In January this year, a case of Kidnapping occurred on the Lagos- Ibadan Expressway. This happens to be the busiest highway in the country with the human traffic and the movement of goods that connect the north to the south. A recent attack by criminals was at Abule Onigari and it ended with the killing of a commercial driver. Five passengers were reported to have been abducted. One day later, another attack on the same spot almost led to the abduction of an actress, Bimpe Akintunde and her daughter. Since then, the cases of abductions on this vital link ferrying goods between the north and south has been on the increase.
A number of travellers, including a former deputy vice chancellor of the University of Ibadan, Prof. Adigun Agbaje and some students were also kidnapped on October 28, 2022. They were only released after an unspecified sum as ransom was paid. The mode of operation of many of the kidnappers is to dress in military uniforms.
According to the police, this incident took place at the Dominion University end of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. In what the Police described as a swift response to the above, the Divisional Police Officer led a team comprising; anti-crime patrol operatives, tactical teams, Police mobile men and local hunters to rescue the victims. In the process of preventing further chaos as a result of what was evidently an abduction scenario, an Officer attached to the Command paid the supreme price with one other badly injured and presently responding to treatment.
This recurrent development is beginning to pose a challenge to the authorities. Again, it was gathered that the gunmen were dressed in military uniforms. More importantly, the criminal activities on this highway leaves no one safe. If the attacks continue, they could lead to immeasurable economic losses.
But it is not the only highway under siege. Sometime in July, 10 Police officers from the Nasarawa Police Command were kidnapped while returning from the Osun State Governorship election and have not till date been accounted for. The policemen were reported to have been kidnapped at Obajana, in Kogi, on 17 July 2022, along the New By-Pass Road, close to Trailer Park, PTI Obajana in that State.
It is the time of the year when traffic on the roads will reach a peak. It is also the time when crime is likely to increase. And that is exactly what has been happening on major highways across the country. Nigerians have already lost count of the number of kidnapping incidences on the Abuja-Kaduna highway and even the Birnin Gwari-Kaduna Road. The country is yet to recover from the eight-month ordeal of the victims of the Abuja-Kaduna train attack. Billions of naira were allegedly paid in ransom to the attackers of the Kaduna bound train. The last of the victims were only recently released. Today, nothing is being said about any open investigation to bring the perpetrators to book. And instead of abating, the abductions appear to be spreading to other major highways in all parts of the country.
Inspector General of Police, Usman Baba is reported to have given orders for more security presence on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway in response to the growing threat.
According to the police spokesperson, CSP Olumuyiwa Adejobi, the IGP’s orders also include a restructuring of the security architecture on the expressway to ensure adequate deployment of officers and assets and ensure the protection of lives and property.
In the opinion of this newspaper, it is time the police stopped paying lip service to the demands of the public and take proactive measures to protect the lives of Nigerians whose only offence on these roads is that they are going about their daily activities. Travelling on the highways does not have to be that risky to life if the security agencies are sufficiently alive to their duties. Too many Nigerians are having to choose between their lives and their properties, not only because of the activities of criminals, but also because of the failures of the agencies in crime prevention. Relations of the victims of kidnappings have had to dispose of their belongings to raise money to pay for the ransom needed to free their loved ones from the den of their abductors.
The importance of the highways cannot be over emphasized, not only for economic and security reasons, but also for political stability of the polity. Only recently, the flooding along the Abuja-Lokoja Highway led to economic paralysis in the Federal Capital Territory and brought back fuel queues. In the same way, kidnappings and general insecurity along key arteries of the country is something that has the potential to lead to social unrest.
The highways in the South East and South south are not spared this scourge.
It is, therefore, pertinent, in our view that the government should take the security of lives and property on the highways very seriously indeed.