When in January the Nigerian Army deployed 100 female soldiers of the 1 Women Special Operation Battalion to complement the Operation Thunder Strike and several other existing operations securing the Abuja-Kaduna Highway, many users of the road heaved a huge sigh of relief. In a colourful ceremony at Kakau village, along the highway, the Deputy Governor, Dr Hadiza Balarabe, speaking for the Governor, exuded confidence, while receiving the female soldiers, saying that “the problem of Abuja-Kaduna road will be over with these female soldiers because what a man can do a woman can do better. We believe in the capability of women in this state. I am confident the road will be the safest in Nigeria with this deployment and we will do everything possible to make this operation comfortable.”
True to the chest-beating speech by the Deputy Governor, things quietened considerably along that highway. Hardly would you hear of any banditry activity on that notorious highway again. Even when the bandits were running riot over many parts of Kaduna State carrying away students from schools and invading villages and towns to abduct citizens, the Abuja-Kaduna highway remained relatively safe. Buoyed up by the new regime of safety, many of us that had earlier abandoned the road went back to driving on it. I drove on the road many a time lately without noticing any untoward incidence.
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Suddenly last week, things turned awry for road users on that beat. I was on the road myself on Monday to attend a function in Kaduna, to be held the next day, Tuesday. While there on Tuesday I was horrified to learn that bandits had struck in broad daylight on the highway that I just crossed a day earlier. The bandits were said to strike at a point near Dutse village, a short run to the Olam factory, less than 30 kilometres to Kaduna and one of the busiest portions of the Abuja-Kaduna highway. In the afternoons both sides of the highway could be stacked with vehicles of all sizes driving like crazy.
It was in that circumstance that the bandits were said to have opened fire on the vehicle of a 1st class Emir and in the process killed one of the policemen attached to the entourage. Many other vehicles were forced to stop. Sadly, the Emir along with many others were said to have been taken into the forest by the kidnappers.
I looked forward to returning to Abuja via the same highway the very next day but it looked frightfully nightmarish to even contemplate it. The attack as reported bore the marks of the new modus operandi of the bandits. Now the bandits don’t even bother to mount roadblocks again. They just rain bullets on any vehicle their fiendish roulette falls upon without consideration for the safety of the commuters. They know that if the vehicle they successfully hit is disabled, and stopped, it would certainly block the road and vehicles following would have no option but to line up behind it.
The Abuja- Kaduna Highway is too important an artery to be allowed to be subjugated to the whims and caprices of the bandits. The highway is the beaten path to most of the North West and the North East, from Abuja and the southern parts of the country as well. It might probably be mandatory for those securing the highway to go back to the drawing board, and rejig their approaches. Certainly they have increased the number of troops on the highway that could be seen driving up and down in their painted vehicles. But the bandits who are masters of the forest can easily out-manoeuver the troops and hit motorists at will and at whatever lonely spot they desire. Definitely we don’t have the number of troops to patrol the whole stretch but synergy with the villages strewn along the road can achieve a lot by way of sharing information. Airpower in the form of helicopters, planes and drones could be additional help.
It less cheering news that Maiduguri high tension towers that supplied electricity from Damaturu to Maiduguri was damaged. This is in addition to the damage they had inflicted on the line more than nine months ago that had denied Maiduguri electricity since January. If Maiduguri citizens were expecting a resolution to their electricity predicament, this latest incident has put that in great jeopardy.
Maybe it is time to ask what happened to the promise made by the MD of NNPC, Mele Kyari, when he went on a condolence visit to Maiduguri citizens in April. He was quoted during a press briefing in the Government House to have promised to build a dedicated gas power plant to serve Maiduguri and surrounding towns. He gave a timeline of four months which from all calculations expired last month. So far it has been mum from both the NNPC and all government sources. I guess the NNPC MD wouldn’t make a spurious promise to an afflicted people. Most likely something is being done somewhere. The problem is that the citizens are not being told.
It has been nine months without electricity in Maiduguri. Any update on the gas power plant can hold a promise of some hope to the citizens.