By Imman Ekpeneru
The spate of insecurity in the country has now become worse, taking its tolls on travellers plying our highways. Unlike in the past when they had to contend with armed robbers, the emerging scenario is that of kidnappers holding sway. They have invaded our expressways and their modus is as precarious as it is beastly. The gun-toting marauders have killed, kidnapped and wounded many commuters and drivers on their way to their respective destinations. The situation is so bad that many now prefer to travel by air or use trains.
Those who cannot do so, for one reason or the other, simply resign to fate trusting that Almighty God will protect them. In the past, transport owners made use of armed police escorts in warding off attacks on the highways. However, it was later stopped based on perceived abuses by both transporters and the escorts. Now that our highways have been virtually turned into killing fields, Vanguard Crime Editor, Emma Nnadozie spoke with the Chairman of Association of Luxury Bus Owners of Nigeria, ALBON, Prince Emeka Mamah who barred his minds on the prevailing situation.
The issue of police escorts in our buses was a product of the series of engagements our association had with the Police High Command on how to protect lives of motorists and passengers on the highways. There were other similar security measures which we cannot disclose here since they are sensitive security issues. Suffice it to say that initially, the use of police escort in our buses recorded some successes. However, along the line, the measure became counterproductive as it could not eliminate armed robbery attacks on our buses.
Instead, the Police High Command discovered that armed robbers had become more daring as police personnel attached to our buses on escort duties as well as our innocent passengers were being targeted for more deadly and vicious attacks by the armed robbers. The robbers being aware that there were police escorts in our buses would be shooting indiscriminately on the buses, even when the buses were still on motion.
Consequently, the high number of casualties recorded by the Police and clear danger posed to our innocent passengers informed the decision of the Police High Command to withdraw all police personnel on escort duties from our buses. The reason the Police hierarchy gave for withdrawing Police escort attached to buses then is still relevant today.
According to them, having escorts in buses exposes our passengers and their personnel to more dangers than when there is no escort in the buses. There were no excesses associated with using police escort in our buses, the Police High Command based the decision to withdraw them from our buses on the intelligence report that the exercise had become counter-productive as the measure had not stopped armed robbery attacks on the highway. Besides, the Police force is a responsible organization with chains of commands. So, any excess on the part of a police escort attached to a bus would invariably be reported to the command structure of the police for disciplinary action.
Siege on our highways
The Association is disturbed by the spate of killings and kidnappings on the highways. We are worried that many innocent motorists, including our passengers, are having harrowing experience of being kidnapped, maimed or killed on the nation’s highways. We condemn in its entirety this siege on the highways which has instilled palpable fear on all road users. We therefore call on the Federal Government to re-double its efforts in addressing this ugly development as the safety and comfort of all motorists and travelling masses on the roads are in serious jeopardy.
As an organization that deals with members of the public, security and safety of our passengers are the watchwords of our members. This security consciousness starts right at the point of boarding any of our buses where passengers and their luggage are thoroughly searched by trained security personnel in order to ensure that nobody boarding a bus is armed with dangerous weapons.
Our major challenge
The issue of insecurity on the nation’s highways across the country has been a major challenge for the association in the past decade. Since 2004 up till today, we have been holding series of meetings with virtually all the Inspectors-General of Police on how to tackle this problem. In 2005, a delegation of the Association held a meeting with the then President of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo on how to address armed robbery attacks on our buses on the highway. At that meeting, one of the decisions that were taken was that police observatory posts, equipped with modern telecommunication gadgets to be manned by mobile policemen, were to be built at some strategic locations on the highways to check the menace of armed robbery attacks on our buses on the nation’s highway. But that decision was not implemented. Perhaps, if it was implemented, armed robbery and kidnapping on the highways would not have been as rampant as they are today. And just last year in 2018, a delegation of the Association also visited the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo where the same issue was discussed.
Collapse of transport business
The siege on the nation’s highways by the armed robbers and kidnappers has seriously affected, and is still affecting, our members’ businesses. Many people who ordinarily would have travelled by road now prefer travelling by air or cancel the trip entirely where they cannot afford the air fare. The result is the low passenger’s patronage which in turn has affected our members’ capacity to replenish their fleet and enhance the growth of their companies.
Other challenges facing members of the association are; deplorable state of the nation’s highways, high rate of maintenance costs arising from bad roads, high rate of import duty on imported buses (now up from 10% to 30%) and the menace of armed robbery attacks and kidnappings on the nation’s highways. The members are however strongly united in fighting the issue of insecurity on the highway and other challenges facing us as meetings of the various organs of the association are held from time to time to tackle them.