Recently, I walked into a local restaurant to have lunch. I was sitting directly opposite a woman in her 50s and we both had to wait for a few minutes to have our amala and gbegiri served.
While we waited for the food, we got talking. The woman was attracted by my Okun dialect and wanted to know more about me. I told her I am Okun and she was excited. She wanted to finish the amala business before driving to Agbadu where she had a 20-hectare cassava farm.
I wanted to know why a woman who looked so comfortable would indulge in the stress of farming, moreso, farming in Kogi state all the way from Abuja; and her story was a bridge between their Kogi of old and our Kogi of today.
“In 2016”, she started, “I was traveling from Abuja to Ado Ekiti and we passed through Obajana. As we approached Agbadu, a gang of young boys in their early 20s blocked the road and before I knew what was going on, I was kidnapped. I was in the bush for seven days, trekking from one location to the other without good food.
“On the seventh day, they told us they were going to kill us if no ransom was paid. I was praying fervently for my brother to be able to arrange the N5m those kidnappers demanded. But at about 12 noon that day, the kidnappers heard heavy gunshots around where we were kept. Suspecting some soldiers were on their trail, they abandoned us and ran away.
“Fortunately for us, the soldiers found and rescued us from the throes of death. It was the worst experience of my life”.
As she recounted her ordeals in the hands of the dare devil kidnappers, she was shedding tears amid some tailored smiles. She went through what many went through on Kogi roads between 2008 and 2016. Many lives were lost. Many became fatherless or motherless. Some parents lost their children. The psychological scars can’t be erased from their memories.
But Mrs Ademola Aderonke also did what many wouldn’t have done. Listen further to her story.
“Since my ordeal in the hands of the kidnappers, I became very much interested in issues affecting Kogi state. I followed what the state government did on security and I must say I am impressed. He (Governor Yahaya Bello) was able to prove that, with determination, leaders could turn things around.
“I went back to Agbadu to establish a big farm in order to engage young minds and prove to the lazy, criminal minds that instead of kidnapping innocent people, they should ‘kidnap’ their lands and hit gold through agriculture. Their governor won my respect for restoring security. I drive to see my farm every month. No more kidnapping”.
Mrs Ademola didn’t know me. She didn’t have to. She had seen both the ugly and the beautiful Kogi. She had seen a Kogi that recorded over 160 cases of kidnap between January and June 2015 but no kidnap between January and June 2018.
It didn’t just happen. It took the draconian determination of a Yahaya Bello, the cooperation of a traumatized people and the resoluteness of the security agencies to achieve such an unbelievable feat.
Bello sent his economic team to China to negotiate some economic revival deals. On the verge of wrapping up the deals, a report of an expatriate’s kidnap was reported. The deal was truncated! That sped up the determination of the governor to ensure Kogi was removed from the hotbed of criminality. Governor Bello had proven beyond doubt with his strides in security, that the welfare of his own people was paramount to him.
He took time to study the existing security architecture and discovered it would not save his people from the criminal fangs of men of the underworld. He refused to wail. He acted.
The state government instantly set up the Operation Total Freedom. Over 200 highly equipped operational vans were procured and distributed to all security agencies to cover every blade of the state, over 500 motorcycles were procured and distributed to security agencies including the Kogi State Vigilante Service, which was reorganised to secure the rural areas. More officers and men of the service were recruited, trained and equipped to combat crime. Even the security agencies were better protected to defend the peace of Kogi State. Operational bases of the navy and army were established across the state to lend fillip to the anti-crime war.
Kidnappers were arrested and prosecuted promptly. Those who fled or arrested had their properties, which were proceeds of people’s blood, pulled down. The governor entered the trenches and rivers with security agencies who were highly motivated to fly with his no-crime vision.
But the magic people didn’t see was the societal inclusion of the Fulani herdsmen. Instead of wailing, the governor directed traditional rulers in the state to collaborate with the leadership of the Fulani. Instead of being part of the crime circuit, the Fulani have been a part of the crime fighting machinery of the state. Even when some of their people were involved, they exposed them and handed them over to security agencies.
And the governor has never failed to give the glory back to God and the good people of the Confluence State who keyed into the anti-crime drive of his administration by volunteering useful intelligence through the toll free lines provided for intelligence gathering.
Youth empowerment and engagement also helped in diverting the attention of the youth from crime. Through agriculture, Kogi youth have been able to find a beneficial alternative to criminality.
The results are here with us. A booming economy, improved agricultural productivity, more investments and a prosperous people.
And in the words of the governor, “The people of Kogi state and I will not rest until the criminals in the state are brought to justice”. He has won accolades nationally and internationally for restoring security to Kogi.
To the many Ademolas that had a terrible experience with Kogi state, the time to be back is now. Kogi has been transformed into a Confluence of Opportunities where safety is guaranteed.
– Fanwo is the Director General of Media and Publicity to Kogi State governor.
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