“We can’t sleep” FCT residents flee homes over bandits attacks, kidnappings

PERSISTENT attacks and abductions are forcing residents of Kuchiko, a border town between the FCT and Niger state, to flee their homes while many battle sleeping disorders due to heavy gunshots at night.

12:25 AM

It was a quiet night until loud knocks on the door startled Ruth Kehinde and her little children awake at midnight on July 30, 2023.

Gunmen were on a kidnapping spree for the umpteenth time in Kuchiko, a satellite town bridging Niger state and the Bwari Area Council in Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

Kehinde’s hesitancy to open the door amidst fear did not suffice when the notorious criminal gang, often tagged as bandits, began shooting sporadically in the air and shattering the window glasses.

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There was no pity, she told The ICIR. “They flung my one-year-old baby into the bush when they finally forced their way into the house”.

The 32-year-old breast-feeding mother was whisked away from her toddler and four other little children in the dead of the night. Her husband, Kehinde Ajibade, was in faraway Nigeria’s southwest, where he works as a quarryman.

Meanwhile, two other residents, Moses Ayala, in his early thirties, and another middle-aged man who asked not to be named, had already been kidnapped that night by the same gang. Once Kehinde joined, they began the long torturous trek to the bandits’ den through the hilly terrains of Niger state.

“They kept flogging us with heavy sticks until we reached their hideout in one of the mountains. We walked for more than four hours”, said Kehinde, revealing her injured legs.

Ruth Kehinde sustained injuries due to torture while in the bandits’ den, Photo credit: Fatumbi Olayinka/The ICIR

She estimated the criminal gang to be 18 in number.

What followed in the morning were calls from the abductors to the victims’ family members demanding millions of Naira ransom payments.

In Nigeria, gunmen make fortunes from kidnapping citizens on the roads, homes, schools and farms.

Between July 2022 and June 2023, a total of $387,179, translating to N302 million, was paid as ransom to kidnappers in the country, according to SBM Intelligence.

This amount represents six per cent of the total N5 billion ($6,410,256 as of 30 June 2023) the kidnappers requested within the period, the intelligence gathering platform revealed.

Despite being Nigeria’s seat of power, more than four hundred residents of FCT have been kidnapped from 2018 to  June 2023, according to the Nigeria Security Tracker (NST).

Since grappling with banditry, FCT’s Kuchiko has become one of the hotbeds for abduction. The persistent attacks have forced some residents to flee their homes. Other residents have opted to advertise their property for sale or lease, The ICIR confirmed.

Stuck between death and ransom…

While trekking through the hills on the night of the abduction,  Ayala Moses, one of the victims of the July 30 abduction earlier mentioned, was stabbed multiple times after he attempted to run away.

The fresh graduate of Ambrose Ali University, Ekpoma, said he took the risk to save his “family and friends the trouble of raising millions of naira to pay ransom”.

Ayala Moses was stabbed multiple times when he attempted to run away Photo credit: Moses Ayala

“When they noticed that I might die from bleeding, they called my elder brother to choose between my life or N2 million ransom. They ordered him to bring the cash to a particular location away from where we were held hostage. After collecting the money, they told me to go”, according to Moses, still undergoing treatment at the time of filing this report. 

While the ransom negotiation was going on with the bandits, Ruth’s husband, Ajibade, said he ran to the State Security Services (SSS) Head Office in Abuja to request the rescue of his wife by tracking the number the kidnappers used for communication. 

However, Ajibade said the Nigeria’s secret police advised him to comply with the bandits’ demands for the safety of his wife and the other victims.

“So if the security operatives cannot track numbers that are registered with the National Identification Number (NIN), or even make attempts to rescue victims, what kind of system do we have?” Ajibade asked in a distressed tone.

A few months after Ajibade made this query, an X user posed the same question to the former minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, who was behind the NIN drive. 

Pantami, who had aided in raising N50 million to pay ransom for the release of an abducted family, replied that the relevant bodies are not making use of the technology. Read the detailed report HERE.

N2 million Naira ransom paid to kidnappers by Ayala’s family photo credit: Zack Ayala

Ruth and the other victim, who did not want his identity in print, said they paid N3 million each to secure their freedom. Both of them spent four harrowing nights at the kidnappers’ den. But Ayala Moses spent only a night due to the injuries he sustained from the multiple stabbings and the prompt payment of his ransom.

Meanwhile, Nigeria’s Senate in 2022 passed a bill amending the Terrorism (Prevention) Act 2013 to criminalise the payment of ransom to kidnappers.

The former Senate President Ahmad Lawan said the bill “will enhance the efforts of this government in the fight against terrorism, kidnapping, and other associated and related vices”.

However, the bill received a heavy backlash from the public who feared it would further risk the lives of kidnap victims. A report by the Conversation, a pan-African think-tank, also raised concerns about the inability of Nigeria’s security agencies to carry out successful rescue operations against kidnappers.

Subsequently, former President Muhammadu Buhari declined to assent to the bill. This implies that yielding to the demands of the abductors remains the viable option for kidnap victims. However, there have been several instances where the bandits kill their victims after ransom payment.

Earlier, The ICIR  reported how non-state actors killed 31,821 people between May 2015 and April 2023. And within the first 45 days of President Bola Tinubu’s administration, over 600 people were reportedly killed from the insecurity crisis. 

Kuchiko residents battle sleeping disorder

Since July 2023, when a resident of the Kuchiko Resettlement Development Area also known as El-rufai Estate, Folakemi Selman’s “next-door” neighbour was kidnapped, the 35-year-old lawyer said sleep had become a nightmare.

Selman said she was on her way to the hospital for check-ups over her inability to sleep when The ICIR requested an interview with her.

“I was awake when my neighbour was whisked away. In fact, my little daughter wakes up every night screaming my name even when there are no sounds of gunshots because the situation has affected her psychologically.

“We need the FCT Minister and all relevant government agencies to provide security for us in this area”, she added.

Selman is not alone. In several interviews conducted by The ICIR, 40 residents of Kuchiko said they experienced sleeping difficulty due to frequent gunshots in the area. Parents said the medical condition known as insomnia was taking a heavier toll on their children. This is exacerbated by the fear of being the next victim of abduction.

A study by Healthine, an American health information website, says lack of sleep drains mental abilities and puts physical health at risk. 

“Science has linked sleeping disorders with a number of health problems, from weight gain to a weakened immune system”, it stated.

Why residents are fleeing homes

Residents of Kuchiko were still in panic during the visit on September 5 last year. A resident of the estate, Chinedu, had been kidnapped from his home in a fresh bandit attack.

Fortunately, he would later escape from the criminal gang after a local vigilante group from Niger state, popularly referred to as Yan-Banga launched a rescue operation, according to a local chief, Suleiman Sanusi.

However, Emeka’s fenced bungalow was deserted during the time of the visit. After reuniting with family, Emeka’s neighbours said he moved out of the estate.

Across the Kuchiko Resettlement Development Area, The ICIR observes grasses growing thickly in several homes, which residents said were deserted due to insecurity. A local church, Assemblies of God’s Church was also shut down as grasses grew over the vicinity.

Some properties were advertised either for sale or lease. Buildings hitherto under construction had also been put on hold.

Another resident, Abimbola Okahlomo, who runs a restaurant business in the Estate, said her sales had dropped since abductions spiked. “For how long are we going to run away from our property in our own country?” quizzed the 42-year-old chef, pointing at several deserted homes and abandoned site projects.

FCT/Niger border unchecked, area not guarded

Kuchiko sits on the boundary, spanning both Niger state (Kuchiko-Ijah) and the FCT (Kuchiko-Bwari). A 12 metres bridge marks the demarcation between Niger state and the FCT.

However, the boundary is blurred by the intersection of buildings and the absence of a security checkpoint to signal exit or entrance between the state and Nigeria’s capital. Many residents of Kuchiko attribute the recent spike in kidnapping cases to the absence of a security checkpoint.

The border between FCT and Niger state in Kuchiko does not have a security checkpoint. Photocredit: Sinafi Omanga/The ICIR

Ukparaji Uzuoma, an official of the Kuchiko Resettlement Development Area appealed to the FG to establish a standby security post or mount a constant patrol team to curtail the rising criminal activities in the area.

The 73-year-old retired civil servant decried the “slow intervention” from security agencies to the constant evasion of the area.

“For crying out loud, this is a border town between two states. One would expect a heavy presence of the Military and police to scare criminals away. But that is not the reality here”, Uzuoma noted.

We need emergency security meeting – FCT Minister

The  Minister of the FCT, Nyesom Wike  when he was appointed  expressed shock over the rising rate of abduction in the nation’s capital.

During his maiden meeting with the six council chairmen of the FCT on September 7, Wike promised to meet with FCT Director of State Service and the Commissioner of Police to address the insecurity challenges.

The Minister said, “The incident of kidnapping you talked about, nobody has reported that to me. It is a serious issue, and we need to call an emergency security meeting.

    “I have to call the Director of SSS and the CP now to give me more details because it is very embarrassing to me”.

    The outcome of the proposed meeting between the Minister and the security agencies has not been made public, at the time of filing this report.

    However, FCT residents in the satellite town of Kuchiko continue to flee their homes and battle sleeping disorders due to frequent abductions. 

    “It is no longer a question of when but who is next,” said a Kuchiko elder, Baba Bego in a follow-up interview with The ICIR.

    Sinafi Omanga is a journalist with The ICIR. His Twitter handle is @OmangaSinafi and Email: [email protected]

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