It will be a great shame if a country as ‘powerful’ as Nigeria is, a country which won a civil war, almost unilaterally restored peace in Liberia and Sierra Leone, helped stabilise DR Congo in the 1960s, helped prevent coups in some African countries, is defeated by a rag-tag army of kidnappers who now ‘own’ the once-famous and once-busy Abuja to Kaduna Expressway. It will be indeed a great shame!
Do not be surprised if very soon the Inspector General of Police or one of his lieutenants comes out on the media to declare Abuja to Kaduna road “safe”. No Sir, or Ma, or whoever is going to say that. The economics of supply and demand is what is playing out. There are apparently so few kidnappings on the road because there are so few travellers. Only daredevil suicidal folk dare ply it. So since there is no supply, there is, therefore, no ‘demand’. A recent cartoon by this newspaper’s award-winning ace satirist Mustapha Bulama illustrated this phenomenon – two kidnappers lamenting ‘lack of business’ on the highway.
Are the police corrupt or incompetent? This is a question agitating every sane mind. It is probably the former (that they are more corrupt than incompetent) because sometimes they surprise even their greatest detractors when they crack hard-nut cases. For example, the 100% safety record on the same piece of road when the Abuja Airport was closed for repairs and the police ensured all Distingusheds and Honourables plying the road from Kaduna Airport arrived Abuja hale, hearty and un-kidnapped. Or the recent Kano Nine; children abducted from Kano and sold in Anambra State. So it is doable!
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 Commands and direct them to institute hourly convoys to pilot and escort commuter vehicles from each end of the highway to the other. For example, since we all know the most dangerous part is the 100-kilometre one-hour stretch from Tafa tollgate (on the Abuja end) to the tollgate just before Kaduna, hourly convoys can depart with fully-armed pilots and escorts between the two points. And we shall arrive happily ever after.
Then every DPO along the road should allocate five-kilometre stretches as beats for his men on a REAL PATROL, not the lazy, golf-like stand they now do and call checkpoint. Many us suspect, for good reason, that checkpoints are 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 commuters in those convoys earlier suggested. And it is not a repetition of roles; it is more confidence-building and indication of who really owns the road.
This week, an international television station announced the rediscovery of a certain animal thought extinct for long. How was it found? By the use of hidden cameras in the forests. And we cannot install hidden cameras in our own forests to ‘catch’ a glimpse of these ‘animals’? Apparently we cannot, as hidden cameras installed not too long ago in Abuja at the cost of billions failed to work – or were failed 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 has had someone they know kidnapped. Even the police were not spared, as a whole Assistant Commissioner of Police, no less, was kidnapped recently! Personally, two close associates were kidnapped not too long apart: Abuja-based Idris Usman and Sokoto-based Muhammad Lawal Maidoki suffered the indignity of being kidnapped. I have been asking them to fisabililLah share their traumatic experiences with us so we can appreciate the enormity of the tragedy and learn lessons.
The last time I plied Kaduna-Abuja road was three years ago. Neither seer nor sage, Allah has given one enough wisdom to anticipate looming dangers. Back in 2009 (ten years ago), I observed some young men around Abuja traffic lights meandering among cars, begging and making a nuisance of themselves. I told all who could hear that something was amiss for these young men to be ‘idle’ enough to leave wherever they were and come into cities. I told many people, including a then serving Minister to, as it were, beware and plan. That cattle rustling, which was not being given the desired attention by government, would one day land us in trouble. And it has.
In the spirit of a 2008 column on this page titled “NOW WE CAN’T EVEN BUY YAM” when my KIA car was robbed at Tafa outside Abuja I had, in July 2017 when kidnapping on the Kaduna-Abuja road was really trending, written “NOW WE CAN’T EVEN GO TO ABUJA!” Then Police IG Ibrahim Idris had scrambled one of his media advisers whom I knew very well to respond to me. He did a good job of it such that the IGP was retired before he could retire those kidnappers. I don’t know if this new IGP has a similar image maker who can explain all these concerns away as well. I await to hear from them.
We recently heard that some women groups intend to hold protests to prevent Distinguished, Honourables and the uniformed class from using the Chinese Abuja-Kaduna Train. Where are those blessed women? And since it seems our criminal kidnappers are moving to the Next Level by brazenly knocking on your door and abducting you, we intone inna lilLahi wa inna ilaiHi raji’un!
May Allah protect us.