Abuja-Lokoja expressway as death trap, security risk

In the past few months, travellers plying the Abuja – Lokoja expressway have their hearts in their mouths as a result of the threat posed by kidnappers aside from the bad state of the road. ELEOJO IDACHABA in this report writes on the menace and attempts by the police to curtail it.

The Lokoja – Abuja expressway is in the news for the wrong reasons. This is because in recent times, dare-devil men have taken over the road in the form of armed robbers and kidnappers.

The problem along that corridor used to be accident-prone with many lives lost until lately when kidnapping and armed robbery resurfaced on this road that connects the North to the South.

No one saw this latest development coming, especially as the police authorities had been beating their chests saying that they had successfully reduced the twin incidences of robbery and kidnapping in the country to the barest minimum.

Previous records

Recently, precisely in September 2019, kidnappers reportedly shot at an Abuja-bound vehicle killing all occupants in Gegu, Koton-Karfi local government area of the Kogi state, while many others escaped with bullet wounds. Blueprint’s investigations revealed that in that incident, the abductors killed all occupants of the vehicle coming into the nation’s capital from Port Harcourt. It was also reported that while all these were going on, a Toyota Camry car coming from Ibadan to Abuja, but tried to escape from the scene, was also attacked by the robbers and the passengers sustained various degrees of injury.

Confirming the incident, the Commissioner of Police in the state, Hakeem Busari, said he had received the report in which a police officer of the rank of an Assistant Superintendent was also killed. In a statement issued by the Police Public Relations Officer in Kogi state, Mr. William Aya, he said, “On yesterday’s incident at Gegu Beki, only two people lost their lives while others sustained injuries. The victims are one ASP and one yet-to-be identified person. They died as a result of accident and not gunshot wounds. The vehicles ran into a kidnap scene and as a result somersaulted and that led to the death of two persons as against eight earlier reported. The commissioner of police has ordered for a complete manhunt of the kidnappers and to rescue the victims.”

Not too long ago, at Sabon-Gari village along the same corridor, hoodlums laid an ambush and opened fire on a vehicle. Eyewitnesses said gunmen disguised as military men shot the driver of a Toyota Highlander jeep going to Abuja from Lokoja in the head as he attempted to make a sharp reverse.

It was gathered that the driver died instantly. On the same day, an 18-seater commercial bus coming from Abaji ran into the hoodlums who fired gunshots into the air. In the ensuing pandemonium, all the passengers on board were whisked away into the bush.

In April 2019, a couple was kidnapped between Itakpe and Adogo on the same corridor. Blueprint Weekend gathered that the man, his wife, their seven-year-old son and four-year-old twin daughters were in that vehicle. The abductors were said to have forced the vehicle to a halt by shooting at the tyres before ordering them into the bush. One of the twins was hit by bullet. Also, on November 26 2019, gunmen suspected to be kidnappers opened fire on a vehicle belonging to the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) in which some of the personnel were travelling from Abuja to Lagos on official assignment. The incident happened a few kilometres from Zariagi town in the afternoon and claimed the driver and leaving the other officer critically injured.

Furthermore, on December 13, there were reported double incidences of kidnapping on the same route. The first was in the morning and another in the afternoon on the same day; a total of seven persons were kidnapped. This incident, it was further gathered, caused many travellers to be stranded for hours.

Likely causes

In as much as poverty is generally adduced as being responsible for such crime-related offences, investigations by Blueprint Weekend showed that it is largely as a result of the proliferation of arms in the state. According to a driver, Godson Orume, a native of Uromi in Edo state who plies the road often, “What we are seeing on this road has never been like this. It became more pronounced in the last five months. I think there are too many arm-bearing youth in Kogi state, of which security agents should investigate.”

Napoleon Umoru, a staff of Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited (ASCL), said the government was behind the carnage. In a no-holds-barred exposition, he told tis reporter that, “Why should anyone be surprised at what is happening? A little over one year ago, it was widely reported in the media that a particular state government where this carnage is domiciled imported arms and military camouflage into the country because of an election. Since then, what have the security agents done about it or are they saying that there was nothing like that? As far as they were concerned, it was all about winning elections. Today, we are living with it. Until the government removes politics from everything, we will continue to have this type of problem.”

A resident of Okene, Adamu Oyiza, told Blueprint Weekend that the persons responsible for recent kidnappings, especially in Kogi state, are those criminals who were driven from the Abuja-Kaduna corridor. “Some of them who were arrested and interrogated in Lokoja recently confessed that they once operated on the Abuja-Kaduna road, but had to relocate to this place because the business is no longer lucrative following the adoption of train services as a means of transportation by most travellers to Kaduna and Zaria. They are the ones,” he said.

For Sadiq Abubakar, “The Abuja-Lokoja road is the busiest and only road that links the southern/eastern part of the country to the North with a high volume of vehicular movement, especially at the peak of a festival period. However, within the last one month, this ever-busy road has become a nightmare to commuters plying the route due to incessant attacks by gunmen suspected to be kidnappers and armed robbers.

Police onslaught

In the meantime, authorities of the Nigeria Police Force have given the assurance that they are on top of the situation, saying that the corridor would be made safer for all travellers within the yuletide. Force Public Relations Officer, Mr. Frank Mba, said if the police could neutralise the elements from the Kaduna-Abuja corridor, in a matter of days, the menace on Lokoja-Abuja corridor would be a thing of the past.

In the last one month, the police special intelligence squad has killed three suspected kidnappers who operate on the same corridor, precisely in Kwaita village. It was learnt that the team which was led by a deputy commissioner of police (DCP), simply known as Kolo, also arrested scores of kidnappers who had been posing security threat on that road.