Nipping Nascent “Highway-Kidnapping” In The Bud

There is no denying the fact that many Nigerians have seen horrible advances in traffic-related crimes. Since traveling by road became the norm, particularly with the construction of expressways that link various towns and cities across the six geo-political zones of the country, not few of them have virtually been helpless against the changing shape of traffic-related crime.

It is not an exaggeration to say that not few Nigerians are familiar with the pattern of traffic-related crimes that are daily perpetrated by some heartless ones among us, and that it is no more news. In the past, the kind of crime that was commonly perpetrated on the highways against innocent travelers is what everyone know to be “highway-robbery.” However, as at the time of writing this piece, the kind of crime that is now been perpetrated on the various highways in the country is unarguably what is now known as “highway-kidnapping”.

In as much as it can be argued that there have been several attacks against commercial buses leading to the kidnapping of passengers across highways that crisscross the country’s expanse landscape, it is unarguable that sustained economic hardship is in the recent time making any interstate traveler a target as kidnapping for ransom has reached a crescendo. Confronted by the deadly farmer-herder conflicts and Boko Haram insurgency conflicts, kidnapping and banditry are gaining a foothold on most Nigeria’s highways. The situation is so foreboding that most commuters in private and commercial vehicles on Nigerian roads now travel under fear.

To buttress the foregoing view, it is expedient to citeheadlines that trended in the media in the past and recent times in this context. Some of the headlines are, “Nigeria: Assailants abduct dozens of motorists west of Maiduguri”, “Banditry: Community Raises Alarm over Killing, Kidnap of 21 Travelers on Birnin-Gwari-Kaduna Highway”, “I was kidnapped and now only travel by train” and “Nigeria: Gunmen kidnap an unknown number of bus passengers” among other screaming headlines that were used to anchor kidnap-related stories.

Without any iota of exaggeration, kidnap cases on Nigerian highways is by each passing day making headlines in the media that not few Nigerians, except their political leaders who have the predilection to travel by air, are worried.

It would be recalled in this context that the situation became scarier in November 2020 when BBC reported that bandits kidnapped 12 police officers along Katsina-Zamfara expressway. According to the report, the officers, who are Assistant Superintendents of Police (ASPs), were kidnapped ten days ago as at the time of the report. The report added that the officers were on their way to Zamfarafrom Borno State to carry out a special assignment. It is unarguable that the foregoing narrative aptly find expression in the proverbial saying that says, “The hunter has become the hunted”.

At this juncture, it is expedient to say that when it comes to road transport security, there is nothing more important than for people to arrive at their destinations safely. To this end, transportation security has no doubt become indispensable as major highways in the country are literarily littered with kidnappers. Since road transport subsector, contrary to other major subsectors in the transport industry, which are air and water, has unarguably remained den of kidnappers, it is expedient the governments across the three tiers exude political will, and nip the grisly situation in the bud.

As understood from a scintillating features article authored by a team of Journalists in the Guardian Newspaper edition of January 30, 2021 titled, “Criminals Have Taken Over Our Forests”, it is about time the government reined in the situation as Nigerians can no longer afford to remain traumatic as a result of the killings of their loved ones in the forests.

They wrote, “As many forests across the country remain under-utilized and under-secured, they have equally become safe haven of the sort to criminals, including bandits, kidnappers, robbers, cattle rustlers and ritualists.

“In Rivers State, criminality is high in rural areas due to thick forests, especially in Gokona, Etche, Emuoha, Ikwere, Khana, Tai and Ogugbolo Councils, where criminals hide and kidnap victims.

“Sometimes, the forests are relatively unknown to security agents who have to depend on the locals to identify such criminals’ hideouts. Hunters, farmers and other locals help to monitor and report suspicious movements of criminals in the forests to community heads, who in turn pass such information to the Police for action.

Last year, the outgoing state Commissioner of Police, Joseph Mukan, in the company of the Command’s spokesman, Nnamdi Omoni, and other security operatives, with the assistance of local vigilante groups, raided a thick forest in Koro Community in Tai Council, where they arrested a notorious kidnapper and leader of the Icelander cult group, Honest Diigbara, popularly known as ‘Boboski,’ who later died in Police custody. Boboski was a kidnap gang leader, who was said to have terrorised Ogoni axis of the state for several years”.

As gathered, “Nigeria’s forests cover about 96,043 square km– that’s about 10% of the country’s landmass. But the presence of authorities in these sanctuaries is either non-existent or, at best, sporadic. This has led to forest areas being poorly managed, which in turn has led to them being exploited by criminals and posing a security threat.

“What makes the Nigerian situation problematic is that criminals have been able to exploit forests because of poor management. By law, forests fall under the government’s mandate, but the Nigerian government hasn’t been able to secure them because of their huge size, lack of personnel and poor surveillance technology”.

To me, time has come for all tiers of government to create a joint task force that will composed of Forest Guards, Police and local vigilante groups to be policing the forestsso as to be protecting road travelers. To me, the collaboration will go a long way in flushing criminals out from our forests.

Again, it is expedient to say that there have been appreciable efforts to comb the forests in the bid to fish outkidnappers. Despite that, I am in this context suggesting that more efforts should be exerted in order to bring the high level of criminality in the forests under control. It would be recalled that Edo state police command recently deployed operatives to forests across the state in search of kidnapped but already released Nigeria Immigration Service’s (NIS) PRO, Mrs. Bridget Esene. According to the Edo State Police Command’s Spokesman, SP ChidiNwabuzor, the move was said to ensure the safe rescue of the immigration PRO.

In as much as the foregoing move was highly applauded by Nigerians, the measures should not be sporadic. Rather, it would be more laudable if permanent solution is created by nipping the issue in the bud.

To this end, forest spaces must be properly governed, even as Special security forces, trained to work in the forests must be deployed. The government must also invest in technology, like CCTV surveillance systems to monitor criminal activities in the forests and along the expressways. There is no denying the fact that taking these basic steps will act as a deterrent, and perhaps put a stop, to kidnapping activities on Nigerian expressways.

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Articles by Isaac Asabor