Two days after the siege by bandits on the Abuja-Kaduna Highway, many people are still missing, Daily Trust reports.
The Sunday’s attack had claimed the life of a former Director of Protocol in the FCT and a 2019 gubernatorial aspirant in Zamfara State, Alhaji Sagir Hamidu, while many people could not be accounted for.
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Minutes after the attack, security operatives, rescue officials and commuters met many vehicles empty at the scene while others veered off the road.
Daily Trust reports that it was the first major attack on the highway since September 14 when bandits attacked the road during which they killed a police officer and abducted the Emir of Bungudu in Zamfara State, Alhaji Hassan Atto, around Dutse village.
Ironically, the kidnappers returned to the highway on Monday after the Sunday’s attack and reportedly abducted many travellers.
Daily Nigerian said that the kidnappers returned to the highway at about 4.30 pm and opened fire on motorists.
It quoted sources saying the incident occurred less than five kilometres away from the point the assailants operated on Sunday.
Lawan Sani, a witness who plied the road immediately after the incident said he saw at least four abandoned vehicles with shattered windshields and flat tyres.
“There was serious commotion and panic around the area. Soldiers arrived at the scene almost immediately but the bandits briskly finished the operation within minutes and disappeared into the bush with many people.
“I saw an 18-seater bus belonging to Zamfara Mass Transit, a Toyota Yaris, a Volkswagen Golf and one other vehicle I could not remember the model. The vehicles were raided with bullets and without their occupants,” Lawan added.
Spokesman for the Kaduna State Police Command, Mohammed Jalige, could not be reached for comment at the time of filing this report.
Making reference to the two incidents in 24 hours, some locals and security experts said the only way to tackle the bandits was to have permanent surveillance along the road.
“We only see active surveillance by security operatives on the highway when a major attack was launched by the terrorists,” said Maikano Ali, a farmer at a village close to Rijana.
“And the operation lasts for just a few days…The security operatives would just disappear and you will only be seeing them from time to time,” he said.
Another villager who did not give his name said the bandits knew when best to attack.
“They take weeks moving on the road, joining other passengers in public transport just to monitor the situation until they are satisfied that the security operatives have relaxed patrol before they would strike,” he said.
Asked about the female soldiers deployed on the road, he said “They are not stationed in one place and you rarely see them also. Maybe they move in plain clothes but the truth is that we need a new approach.”
Two additional APCs deployed
The Commissioner of Police in Kaduna State, Mudassiru Abdullahi, said security agents had rescued 11 victims after Sunday’s attack on the Abuja-Kaduna highway.
He, however, did not give additional details on how the victims were rescued or their identities.
The commissioner said that the security team was re-strategising to ensure the safety of travellers plying the highway.
He recalled that the highway remained safe for about a month until this recent incident.
“We will re-strategise to avoid reoccurrence and we are appealing to travellers not to avoid the Kaduna-Abuja highway,” he said.
Our correspondent, who was at the scene of the incident together with security agents, led by the Kaduna State Commissioner of Internal Security and Home Affairs, Samuel Aruwan, reports that the travellers were ambushed at Kurmin Jama’a (also referred to as Kurmin Kare) in Kachia Local Government Area.
A grey Toyota Highlander vehicle that veered into the bush with an Abuja plate number ABJ-858NB belonging to the late FCT director Hamidu, was still at the scene at 12noon.
The vehicle which was riddled with five bullet holes also had a pair of slippers and bloodstains on the back seat.
Security agents also hand-picked about a dozen bullet shells around the scene before the Toyota vehicle was towed to Katari Police station for safekeeping.
It was learnt that some of the vehicles abandoned on the highway have been moved to police stations while others were retrieved by their owners who succeeded in fleeing into the bushes before they were abducted.
Security agents in pursuit of bandits – Aruwan
Speaking on the incident, Aruwan said that two additional Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) have been deployed to Kaduna-Abuja Highway to boost security while also assuring that security agents were in pursuit of the bandits that kidnapped an unspecified number of people.
“As we speak, there is an ongoing joint operation across front line locations in the state, which shows that security forces are up and doing. The security forces and the state government are not resting,” he assured.
He appealed to locals around the Kaduna axis of the road to assist the security agencies with intelligence information to enable them to fight insecurity in the state. On the shortcomings of the telecommunication shutdown, which made contact in terms of distress difficult, Aruwan said the policy was not deliberately aimed at hurting the people but an action taken to enhance security in the state.
“The advantages of the shutdown outweigh the disadvantages,” he said.
How ex-Zamfara gov’ship aspirant was killed – Driver
Opening up for the first time after the incident, Felix Shekari, who is the driver of the former FCT director of protocol and 2019 gubernatorial aspirant in Zamfara State, Alhaji Sagir Hamidu, has narrated to Daily Trust how the bandits opened fire on their vehicle.
He said the bandits appeared from the bush around 3.30 pm shooting sporadically.
Shekari said their escort pilot vehicle was behind them while other vehicles were driving ahead of them.
He said, “I saw some vehicles in front of us trying to make a U-turn and I immediately tried to turn also to go back to Kaduna but as I turned, four gunmen appeared in front of us and opened fire at our vehicle.
“They were targeting me and the tyre and when I realised that I couldn’t beat them, since the vehicle is not bulletproof, I veered off the road into the bush. I unlocked the seat belt and ran into the bush.
“I don’t want to be kidnapped and so, I crossed to the other lane into the bush and took cover at a nearby village for 40 minutes during which I heard numerous gunshots.”
Shekari, however, said even though the bandits had opened fire on their vehicle, he was not aware that his boss was shot until almost an hour later when he returned to the scene and found Alhaji Hamidu in the pool of his blood.
He said they rushed the victim to a private hospital in Katari where he was given first aid and then moved him to Abuja where he died. He said the late Hamidu was shot in the chest and his leg and had lost a lot of blood.
The driver, who was still in distress when our correspondent communicated with him, said the bandits wore facemasks and were in military camouflage. He described his late boss as a very good man saying his death was a great loss not only to his family but the country.
Another relative who spoke with Daily Trust said the late Hamidu was travelling with another person in the vehicle who is suspected to have been abducted.
“They were three in the car including the driver. The driver escaped, Alhaji Sagir Hamidu was killed and the other person is nowhere to be found,” he said.
Synergy key to ending attacks- Analyst
Dr Awwal Abdullahi Aliyu, a security analyst said the solution to the incessant attacks on the highway lies in coordination and cooperation among the various security agencies and not in their numbers.
Dr Aliyu told Daily Trust that the fact that several security agencies were policing the road and yet the bandits were still carrying out daring attacks showed that the strategy in handling the situation was not working.
He said, “I think there is the need for a very serious intelligence network within that area.
“I am not saying the security agencies are not working, but I think their strategy is not working and it is not in any way near solving the problem as at this moment,” he said.
He said apart from working together, the security agents must deploy drones and have some agents embedded in communities.
On shutting down telecommunication along the Kaduna-Abuja Highway, the analyst said, “The idea behind the network disconnection was to help in curtailing the security challenges, but it seems not to be working the way it is expected because the bandits have realised that it is even easy for them to conduct an operation and leave before the incident is reported to security agents.”
Daily Trust reports that there were at least five security operations and outfits deployed to the Kaduna-Abuja Highway but sources said they were working at cross purposes.
In January 2021, the Kaduna State government received the first batch of 100 female soldiers deployed by the Nigerian Army soldiers from the 1 Women Special Operations Battalion to boost security situations along the highway. It is, however, uncertain if the remaining 200 female soldiers were later deployed.
The Nigerian Army had during the deployment said the female soldiers were expected to complement Operation Thunder Strike and other existing operations along the highways and the environs.
Others outfits deployed on the road include men of the Special Task Force and the Police Intelligence Response Team.
When contacted last night, the spokesman of the Nigerian Army, Brig.-Gen. Onyema Nwachukwu maintained that troops have not at any time been withdrawn from Abuja-Kaduna highway.
Although the senior military officer told one of our correspondents via telephone that the personnel were always on patrol on the road, he promised to find out more information and get back to Daily Trust.
“I think troops are deployed there. I am sure that troops are deployed along that road. Troops are always on patrol along that road,” Nwachukwu said while replying to Daily Trust’s inquiry.
Efforts to reach Force Public Relations Officer, Frank Mba, proved abortive as calls placed on his mobile phone were rejected.