File image of the expressway.
By Evelyn Usman
Vanguard columnist, Dr Ugoji Egbujo, in his column last Saturday, November 12 2022
wrote: “The Lagos Ibadan corridor is infested with bandits. The menace is growing. In the last week, three or more brazen attacks have occurred. Gunmen jumped out of the bush, attacked and abducted hapless citizens. Mothers and children were among those seized in daylight. That was how the Abuja-Kaduna cancer started like a joke. And before the federal government rose from slumber, our travelling soldiers had started avoiding the route”.
The bandits are now in the forests of the South West in their large numbers, kidnapping for ransom, killing and destroying. They have turned the heat on the South West region.
Last week, sporadic gunshots from suspected kidnappers who were clad in military camouflage jostled motorists plying the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, leaving many passengers with gun shot wounds.
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Though that was not the first time motorists along that axis have been attacked, it was the first time such brazen conduct would be made, an indication that validates earlier report of terrorists’ presence in the South West region and Lagos in particular.
Days before the attack, precisely on Friday October 28, 2022, same scenario occurred on the same expressway, where some travellers were kidnapped.
A policeman lost his life while another was injured during a rescue operation of the abducted travelers.
One of the freed passengers, Aminat Taiwo, whose father reportedly paid N3.2 million ransom for her release and her companion, Tobi Orekoya, disclosed that their captors killed others whose relatives could not pay ransom for their release.
How it started
There have been repeated cases of kidnapping and robbery on this 127.6 kilometre-long Nigeria’s oldest road that was commissioned in 1978.
Besides connecting Ibadan, the Oyo State capital and Lagos State, the expressway is also considered as the busiest inter-state road and a major connecting route to the northern, southern and eastern parts of the country, as well as one of the largest road networks in Africa.
Crime on this expressway started with activities of marauders who vandalised broken down vehicles abandoned by their owners. It later degenerated into full time attack of owners of these vehicles.
A new dimension was however, introduced by herdsmen who come out of the bush at night to kidnap helpless, defenceless and stranded owners of broken down vehicles, at the Long Bridge end of the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, between Ifo and Obafemi Owode local government areas of Ogun State.
Herders who live under this six- kilometer bridge, would kidnap stranded victims on the bridge, take them to their enclaves under the bridge which link the forests, from where they contact victims’ relatives for ransom.
Sometime ago when Saturday Vanguard went to the bandits’ enclaves under the bridge in company of security agents we were greeted by offensive stench, apparently from decomposing bodies of victims who died either from injuries inflicted on them by their captors or out of shock and exhaustion from the long walk into the forest.
In a bid to achieve their deadly aim, these kidnappers would throw dangerous sharp objects on the Long bridge, especially at night, to puncture vehicles’ tyres.
Some motorists who are aware of this trick would keep moving with punctured tyres until they get to safe zones. Unfortunately, others who are unaware of the trick, end up becoming preys when they stop to fix their vehicles.
One of their victims was Brigadier General Sylvester Iruh (rtd). He was on his way to Lagos when his vehicle had a burst tyre on the Long bridge on July 7, 2012.
He had barely stopped to repair it when some fierce looking and arms wielding marauders launched an attack on him that claimed his life. This happened three years after he retired from the military.
On that same day, a commercial motorcyclist had one of his ears chopped off by these herders, in an attempt to snatch his motorbike.
While lamenting the impact of his death on his family, the General’s widow appealed to the Federal Government to address the state of insecurity on that axis.
Unfortunately, ten years down the lane, one can not boldly declare that her prayers have been answered
A cab driver, Ade Ahmed who also stopped on the bridge on March 5, 2022, to effect repairs on his vehicle shared his ordeal in the hands of these herders.
According to him, “I was heading to Berger bus stop with four passengers when my vehicle broke down on the Long bridge. That was before 6am.
Immediately I alighted to check what the problem was, some herdsmen came out from nowhere. One of the passengers managed to escape. In my confused state, I jumped down from the bridge in a bid to escape, only to discover that I landed right in their cave.
I was seriously beaten and led to the forest from where they demanded N50 million ransom, threathening to kill me if they did not get the money.
“After much plea, they collected N500,000 and dropped me off at the early hours of the next day on the Long bridge”.
There was also another case of a kidnapped victim from Warewa community who paid an undisclosed ransom to herders before he was released.
While many lived to share their experiences, others never did as they were neither found nor heard of till date.
Spreads to Lagos
There is at present anxiety in Lagos State owing to the spread of these criminal acts into the metropolitan state.
Although it has not been narrowed down to any particular sect, but there have been pockets of kidnap in the Epe area of Lagos.
Some of these kidnappers as gathered, have hideouts where they keep victims hostage in Epe, for as long as they get ransom from their relatives.
Investigation also revealed that some farmers kidnapped in Ikorodu and other kidnapped victims from different parts of Lagos were kept in their hideouts in Epe.
Bushes on both sides of the Lagos-Ibadan expressway serve as coverings for these kidnappers who pretend to be feeding their cows with the grasses.
In a bid to address the incessant attacks on the Long Bridge in particular, authorities released an adjoining dam and filled under the bridge with flowing water. That measure went a long way to discourage herders and other criminal elements from gathering under the bridge. But, for unknown reasons, water stopped flowing under the bridge and they came back in full force, apparently to make up for the period they were starved.
Also the long stretch of the expressway is not lit, to assist motorists have clearer vision of the road particularly at night.
Besides, the gridlock caused by the lingering ongoing construction work on this expressway has further escalated robbery operations as motorists who are trapped between three to six hours on a spot, are left at the mercy of robbers.
Again , Saturday Vanguard observed that there are no constant patrols of this long stretch expressway by security agencies in Lagos, Ogun and Oyo states, especially at night.
Investigation revealed that though a joint patrol by the Lagos /Ogun and Ogun/Oyo Police Commands have been instituted, but their presence is rarely felt even in the day time due to inadequate logistics.
The Assistant Inspector -General of Police in-charge of zone 2, AIG Adeleke Adeyinka recently directed the Commissioner of Police in charge of Lagos and Ogun States Commands to ensure constant patrol of the Long bridge as well as adjourning areas indicated as flash points.
Army declares war on kidnappers
Recently, the Nigerian Army declared war on bandits, militants, kidnappers and criminal acts, with the flag off of Exercise Still Water in Lagos and Ogun states.
The Commanding Officer, 81 Division, Major General Ajunwa highlighted objectives of the exercise to include: reducing to the barest minimum the prevailing security threats in riverine environment such as piracy, illegal oil bunkering activities, pipeline vandalism, cultism, militancy, terrorism and other common sundry crimes.
According to Dr Egbujo,
”The police say they have beefed up their presence on that route. But the audacity of the kidnappers is challenging. The demons had the guts to repeat the attacks at nearly the exact location three times in a week”.
Nigerians , especially those plying the Lagos-Ibadan expressway and those living in communities close to the expressway therefore hope that measures will be put in place to flush out kidnappers and bandits from this route before they enter Lagos State unhindered.
Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of Vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.