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DESPITE deteriorating insecurity, snowballing cost of living and rising cases of COVID-19 in Nigeria, many citizens will travel home this Yuletide to reunite with their family for Christmas and New Year festivities. However, two major concerns that will prevent sizeable number of people from travelling are the poor and unsafe state of the nation’s highways. Senior Investigative Reporter, Marcus Fatunmole, examines some flashpoints in the nation’s roads and how motorists and travellers can arrive at their destinations safely.
A NUMBER of Nigerian roads have described as “death trap,” “highway to hell,” “Road to Death” among others, not necessarily because of many fatal crashes that occur on them, but because of high rate of abduction and robbery they witness.
Citizens like Oluwabukola Lawrence, a resident of Abuja would have to undertake prayer session before embarking on a journey outside the city.
“I’ve been in Abuja for the past three years, and I’ve been afraid to travel by road out of the city. I can’t afford the cost of air ticket. But, this year, I’ve prayed fervently enough; I think I should go and see my parents this Christmas,” she said.
The Abuja-Lokoja and Abuja-Kaduna highways which connect the southern and northern parts of the country have recorded some of the most atrocious criminalities in recent time.
Fully loaded buses have been flagged down at gun points and the passengers abducted but released after payments of ransome.
In some cases, after payment of large ransom, abductees were killed. These are some of the fears of people like Mrs Lawrence who now thinks twice before embarking on any journey on Nigerian roads.
The abduction of hundreds of students of Government Science Secondary School in Kankara, Katsina state on December 11 is the latest most scandalous and appalling incident that climaxed dangerous dimension insecurity is taking under the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government.
Poor condition of the roads, large-scale corruption among security officers on the highways, overspeeding by drivers, faulty vehicles are some of the factors responsible for tragedies on the Nigerian highways.
It is usually easy for marauders to halt moving vehicles, brandish weapons and bolt away with people and valuable materials where roads are bad.
When policemen or soldiers position themselves on roads and collect bribes from motorists, their action prevents road users from differentiating the officers from criminals who dress like them.
Here are some of the dangerous roads below and cases of abductions that have taken place on those roads in recent time.
This is arguably the most notorious road for kidnapping in Nigeria. Within the last three years, hundreds of persons have been abducted on the major road that not only links the northern part of the country to the south but to the nation’s capital, Abuja.
On November 15, 2020, nine students of the Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, Kaduna State were kidnapped between Kaduna and Abuja. They were released days later by combined efforts of the Nigerian army and other security agencies, after reports had claimed ransoms were paid.
On September 8, 2019, six people were kidnapped along Abuja – Kaduna highway. The abductees were travelling from Offa, Kwara state.in a commercial vehicle belonging to a company operated by the Offa community.
The abductors would have had another field day on the road on November 27 2020, but for the prompt intervention of the troops of Operation Thunder Strike, according to a statement from the Kaduna State Commissioner for Internal Security and Home Affairs, Samuel Aruwan.
Aruwan said the troop fired shots at the abductors who “escaped with bullet wounds.”
Scores of kidnappings have been reported on the road.
Gunmen on June 10, 2020 killed two people and abducted several others along the road.
The incident occurred between Acheni and Gegu villages in Kogi state.
The state governor, Yahaya Bello, confirmed the incident through his Chief Press Secretary, Mohammed Onogwu.
On February 6, 2020, gunmen in army uniformed kidnapped a Batch A corps member, Mr Samuel Adigun, and eight other persons near Idu village, along the Lokoja-Abuja road.
Adigun was carrying out his one-year mandatory national service in the Abaji area council secretariat at the time.
He boarded a bus from Abaji to Lokoja and was kidnapped where his assailants pounced on him.
Four officials of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board were kidnapped on the Lokoja/Obajana/Kabba Road in Kogi State on February 16, 2020.
The officials were on their way to Kabba area of the state in preparation for the mock Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination when they were apprehended and whisked away.
Kogi: Okene-Auchi-Benin; Okenne-Ajaokuta-Anyingba Road
The Okene-Auchi-Benin, and Okenne-Ajaokuta-Anyingba roads are some of the roads security agencies and FRSC should closely watch during this Yuletide. They are not only notorious for criminalities but also for crashes.
The director, administration at the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), Mallam Yusuf Chinedozi Nwoha died on the Okene-Benin road on his way to his home state, Imo, to celebrate Sallah festival on July 29, 2020.
Also, gunmen suspected to be kidnappers attacked passengers on the Benin-Okene road, on December 3, 2020. One person was reportedly feared killed, while 25 persons were ferried away by the attackers.
Meanwhile, four gunmen were shot dead on July 19, 2020 by a patrol team of vigilante and police officials who foiled a kidnap attempt along Lokoja-Okene highway.
On November 20, 2020, 14 persons, including Chairman of Esan Central Local Government in Edo State, Waziri Edokpa, were kidnapped on their way from Benin to Abuja.
Two policemen attached to Chief Medical Director, Irrua Specialist Hospital, were gruesomely killed when he was abducted by gunmen at Ramat Park, Ikpoba-Okha Local Government Area of the state on August 24, 2020.
The CMD, Prof. Sylvanus Okogbeni, spent days with his abductors before he was released.
This is a route through which many vehicles coming from the southwest drive through to the north. The road has been very dilapidated while many motorists take alternative routes such as Ilesa-Ado-Kabba and Ido-Ani-Ibillo roads.
Nine Lagos-bound passengers were abducted in Ondo state on June 20, 2020. They were travelling in a Toyota Sienna bus and were said to have been abducted at Isua community in Akoko southeast local government area of the state.
In the same state on July 22, 2020, gunmen reportedly kidnapped two passengers traveling along Ugbe Akoko and Uba Akoko road in Akoko North East Local Government Area. One of the victims, Mrs Agnes Akogun, was returning from a business trip when assailants pounced on her and other passengers in a vehicle.
Though this road is known more for accidents than kidnappings, a few incidents of abduction have taken place there in recent time. The road is one of the most dangerous in the country in terms of many bends, uphill and slopes. This makes it a flashpoint for breaking down of articulated vehicles and deadly crashes.
Four women, including wife of chairman of Correspondents’ Chapel of Nigerian Union of Journalists in the state, Yahanasu Abubakar were abducted by bandits on 27th March 2019. The incident occurred along Gudi-Garaku road in Akwanga Local Government Area of the state around 7pm.
Similarly, a catholic priest, Augustine Ashigabu, was kidnapped along the road on April 7, 2020 He regained freedom on April 9.
Many lives have been lost on the road, including many valuables. For instance, about 15 persons died while many others sustained injuries in an accident that occurred on the road on September 15, 2019. A mother, all her three children were wiped off in the accident.
Lagos-Abeokuta, Lagos-Ibadan Expressways:
Until the focus of kidnapping and other crimes shifted to the north, Lagos had been the epicentre of criminalities in Nigeria. The Lagos-Ibadan highway remains a death trap through accidents and attacks. The road is more popular with armed robbery than kidnapping.
Thousands of people travel out of, and into Ogun and Lagos states for festivities more than any state of Nigeria. The states have large population of Christians and Muslims. A distinguishing feature on the roads is tanker fire tragedy.
The southeast and south-south regions in the country are not exempted from insecurity on the highways. On November 19, 2020, transporters operating from commercial city of Onitsha threatened to embark on nationwide strike over allegations that their members were being attacked, robbed, kidnapped and killed on roads across the nation.
The impacts of rising wave of insecurity in the nation have been felt more in both the northeast and northwest. So, motorists and passengers plying roads in the regions have had their very bitter pill of the crisis.
Criminalities fester on roads because other means of transportation like air and rail are either not affordable or available. Travelling by a few trains available in the country has raised some fears in recent times as the trains are also being attacked.
On September 15, 2020, the Abuja – Kaduna train came under attack by hoodlum. They threw stones at the moving train, causing panic. Many reports claimed the train came under attack by gunmen, but the Nigerian Railway Corporation debunked the reports and said it was hoodlums that attacked it.
There have also been high rate road crashes on the nation’s highways. These have largely been blamed on human errors and poor governance. Factors such as bad roads, overspeeding, alcoholism, drug abuse, use of faulty vehicles and desire to maximize gains during the Yuletide promote avoidable accidents and loss of lives.
Road accidents are more common in Nigeria during festivities. On August 1, 2020 – a Sallah day – the FRSC confirmed four persons dead in motor accident on the Lambata – Minna Road in Niger State.
Similarly, on August 24, another Sallah day in 2018, eight people were confirmed dead by traffic officials at Narbodo village, along Bauchi-Jos Expressway.
On Christmas Day in 2019, a family of five died in an accident on Kubwa-Zuba expressway, Abuja, while another five perished in Bonu village along Lambata-Minna road of Gurara Local Government Area of Niger state.
In January 2020, the Nigerian Police confirmed 17 people dead in Mai’adua-Shargalle Road in Mashi Local Government Area of Katsina State.
The FRSC said it recorded 3,947 road crashes and 1,758 deaths in the first quarter of 2020. Bisi Kazeem, the Corps Public Education Officer disclosed this in May 2020.
Similarly, the Corps said in November that it recorded 2,656 road crashes and 1,076 deaths across the country in the third quarter of 2020. Bisi Kazeem attributed most of the crashes and deaths to over speeding.
In what may appear controversial, given the appalling state of the nation’s security, the FRSC said in February 2020, road crashes kill more Nigerians than insurgency. Zonal Commander in Charge of Oyo, Osun and Ondo States, Mr Godwin Ogagaoghene, stated this at an event in Akure Ondo state.
“The number of lives lost annually to road accidents in Nigeria cannot be equated with the loss of lives to Boko Haram insurgency in the northern parts of the country…“Many lives had been lost to road crashes and others road users do see such carnages on daily basis,” he said.
The security operatives usually claim to be doing their best to prevent some of these challenges.
As part of efforts to keep the nation’s highways safe, the Federal Government on December 3, 2020 approved over N117 billion for roads rehabilitation of roads across the country in 2021. The approval was given at the weekly Federal Executive Council Meeting.
Through its publications, the ICIR had suggested how the ransom-driven abductions in the country could be contained. Here is the link to one of the publications: https://www.icirnigeria.org/what-nigeria-must-do-to-deal-with-its-ransom-driven-kidnapping-crisis/
Meanwhile, the FRSC has told the ICIR that the Corps would ensure that presidential directive on social distancing is strictly adhered to, as more people travel during the festivities.
In a statement sent to the ICIR, in response to a request on the Corps plans to further secure the nation’s roads during the festive season, its spokesperson, Mr Bisi Kazeem, an Assistant Corps Marshal, said: “First of all, it’s important to let you know that our approach towards ensuring safety of road users in Nigeria is always, comprehensive, all-encompassing and multifaceted. People must be made to understand that the Corps does not take any season for granted whether festive or not, because we believe that a crash free ride is possible if motorists adhere to safety precautions. That is why we often begin preparation for the end of the year campaign right from the beginning of the year, sensitising motorists and carrying out other safety measures including enforcement.
“For instance, during the rainy season, while some parts of the roads are often affected by erosion, which usually leads to the washing off of the surface area, other roads encounter strange heaps of sand, debris, pot holes and so on that distort smooth use of the road. Part of our work in preparation for the festive season is to audit these roads by deploying our Corps Safety Engineers to go round the roads and organize motor park sensitization, rallies etc.
“This festive season, we are intensifying enforcement on strict compliance to all Presidential directives on physical distancing amongst motorists in the vehicle and provision of sanitisers and running water in terminal.
“The Corps will also engage the motoring public through the National Traffic Radio 107.1 FM for traffic update and real time report of traffic situations across the country for ease of movement.
“The Corps Marshal has also directed Commanding Officers to commence adequate deployment of personnel on all critical corridors and traffic prone areas to facilitate free flow of traffic.
“Our rescue teams will be strategically positioned as all road side clinics and zebra points have been equipped to handle emergency cases.”
Similarly, the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC, urged people in the country to obey all regulations for preventing the COVID-19 pandemic, especially as people would be travelling during the Yuletide.
Speaking with our reporter on the telephone, Public Relations Officer of the organization, Emma Okeh said the Corps would be available across the country during the festivities to protect critical infrastructures and attend to emergencies on highways.
“The Service has deployed the rescue team from the Directorate of Crisis Management to all the major highways, stationed ambulances at the major places to ensure early response to emergency situation.
“We are working in collaboration with the Federal Road Safety Corps, the Nigerian Union of Road Transport Workers, the Federal Fire Service and other sister agencies to curtail incidents of road crash and other emergencies that are associated with the mad rush of people travelling home for the Yuletide period, in addition to deployment of personnel to volatile area and flashpoints, noting that hoodlums capitalize on festive period to carry out their nefarious activities such as vandalization of public utilities and other infrastructures.
He also spoke on the challenges the Corps is facing in handling emergencies on the roads and general security in the country. “Human beings, being what they are, they are the most difficult specie to manage. Just as the Federal Government declared that people should curtail the issue of travelling this year for the Yuletide period, considering the challenges, security-wise, health-wise associated with the recent increase in COVID-19 pandemic, almost all services have the same challenge because after carrying enlightenment programmes trying to sensitize people, there are those who really pay deaf ears to some of these campaigns.
“Some will tell you COVID-19 is meant for the big men and not for ordinary citizens, not knowing that contagion for the pandemic is high. People think the federal government is trying to stop people from travelling for Christmas and the rest.”
He urged the public to listen to the advice of government on protection against the pandemic. He said public adherence to guidelines against the disease had been a major challenge for the NSCDC.
Meanwhile, police spokesperson, Frank Mba, refused to comment on the issues. For 36 hours, Mr Mba failed to respond to messages sent by our reporter to his phone. He also ignored calls put across to him over the developments.