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Highway to hell: Kidnappers, robbers, killers reign supreme on Abuja-Lokoja expressway


Every motorist knows that travelling on the Abuja-Kaduna highway required an iron nerve and the heart of a lion. This is due to the virtual takeover of the road by kidnappers, bandits, armed robbers and other criminal elements. The blood-chilling activities of the hoodlums have continued to induce fear in Nigerians, including the high and mighty.

Despite appropriating the public security system for their personal protection, the elite are still afraid to travel on the Abuja-Kaduna road. Senior government officials, federal lawmakers and high ranking military and police officers daily commute to Kaduna by train to avoid falling prey to the criminals. Individuals who were unfortunate to fall into the hands of the highwaymen had a sorry story to tell. Tragically, many others did not live to share their gory experience.

But the criminals appeared to have lately shifted their operations to the Abuja-Lokoja highway where they now hunt down Nigerians like bush fowls. The Abaji/Kwali axis of the road had been identified as their favourite ambush point. Other blackspots include Kwaita-Chikara-Omoko-Idu-Ochonyi and Akpogu communities located along the Abuja-Lokoja highway. The kidnappers were also known to lay ambush for commuters at Chikara-Sharp bend, Aseni, Ahoko-Adabo and Orehi/Achabo axis.

Apart from the highway attacks, the daring gunmen had also carried out robbery and kidnap operations in various communities in Kuje, Kwali, Gwagwalada and AMAC Area Councils. Over 20 victims were abducted within a month across the four councils late last year. Hapless individuals were forced to cough up huge ransoms in exchange for their abducted family members. Though the Federal Capital Territory Police Command had apprehended a number of kidnap and robbery suspects who were paraded before the media, this has not curbed the blood-curdling crimes on that highway. The spate of killings and abductions still read like a Stephen King horror novel.
For instance, on February 2, suspected kidnappers opened fire on a Toyota Previa bus conveying eight passengers at Kwali. An eyewitness said the kidnappers jumped onto the highway and shot at the vehicle forcing the vehicle to a halt. The gunmen then proceeded to march their victims into the forest, but the quick response of a police team from the FCT command saved the day. They engaged the gunmen in a fierce firefight and successfully rescued some of the passengers.
The FCT police spokesman, DSP Anjuguri Manzah, said four suspected kidnappers were arrested during the incident which occurred at Piri village. The suspects are Shuaibu Sule, 27; Mohammadu Usman, 25; Umar Usman, 19, and Usman Ibrahim, 20, all of Kamadi village in Kwali. Exhibits recovered from them include one Dane gun, two cutlasses, one iron bar and one AK-47 ammunition shell.
Also, a similar scenario took place the same day when suspected armed robbers numbering about 10 attacked some passengers at Gada Biu, before Kwaita community along the Lokoja-Abuja highway. The driver of the bus, which belongs to Chisco Transport Company and who identified himself as Madu Francis, told newsmen that he was attacked by gunmen in military uniform around 5.47pm as he was driving towards Gada-Biu.
He said the gunmen, numbering over 30 opened fire from both sides of the highway, adding that he and three passengers sustained bullets wounds.
“But as God will have it, I bent down while on the steering when one of the bullet scraped my head, but I still managed to drive down to Abaji town to park, before the three injured passengers were taken to the hospital for treatment,” he said, adding that he was conveying traders from Utako in Abuja to Lagos to buy goods when the incident happened.

Also on December 8, 2019, some gunmen attacked commuters at Kwaita village, killing six travellers, including a six-year-old child. The police, however, said that four persons were killed during the incident. A gang also reportedly abducted the occupants of an 18-seater commercial bus coming from Abaji along the Abuja-Lokoja highway.
On December 31, nemesis caught up with the kidnappers as four of them were shot dead by the police at Manyare village near Kotonkarfe. Three suspects were arrested at the scene while seven AK-47 rifles were recovered from them.

The idyllic atmosphere of Sabon-Gari village was punctured by gunshots on November 25 by gunmen who reportedly killed a driver and abducted 13 passengers. The miscreants, who were dressed in army uniforms, also shot dead the driver of a Toyota Highlander who was coming from Lokoja axis. The driver had attempted to escape but the hoodlums brutally cut short his life.
Five days later, unidentified gunmen attacked two Federal Road Safety Corps officers travelling from Abuja to Lagos on an official assignment killing one and injuring the other. The officers were travelling in a Toyota Hilux pick-up van with registration number, PILOT 01A when the driver was shot in the head at Oshawa near Lokoja, the Kogi State capital.
The Corps Education Officer, Commander Bisi Kazeem, disclosed in a statement that the incident occurred at about 1.50pm on the Lokoja-Okene highway.

“The suspected kidnappers, according to first information report, were said to have opened fire at the sight of the marked vehicle and, unfortunately, shot the driver in the head, killing him instantly. The vehicle subsequently lost control and veered off the road. It took hours before the rescue team could locate the vehicle in the bush and evacuate the victims,” Kazeem explained.
Nigerians are shocked by the inability of the security agencies to address the high crime rate on the road in spite of the presence of security checkpoints. A retired Department of State Services director, Mike Ejiofor, noted that criminal acts had continued unabated on the road despite the presence of security agents.
He said, “I think the authorities should deploy technological aids like drones to monitor the highway because the crime has continued unabated and it has extended to Abaji-Kwali axis. Kidnapping was previously restricted to between Lokoja and Okene, but now, the criminals have extended their tentacles to Kotonkarfe, Kwali and other areas.
“So, I think the right thing to do was to get some technological assistance because they are becoming more daring. It is not just kidnapping, but most times, they also kill people especially along the Kotonkarfe-Kwali area. They would just open fire on vehicles, it is quite unfortunate.”
Ejiofor, who once had an encounter with the highwaymen during which he was abducted, observed that the security checkpoints on the road were not serving any purpose.
“Between Okene and Auchi, you would see many checkpoints a kilometre apart; in fairness, there had not been reports of abductions in that axis, but it is traumatic travelling on that road between Okene and Okpela due to the high number of checkpoints. They (security agents) are not doing anything, they are only busy checking vehicle particulars and extorting motorists,” the security expert stated.

A security analyst, Ben Okezie, recommended the use of sniffer dogs and surveillance drones to assist the police in combating crime on the highways.
He recalled the recent deployment of surveillance vehicles equipped with cameras by the police authorities and wondered why the highways still remained a strait of fear.
He stated, “Many people have spoken to me that they were kidnapped at certain locations along the Abuja-Lokoja road metres from police checkpoints. I think they need to deploy sniffer dogs to penetrate the bushes. They can also use drones to monitor the area.”
Okezie further advised the police authorities to create a special squad tasked with going after the criminals.

He noted, “We are talking of a well-equipped unit that would be on the road 24 hours to thwart every criminal endeavour on that road. Recently, the IG inaugurated some surveillance vehicles, but we have not seen the impact of this equipment.
“Kidnapping is still happening on Kaduna road, so this crime wave may not reduce until they address the root cause. How come it is only in Nigeria we are hearing about kidnappings? Why are kidnappings not happening in Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Benin Republic?
“This is because they have put in place the necessary structures to protect their citizens, whereas, in Nigeria, the security system is only meant to protect the politicians and those in power.”
But the Abuja police spokesman said the command had increased police presence on Abuja-Lokoja and Abuja-Kaduna highways, stressing that the deployment of surveillance teams had led to the arrest of suspected criminals.

He added, “We have increased our presence and we are also carrying out surveillance on the roads; we are also working with the communities. We have foot patrols as well as stop and search point. They were able to recover a cache of 12 AK-47 rifles and 19 magazines and 110 live ammunition along Abuja-Lokoja highway, last week.”
Manzah disclosed that the command was continuously reviewing its strategy “and you can see that we are making a lot of progress with the arrest of many suspects.”

Credits: PUNCH