By Jethro Ibileke
Undoubtedly, the state of insecurity in Nigeria has been so alarming, especially in 2020. Asides COVID-19 having its toll on the nation, insecurity, in the form of kidnapping for ransom has held the country in the jugular, with security agencies seemingly helpless, leaving hapless Nigerians to be preyed upon by men of the dark world. In the last one year, kidnapping has skyrocketed. Bandits have held Nigerians hostage. No one is safe anymore. Travelling across geographical boundaries breeds fear among passengers because anything can happen.
Kidnapping for ransom is one of the biggest organised or gang crime in Nigeria now and is seen as a national security challenge.” Truly so!
In times past, kidnappings were restricted to certain parts of the country, and were mostly political, used for negotiating certain demands from either the government or expatriate companies, to force companies operating there to carry out community development projects for the benefit of the host communities or force government into negotiations for more of economic benefits accruing to the federal treasury for the region. In some cases that time, the victims were said to be very sympathetic to the agitation of their captors.
But in recent years, the narrative has changed, kidnapping has assumed a frightening dimension, and are often violent. Not a few victims have lost their lives to either resistance or failure of their family members or security operatives to ‘cooperate’ with the hoodlums.
Nigeria suddenly fell into the grip of a kidnapping epidemic in the year 2020, kidnapping for ransom has assumed a commercial scale and has spread across the country. Thousands fell victim of this illicit business which is seen as a lucrative business and the shortest means to wealth by those involved. Victims had to pay hundreds of millions of naira, and in some cases, in hard currencies, in ransom for their freedom.
The current wave of abductions across the country makes every person a potential target, regardless of social class or economic status, unlike political kidnappings of the past. Terror groups waging wars against the country have also added a new dimension to it, especially in Nigeria’s northeast and northwest, whereby they kidnap school children in their numbers, both to generate fund for their criminal activities and to negotiate the release of their captured partners in crime.
In the northwest states of Zamfara, Katsina and Kaduna, hundreds of locals, mostly young women and children are often abducted by these bandits operating from forests.
Sadly, however, efforts by security operatives have not matched or counter the activities of these hoodlums. It became so bad that the governor of the Zamfara State, Bello Matawalle, in late 2019, had to initiate a peace and reconciliation plan to bring the bandits who attack and kidnap villagers back home, offering them jobs in place of kidnapping and banditry. The effort resulted in the release of over 340 kidnapped victims who were held captive waiting for the payment of ransom on their heads by family members.
The case is not different in other parts of the country, especially in the south-south and south-east. Edo State, which claims to be the heart beat of the country, has truly made the nation’s heart palpitate. Local hoodlums and suspected herders have turned the state to the kidnapping capital of Nigeria. Travelling on the Benin-Abuja road, now constitutes a nightmare.
Both the rich and the poor, the high and mighty, including students, top government officials and other professionals are not left out in the abduction for ransom. In several cases, commercial vehicles have been hijacked on the road and their passengers carted away into the forests for ransom negotiation.
In some of these cases, the drivers of the vehicles were killed in the process, and other abductees were later murdered in the forest either because they resisted, attempted to escape or their family members failed to meet up with the ransom demanded. Others were also caught in the cross-fires of gun battle between the bandit and security operatives.
Below are chronicles of few of the most recent cases in Edo State.
On 17, November, eight passengers travelling in a commercial bus on the Benin-Abuja highway were kidnapped, between Okhuessan and Emu, in Esan South-east Local Government Area of the state. The bandits also robbed all the occupants of the red-coloured Toyota Hiace bus of their valuables. While the aged women were left to go, all male passengers between ages 30 and 40, including the driver, were taken captive.
On 20 November, another group of bandits struck again. This time, the chairman of Esan Central Local Government Area of the state, Mr. Waziri Edokpa, a professor of Mathematics and Statistics of Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, was kidnapped on his way to Benin City, the state capital.
On the same day, while the dust raised by the abduction of the local government chairman was yet to settle down, news also came that all passengers of a popular Benin-based transport company were hijacked and kidnapped by gun-wielding bandits. The driver of the bus which was said to have been traveling to Abuja from Benin, was killed.
A day before those two incidents, a 400-level medical student of an unnamed university, Oghogho Christiana, was also kidnapped on the same road. News of her abduction was posted on a social media platform in Benin.
On 3 December, 10 passengers of a commercial bus were reportedly kidnapped at Obagie community, located on Benin-Auchi-Abuja highway, Uhunmwonde local government area of the state. Two persons, including a member of the local vigilante who attempted to rescue the kidnapped victims and one of the passengers, were killed in the process.
In the evening of 19 December, the state Head of Service (HoS), Barr. Anthony Okungbowa, was kidnapped along Oza Road, in Orhionmwon Local Government Area of the state. His driver was shot dead at the spot by the hoodlums, while his police orderly later died at an undisclosed hospital of gunshot injuries.
Again, on 22 December, unspecified number of passengers in an Abuja-bound commercial bus were kidnapped at about 11am, between the Ehor and Iruekpen axis of the highway.
A commuter, who identified himself as Idris Audu, who spoke to journalists in Benin on phone, said the kidnappers struck at a failed portion of the road and abducted all the passengers in the commercial bus operated by a Benin-based transport company, Big Joe.
Asides Edo, the recent abduction of more than 344 students of Government Science Secondary School, Kankara. Katsina State took the nation by storm. Gunmen in scores of motorcycles stormed the school and took time to operate, taking the students with them. The kidnap of the students by bandits took international dimension with everyone calling for the release.
After almost two weeks, the students were released on December 17. Earlier, their abduction was claimed by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram, but it was later declared to be the work of bandits.
Just 72 hours after Kankara schoolboys captured 11 December by bandits were freed, 84 children were abducted 2200 GMT by armed men, who ambushed them in Mahuta village, Dandume LGA, Katsina as they were returning from a Maulud Nabbiyu event at Unguwan Alkasim village.
The children were all of Hizburrahim Islamiyya school. The same set of bandits had already kidnapped four persons and rustled twelve cows from Danbaure village in Funtua LGA of the state, before kidnapping the children. They were trying to escape into the forest, when they ran into the children.
But the police and vigilante groups swiftly responded to rescue the children. The DPO of Dandume LGA got a distress call and moved in his men. Police Spokesman, SP Gambo Isah, said the DPO led Operations “Puff Adder,” Sharan Daji and Vigilante group to the area and engaged the bandits into a fierce gun duel.
“Subsequently, the teams succeeded in dislodging the bandits and rescued all the eighty-four (84) kidnapped victims and recovered all the twelve rustled cows. Search parties are still combing the area with a view of arresting the injured bandits and/or recovery of their dead bodies. Investigation is ongoing,” Isah noted.
Kaduna State has been a den of kidnappers. Travelling on the Kaduna-Abuja Road is now a death trap. Several people have been kidnapped this year on that road, with some killed and ransom in millions of naira paid.
On 14 September, 2020, 17 members of the same family were abducted by gunmen at Udawa village for Kaduna northern Nigeria. The gunmen, numbering 50 arrived in motorcycles and carried them away. This is just one of the several cases of kidnapping in Kaduna.
Zamfara State has also been in the throes of bandits. On November 23, gunmen killed five worshippers and kidnapped at least 18 in an attack on a mosque in Zamfara. “The gunmen attacked the mosque while the imam was delivering the sermon and took away more than 30 people, including the imam, after shooting dead five worshippers,” one resident, Ibrahim Altine had said.
Security agents were not left out in the kidnapping. 12 policemen were abducted on 24 November by gunmen. The 12 Nigerian police officers were kidnapped along the Katsina-Zamfara expressway in the country’s northwest region. They were later released after the police invade the forest and rescued them.
On Monday, July 6, bandits raided several villages in Zamfara State, with multiple properties in three villages reportedly being set alight. In the village of Danfasa (Maru Local Government Area), gunmen killed seven men and abducted 20 women, as well as stealing cattle and food from the villagers. A further 13 people were injured in the attack, and several are missing after having fled into the bush. Kamarawa village was also attacked, with livestock stolen.
In the Southwest States of Ondo and Ekiti, kidnapping are on the increase. Fulani herdsmen are on the prowl. Recently, gunmen shot dead a foremost traditional ruler in Ondo State, Oba Israel Adeusi in Akure. Oba Adeusi was the Olufon of Ifon. He ascended the throne 23 years ago.
The same day, at night, gunmen kidnapped the wife of Olugbenga Ale, Chief of Staff to Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu was abducted by gunmen.
Ale’s wife was said to have been abducted, with her driver and one other person along Ondo-Akure Expressway at the Owen area of Idanre Local Government Area. She was however, rescued two days after her kidnap by local security outfit, Amotekun and hunters.
As it is, the masses have lost confidence in the government of President Muhammadu Buhari to salvage them. They have put their lives in the hands of God, but they can no longer sleep with two eyes closed and unless the government steps up security, more trouble are expected. Ours is simply a nation under siege and the throes of kidnappers.