Director, Federal Highways Construction and Rehabilitation in the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing, (Works Sector), Mr Olufunso Adebiyi at the weekend said bad portions aiding kidnappings along ma- jor roads in Ekiti would soon be repaired. He revealed that the Federal Government was aware that criminals are now taking advantage of such road conditions to kidnap victims, saying decisive actions are being taken to address the trend headlong.
According to him, “We have heard in the news that criminals now use the advantage of bad portions on some of our roads to hide in nearby bushes and kidnap their victims so cheaply, we will not allow this to continue for long. “The current government does not joke with safety of lives of the citizenry and that was why it conceptualised the idea of embarking on this special intervention programme nationwide. The honourable Minister, Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola is so keen about this and he has not been hiding his feelings.”