If ever a state of emergency can be declared on a road due to insecurity, the Abuja-Kaduna-Kano expressway deserves that treatment and urgently too. This extremely important road, which links Abuja to Niger State and the entire North West zone, has become severely crippled in recent weeks by the activities of kidnappers. The Abuja-Kaduna section of the highway is under the greatest assault but kidnappers also unleash mayhem on associated roads such as Kaduna-Zaria and Kaduna-Birnin Gwari highways.
The kidnappers’ nefarious activities increased despite the deployment by Inspector General Ibrahim Idris of 600 extra cops to the highway. Last month the IGP deployed six hundred more men from Special Intervention Forces comprising Police Mobile Force (PMF), Counter Terrorism Units, Federal Highway Patrol Teams, Safer Highway Patrols, Intelligence Response Team (IRT), Special Tactical Squad (STS), Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and Anti-Kidnapping Units “to root out vicious and notorious kidnap for ransom and armed robbery gangs that were responsible for many kidnappings and armed robberies along Abuja-Kaduna Highway and render the Abuja-Kaduna Highway safe for motorists, travellers, and other road users.”
On paper this force looked very impressive and the various police units’ exotic names initially gave us confidence that the kidnappers’ game was up. But this did not happen. Tens of thousands of motorists that ply this highway every day now travel with great fear because kidnappers could strike at all hours, seize people at will, march them off into the forests and subject them to endless zigzag marches while they negotiate with victims’ families for ransom payments in tens of millions of naira. Stories told by those who survived the ordeal say the kidnappers often disguise as policemen or soldiers and stop vehicles ostensibly for a search. This ruse is made possible by the many stop and search operations mounted on the highway by different security agencies despite repeated pledges by the Police Inspector General to end road blocks. In recent weeks the kidnappers upped their game by opening fire at speeding vehicles before they kidnap their occupants. Many people are now afraid to travel on this highway. While some people use the recently available Abuja-Kaduna train service, thousands of others simply cancel their travel plans.
The police have recorded at least two important victories against the kidnap gangs in recent weeks. Mid last month they announced the arrest of “six notorious kidnappers” terrorizing the Abuja-Kaduna Express Way. The Kaduna State internal security outfit Operation Yaki, which apprehended the suspects, named them as “leader of the gang Adamu Mamman, a 35-year old of Amana village in Igabi Local Government Area; Ali Rabo also known as Blakky, of Liman Ibada village in Chikun Local Government Area and Awwalu Ahmad, aka Mota of Rijana village in Kachia Local Government Area who is the main informant of this gang of kidnappers along the Abuja – Kaduna highway.”
“Others arrested are Shehu Idris Shagari, a 27-year old of Gadan Gayan village in Igabi Local Government Area and Umar Antijo, also a 27-year old of Rijana village in Kachia Local Government Area. Also in the net is Babangida Abdullahi of Rijana village in Kachia Local Government Area who is the receiver of stolen cattle, phones and laptops.”
On Wednesday last week, Force headquarters paraded another seven suspected kidnappers that were apprehended on the same highway. They were identified as Ibrahim Gurgu, a 45-year-old native of Gwagwada village in Kaduna, who Police said was the leader of the gang; Abdulazeez Idris, 40, from Kankara Local Government Area; Shuaibu Ibrahim alias Kadi, 29-year-old native of Kangimi village; Ibrahim Isiyaku, 30, from Gwagwada village; and Usman Datti, 30, from Gwagwada, all from Kaduna State. Force Headquarters said they were arrested by the Police Special Force led by the Intelligence Response Team at Gwagwada, Kangimi and Katari villages in Kaduna State between July 8 and 9.
On Thursday last week the Police IG made a highly publicised drive from Abuja to Kano. He spent the whole day on the road, stopping at a dozen places to inspect and address his men and to also speak to villagers and community leaders. At Rijana village, widely recognised to be the Ground Zero of kidnapping on the Abuja-Kaduna highway, IG Idris said, “We are going to post more officers here to man this place because of the challenges. Kidnapping has become an embarrassment here, so we have to rebuild the image of people in Rijana. If people ask you where you come from and you say you are from Rijana, people will be scared of you. So, I want you people to join force and repair the image of the community to put an end to this.”
As far as Nigerians and particularly travellers on this all-important road are concerned, the police and other security agencies do have the capacity to end all criminality on the Abuja-Kaduna highway because they did so as recently as this year. During the six weeks’ closure of Abuja airport in March to April this year, the police deployed massively on this highway and admirably protected air travellers. Even though kidnappers and other criminals were salivating that rich and powerful domestic and foreign travellers were now down on earth and were commuting at all hours between Abuja and Kaduna, there were almost no reported cases of attacks because the police kept the criminals at bay. The inevitable conclusion by Nigerians is that the super elite secured the road for themselves with great efficiency but once Abuja airport reopened, ordinary folks have been abandoned to their fate. The police secured this highway before and they must do so again. It is an urgent task; there is not time to waste.