As the spate of reported cases of kidnappings by suspected armed bandits continues to worsen by the day, residents of communities located along the Abuja -Lokoja highway, live in agony and fear.
Daily Trust Saturday findings reveal that some of these communities which include Chikara-Sharp bend, Omoko, Aseni, Idu, Ahoko-Adabo and Orehi/Achabo are black spots where the suspected kidnappers mostly emerge from the bush to open fire on unsuspecting travellers on the highway.
Although travellers have always been the target of the kidnappers, a new development has emerged as residents of these communities are not spared because the kidnappers also invade their homes to abduct victims at gunpoint.
Speaking with our reporter, a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Kogi Local Government, Alhaji Abdullahi Yusuf, said the activities of kidnappers have continued to pose a dangerous threat not only to travellers on the highway, but villages located along the highway.
He said recently, the kidnappers invaded his house in Omoko village and abducted his wife, his son, daughter-in-law, and her daughter.
He said his wife was in captivity for one week. A ransom of N4m was paid to the kidnappers before his family members were set free by the kidnappers.
“In fact, the kidnappers attacked my home twice. The first time, they abducted my wife, and only released her when I paid N2m ransom to them. They later came back and took away my son, his wife and her daughter, for which I struggled to pay another N2m before they were set free,” he said.
According to him, the activities of kidnappers have continued to worsen by the day, saying some prominent elders in the community hardly sleep in their homes because of the incessant attack on the community by the bandits.
He said though no life has been lost or anyone injured due to activities of the kidnappers in the community but the frequent attack on motorists along the highway has created serious fear in the minds of residents of the community.
“The sound of their gunshot alone sometimes throws the entire community into a panic, especially when they emerge from the bush to attack travellers on the highway,” he said.
The APC chieftain identified a sloppy terrain, which he said links to neighbouring Ochonyi village, as one of the black spots from where the kidnappers sometimes emerge from the bush to open fire on oncoming vehicles.
Also, a resident of Aseni village, located along the highway and a few metres from Idu village, Usman Yakubu, said the community is another black spot.
He said the kidnappers always have a field day when they invade the community through the bush path and abduct their victims and afterwards request a ransom.
He said in December last year, kidnappers laid siege on the community, killed a middle-aged man, and abducted his wife and one other house wife.
He also said the activities are continuing to pose a serious threat to the community, saying farmers hardly go their farms for fear of being abducted by the bandits.
“You hardly see people going to farms these days because of the fear of being kidnapped. And the worst is that these kidnappers sometimes place calls to members of the community, who they see as a threat to them, and warn such persons to be careful,” he said.
Idu community forms vigilante group
Idu community is a neighbouring village from Aseni, along the highway. The youths of the community have formed a vigilante group due to incessant attacks on the community by the kidnappers.
A member of the vigilante, simply identified as Ibrahim, who spoke with our reporter, said the community has been the worst hit by the activities of bandits.
He said the kidnappers went violent recently after they discovered that the vigilante members in the area always shot into the air to scare them.
He said they held the entire community hostage to the extent that farmers hardly go to their farms for fear of being abducted by the bandits.
Ibrahim, who said the bandits sometimes pass through a route behind the community unchallenged whenever they want to go and strike on the highway, noted that there is a big forest where the kidnappers sometimes take their victims to collect a ransom.
He recalled how the bandits had three weeks ago, abducted a middle-aged man, Usman Musa, a younger brother to the chairman of vigilante in the community while working on his farm.
According to him, the kidnappers were on a tree in the farm when the victim came to work on his farm, and they mistook him for the vigilante chairman and whisked him away.
“It was after they took him to their camp that they discovered he was the younger brother of the vigilante chairman. And despite that, they held him hostage for 11 days until ransom was paid before he regained his freedom,” he said.
He said the kidnappers are always angered by the sound of gunshot from the vigilante group who shoot into the air every night.
“The other day the vigilante shot into the air at night, one of the bandits called the chief of Gwari of this community – Bako Yakwo, to find out those that always shoot at night. The chief told the kidnappers that it was the Egbura natives,” he said.
He said the bandits asked the chief to warn the Egbura natives to stop shooting because it disturbs them.
The bandits’ several threats through the chief has forced the youth of the community to stop sleeping at night, and instead mobilize themselves with locally fabricated guns to keep vigil in case of any attack by the bandits, said Ibrahim.
“If you look around, you will see some of the firewood we use in making a bonfire, especially on cold nights. We stay outside and keep awake till day break because of these kidnappers,” he said.
The kidnapped victim, Usman Musa, while narrating the incident, said the bandits abducted him alongside two of his workers. He said they were on the farm when the kidnappers suddenly appeared and surrounded them at gunpoint.
They were held hostage for 11 days.
Musa said his family and relatives sourced for N1.5m after selling some of his valuables to pay the ransom.
“Actually, they’d gone to the farm to hide and wait for my elder brother, who is the chairman of vigilante in this community, because they complained that he was a threat to them,” he said.
“They said since they didn’t meet my brother on the farm, they will go with me. And that was how they took me away with the two workers I engaged to cut down trees for me in the farm,” he said.
He, however, said the bandits have thrown the community into panic due to their sporadic gun shots on the highway; a situation that forced the community to organise and form a vigilante group.
He said the bandits take advantage of forests and hills along the highway to attack travellers at a sharp bend, few meters from Idu Bridge.
“These people have no specific time of operation; they come out anytime they like to attack travellers. Whenever they are shooting, residents living close to the highway always run to town,” he said.
According to him, the kidnappers invaded a Fulani settlement in the community and abducted three Fulani men on three different occasions.
The family of the Fulani victims was forced to sell some of their cows to raise money for ransom.
“As I am talking to you right now, most of the Fulani residing around us have relocated because of the activities of these kidnappers as some of them don’t have much cows anymore.”
He also narrated how the kidnappers target vehicles retuning back to Abuja from the east, especially on Sundays.
“Most times, they come out especially on Sunday evenings between 5 and 6pm when people are returning to Abuja from weekend. On Sunday, a Dangote conductor was shot dead by the kidnappers after which they abducted scores of passengers from a commercial bus,” he added.
He said some of the attacks occur few meters away from police checkpoints, noting however that the security agents respond to distress calls whenever operation was going on.
“The last time was before the Kogi election when some soldiers summoned the courage to engage the kidnappers but unfortunately, one soldier lost his life that day,” he said.
How kidnappers raped 6 housewives
Another resident of Idu community also disclosed to our reporter how six housewives who went to fetch firewood were alleged to have been raped by the kidnappers.
He said the women, who left home in a group to fetch firewood, suddenly ran into the group of kidnappers and some of them allegedly raped the women.
“In fact, it was among the reasons why we decided to pick up arms to defend our community, as nobody can go to his farm again because of the activities of these undesirable elements,” he said.
He said the kidnappers have dislodged residents of Odulo community, a predominantly Bassa habitation, adding that the kidnappers have also taken the community as their resting place.
“If you go to Odulo community today, you will not see anybody as the bandits have pursued the villagers who have relocated elsewhere,” he said.
How over 30 bandits invaded Ahoko community
On February 7, 2020 at about 2am, gunmen suspected to be kidnappers invaded Ahoko community, located along the Abuja-Lokoja highway, and threw the entire community into chaos.
The kidnappers, according to residents, attacked and shot at the house of Alhaji Ibrahim Adama Gata, the Sarkin Yaki of Kotonkarfe chiefdom. The attack on the man’s house, whose son was getting married on that day, led to the death of a wedding guest, Zakari Kuru.
Speaking with our reporter on the incident, the victim, Alhaji Ibrahim Adama Gata, said he was sleeping when he suddenly woke to sporadic shooting.
He came to the sitting room as the bandits were shouting that they should open the door. When they gained entrance, the kidnappers kept asking his visitor where the chief was because they apparently didn’t recognize him, as he was standing right there watching them.
“They didn’t recognize me, so they kept shouting my name, saying, ‘Sarki ka fito waje mu zo mu kashe kane’ meaning, ‘Chief where are you? Come outside, we came to kill you’.”
According to him, when he confronted them, they escaped after discovering that their bullets did not penetrate his body.
“Even as they were asking about the chief, they were shooting at me but the bullets did not penetrate. Unfortunately, one of the wedding guests who came for my son’s wedding was killed because he also summoned the courage to engage them,” he said.
Alhaji Gata said the kidnappers have always seen him as a threat since they started operations along that axis.
“Yes, they see me as a threat because anytime they come out to attack travellers, I immediately mobilize the vigilante group to engage them. So, I suspect there is an informant who gave information about me and that is why they came and wanted to eliminate me,” he said.
He said he has reached out to all Egbura traditional rulers including the Ona of Abaji, Alhaji Adamu Baba Yunusa; the Ohinoyi of Ogye, Alhaji Mohammed Azaki; the Ohomegye of Igu-Kotonkarfe as well as the Ohimegye of Umaisha, Alhaji Usman Abdullahi, to see how they can come together to draw the attention of government on how to address the activities of bandits terrorising Egbura communities.
Commenting, the Ohimegye of Igu-Kotonkarfe, His Royal Majesty (HRM) Alhaji Abdulrazak Isa Koto, said it was very unfortunate that the activities of bandits have gotten to such extent, saying he foresaw it within the last three to four years and described it as quite disturbing.
“Even though within my domain I don’t see these criminal elements, but because of the borders we share with Niger and Nasarawa states and the porous nature of the waterways, it very easy for these bandits to come in,” he said.
He said the strength of the security agents; especially the police, was another challenge that affects checkmating activities of the bandits, while calling on the three border states – Niger, Kogi and Nasarawa to put heads together on how to tackle the incessant cases of kidnappings on the highway and the communities along the axis.
“Secondly, the government needs to fund the police and other security agents by providing the necessary equipment as well as intelligent gathering equipment to tame the activities of these bandits.
The spokesman of the Kogi State police command, DSP William Aya, did not pick calls or reply the text message sent to his phone.