When bandits seize the highway – Thisday

Abuja-Kaduna Highway, one of the most strategic roads in Nigeria, has metamorphosed into a symbol of armed robbery, banditry and kidnapping. These evils, more pronounced in the northern part of the country at the moment, are also gaining momentum across Nigeria. In the process, many lives are lost, scores are injured, goods destroyed, apprehension about road travels becomes pervasive and, more significantly, confidence in the security apparatus of state is being gradually eroded.

The frequency, audacity and savagery that often characterise the attacks by sundry criminal cartels are truly worrisome. According to the acting Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, no fewer than 1,071 persons lost their lives in crime-related cases across the country in the first quarter of 2019. The North-West topped the death list with 436; North-Central came second with 250 while the South-South geopolitical zone recorded 130 deaths. With bandits practically taking over in Zamfara, it is no surprise that the state tops the number of killings with 203, followed by Kaduna with 112 and Benue with 90 people. No fewer than 685 persons were also reportedly kidnapped within the same period.

For the record, these tragic incidents are not new, especially in the north. They have been with us for a while. But the Abuja-Kaduna road is so strategic to be seized by a cartel of criminals. In one of the recent high profile cases, the Chairman of Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), Muhammad Abubakar, and his daughter were abducted by gunmen, his driver killed, and others declared missing. More deaths, loss of materials and man-hours have become recurrent features of the highway.

Nothing depicts the hopelessness of the situation more than the reluctance of even security personnel and other people in positions of authority to ply the road. Senator Shehu Sani, the lawmaker representing Kaduna-Central added a comical dimension to the tragedy last weekend. “After coming to Kaduna yesterday to give a powerful prayer to drivers plying the Kaduna – Abuja expressway, the Imam boarded a train to Abuja today” tweeted Sani who had earlier been critical of the Imam of Aso Rock Mosque for saying the recent killings in parts of northern Nigeria were a test from Allah. “Banditry and kidnappings are not test from God, but the sum of failure of the past and present leadership. It is the way of state clergies to reshape the gospel to comfort and exculpate power; they preach to the poor with flames and preach to the powerful with flowers,” said the senator.

Meanwhile, the patronage of the Abuja-Kaduna rail service corridor – in addition to the influx of civilian passengers – has expectedly generated a new set of security challenges for the railway industry and expanded the frontiers of the reign of terror. The reactions of the police authorities to these rising onslaughts, notably the inauguration of “Operation Puff Adder” and redeployment of some top police officers within the region have yet to produce the urgently needed solutions. But his men have yet to narrow the wide gap between his tough talk and result-oriented actions. The other day, further down in the south, a trailer load of armed men disembarked at Ikoyi along the Ife-Ilesha highway and brazenly tortured and robbed other travellers.

These present dangers are clearly spreading and can potentially take root across the nation. Therefore, issues of proliferation of light arms, intelligence gathering and quick response to attacks, dispensation of justice for deterrence purposes and roads maintenance must be addressed decisively. A large country that depends mainly on road transportation for the movement of commodities and persons cannot afford to surrender the sector to the tyranny of some unconscionable individuals.

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