For the past two weeks, this Column has been speaking FOR the Police; this week it will be speaking ‘AGAINST’ them for their crass failure in protecting poor citizens of this country from the criminality, tragedy and shame called the Abuja-Kaduna Road. If anything could be a wakeup call for the Nigerian government and its security agencies, it’s this latest kidnapping of students of ABU Zaria, and the subsequent demand for ransom of N270 million. It is a tragedy and a shame of gargantuan proportions.
Almost exactly a year ago (16 November 2019) this page had published ‘BEFORE IGP DECLARES ABUJA-KADUNA ROAD SAFE’. Perhaps the Column spoke too soon – a few days after, the Police indeed declared the road safe and secure. Alas! What is happening today is worse than when the kidnapping was at its highest back in 2017 on this 200-kilometre stretch of criminal deathtrap. Our security forces – INDEED OUR PRESIDENT – have woefully and dismally failed.
Have you heard the story this Columnist heard recently? The story about a Federal Government-owned examination-organising agency who had their staff kidnapped and a ransom demanded? To the eternal shame of the Nigerian security system, it was said that the kidnappers brazenly directed that the ransom money be paid via a nearby government-owned security formation. Ransom money through a government security agency!
The story continued: When the examination body refused to pay as ‘instructed’ and opted to pay ‘direct’ to kidnappers, the security people who were supposed to have been the ‘collectors’ came to the agency and reprimanded the agency – and demanded an additional ransom, equivalent to half of the original, which had to be paid before the staff were released. The agency was said to be so embarrassed on behalf of government that it couldn’t tell the story to the world.
It is a great shame that a country as ‘powerful’ as Nigeria, a country which won a civil war, restored peace in Liberia and Sierra Leone, helped stabilise Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1960s, helped prevent coups in some African countries, has been defeated by a rag-tag army of kidnappers who now ‘own’ the once-busy Abuja to Kaduna Expressway. It is be indeed a great shame!
This Column has, over the years, made several suggestions to the police on what needs to be done to take control of the Abuja-Kaduna Road. In the article ‘BEFORE IGP DECLARES ABUJA-KADUNA ROAD SAFE’ of November 2019 and ‘NOW WE CAN’T EVEN GO TO ABUJA’ of July 2017, the question has been simple: Are the police corrupt or incompetent? Are they in cahoots with the criminals or are they so incompetent as to have been outsmarted and outgunned by the kidnappers? Either way, unacceptable and unbelievable.
If the government wants to restore public confidence in its so-called ‘security architecture’, starting with this vexatious Abuja to Kaduna road, the IGP should call his three Commissioners of Police of FCT, Niger and Kaduna States and direct them to plan and institute hourly convoys to pilot and escort commuter vehicles from each end of the highway to the other. For example, since we all know that the most dangerous part is the 100-kilometre one-hour stretch from the tollgate after Tafa (on the Abuja end) to the tollgate just before Kaduna, hourly convoys can depart with fully-armed pilots and escorts between the two points.
Then every DPO along the road should allocate a five-kilometre beat for every police vehicle for a REAL PATROL, not the lazy, golf-like stand they now do and call checkpoint. Many us suspect, and for good reason, that checkpoints are just a ploy to ‘cede’ (or sell) territory to criminals. There should be real up-and-down patrols 24 hours a day, with sirens a-blaring. This will give confidence to those commuters in those convoys earlier suggested. And it is not a repetition of roles; it is more security, more confidence-building, and indication of who really owns the road.
Last year, an international television station announced the rediscovery of a certain animal thought extinct for ages. How was it found? By the use of hidden cameras in the forests. Can we not install hidden cameras in our own forests to ‘catch’ a glimpse of these ‘animals’? Apparently, we cannot; hidden cameras installed not too long ago in Abuja at the cost of billions failed to work – or were failed not to work. Nigerian batteries will always die, even if our divinely-donated solar power never fails.
Do we remember watchtowers? What prevents the police from erecting watchtowers at every kilometre along this route, or all over the country for that matter? As for drones, forget it. They are still negotiating the contract and inflating the invoice such that, by the time they are deployed, the kidnappers would have been able to ‘buy’ the remote-control coordinates.
Each one of us knows someone who has been kidnapped. This Columnist knows no less 20 victims, Even the police were not spared; a whole Assistant Commissioner of Police, no less, was kidnapped!
In these terrible and tragic incidences of kidnapping, most people are left to their own devices – no support whatsoever from any branch of government. No provision of counselling. No assistance or loan to pay ransom. Nothing. Many a victim family had at first rushed to the security agencies for help but ended up regretting it – in one instance, the kidnappers were said to have told the family that they were aware that they had spoken to such security outfit at such a time.
Let us say here that we do have confidence in the Nigerian security apparatuses, but not absolute. For there is absolute and resolute determination on the part of the security agencies only when the families of the high-end elite are affected. That time, no stone is literally left unturned until the victims are rescued and reunited with their dear families. For all others, it is up to the millions you pay as ransom.
A recent message on the social media advises: always keep a low profile; always delete financial transactions from your devices; take less valuables items with you when travelling; avoid late travelling; avoid sitting at the back of the vehicle (owner’s corner); and do not accept nor offer lift to strangers; should the worst happen, remain calm and don’t attempt to escape; cooperate with your abductors; tell your negotiators (family and friends) to be friendly; do not look directly at your abductors’ faces; and never tell them you have no one to pay your ransom.
May Allah protect us all.