Almost no part of northern Nigeria is safe from bandits and insurgents these days but last Sunday’s incidents on the all-important Abuja-Kaduna highway when armed bandits bent on kidnapping travelers for ransom raided the highway several times in one day, was a major statement that deserves the most forceful response from authorities and security agencies.
People living in villages along the highway told Daily Trust’s reporters that within the space of a few hours on Sunday afternoon and evening, bandits blocked the highway four times, opened fire at speeding vehicles, killed many people, forced vehicles to stop or to crash, then abducted as many people as they could and marched them into surrounding bushes. They later contacted victims’ families and demanded outrageous ransom payments of tens of millions of naira each.
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The Abuja-Kaduna highway is the busiest and the single most important road in northern Nigeria. It connects the federal capital, Abuja to all the seven states of the northwest zone. Travelers to Niger State and down to the southern states also traverse part of this road. It is also a favoured route for travelers to many north eastern states, right up to Maiduguri. Most travelers from the North to the south east travel on this road. Its importance to the commercial and social life of the North and of the country as a whole cannot therefore be overemphasized.
Even though this express road was once infested by bandit attacks in the last few years, active measures taken by the police, military and other security agencies drastically curtailed the attacks. The road was relatively safe in the last two years and incidents of robbery and kidnapping on it were few and far between. Last Sunday however, the kidnappers returned with a big splash. Though the police and Kaduna State government initially said two people were killed and eight were abducted, eyewitness statements and those of residents in villages along the route indicated that up to 15 people were killed and many more were kidnapped. The kidnapped included 8 French language students of the Ahmadu Bello University [ABU], Zaria, who were on their way to Lagos for a language immersion course.
All the killings and abductions last week took place in the stretch of the highway between Rijana, Gadan Malam Mamman, Akilibu villages and Kateri town. Rijana village has been known for many years to be the hotbed of kidnapping. At one time a Police Deputy Inspector General was stationed there, and we are surprised that the police have not yet unrooted the kidnap syndicates operating in that village and environs.
There is also a large military camp at Kateri. No doubt these forces, together with police patrol teams once stationed all along the highway, greatly stemmed robbery and kidnapping. Quite possibly, the recent EndSARS protest which demobilized and demoralized the police was responsible for their disappearance from the highway. The bandits took due notice of this, hence their quick strikes last Sunday. It is gratifying that aggressive police and military patrols are said to have returned to the highway. In the past week, Nigeria Air Force also bombed identified bandit camps in the bushes all along the highway.
The lesson to learn here is that security agencies must maintain the highest level of vigilance at all times and must not relax because there is a lull in bandit activity. These patrol measures are, however, only the immediate response. A way must be found to identify and uproot all the bandits not only on this highway but throughout northern Nigeria and the country. For, as we have seen, they shift base from Zamfara to Katsina to northern Sokoto State to southern Kaduna State to Niger State and into the north central states. They must be uprooted and totally defeated. Our entire economic and social lives depend on this. Without security of lives and property, nothing else matters.