Rampant kidnappings in Nigeria used to be a Niger Delta affair, where indigenous militants abducted oil workers, mostly expatriates, as a form of protest or agitation for the region’s development. This tension has been there, between some of the people and foreign corporations since the 1990s and gradually became more confrontational.
No one imagined that Kaduna State and many other states across the country would begin to record such cases, and without any form of agitation, with the exception of Borno and Yobe states where the Chibok and Dapchi schoolgirls respectively, and numerous others, were forcefully taken by Boko Haram insurgents.
So, the abductions began as a means to force ransom out of prominent families, then it began to affect farmers, and women and children. Eventually, no one is now safe, particularly on some major highways across the nation. In 2017 alone, over 100 passengers have reportedly been abducted in seven different routes across the country. Some of the routes include the Obajana-Lokoja, Ajaokuta-Lokoja and Kabba-Obajana roads, all in Kogi State. Also, there is the Auchi-Abuja and Benin-Akure roads in Edo State, the Abuja-Kaduna road, Abuja-Kaduna expressway and Birnin Gwari-Kaduna road.
On the Kaduna-Abuja route, the criminals’ conclusion may have been that Abuja, being the capital city, has some high-profile persons commuting the expressway. This may have appeared valid when people like Army Colonel Samaila Inusa, a director in the Dangote Group, Mansur Ahmed and three clerics, Rev. Emmanuel Dziggau, Rev. Yakubu Dzarma and Rev. Iliya Anto, and one Afolabi Alega. Out of these, four survived to tell the tale, while two, Colonel Inusa and Rev. Anto were not so lucky. But this soon changed when people were randomly taken on the highway.
But it is not always a Kaduna-Abuja highway affair. The danger seems to have shifted more recently to the Birnin-Gwari part of the state. Just on Friday, June 8, it was reported that armed bandits held hostage 23 travellers on the Birnin-Gwari to Kaduna route at Kwanar-tsauni, between Udawa and Labi.
A commercial driver named Mohammed Kebi, who managed to escape said five vehicles were intercepted during the incident. Among those kidnapped was a nursing mother. This is just an addition to the incidences already recorded in Birnin Gwari.
In April this year, the Chairman of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) in Birnin Gwari, Kaduna State, Malam Audu Kano and six others were abducted by unknown gunmen on their way to Zamfara for a wedding. It gets worse.
It has been reported that armed bandits have conducted a steady operation along the Birnin-Gwari to Kaduna highways with about 42 passengers taken captive within 24 hours. Before then, three housewives had been forcefully abducted in Maganda village.
Unfortunately, the soldiers that massively conducted Operation Karamin Goro in Birnin-Gwari had since been withdrawn and residents have expressed fears over this development. They have pointed out that the activities of bandits on their roads have crippled their economy.
Mr. Collins Onyenwenu, Registrar of Delta State Polytechnic, Ogwashi-Uku was kidnapped by unidentified gunmen along the Ugiliamai/Onitcha-Ukwani Road, Ndokwa West LGA of the state.
In the past year, out of the 36 states in Nigeria, Kaduna recorded the highest with 157 kidnapped persons, followed by Rivers, 61, Niger, 37, Ondo and Rivers states, 21, aside the Federal Capital Territory which has recorded 22 cases. This puts virtually the entire country in a hostage-taking dilemma.
In Rivers State medical doctors have been major targets. In 2015 it was reported that a medical doctor based at Elekahia part of the state was abducted by gunmen. Five days after his abduction, his body was found in the bush. This sparked off protests by medical doctors in the state as they matched to the Government House to lodge their complaint to Governor Nyesom Wike. This was not the only incident. Fast-forward to 2017, doctors became apprehensive after five of their colleagues were taken. These included Dr. Bob-Manuel Clark, a medical doctor based in Omoku, Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area, Dr. Alex Akani, a consultant physician with the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital (UPTH) and another consultant with UPTH, Dr. Borimari.
Omoku, an oil and gas-rich community, had been overrun by cultists and bandits on a killing spree. The rampant killings and abductions made residents of the community to desert the area until security agents moved in to restore peace.
Dr. Alex Akani was abducted twice. He was released six days after his colleagues at the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital went on an indefinite strike.
Also, in Cross River State (in January this year), over 150 doctors from private, public and missionary hospitals and those in tertiary institutions protested in Calabar against the kidnap of their colleague, Dr Emem Udoh.
Earlier, their colleague, Dr Usang Ekanem, who was kidnapped on December 26, 2017 was set free. He worked in Cross River College of Education Medical Centre in Akamkpa LGA of the state.
In January 2018, a Sharia Court Judge, Abubakar Mohammed, was reported kidnapped near Jerimiya village in Rafi LGA of Niger State. A ransom of N20 million was said to have been given despite denials. Three days after, seven people were abducted and three others were killed along the same road. In November 2017, the police said they rescued Malam Haruna Gizo, the village head of Unguwan Gizo of Kagara Local Government Area of the state and three others from their abductors.
The spate of kidnappings sometimes shows a pattern, as in the case of Rivers and Cross River states and at other times, none, as is the case in Niger State where three girls were abducted at Janja village in Munya while three others were kidnapped in Shoho Kibla also in Munya and additional three in Erena in Shiroro LGA.
While kidnappings on highways appear random, many are not. A typical example is that of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Akito Rentals, Mr Sunday Ekanem, which took place in his residence, Atu Street in Calabar LGA of Cross River State in February 2018. According to reports, it was the second time Mr. Ekanem was abducted, and the last time was in 2014.
In January this year, some gunmen suspected to be kidnappers abducted two persons, a manager of a popular hotel and a guest in Supare-Akoko in Akoko South-West LGA of Ondo State.
Patterns to abductions seem visible where criminals target traders in Calabar. In February 2018 one Ifeanyi and Lazarus, both spare parts dealers, and another, an electrical parts dealer, were taken away from their shops at Victor Akan Street, Calabar South. The three were reported to have parted with millions before they were released.
However, not long after, a popular dealer in Japanese vehicles spare parts, Mr. Paulinus Obi and another business man, Emmanuel Ozokwu, a contractor, were abducted. This caused panic among the business community.
Recently, a kidnap kingpin, Barau Ibrahim aka Rambo, believed to be the leader of a criminal gang terrorizing people in Birnin-Gwari, Kaduna State and the Abuja-Kaduna-Kano Expressway, was apprehended.
Assistant Commissioner of Police Moshood Jimoh, the Force Public Relations Officer, said his arrest led to the capture of another gang member, Shehu Abdullahi aka Gashin Baki, 40.
“Serious efforts are in progress as IRT operatives deployed to Kaduna are on unrelenting follow up against the remaining killers and kidnappers on the run,” he said.
Also, in Ondo, the police command apprehended the leader of a notorious kidnap and robbery gang identified as Sunday Omojuba who was declared wanted by security agents since 2016.
A kidnap kingpin, Maitarari Isa Saidu, 63, was arrested in March this year by the police. He was reported to have been paraded alongside 48 other suspects, including two of his children. He confessed to have been behind several kidnap activities across Niger State, and neigbouring Zamfara, Kaduna, the FCT and Yobe.
Only two states, Jigawa and Osun states, have not recorded incidents of kidnapping within the last one year.
Additional data: Haruna Ibrahim