How bad roads, deadly potholes serve as gateways to kidnappers’ dens

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p style="text-align: justify;">Those who love their lives should avoid the Akure-Oyo Expressway for now” was Gbenga Ibikunle’s admonition as he recounted how he and his wife were kidnapped along the route sometime in January this year

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p style="text-align: justify;">The experience has become traumatic for the 47-year-old and his family.

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p style="text-align: justify;">Gbenga and his family travelled to his wife’s hometown in Ebonyi State for a family event and were returning to Akure when they ran into a group of daring gunmen at Uso community in the Owo Local Government Area of Ondo State around 5 pm.

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p style="text-align: justify;">Driving an elegant Lexus sport utility vehicle, the Ibikunles immediately became targets for the cutlass- and AK-47-wielding gunmen, the eldest of whom Gbenga presumed to not be more than 17 years old.




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p style="text-align: justify;">He said their abductors had everything well planned. They struck at a deplorable spot on the road after passing through the Emure-Owo junction at Owo. A man on a motorcycle rode beside the Ibikunles’ car. At a point, the motorcyclist swerved to the car’s lane. Gbenga quickly applied the brakes, but it was too late. He said he hit the motorcyclist, who fell down next to his two-wheeled vehicle.

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p style="text-align: justify;">Moved with empathy, Gbenga said he parked the car, and he and his wife stepped out of the vehicle to examine the motorcyclist to be sure he wasn’t injured.  He added that they had barely moved an inch when the gunmen emerged from the bush at the speed of lightning, bearing weapons.

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p style="text-align: justify;">“At that moment, I concluded our day of death had come,” Gbenga said.

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p style="text-align: justify;">“We were led into the bush, trekking for about five hours to the kidnappers’ den. They beat us severely as we walked. We got to a point where we had to cross a river. The river was so deep that it got to my chest level,” he said.



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p style="text-align: justify;">Around 10 pm when they got to the kidnappers’ den, Gbenga said their belongings, including phones and jewellery, were collected.

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p style="text-align: justify;">The following day, the kidnappers asked the couple to call their families, demanding a ransom of N20m.

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p style="text-align: justify;">After three days in captivity, Gbenga said their families could only raise a tenth of the ransom – N2m – which the kidnappers collected before releasing them.

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p style="text-align: justify;">“We weren’t fed throughout the three days in captivity. They only gave us dirty water to drink,” he said.



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p style="text-align: justify;">Gbenga added that since the experience, his children, who on the day of the incident had to call a relative to drive them home, had developed a phobia for travelling via road.

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p style="text-align: justify;">For some time now, the Akure-Owo Expressway, ridden with potholes of different sizes, has become a theatre of operation for notorious bandits, who kidnap and even sometimes kill travellers plying the route.

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p style="text-align: justify;">The road is said to be one of the busiest inter-state and inter-region routes in the country, linking the South-West to the South-South and Northern geopolitical zones. The road also connects many communities within Akure and Owo towns.

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p style="text-align: justify;">Despite the expressway’s busy nature, the road has some failed portions at which motorists have no choice but to slow down. At other parts of the highway, half of the road has caved in, leaving only narrow pathways.



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p style="text-align: justify;">At the Emure-Owo junction, where Gbenga and his wife were kidnapped, the road is said to have totally caved in, with heavy-duty trucks oftentimes stuck on the road.

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p style="text-align: justify;">Emboldened by the poor state of the road and inadequate police presence, kidnappers are said to have now turned the route into their operational zone.

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p style="text-align: justify;">Another victim of kidnapping on the route was the Iyaloja of Isua in the Akoko South-East Local Government Area of Ondo State, Helen Edward, who in November 2020 also ran into the hands of gunmen.

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p style="text-align: justify;">Edward said she was returning from a meeting in Akure with others when a group of gun-wielding men stopped and kidnapped them at Uso community around 2.30 pm.



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p style="text-align: justify;">“They collected the money in my bag. They led us into the bush, with guns pointed at us, for several hours. We crossed rivers. They threatened to kill us,” she said.

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p style="text-align: justify;">After five days in captivity and payment of a N5m ransom for all, Helen said she and her group members were released.

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p style="text-align: justify;">“I call on the government to provide security for travellers plying this route,” she said, adding, “The kidnappers hide in the forests, so I think if the government can open the forest reserves and allow farmers to use them, this crime will reduce.”

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p style="text-align: justify;">Motorists’ nightmare, kidnappers’ delight



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p style="text-align: justify;"> The havoc Nigeria’s bad roads cause road users is indisputably unquantifiable. They are a blessing to kidnappers and other armed groups but a nightmare for the travellers who ply such routes.

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p style="text-align: justify;">Saturday PUNCH findings showed that apart from the Akure-Owo Expressway, another highway notorious for kidnapping in Ondo State is the Owo-Benin highway.

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p style="text-align: justify;">The particular dangerous spot on the road is said to be at Elegbeka village, where criminals take advantage of the craters and potholes on the road to abduct and kill.

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p style="text-align: justify;">One of their victims was a former captain of the National Scrabble Team, Paul Sodje, killed by kidnappers in September 2020 after he reportedly took a ransom to the criminals who abducted his brother some days earlier.



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p style="text-align: justify;">Sodje, who was murdered by the criminals at age 54, was Nigeria’s captain at the African Scrabble Championship in Zambia in 2012.

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p style="text-align: justify;">Also, in March 2020, two footballers of the Nigeria Professional Football League, Dayo Ojo of Enyimba and Benjamin Iluyomade of Abia Comets, were driving in Ojo’s car with another Enyimba player, Emmanuel James, when their vehicle, along with other commercial vehicles on the route, ran into gunmen along the Owo-Benin Expressway.

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p style="text-align: justify;">James managed to escape, but Ojo and Iluyomade were abducted. They were released three days later after ransoms were reportedly paid to the kidnappers.

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p style="text-align: justify;">However, kidnapping along the Owo-Benin highway assumed a frightening nature in November 2020 when the Olufon of Ifon, Ose Local Government Area of Ondo State, Oba Israel Adeusi, was killed by gunmen.



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p style="text-align: justify;">The monarch was reported to have gone for a meeting in Akure and returning home when, as he got to the rough road around Elegbeka around 4 pm, was accosted by the gunmen and shot dead.

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p style="text-align: justify;">Similarly, the South-West was thrown into mourning in July 2019 when Mrs Funke Olakunri, daughter of the former leader of the Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, Pa Reuben Fasoranti, was killed by gunmen at Ore, Ondo State, along the Owo-Benin Expressway.

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p style="text-align: justify;">The incident reportedly happened when the gunmen, numbering about 15, laid an ambush and shot at the deceased as she was travelling from Akure to Ore in her Toyota SUV.

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p style="text-align: justify;">Some of Olakunri’s killers have since been arrested and charged on counts of conspiracy, kidnapping, murder, and unlawful possession of firearms.



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p style="text-align: justify;">Meanwhile, there have also been several cases of kidnapping and killing in other parts of the South-West by criminals taking advantage of the bad portions of the roads.

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p style="text-align: justify;">One of the recent cases was the kidnapping of seven travellers on March 2 along the Osogbo-Ibokun road. One traveller was shot dead by the gunmen. Two people were also reportedly wounded.

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p style="text-align: justify;">The incident took place around 7.30 pm at Ajebandele village in the Obokun Local Government Area of Osun State. The abductees were released some days later after a joint rescue operation by the police and the Osun State Security Network, Amotekun.

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p style="text-align: justify;">Also in Osun State, suspected Fulani herdsmen in May 2019 abducted an orthopaedic surgeon at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Prof Olayinka Adegbehingbe, while travelling between Asejire and Ikire towns on the Ife-Ibadan Expressway around 9 pm.



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p style="text-align: justify;">Adegbehingbe, who was travelling from Lagos to Ife when he was kidnapped, said his abductors were paid around N5m before he was released.

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p style="text-align: justify;">Due to rampant kidnapping cases, warning messages have since been circulating on social media warning motorists in Osun State to avoid plying routes such as Osogbo-Ibokun, Ilesha-Osogbo, Ilesa-Akure, Imesi-Ile-Obokun-Esa-Oke, and Ile-Ife-Edun-Aabon-Sekona roads, especially at night.

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p style="text-align: justify;">Deadly routes

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p style="text-align: justify;">Shola Ojo, a driver with one of the private transport companies, sped like a driver competing for Formula One as he journeyed from Abuja to Kaduna. It was around 7.20 pm on November 22, 2020.



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p style="text-align: justify;">Our correspondent, who sat beside him in the front passenger seat, observed as he swerved his blue-coloured Toyota bus from right to left, and from left to right, avoiding potholes that dotted the about 185km highway.

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p style="text-align: justify;">Ojo’s reason for the speed was not far-fetched.

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p style="text-align: justify;">“There has been a series of kidnapping by bandits on this route. I can’t slow down; I have to drive faster,” Ojo said, his eyes fixed on the road.

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p style="text-align: justify;">Ojo tried to keep to his goal of driving faster, even through the deep potholes, praying that none of his vehicle’s tyres would burst or that the bus would develop a fault on the highway.



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p style="text-align: justify;">Though he tried as much as possible not to slow down a bit, there were several bad portions along the road that he could not but slow down.

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p style="text-align: justify;">Our correspondent observed that on the Abuja-Kaduna highway, there were several points where the driver spent as long as 10 minutes wriggling his way through.

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p style="text-align: justify;">From Abuja to towns and villages such as Bwari, Jere, Gidan Maimadaji, Katari, Rando, Dutsi to Kakau, the journey was to a large extent uncomfortable due to the road’s deplorable state.

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p style="text-align: justify;">At last, our correspondent got to the Barnawa area of Kaduna at a few minutes to midnight and was directed to one of the hotels nearby.



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p style="text-align: justify;">Ojo said if the road was in a good condition, the journey could have taken about two and a half hours. “But thank God, we got here safely,” he said.

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p style="text-align: justify;">Unfortunately, many Nigerians could not say the same thing. Many have been victims of kidnapping on the Abuja-Kaduna expressway, which has been notorious for kidnapping by bandits wielding dangerous weapons including AK-47.

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p style="text-align: justify;">Due to its sorry state, the expressway, linking the Federal Capital Territory and the northwestern part of the country, has been a good spot for bandits because many travellers ply the route.

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p style="text-align: justify;">The bandits – said to usually come on motorcycles and block the road where the portions are bad – have many times killed, raped and collected ransoms from their victims.



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p style="text-align: justify;">In December 2020, at least 16 travellers were killed by gunmen along the expressway on their way back to Kano from a business trip.

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p style="text-align: justify;">A month earlier, nine students from the Department of French at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna State were kidnapped while travelling to Lagos for a programme at the Nigerian French Language Village, Badagry. They were released a week later after reportedly paying a ransom.

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p style="text-align: justify;">To tackle insecurity on the highway, 300 female soldiers were deployed to the Kaduna-Abuja highway to fight the bandits who have held sway on the route.

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p style="text-align: justify;">On March 3, the Federal Executive Council approved the complete reconstruction of the Abuja-Kaduna-Kano highway, a project estimated at N797.2bn, according to the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola.



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p style="text-align: justify;">Meanwhile, apart from the Abuja-Kaduna highway, there are several other highways across the country notorious for kidnapping, banditry, and armed robbery.

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p style="text-align: justify;">Findings from records by agencies such as the Federal Road Safety Corps and the police showed that some of the highways include the Lagos-Ibadan and Lagos-Abeokuta expressways, Ilorin-Ogbomoso Road, Ondo-Ore Road, Akure-Benin Road, Akure-Owo-Akugba Road, Keffi-Akwanga-Lafia Road, and Kaduna-Kano highway.

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p style="text-align: justify;">Others are Ebonyi Enugu-Abakaliki Expressway, Enugu-Port Harcourt Road, Katsina/Ala-Wukari Road, linking Benue and Taraba states, and the Elele-Ndele Rumuji-Emuoha-Choba-Port Harcourt Road.

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p style="text-align: justify;">Others include the Kaduna-Saminaka-Jos highway, Keffi-Nasarawa-Toto road, Suleja-Lambata-Bida road, and Jibia-Gurbi-Kaura Namoda road, linking  Katsina and Zamfara states.



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p style="text-align: justify;">Politics of Nigeria’s bad roads

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p style="text-align: justify;">In recent years, Nigeria has witnessed a series of kidnapping by armed groups and terrorists, with a 2020 report by SB Morgen showing that between 2011 and 2020, over $18m (N6.9bn) had been paid in ransom to kidnappers by their victims.

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p style="text-align: justify;">Out of this figure, SBM stated that around $11m (N4.2bn) was paid between 2016 and 2020, which makes it appear that kidnapping has become a serious business.



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p style="text-align: justify;">However, the kidnappers continue to exploit the country’s bad roads, among others, to carry out their nefarious activities.

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p style="text-align: justify;">From the North to the West and South, Nigeria is said to have some of the world’s deadliest roads – despite billions of naira being budgeted annually to fix the roads.

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p style="text-align: justify;">According to data by the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency, Nigeria has a road network of 200,000km, out of which 35,000km is gazetted as federal roads. State governments are responsible for 32,000km of roads, with the remaining 133,000km under the purview of local governments.

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p style="text-align: justify;">According to FERMA, only about 10,000km of federal roads are in a ‘good’ state while about 13,300km and 11,700km are in ‘fair’ and ‘bad’ states, respectively.



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p style="text-align: justify;">The country is said to have spent millions of dollars on road maintenance since 1999. But despite this colossal sum spent on the roads, many of them still remain deadly traps, exposing motorists and commuters to danger.

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p style="text-align: justify;">Apart from kidnappers and bandits who seem to be holding sway on the bad roads, many Nigerians travelling from one part of the country to another are usually stranded, sometimes spending several hours for a journey that should take minutes, while some even lose their lives due to fatal accidents as a result of potholes. There are other reasons why accidents happen on the roads, though, potholes are major contributing factors to the road accident profile of the country.

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p style="text-align: justify;">In monetary terms, man-hours lost to traffic delays as a result of bad roads cost the economy about N1.02tn per annum, according to FERMA.

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p style="text-align: justify;">“Most roads in Nigeria are poorly constructed and maintained. Hence, they cannot last,” a Lagos-based economist, Mr Kunle Olaide, told Saturday PUNCH.



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p style="text-align: justify;">He said, “Corruption is the main cause of bad roads in Nigeria. Look at some of the roads constructed four years ago within Lagos State, they are worn out. It’s the same thing across the country. Bad roads everywhere. You can’t decide to take a road trip because of the bandits and kidnappers who are exploiting the situation of the bad roads.

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p style="text-align: justify;">“Roads are supposed to last for up to 50 years if well constructed and maintained.  However, in Nigeria, this is not the case. The surfaces of most roads don’t last up to six months or a year.”

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p style="text-align: justify;"> Speaking on why roads don’t last in Nigeria, researchers Godwin Enwerem and Galal Ali said most of the construction materials and methods used in building and constructing roads were not suitable for the country as a tropical zone.

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p style="text-align: justify;"> “Laterite, stone-based, chippings and asphalt, which are the major construction materials, are not suitable, and cannot withstand the weather conditions in the country. Again, the methods used by the foreign construction companies are not anchored on research that has Nigeria as a focus,” they said.



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p style="text-align: justify;">In their study titled, ‘Socioeconomic Impacts of Potholes on Nigerian Roads and Sustainable Development,’ Enwerem and Ali also said the country’s bad roads were caused by the operations of heavy-duty trucks, poor environmental impact assessment, unstable ground and poor drainage, and poor maintenance.

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p style="text-align: justify;">Until most roads are fixed across the country, a Lagos-based lawyer and activist, Mrs Peace Okoli, said the government should bear the blame when any citizen is killed or kidnapped by bandits and other criminals exploiting bad roads to carry out their activities.

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p style="text-align: justify;">“The government bears the blame; it’s as simple as that. Of course, we don’t really have a government with a conscience in Nigeria, which is why they keep spending billions of naira to patch roads,” Okoli said.

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p style="text-align: justify;">‘The situation here is worrisome’



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p style="text-align: justify;">Journeying from Kagoma to Kafanchan in Jema’a Local Government Area of Kaduna State is just 17 kilometres, and should not take more than 35 minutes by car, according to Google Maps estimates. But motorists plying this route oftentimes spend over two hours due to the deplorable condition of the road.

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p style="text-align: justify;">For many people like Egoh Bako living within the axis, driving through the bad road wouldn’t have been something to worry about too much, except that bandits are now exploiting this situation and kidnapping people for ransom.

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p style="text-align: justify;">“I discovered that the kidnappers carry out their activities on the road because it is bad. While driving, there are various points that vehicles have to slow down, so the kidnappers take advantage of this to abduct our people,” Bako told Saturday PUNCH.

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p style="text-align: justify;">“The situation here is worrisome. Kidnapping happens almost every week, within the Kagoma-Kafanchan axis,” he added.



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p style="text-align: justify;">Bako, who is the state chairman of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, was kidnapped alongside his wife on December 25, 2020. He lamented that the situation would linger as long as the road was not repaired.

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p style="text-align: justify;">The cleric, who spent about 48 hours with the kidnappers before he regained freedom, said the kidnappers could be restrained only if the road was fixed.

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p style="text-align: justify;">“The Kagoma-Kafanchan road does not only have big potholes; it’s a complete washout. And that’s why the kidnappers hold sway.”

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p style="text-align: justify;">“I think if the government repairs the road, it will curb the activities of the kidnappers and make our lives secure,” he said.



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p style="text-align: justify;">Bako said aside from kidnapping, accidents also regularly occurred on the Kagoma-Kafanchan road due to its pitiable state.

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p style="text-align: justify;">“Once it’s 7.30 pm many people usually avoid the road until the following morning. But sometimes, you can’t predict the kidnappers’ movement. There are some security agents on the road, but the kidnappers can be very smart,” he said.

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p style="text-align: justify;">Another cleric who lives within the axis but spoke on condition of anonymity said he would have been a victim of kidnapping in January while driving along the Kagoma-Kafanchan road.

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p style="text-align: justify;">However, he said before the bandits could approach him, he jumped out of his car and fled into the bush.



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p style="text-align: justify;">“Thankfully, they couldn’t find me where I hid,” the cleric said.

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p style="text-align: justify;">“The bandits stationed themselves at the worst portion of the road. If you were driving, there was no way you wouldn’t slow down. The bandits exploit this to carry out their deadly acts,” he added.

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p style="text-align: justify;">For Shetima Ibrahim, who is resident in Gombe, the Gombe State capital, 2019 was a year he would not forget in a hurry.

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p style="text-align: justify;">The middle-aged man was on a business trip when he ran into a gang of bandits after he had passed Cham towards Lafia-Lamurde on the outskirts of Gombe towards Adamawa State.



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p style="text-align: justify;">He said, “There was a spot where a driver would need to practically crawl with his or her car due to the bad terrain. As I drove through, a group of boys invaded the road and stopped the traffic.

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p style="text-align: justify;">“They asked me to park and I did. They asked me and other occupants of a private bus to come out. This was around 10 am. They collected my phones and others’. Then they whisked us off to the bush; it was a hilly terrain.” Ibrahim said he had to part with N1m before he was released.

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p style="text-align: justify;">Meanwhile, three members of the gang terrorising travellers along the axis, namely Dabo Yusuf, 40; Shehu Saleh, 30; and Mamman Haruna, 35 recently told The PUNCH during a police parade of how they usually took advantage of bad roads to carry out their acts.

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p style="text-align: justify;">Haruna, who spoke on behalf of the gang, said they usually watched travellers from a distance and stopped those who appeared rich by the virtue of the vehicles they drove or the dresses they wore.



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p style="text-align: justify;">He said, “We used to lay an ambush for our passengers at the rough portion of the road and we did not usually stop all vehicles. It was only vehicles that had good-looking occupants that we usually stopped.

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p style="text-align: justify;">“We didn’t kill our victims. We only kept them for as long as possible until we were able to get money. One of our victims claimed he didn’t have money, so our greed made us follow him. We didn’t know it was a trap. We were led into an ambush by the police.”

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p style="text-align: justify;"> Why it’s difficult to secure highways –Police

Mohammed Adamu
Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu

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p style="text-align: justify;">The spokesperson for the Nigeria Police Force, Frank Mba, said bad roads, overgrown hedges, and absence of streetlights on the highways were responsible for the state of insecurity on the highways.



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p style="text-align: justify;"> “These three major criminogenic factors are unfortunately outside the control of the police. But when crimes take place, nobody thinks about these factors,” he said.

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p style="text-align: justify;">Mba noted that when there were no streetlights, it made policing difficult, adding that when police officers were on patrol, even if they had night-vision goggles, they wouldn’t be able to see far.

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p style="text-align: justify;">“But when there are streetlights, you can see up to 100 metres away from you,” he said.

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p style="text-align: justify;">Despite the challenges, Mba said the police would keep on trying their best, stating that the police oftentimes helped fill up potholes and mobilise communities to clear bushes on the highways.



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p style="text-align: justify;">“We also recently installed mobile cameras on our patrol vehicles, but we don’t have enough. Also, they are limited in function if there are bushes and no streetlights on the highways,” he said.

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p style="text-align: justify;">The police spokesperson solicited support from communities and philanthropists to tackle the problems affecting effective policing of the highways.

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p style="text-align: justify;">Meanwhile, Mr Hakeem Bello, who is the Special Adviser on Communications to the Minister of Works and Housing, Fashola, asked Saturday PUNCH to send the names of the bad roads where kidnappers were holding sway.

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p style="text-align: justify;">“It’ll be helpful if you can send the specific bad spots being referred to. This would enable me to know the specific Federal Controller of Works in the states or which director to follow up with,” he said.



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p style="text-align: justify;">But he had yet to respond as of the time of filing this report after our correspondent sent him a list of some of the highways mentioned in the report.

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p style="text-align: justify;">Copyright PUNCH.

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p style="text-align: justify;">All rights reserved. This material, and other digital content on this website, may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or in part without prior express written permission from PUNCH.

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p style="text-align: justify;">Contact: theeditor@punchng.com
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