Commercial drivers plying the Abuja – Kaduna highway on Wednesday lamented low patronage as passengers throng to railway stations because of uncertainty occasioned by kidnapping and banditry.
Daily Trust reports that there is a spate of kidnapping and banditry on the nearly 200 km highway in the last few days.
Abdulsalam Abubakar, a driver at Zuba garage who plies the Abuja-Kaduna highway said the low patronage started after series of kidnappings and banditry.
He said the low patronage came at a time they were trying to come to terms with the persistent fuel price increase occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have seen more security men on the road stretching from Zuba up to Kaduna but the passengers are not forthcoming, they are really afraid,” Abubakar said.
“It takes hours for one vehicle to get filled due to low patronage. My prayer is that relevant authorities would do the needful and assure passengers that their lives would be safe,” Abubakar said. Another driver who gave his name as Bello Murtala said he brought passengers from Kaduna after many hours at the garage.
“I took the passengers from the popular Abuja junction in Kaduna to Zuba garage; but honestly the number of passengers travelling through this road has drastically reduced.
“This is despite the fact that there is security presence especially at Gidan-Busa, the scene of Sunday’s incident. It is very unusual and during the journey, nobody was talking to the other, some of them were quietly praying to arrive safely.
“We are operating at a lost now considering the hike in petrol price and low patronage; I hope things would improve soon,” he said. On his part, Ahmadu Baba said the present reality had compelled them to increase transport fares.
I collected N5, 000 from each of the passengers I brought to Abuja from Kano. We were charging N4, 000 before for passengers that want to travel using salon cars and N3, 500 for those that opted for buses,” he said.
“Beyond the increase is the fact that you cannot come to Abuja and go back to Kano same day because the passengers are not there; they now prefer to go to the train station,” he said.
A passenger, who gave his name as Sarki, said he had been waiting at the Zuba garage for over three hours.
“The car supposed to take five passengers including the driver but as you can see, we are still hoping that two more people would come. However, once it is 3 pm, I will suspend the trip because I don’t want to take the risk of plying the Abuja- Kaduna highway through the night,” he said.
Amos Ali, a member of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) at Suleja in Niger State, said they are not happy.
“You can count the number of vehicles that take off to Kaduna from here these days because of anxiety and fear of the unknown…Train is the best option for passengers now even though they spend more there,” he said.
Passengers storm Idu, Kubwa rail stations
Findings by the Daily Trust revealed that passengers these days throng to the Idu and Kubwa rail stations to find an alternative way of going to Kaduna.
Some passengers going to Kano, Jigawa, Sokoto, Zamfara, Kebbi and states in the North East including Borno and Yobe, also followed the train to Kaduna from where they would join cars and buses to their destinations.
During a visit to the two train stations yesterday, our correspondent saw affluent people with their families waiting to go to Kaduna.
They were taken there in expensive cars and SUVs even as some of them were escorted to the station by security operatives and other aides. It was gathered that such people have a corresponding protocol waiting for them in Kaduna. There are four scheduled trips to Kaduna daily, with the exception of Wednesdays that have only two services.
“I can’t risk travelling by road,” said Monica Jasfa, a businesswoman heading to Kano.
“I can pay extra to get the ticket and I would rather postpone the trip if I would not get it,” she said.
Shehu Adamu, an engineer, said the train is more convenient and safer. “Even when there is no insecurity, I prefer to travel by train because the road is terribly bad. I am going to Kano but I prefer to stopover at Kaduna, my brother is there waiting for me,” he said.
An official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, disclosed that many passengers especially the low-income earners had boycotted the rail stations after the resumption of services due to the upward review of the charges.
“Many of them have come back. We have more passengers these days because every other person is ready to pay,” he said.
Another official debunked the claims that touts were using the opportunity to exploit passengers by charging more for the tickets.
“You can’t even see the touts now because we are not taking it lightly with them. You pay for the right amount and get your ticket,” he said.
Troops launch manhunt for bandits
However, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen.Tukur Buratai, yesterday said the military was doing a lot to combat kidnappers and bandits along the Abuja-Kaduna highway where the criminals have been terrorising commuters.
Speaking when he received members of the House of Representatives committee on Army at the Army headquarters in Abuja on Wednesday, Buratai stated, “The issues of kidnapping and bandits’ attacks are being taken care of; the Nigerian Air Force and the army are doing a lot in this regard.”
It was gathered that the troops, in a joint offensive operation on Tuesday killed scores of bandits in the area and they launched manhunt for the criminals’ kingpin popularly known as ‘Major’ and other fighters that are yet to be neutralised.
The Coordinator, Defence Media Operation, Maj. Gen. John Enenche, who confirmed the killings of the bandits yesterday, said the operation was executed on the heels of credible human intelligence reports indicating that a cluster of huts and other structures at the location served as a hideout for a notorious bandits’ leader and his fighters.
He explained that the first wave of the air component’s air strikes, which involved six Nigerian Air Force (NAF) aircraft undertaking five missions in a total of 13 sorties, commenced at dawn and targeted the cluster of huts housing “Major”.
Enenche added, “The second wave of attacks was executed by NAF helicopter gunships, which, while continuing to engage the bandits’ location, also provided close air support to the land component as they advanced from Kagarko via Kuku into the bandits’ enclave.
“This paved way for the ground troops to overrun and destroy the camp without effective resistance from the bandits. A NAF Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft remained airborne providing situational awareness for the troops throughout the operation.”
Transporters threaten strike
Transport operators with headquarters in Onitsha, Anambra State have lamented increasing cases of kidnapping and robbery attacks along major highways in the country, especially the routes leading to Lagos, Abuja and parts of the North. The fleet operators, including luxurious buses commuter buses and executive Siena buses threatened to embark on a nationwide strike targeted at crippling the transport sector unless the insecurity on the highways were addressed. Those who convey passengers from Onitsha to various locations with loading terminals in Enugu, Aba and Port Harcourt regretted that travelling had become increasingly riskier owing to the security challenges.
Addressing newsmen yesterday, the Manager, God’s Will Transport, Emenike Okafor noted that incidences of daylight armed robbery and abduction of passengers along the highways increased after the #EndSARS protests.
He identified Benin bypass – Ogbemudia farm to Ore and Kogi area in Lokoja -Abuja highways as most dangerous hot spots where the bandits operate unhindered, saying no fewer than six passengers were kidnapped in the areas.
He said, “In the last two weeks, there have been recorded cases of robbery and abduction of passengers involving Sienna and Hummer buses with about six passengers kidnapped in the mentioned areas.
“We call on the Inspector General of Police to activate his rapid response mechanism and the establishment of a joint patrol team involving the army, Police and the Nigeria Civil Defence Corps in the affected areas.”
While condoling with the police over the casualties and losses recorded during the #EndSARS protests, Okafor noted that those involved in the mayhem aimed at destabilising the country’s security network, insisting they should be brought to justice.
“No responsible citizen no matter how highly provoked would engage in burning, looting and attack on the police institution saddled with the task of protecting the citizens.
“We want the police to go back fully to their duty posts with renewed vigour and zeal. Let the government motivate them by improving their welfare packages and ensure that those casualties already recorded receive adequate compensation,” he added.
Sack service chief now- Northern elders
Some northern elders have reacted to the report of abduction along the dreaded Abuja – Kaduna highway, saying the latest incident was just a reminder of the worsening state of security across the region.
In a statement yesterday by their National Coordinator, Engr. Zana Goni, the elders said the security situation in the North had reached a level where incidents of deaths, kidnapping, armed banditry and other violent crimes against the people occur on daily basis, with many of such going unreported.
The northern elders, who expressed their minds under the aegis of the Coalition of Northern Elders for Peace and Development (CNEPD), blamed the increase in the price of foodstuffs, with a corresponding rise in inflation, on the growing insecurity in the north.
According to the forum, insurgents and other criminal elements had capitalised on the obvious operational lapse, to increase attacks on civilians, who have remained hapless victims of a near dysfunctional security architecture. While this lasted, women, children and the elderly were the worse-hit, as farmlands were raided, homes destroyed and more.
They, therefore, pleaded with President Muhammadu Buhari to replace the military high command with new officers that are expected to deploy fresh ideas and perspectives into the fight against crime and criminality in the country.
“The latest killings and abduction along Kaduna-Abuja highway, which occurred last Sunday, thus making major headlines in the national dailies did not come to us as a surprise. This is because we are faced daily with this situation, especially in the North East and North West zones of the country.
“We wish to state here that the Sunday incident, which caught attention in high places, was just little of what we witness daily in other parts of the region. There are many killings and cases of abduction going on in the North, especially the above-mentioned zones that are unreported.
“The victims are sometimes killed or placed on permanent hard labour just as the female ones are forcefully raped and impregnated by their abductors.
“Most victims are captured in their farmlands while carrying out their routine and legitimate duties of farming, in order to provide for their families,” the statement said.