There is palpable tension in KotonKarfe Local Government Area of Kogi State following incessant cases of kidnapping and armed robbery activities which residents say have crippled normal livelihood.
In Gegu-Beki, Iraki, Omoko, Akpogu, kpareke and Achara, our correspondent gathered that the development has gravely affected lives of the people.
Many residents say they are now afraid of going to their farms, fetching water from the river or going about their normal businesses for fear of being abducted.
It was further learnt that kidnapping which emerged in some parts of the area about three months ago has continued to increase by the days.
Strange activities emerge
At Iraki, a community leader, Chief Idris Salihu, said the community had enjoyed peace and security until about three months ago when “strange activities” surfaced in the area.
He said the whole thing began when people believed to be kidnappers invaded the community at about 2am some months ago and began to shoot sporadically, causing panic among the people.
He said not quite long after that, a member of the community identified as Mallam Yunusa Zaga was kidnapped while returning home. According to him, Zaga was returning to the community in his vehicle when he was kidnapped and kept in captivity for about three days before he was released upon payment of ransom.
No more sleep, as kidnappings increase
He said after that incident, the same gang attempted to kidnap other members of the community on two occasions but couldn’t succeed due to efforts of members of the vigilante group.
“Since they started this kidnapping activities in our community, we can no longer sleep peacefully, we now live in fear,” he said.
He noted that those involved in kidnapping are not from the area but people who infiltrated the area from some northern states.
Kidnap for ransom
According to him, the target of the criminals is not just to rob but kidnap after which they would demand millions of naira as ransom.
He said the community does not have security presence and currently depends on the services of vigilante members.
Chief Salihu appealed to the federal and state governments to provide security to check the menace.
The Imam of Iraki Community Mosque, Idris Ibrahim, said: “Government should please provide security. We can no longer go to our farms. Our women cannot go and fetch water and firewood because of fear of being kidnapped”.
The head of the vigilante group in Iraki community, Zakari Hussain, said the menace of kidnapping and armed robbery had been a great challenge to his people for sometime now.
He said the kidnappers would block the road to kidnap people after which they would demand ransoms which usually range from N2m to N5m.
According to him, a few months ago, one of his brothers was kidnapped and a huge ransom was paid before he was released.
He said due to the spate of kidnapping in the area, the vigilante members under his leadership had been doing all they could to ensure that the people are safe.
“We keep vigil from 8pm to 8am every day. We hardly have time to sleep. What we do is patrol round the community all through the night,” he said.
He appealed to the government to support them with security personnel and weapons to keep the kidnappers away.
A member of Iraki community, Mohammed Shaibu, said the issue of insecurity in Iraki and other adjoining communities in Kogi-KotonKarfe had become a serious source of concern to many residents.
“We want the government to increase security presence across these communities that have come under attack by kidnappers. It is the vigilantes that are really helping us to curb this menace.
“Their effort is however limited because they have no arms to confront the kidnappers who are usually armed with sophisticated weapons. We learned that some of the kidnappers have been arrested. We urge the police to ensure they are prosecuted. As far as I’m concerned, any kidnapper that is arrested should be executed so that we can enjoy peace in our community. Kidnappers don’t show mercy when they abduct people so why do they deserve to be shown any mercy?”, he said.
At Gegu-Beki, our correspondent visited the home of Murtala Muhammed, a butcher and cow dealer who was recently kidnapped from his home but released after payment of N1.5 million ransom.
The man was not around when our correspondent visited, but his wife, Jemila, narrated what happened.
She said they had gone to sleep when the kidnappers stormed their area at about 11 pm. Upon entering, they went to the compound of their neighbour who was sleeping outside.
“They asked the neighbour to lead them to our place. When they came, they asked him to knock and call out my husband. My husband decided to open the door because the voice was familiar. As soon as he opened the door, they rushed in and took him away,” she said.
She said the kidnappers seized N1m from the house before abducting her husband.
Jemila said her husband was kept in captivity for about three days and a ransom of another N1 million was paid before he was freed.
She said members of her family and other people in the neighborhood now live in fear.
Also at Gegu-Beki, a woman identified as Aisha Abdulkareem was kidnapped recently while selling at her provision store.
Her husband told Daily Trust that the incident happened at about 7.40pm on March 6.
He said four kidnappers invaded the shop and abducted his wife while he was away.
“They actually came for me but since they didn’t see me, they decided to kidnap my wife. They first demanded N50 million ransom. She was with them for about five days. My wife’s parents eventually paid some money before she was released,” he said.
He lamented that the incessant cases of kidnapping in the area is crippling businesses.
“Since the day they kidnapped my wife, I had to go underground. As I talk to you, by 5pm, most people would close their shops/businesses and go home. Where do you have the money to pay ransom if you are kidnapped? I want to urge the police to ensure that they kill all those arrested for kidnapping. They should not release them to come and terrorise us again,” he said.
He alleged that those perpetrating the kidnapping activities are mostly Fulanis with collaboration of some members of the community.
Wife and daughter of APC chietfain seized
At Omoko community, the wife and daughter of the chairman of the All Progressives Congress in the area, Alhaji Audu Omoko were kidnapped recently.
It was gathered that the kidnappers released them unhurt after collecting some ransom from the family.
At Kpareke, a member of a vigilante group in the area was killed during an unsuccessful kidnap attempt. It was learnt that the kidnappers were able to abduct one person during their second attempt on the community.
Achara and Akpogu communities on their parts had equally witnessed the activities of kidnappers in recent times.
Legislator cries out
The member representing Kogi-Koton Karfe Constituency at Kogi State House of Assembly, Zakari Osewu Mohammed, recently cried out to the federal and Kogi State governments over incessant kidnapping and armed robbery activities in his constituency.
Zakari in an interview with journalists in Lokoja said his constituents now live in fear.
According to him, most of the victims kidnapped in recent times were from
Gegu Beki, Iraki, Omoko, Akpogu, Kpareke, Achara and other communities in the council.
He said over 50 people were reported to have relocated from Gegu-Beki to other places for fear of being kidnapped or attacked by armed robbers.
He said despite all measures put in place by the state government, kidnappers and armed robbers have not given the residents of Kogi Koton Karfe any breathing space.
Zakari said victims were usually taken to forests and could only secure freedom after ransom payment.
He pleaded with the federal and state governments to urgently deploy security personnel to destroy their camps before it gets out of hand.
What government is doing
The Administrator of Kogi-Kotonkarfe Local Government Area, Tanko Mohammed, who described the spate of kidnapping in the council as alarming, said government was working alongside the security agencies and was helping to address the menace.
“In all these, we didn’t waste time in informing the government of Alhaji
Yahaya Bello who insisted that all the people kidnapped must be released and returned alive.
“We involved soldiers, DSS, police, SARS operatives and our own local vigilantes to ensure they were released. As I speak with you, all the people kidnapped at Achara, Okparake, Omoko and others have all been released”, he said.
He said following the combing of the kidnappers’ hideouts by security operatives and subsequent arrest of some of them, the rampant cases of kidnapping had reduced in the past few days.
The council administrator however appealed for more security presence and possibly, joint security operations in the council to push out the kidnappers from their hideouts.
Police move into action
The Kogi State Police Command has in the meantime confirmed the arrest of some suspects responsible for kidnappings in Kogi-KotonKarfe.
The Commissioner of Police, Hakeem Busari, who paraded the suspects recently, said they were arrested from their hideouts following an operation in the area.
He said the command had been inundated with series of complaints over kidnap for ransom cases in KotonKarfe in recent times.
According to him, a gang of kidnappers led by one Auta Gajere was arrested at Fulani Camp, Kpareke in Kogi-KotonKarfe by men of Special Anti-Robbery Squad following a tip-off.
He said the suspect confessed to the crime and subsequently led the police to arrest other gang members at Gegu-Beki and KotonKarfe. Items recovered from the suspects included two single barrel guns, one locally made pistol, 10 rounds of live cartridges, assorted handsets and a Veneto Salon car.
The commissioner said all the suspects would be taken to court after conclusion of investigations and assured that the police would not rest until the state is rid of all forms of crime.