Kidnappers on the prowl in Southwest (I)

Kidnapping has been on the rise in the Southwest, which was hitherto considered out of harm’s way. The police and other security agencies are throwing everything into the fight against the menace. In this report, BISI OLADELE, PRECIOUS IGBONWELUNDU (Lagos), DAMISI OJO (Akure) and RAZAQ IBRAHIM (Ado-Ekiti) x-ray the situation.

Ayo Oladele did not prepare for what happened that Saturday. As the Secretary-General of Christ’s School Alumni Association, Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State, he was conversant with the state. But, he got the shock of his life when he was whisked away two Saturdays ago at Efon-Alaye by gunmen. The day after on the same road, Ibadan-based twins Kehinde and Taiwo Olowoafara were also abducted by a gang which demanded N22million ransom.

In April, Lagos Fire Service Director Musibau Rasaki and other commuters on the Ikorodu-Epe Road fell victim to another kidnap gang.

From Lagos to Ondo, Abeokuta to Ekiti, Ibadan to Osogbo, kidnappers are on the prowl. Gone are the days when people moved safely from one town or community to another in the Southwest. Hitherto, motorists and commuters looked forward to such journeys and some of the delicacies enjoyed on the road. Such delicacies Dodo Ikire (peculiar fried plantain known with Ikire), akara Osu (bean cake), Ogbomoso mangoes, Ondo pounded yam, freshly tapped palm wine accompanied by bush meat and plenty of fresh fruits including walnuts, freshly cooked maize which is thrust into vehicle windows by hawkers to entice motorists and commuters. The thought of these items increased interest in the journeys those days while the highway trading boosted the economy of such towns and communities.

But not any longer. Things have changed completely. Today’s realities include high-security challenges, including kidnapping and armed robbery. For many residents in the region today, only journeys that cannot be avoided are undertaken due to the high risks.

Though the security challenges are not peculiar to the Southwest alone, the menace has reached an alarming rate in the region in recent times. Kidnappers, who thrived in Southsouth and Southeast Nigeria some years ago, seem to have either relocated to Southwest or those who learnt from them have relocated to Southwest to perform the evil enterprise.

In the current kidnap misery, traditional rulers, lecturers, businessmen and women, civil servants as well as ordinary citizens are being abducted regularly on inter-town roads with their families coughing out huge sums of money to ransom them. They are humiliated and made to trek long distances on barefoot. Some victims lose their lives in kidnappers’ den while those who survive to narrate chilling experiences.

The attention of the world shifted to Osun State lately with the kidnapping of traditional rulers and a lecturer at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) Ile-Ife, Prof. Olayinka Adegbehingbe. The lecturer was abducted around Ikoyi/Apomu junction of the Ibadan-Ife expressway in Ikire, a border town between Osun and Oyo states while returning from a journey to Lagos. He was with his wife, Bernice, on the journey. Their vehicle was intercepted at about 6:30 pm by the armed bandits who were reportedly shooting to force motorists plying the busy road to stop. The lecturer’s wife, who is the Dean, Faculty of Clinical Sciences, OAU, slumped and was left behind while her husband was whisked away into the bush. According to Adegbehingbe, he trekked in the forest for about six hours with the hoodlums armed with Mark 4 guns and ammunition.

The news of his kidnap spread like a wildfire, causing anger in many residents across the region. His family coughed out N5 million to secure his release.

Recounting his ordeal, Adegbehingbe said: “Those who abducted me were Fulani herdsmen and they had four guns and multiple rounds of ammunition as well as different dangerous weapons. Before settling for N5.04 million after serious negotiation, they first demanded N30 million ransom.”

The state has witnessed a number of kidnaps in the last one year, making it the latest hotbed of kidnappers. Some inter-state roads have been identified as flashpoints. For instance, kidnappers regularly strike on Iwo-Osogbo Road, the Akure-Ilesa Road via Ondo State, Ijebu-Jesa/Esa Oke/Erio/Aramoko Road from Ekiti State and a number of other deserted roads within Osun State including Osogbo-Ibokun-Ada Road. Also, few cases of kidnap have been recorded recently in Ikirun, Inisa and Okuku communities along the highway leading to Kwara State.

Most of the victims described their abductors as fierce-looking, armed and of Hausa-Fulani extraction. Narrating his ordeal to the Southwest Reports, a traditional ruler in Atakunkosa West Local Government Area of the state, the Atagunmodi of Itagunmodi, Oba Michael Famadewa-Kosile, said he was accosted a few kilometres from his domain while returning from a ceremony at Ilesa around 9.30 pm on May 30, last year. According to him, the hoodlums shot at his Toyota Highlander Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV), forced him to a halt and led him into the bush. He recalled that the gunmen forced him to trek for about three hours inside a forest. The monarch, who is a septuagenarian, said he was made to lie down and given several lashes.

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But fortune smiled on him when, according to him, his abductors fell asleep. He quickly escaped before they woke up. However, he lost about N600,000 which he had in his vehicle to the bandits.

In his view, criminal activities in his domain could be linked to illegal mining of gold, which he said is predominantly carried out by the Hausa who are in search of economic fortune from the discoveries of mineral resources in the area. Oba Famadewa-Kosile, therefore, advised the Osun State Government to ban mining in the area.

Similarly, a 60-year old traditional chief in Ibokun, the headquarters of Obokun Local Government Area of Osun State, Dunsin Amusa, was kidnapped about three weeks ago. He spent two nights with his abductors before his release. Amusa, who is the head of hunters in the area and the Tirimi of Ibokun, with a woman simply identified as Tayo, were abducted along the Ilare/Esa Odo Road in Ilara around 10.00 pm. Their abductors collected N1m ransom contributed by groups and individuals in Ibokun before the victims regained their freedom. The kidnappers reportedly seized the mobile phone and motorcycle of the man who went to deliver the ransom to them at an agreed point in the bush. The man, who took the ransom on a motorcycle to Oke Imesi junction, was said to have entered the forest around Oye River area in Imesi Ile and had to travel several kilometres into the forest to meet the bandits.

In another incident about a month ago, three regular marshalls of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) in Osun State was abducted by a gang of gunmen at Erin-Ijesa area of Akure/Ilesa highway. They were travelling late in the afternoon on the road when the armed bandits intercepted their vehicles. Two of the victims, identified as Abioye and Bayeguni were released after paying an unspecified amount of money as ransom while unidentified their person died of exhaustion in the custody of the kidnappers.

Religious leaders are not spared in the nefarious act. About three months ago, some armed hoodlums kidnapped a Methodist Presbyter in Osun State, Very Rev Kayode Akande, and two other church leaders along the Iwo-Osogbo Road. The victims were forcefully taken away by the gunmen around 7.00pm. They were said to be returning to Osogbo from Ile Ogbo after a meeting to celebrate Father’s Day when they were abducted. They also paid an unspecified ransom before they were released.

Very pathetic was a case of one staff of the Osun State College of Technology, Esa-Oke, who was killed while trying to escape from kidnappers who laid an ambush for them between Esa-Oke and Ijebu-Jesa about four months ago. Six of his colleagues were kidnapped on that fateful day. They were returning after the closing of work when the incident happened. Two students of the institution were also kidnapped by the gunmen in that operation. The unlucky victim, Olaniyi Temitope, was a Registry staff of the institution, who would have bagged his PhD degree a few days after the incident. The kidnapped staff, Olaleye Olalekan, Adeyeoluwa Bankole, Jesuola Ajibola, Adenreti Chukwu and Rachael Onyinocha Akinboboye gained their freedom a few days after paying some ransom.

Osun

The situation looks overwhelming for the police in the state though they sometimes make some arrests. Lately, three suspected kidnappers were paraded by the Assistant Inspector General of Police for zone 11, Adeleye Oyebade, at the Zonal Command in Osogbo, Osun State capital. The suspects, Jimoh Adamu Omotayo (32), who is the leader of the armed gang, Abdullahi Budah (52) and Umaru Ahmed (35), allegedly abducted their victim, Salihu Ahmed (46) in his farm at Agboye Village near Okuku, the headquarters of Odo-Otin Local Government Area of Osun State, around 8.00 am on February 26, 2019. Numbering about five and armed with locally-made single barrel guns, the suspects allegedly blindfolded their victim and took him to a forest in Ikare-Akoko, Ondo State where was held captive for 17 days. The kidnappers were forced to release the victim without collecting N3 million ransom they had earlier demanded from his family when they noticed that the police were closing in on them.

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Addressing reporters during the parade, Oyebade said the arrest was possible because of the upgrade in the police operations and the setting up of a technical platform for intelligence management by the zonal command.

His words: “The suspects were forced to release their victim without collecting the N3 million ransom earlier demanded following an aggressive manhunt for them by the police, who they knew were closing in on them. But with the release of the victim by the suspects, the Zonal Technical Intelligence Response Unit led by SP Idowu Fapojuwo went ahead to arrest the suspects in their various hideouts in the state.”

To address the situation, Osun State Governor, Gboyega Oyetola, convened a stakeholders security meeting in Ilesa a fortnight ago. The governor met the leadership of the Osun State Cow Dealers Association; Members of the All Farmers’ Association of Nigeria (AFAN) and the leadership of the Fulani/Bororo with the assurance that he would continue to intensify efforts to strengthen the bond among the relevant stakeholders in order to forestall kidnapping and banditry in the state. At the stakeholders’ meeting, Oyetola banned illegal mining activities in the state. He declared that before miners could operate they must be duly registered by the state government. The governor said the miners, especially illegal ones, have constituted a threat to lives and property of residents of the state.

Ondo

Ondo State has been the hotbed of kidnapping in the last four years. The state became infamous for the abduction of a former Secretary to the Federal Government. chief Olu Falae, in his farm in September 2015. He spent four days in the bush with the kidnappers before he was rescued by security operatives.

For the kidnappers, the pattern of the operation is the same – force motorists to a halt, abduct the occupants, take them to the nearby forest and seek ransom from their family members.

In some cases, many victims who could not meet up in good time of the ransom demanded were summarily killed.

The crime is rampant in Ondo North especially Akoko axis, which is largely made easy by bad portions of the roads.

A forthright ago, unknown gunmen seized three motorists at Auga-Akoko on Kabba-Ise Akoko Road in Akoko Northwest Local Government Area. The victims were two brothers and as well as an official of Dangote Group of Companies. They were abducted from their Toyota Corolla car and Mitsubishi pick-up van while travelling on the road. They were immediately taken to the nearby forest.

Ondo State Police spokesman, Femi Joseph, who confirmed the incident, said they were on the trail of the hoodlums.

Sometime in 2017, the regent of Akungba-Akoko, Princess Toyin Omosowon, was kidnapped along Owo-Oba Akoko axis with her driver. She was in the forest with the kidnappers for over one week before being rescued. A Catholic priest also fell victim of kidnapping on this same spot around the same period.

Late last year, four passengers were abducted at Amurin village on Owo-Akure Road.

While three victims, who are members of staff of the Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Owo were released, the corpse of the 52-year-old Akinyemi was said to have been found in a bush, tied to a tree. It was learnt that the deceased was killed by the abductors for the inability of his family to pay the ransom on time. Akinyemi was a lecturer at the Rufus Gina Polytechnic (RUGIPO), Owo.

Following the development, lecturers and students of the Polytechnic held a procession on the campus as a mark of respect for the late Akinyemi.

In response, Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu visited the institution to commiserate with the academic community. He described the death of the lecturer as unfortunate.

The Chairman, Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Polytechnics, RUGIPO chapter, Mr Chris Olowolade, described the incident as sad and unfortunate. He said the union had entered into negotiation with the kidnappers in order to secure Akinyem’s release, but they lost him to the kidnappers and received his corpse.

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Olowolade said: “The kidnappers placed a ransom of N100 million on him, which nobody could afford but they reduced it to N7 million after two days, and later grudgingly asked us to come up with N500,000.

“The money was taken to them, and the person who took it to them was directed by the kidnappers to where he should drop the money. They asked him to stop, reverse and move, just to confirm that he was the actual person bringing the money.

He said it was after some hours, they called that the man bringing the money should come back that they didn’t see it; only for them to be called by the Rector to go and identify his corpse

Akeredolu said the incident happened five minutes after he passed through that spot and had to deploy some security men in his convoy to rescue the victims.

Also in April 2017, an Ondo monarch,Oba Sunday Daodu, who is the Oniyani of Iyani-Akoko, was kidnapped along Owo-Oba Akoko road along with his second-in-command, Shaba of Iyani-Akoko, Chief Olugbenga Giwa. They spent Easter Sunday in gunmen’s captivity. They slept in the forest with their traditional regalia for four days.

Oba Daodu said his vehicle was forced to stop after shooting the tyre, describing the ordeal as’ harrowing’. He said the vehicle ran into the gunmen at a spot near Oba-Akoko

The Oniyani said the abductors forced them to drink from the pond where cattle drink water, adding that they slept on the rock and even trekked long distances with them.

The confused monarch arrived his palace after regaining his freedom in the company of Olubaram of Ibaram-Akoko,Oba Olusegun Atibioke and Owa of Ogbagi, Oba Victor Olasehinde.

It was through the effort of the state government that the monarch and the chief were released.

While decrying the level of insecurity in the state, particularly in Akobo axis, the monarch of Auga-Akoko, Oba Samuel Agunloye, posited that the only way to curb the menace of kidnapping in the area was for the Nigerian Army to establish a base to support police efforts in the area.

There are several other cases that are unreported.

The Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to the governor, Segun Ajiboye, said the state government was intensifying efforts to ensure that the state is peaceful and activities of criminals, particularly kidnapping and robbery, are curtailed.

Police spokesman, Femi Joseph, a Superintendent of Police (SP), also said no stone would be left unturned to flush out criminals in the state.

It is not only Southwest

In April, four officials of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA)- Julius Alunomoh, Damian Egwu, Olisa Ojukwu and a woman Chidiebere Wendy- who was in Rivers State on official duties were kidnapped at Obua-Adual Local Government Area and N40million demanded their release.

On May 18, an Uyo-bound God is Good bus marked AGB294YV from Lagos was hijacked by gunmen near Benin City in an operation that left a lecturer at the Igbinedion University Okada, Kelvin Izevbekhai, dead while other victims were marched into the forest by the criminals.

At the wee hours of Tuesday, June 4, a drive with this newspaper, Godknows Longjohn, fell victim to kidnappers between Rivers and Imo states while on his way to deliver newspapers. His abductors, who had since demanded N1.5m ransom, threatened to kill Longjohn if their demands were not met.

The list of persons, who have fallen victim to kidnapping in recent times, is almost endless. Hardly does a day pass without cases of gunmen kidnapping for ransom being recorded. Victims of this terror who shared their experiences at different times all alluded to how well-organised the criminals are, and how they had a constant supply of their needs, including foodstuffs, recharge cards, among others.

Although kidnapping is neither a new trend, the criminals laying siege on major highways and targeting anyone in sight, including pupils, has generated public outcry.

•To be continued tomorrow.

Source: (The Nation)

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