Even though kidnap for ransom has been in prevalence in Enugu state for some years now, a worrisome trend recently manifested, in the past two months, in several parts of Enugu state, compounding the insecurity situations in the state.
The recent kidnappings came to a head on Thursday with the abduction of a former secretary to the Enugu State Government, Dr. Dan Shere, along Ugwogo-Opi-Nsukka road. In the past one week the kidnappers suspected to be Fulani bandits laid siege along the road and abducted passengers almost every day of the week. Among those kidnapped is an official of Enugu state government, Mr. Foster Ugwuoke who was abducted within the week among other commuters that travelled along the road.
On Sunday, a number of students returning to the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN) after the eight months ASUU strike were also packed into the bush along the road and report has it that the kidnappers demanded N300 million ransom, while the relatives pleaded to pay N500, 000.
A cleric who escaped the kidnappers by the whiskers along Ugwogo-Opi-Nsukka road alleged the complicity by the security agents who were in charge of a check point before the Maduka Onyishi University in Ekwegbe. The cleric who pleaded for anonymity said he was surprised that instead of the normal stop-and- search duty of the security personnel, they rather urged them on until they ran into the kidnappers, adding that they escaped by the grace of God.
Kidnapping along the Enugu-Nsukka new road actually resumed in September 2022 when a good number of travelers along the road were packed into the Ekwegbe forest, sending shivers down the spine of commuters along the only serving road to the northern parts of Nigeria from Enugu, since the over eight years collapse of 9th mile- Makurdi road.
At the resumed kidnap operations along the road, a community leader in Ugwuogo autonomous Community, Enugu East Local Government Area, and former member of Enugu State House of Assembly, Chief Joseph Agbo Ugwumba had asked the Enugu state government to establish a police station in Ugwuogo community so that it can help to checkmate series of kidnapping and other crimes that take place along the Ugwuogo-Opi-Nsukka road and Ugwuogo-Neke-Ikem road.
Ugwuogo is an interchange for roads leading to different parts of Enugu north Senatorial district, Isi-Uzo local government areas, Benue, Kogi States and other parts of Northern Nigeria, including the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
The road became fully functional after former Governor Sullivan Chime developed the road that bypassed the old 9th mile-Makurdi road. More pressure was added to the road following the complete failure of the 9th Mile road, hence different attentions were diverted to the new gateway.
Unfortunately, crime reigned on the road, hence kidnapping by suspected Fulani herdsmen and other violent crimes have been taking place along the Ugwuogo-Opi-Nsukka road as well as the Ugwuogo-Neke-Ikem road. Despite security checkpoints along the roads, the spate of crime increased on the roads.
A Security expert who spoke to Vanguard on the condition of anonymity confided that both the federal and state governments have security reports that the bandits have remained in the forests of communities in Ojebogene, Nike, Igboetiti and Isi-Uzo local government areas from where they have continued to operate along the 9th mile -Nsukka road, the old 9th mile-Opi-Nsukka road and their recent relocation to Ugwuogo areas because of increased traffic in the area.
The security expert lamented that the Commissioners of Police in the south east states have soft spots for the bandits that operate in the south east. He therefore urged the governors of the south east, particularly the Enugu state governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, to take the issue of the protection of the lives and properties of the people of his state seriously by implementing recommended measures.
In his private message to Governor Ugwuanyi, Hon. Agbo Ugwumba said: “To address the insecurity along Ugwogo Nike-Opi-Nsukka road, Your Excellency, Ugwogo Nike community constructed four blocks of buildings to house Police stations, but owing to lack of funds the police station was abandoned. If the state government can help to complete the buildings, Police will leave in Ugwogo and patrol the roads 24 hours daily. This is an easy solution.”
Almost simultaneously, is the same kidnap of commuters along Ozalla (4 corners)-Udi road. The road has military checkpoints, yet kidnapping goes on the road. A recent Whatsapp message went viral following an anonymous message of someone who claimed to be a victim of kidnapping along the Ozalla-Udi road.
The message read: “Re-Recent Kidnapping of 6 persons along the 4 corners/Nvene in Enugu State. (True story) SOS!!! On Tuesday 11th day of October 2022, 3 different coordinated kidnappings were successfully carried out along the 4 corners/Nvene road in Enugu State and 6 people were kidnapped. I was one of the victims. The first one happened around 1pm where one person was kidnapped and another shot dead.
“The second one was carried out around 5:30pm. Three people were taken and another one person killed. The third kidnapping took place around 7pm and a man who is a road safety official and a newly married lady were the victims. When we were brought to their hideout, some started interrogating us while some went through our phones. On getting to the road safety official, they queried him if he was a policeman but he told them he belongs to the road safety corps. They questioned him more assuring him that they will not harm him but he insisted on being a road safety official. They then told him that they will help him out. Two hours later, 2 of the kidnappers escorted the man out of the hideout and set him free. I was surprised after we paid ransom and were released to hear that the military men along the 4 corners/Nvene road claimed to the public that the road safety official escaped during a shootout with the kidnappers.
“We all paid ransoms. One of us paid Five million Naira, another paid 4 million, another paid 2 million, one of us paid 1.5million while another paid 1 million, making a total of 13.5 million Naira. All the ransoms were paid just about one pole from the military check point along that 4 corners/Nvene road. As soon as the ransoms were brought, two military men from the check point moved towards the ransom pay point and stood. To our surprise, the kidnappers carefully and comfortably counted the money in bundles right there and then without any fear. We were held by some of the kidnappers in the bush right behind them where we watched and identified our people as they brought the ransoms.
“Soon after counting the money, they signaled to our captors and we were released.
The big question is why should kidnappers decide to collect ransoms just a stone throw from a military checkpoint manned by armed military men? We plead with our peace loving Governor, His Excellency Rt. Hon. Dr. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and the Federal Government to come to the rescue of Ndi Enugu. We also strongly recommend that the GOC of 82 Division of the Nigerian Army be transferred out of Enugu. Enugu State has hitherto his appointment as the GOC of 82 Div been the most peaceful and safest State in Nigeria.
“How can a dog eat the bone that is hung around his neck for safe keeping? The military is supposed to protect us but they have become our nightmares. They now connive with kidnappers to deal with us. This was exactly the case in Kaduna where the current GOC, 82 Div was in charge of the military. He has now resumed his operations here in Enugu. We also call on the Nigerian Army to fish out the soldiers on duty along the 4 corners/Nvene road on Friday 14th October 2022, the day we were set free and bring them to book. They were complicit in our Kidnapping. Ndi Enugu, we must cry out now. Enough is enough!!!
From one of the kidnapped victims.”
In June 2022, no less than seven suspected kidnappers for ransom, made up of Fulani herdsmen and other natives, were arrested by both community security outfits and the police in different parts of Enugu state. In Ibite-Awhum community of Udi local government council area, suspected Fulani kidnappers allegedly invaded the community and kidnapped six pilgrims on June 19. The victims were later rescued by forest guards. The kidnappers reportedly nabbed the pilgrims in broad daylight as they were praying at a popular hill near the Awhum Monastery and took them deep into the forest. The victims were later rescued through joint efforts of forest guards from the Udi and Enugu East Local Government Councils.
The security agents were said to have swung into action immediately receiving the information and pursued after the kidnappers. Director of Enugu State Forest Guards, Mr. Mathew Obodoechi, said the Forest guards in the area pursued the kidnappers and contacted their counterparts at Ogbeke-Nike, Enugu East Local Government who also mobilised from their own end.
Narrating their ordeal, the victims who were evacuated to the Monastery, said they were praying on the hill when they were suddenly surrounded by about seven Fulani looking individuals wearing police uniforms.
“The bandits took all our phones and ordered us into the forest. After a long trek we got into the bandits’ camp deep in the forest where their colleagues numbering about ten were waiting for them. We also found another kidnap victim there. For reasons we didn’t know then, the kidnappers suddenly became panicky and subsequently ran into the forest leaving us alone and confused before the forest guards appeared,” one of the victims narrated.
In Ikem, Isi-uzo local government area, about five indigenes were abducted in a series of kidnapping jointly carried out by both natives of Enugu state and Fulani herdsmen that are reportedly camped at the Isi-Uzo/Benue state border at Okpokwu local government area of Benue state.
The kidnappers den spreads down to Eha-Amufu were most farmers have been killed, kidnapped for ransom, women raped, arson and destruction of properties, with Eha-Amufu indigenes chased out from their land.
The victims in Ikem include the Catechist of Saint James Catholic Church, Ishioroto-Ikem Mr. Lawrence Ndu; an Italy based evangelist, Mr. Emeka Odo and his brother Ikechukwu Odo; Ejike Agbodo, a bus driver, Ejike Agbodo and another Okada operator was kidnapped while on commercial duty along Ikem-Odenigbo Eha- Benue state road.
Narrating his experience, an Italy-based Evangelist, Emeka Odo disclosed that the over 10 kidnappers who abducted them along Ikem- Obollo Afor road were all Fulani terrorists that welded AK-47. Odo who quickly went back to his base shortly after he regained freedom, narrated that they were flagged down in their car, commandeered into the bush and were taken through bush tracks to Eha-Amufu and Benue state border, adding that they paid ransom before they were set free.
Odo said that his abductors spoke Hausa and Fulfude language, stating that most of them came from Niger republic. He also disclosed that some Indigenes of the community connived with the kidnappers to carry out the abductions. “They told us that they own all bush paths from Delta to all parts of the South East and that they do anything they want to do,” Odo said.
He stated that even people from Benue state who were kidnapped were brought to their bush camp in Eha-Amufu Enugu state, where he said the kidnappers have sacked the Indigenes.
Luck however ran out of four natives who were identified as collaborators with the Fulani kidnappers, as they were arrested and submitted to Isi-Uzo Divisional police station, where it was learnt the suspects were moved to Enugu police headquarters. On July 4 2022, an Igbo native was arrested and delivered to the Ikem police station. The Divisional Police Officer met at Ikem police station asked newsmen to go and meet the Police PRO, noting that a reinforcement police had gone back to the theatre of war at Ikem-Nkwo.
In Ezeagu local government area, a traditional ruler who pleaded for anonymity said that what the council area now suffers is insecurity caused by herdsmen kidnapping, starting from Ugwueke, shortly after Nigeria Breweries Plc Ama plant, down to Akama-Oghe, Olo and the rest of Ezeagu local government areas.
The Monarch said: “The kidnappings are too much, there have been many occurrences at Ugwueke there and some have been arrested while the DPO at Aguobu-Owa is in position to say the number arrested and other details.
“There have been kidnappings in Obeleagu-Umana, Umumba-Ndiagbu, and Olo on a daily basis, because the Olo community is between Uzo-Uwani and Ezeagu. In fact there are serious challenges in Ezeagu that include farm lands invasion and destruction. It’s just that human kidnapping is the height of it all. It’s almost a daily affair that people are no longer sure of going to Ezeagu and coming back safely.”
Starting from January to July 2022, Fulani kidnappers invaded Abor, Mgbuji, Aguamede and other farm settlements in Eha-Amufu, which resulted in the death of over six persons and many casualties. Soldiers were deployed but the soldiers left and the attack continued.
“The herders came in full force and killed many people and burnt houses and properties. More than 20 motorcycles and houses were razed, and they have promised to come back. We have reported the incident to the appropriate authorities to intervene,” a community leader in Eha-Amufu said.
However, the Governor of Enugu State, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, on Thursday, paid an on-the-spot visit to the scene of the Ugwogo-Opi-Nsukka road incident with the heads of security agencies in the state with a resolve to sustain onslaught against criminal elements and kidnappers on the road.
Addressing newsmen during the on-the-spot assessment visit, the GOC, 82 Division, Nigerian Army, Maj. Gen. Umar Musa, who spoke on behalf of the other heads of security agencies in the state, confirmed that “the perpetrators are purely kidnappers.”
He assured the public that the combined-team of the security agencies are taking further steps into the bush to apprehend the perpetrators, rescue the victims and end the menace along the road.
“I assure you that we are going to go deep into the bush to pursue them and ensure they do not perpetrate more harm along the road,” he said.
However, as on Friday, nothing had been heard of the former Secretary to the Government of Enugu State, Dr. Dan Shere, who was among the victims of the kidnap incident on Thursday. The spokesperson for the Enugu State Police Command, Daniel Ndukwe promised to provide updates on Shere, and other abductees.
Meanwhile, the Labour Party (LP) Senatorial candidate for Enugu North senatorial district, Chief Okay Ezea, (popularly known as Ideke) has asked for a declaration of State of Emergency on the Ugwuogo-Opi-Nsukka road, following the reemergence of banditry along the road.
Ezea said: “There is hardly any week there would not be reports of kidnapping and other heinous crime along that road and the people we elected as Chief security officers are plying the road with loads of security personnel and in bullet proof SUV vehicles all to themselves and their cronies.”
The Enugu State Police command through its Spokesman, Daniel Ndukwe said that the state Commissioner of Police, Ahmed Ammani, has ordered the maximum deployment of operational and intelligence resources of the Command to ensure adequate security on Ugwuogo-Nsukka road, rescue unascertained number of persons allegedly abducted and arrest the hoodlums.
Ndukwe said that the Commissioner has reassured users of the road and the citizenry of the Command’s unwavering commitment to ensure that their security and safety are maximally maintained, while categorically stating that onslaught on unrepentant criminal elements in the State shall be sustained.
He also announced the arrest of three kidnap suspects at Ugwuaji community of Enugu South LGA, and rescue of their male victim, adding that there was also an arrest of six kidnap suspects in Udenu local government area of the state. “The suspects will be arraigned in court once investigations are concluded,” Ndukwe said.