By Charles Kumolu, Deputy Editor
In the last one month, no fewer than five people have been abducted in Lagos State, Nigeria’s commercial capital.
The incidents, which sent shivers down the spine of residents, left many wondering if the nationwide scourge of kidnapping had spread to the city.
That wasn’t the first time the city of over 20 million people was witnessing kidnap cases, but it was the first since the infamous Evans the kidnapper saga.
Sunday Vanguard recalls that Chukwudueme Onwuamadike aka Evans had operated a kidnap ring that targeted wealthy Igbo billionaires, who paid millions of dollars as ransom. He was arrested in 2017.
Unlike the Evans era when the incidents happened around Trade Fair, Satellite Town, FESTAC, Amuwo Odofin GRA, and Okota in Lagos West Senatorial District, the recent cases apart from one, took place outside the areas.
Of the abductions in September, that of Air Vice Marshal Sikiru Smith, retd, left Nigerians surprised as to how daring abductors have become.
He was abducted on September 28, at about 6 pm, near Blenco Mall on Addo Road, Ajah, Lagos.
The gunmen, who were hooded, were said to have announced their presence with gunshots before abducting him.
He was said to have put up resistance, demanding to know who the intruders were but was overpowered and dragged into the kidnappers’ speedboat.
Six days later, he regained freedom owing to what Lagos State Police Commissioner, Hakeem Odumosu, described as “persistent operational activities along the border corridors of Lagos and the recent onslaught on kidnappers in the forest.”
To celebrate Smith’s freedom, Ile-Bintin social club, organised a thanksgiving prayer session for him in Lagos.
His release notwithstanding, there are still worries that such a high-profile personality could be abducted in a cosmopolitan city like Lagos.
This was the mood of Dr. Gbolahan Alli-Balogun, president of the club retired Air Vice Marshal Smith belongs to.
Alli-Balogun, who spoke to Sunday Vanguard on the sideline of the event, said: “We thought the incident was an affront.
“In a way, we also felt some helplessness. The only way we could support was by offering prayers and supplications, which was what we did.
“Immediately it happened, we called all the strong prayer warriors in our group. We started praying and making supplications to the almighty God to return him safely.
“As it is, we are thankful to the almighty God for his safe return. What we did today, prayer session, is to thank the almighty for bringing him back safely.
“Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to attend for personal reasons. There has been a lot of pressure. In fact, he is hibernating. He needs to rejuvenate.
“For all intent and purposes, the prayer session was very successful. We are thankful to all who have attended.’’
On the incident, he said: “If I am going to talk about the incident, it means talking about the insecurity in Nigeria. For a two–star general to be abducted, it says a lot about the security situation in the country.
“Unfortunately, you read about these things in the papers and try to identify with them, but when it touches you personally, it becomes a very huge thing.
“People called, they couldn’t sleep, and all sorts of things were going through their minds. What if they were asking for ransom?
“What if they pay ransom and the kidnappers kill him? It was just very traumatic for us. The security situation in the country is precarious.
“Let’s be honest about it, it is unbecoming and it is not something you would want to witness in modern society. Who lives like this? Who lives in a situation where you don’t know whether you are going to get home or get to work?
“Nobody lives like this. And the earlier this is addressed any which way, the better for the country.’’
Asked how he felt learning that five other Lagosians were kidnapped almost at the same period in the city, the retired banker who bagged a doctoral degree in Economics at 26 said: “It means we are not doing enough on security.’’
Continuing he lamented: “We are taking things for granted. We are thinking it won’t happen here, then it happened, then what we can resort to is to pray.
“But there are various ways by which government can address this. If government is serious about containing the excesses of bandits, it can be done. I am not talking only about Lagos. I am talking about the entire country.
“In fact, we are beyond being shocked now. It happens every day and we are taking it as the new normal. But who lives like this? Nobody lives like this.
“That your heart is in your mouth, wherever you are going are thinking that this might happen, that might happen, is not the way to live.
“How can society improve? How can the economy improve if we do not improve the security situation in the country?’’
If Lagos fails
Given the popular belief that if Lagos fails, Nigeria fails, Gbolahan was asked how the state could nip the emerging crisis in the bud.
Responding, he said: “Our calls for state police have been over flogged. It is impossible to police a huge country like Nigeria from a central point in Abuja. State police is not rocket science.
“It is something that we had done in the past. We had three layers of security, and it worked. In countries where they are on top of the security situation, that is what they are practicing.
“I don’t understand why people think they can centralise policing and expect it to work. We have seen it fail. The earlier we address that by introducing local policing, the better for us.
“Even if they are not able to handle insecurity physically at the local government level, they would have information.
“A network of information can be created. You don’t need Abuja to do that. It is the centralisation of policing that has been the bane. The police have to be decentralized.’’
On the recent move by Lagos State Police Command to police waterways, he said it is wrong to wait for a crime to happen before initiating crime-fighting measures.
‘’Lagos is all about water. The whole place is surrounded by water. And Lagos is so important to this country. It has to be well policed.
“Now, they have come up with other measures to address insecurity in the waterways. Is that enough? I am not an expert in such an issue, but why do we have to wait until such an incident happens?
“If it had happened to an ordinary person, would the same thing still have been done? So, we don’t have to wait. Security is such that constantly evolves. You have to be one step ahead.
“But in this case, we are steps behind. And it is when things happen that we start reacting. We should be proactive. We should take cognizance of the intelligence of the police,’’ he stated.
Continuing, Gbolahan advised: “They should know that this kind of thing might happen and they should find ways to prevent it.
Even if it happens, you make sure it doesn’t happen again. What we have now is that it happens all over the place and we take it as a normal thing. But it is not a normal thing.’’
Reminded that President Muhammadu Buhari recently said governors do not have to run to him to complain about insecurity in their states, he quipped:” I think the President is politicizing the issue.’’
Expatiating further, he said: “A governor is regarded as the chief security officer of his state. He has no control over the police. He has no control over arms and ammunition. He has no control over other instruments of coercion.
“The governor is just the chief security officer in name, which is why I am coming back to the issue of local policing. You don’t need people from wherever to come and police Lagos. You bring people from the North and make them Divisional Police Officers in Lagos.
“How is it going to work when they have never been to Lagos? If you are from the area, you would know that if someone goes to point A, you can wait for him at point B because that is his possible exit point.
“But for someone you transferred from Maiduguri or Gongola, how can such a person function in that circumstance? It is also the same thing when you take someone from here to the North. How can that possibly be successful?
“He would be successful to the extent by which the locals want him to be successful. He doesn’t speak the language, he doesn’t know the environment and he doesn’t know the locals. How can such a person succeed?
“These are the issues we need to address, which I think state policing would solve.’’
Let’s end it
When asked to narrate the experience of Air Vice Marshal Smith, he said: ‘’He narrated his ordeal to me and I don’t think it is something I would want to discuss. So many things happened.
“I was also following up with his family and I was making suggestions. After he was released, he told me about his experience. He told me everything from when it started to when it ended.
“He said he told them, abductors, to bomb all of them that he was ready to die. He said the kidnappers were begging him, saying ‘oga it’s not like that. We have been very good’.
“But if you have been blindfolded for many days, what do you expect him to do? His reflexes were for them to just end it.
“And that was the soldier in him. He was like what are all these?’’
Giving insight into what Ile-Bintin Club stands for, Alli-Balogun said: “We are a social club focused essentially on several things.
“We, as much as possible, try to be cultural particularly as it relates to Lagos. In the club, we have people of diverse backgrounds, diverse experiences.
“And we have also been able to assist government in formulating policies and giving advice. It comprises people from different parts of the country who have all lived in Lagos.’’