Those travelling on the Abuja-Kaduna highway for first time within the last one week would think that it is one of the safest in the country. Save for apprehensive looks on the faces of commuters, the few number of vehicles travelling on that road and unusual high speed by drivers, all seems to be going well for now as cases of abduction and other forms of banditry have abated.
Villagers along the expressway told our correspondents that most of the criminals had withdrawn from their known locations in Rijanna and other surrounding villages going deeper into the bushes.
One of the villagers said, “Before now, if you came here, even in the afternoon, you would see them riding on bikes. We know them but we could not say anything. But in the last one week they have left.’’
Alhaji Rabiu Abdullahi, Sarkin Hausawan Yamma, who lives in Rijanna, said there was improvement on the highway following the action of security operatives. He said, “In fact, even at night you will see their vehicles moving, trying to maintain law and order. Soldiers are stationed in the forests, trying to protect our village and other towns on the highway. I remember that the soldiers clashed with those people while they attempted to come to this town. The police have a camp close by. And there is a plan by the state government to set up a military base here too.
“Few days back, many people living in the village stopped going to bush to cut firewood or farm because of the fear of the unknown. In the past, our people were chased away by those people, but that has changed now. Few people now go to farm because security has improved a little. In fact, some of our local miners in the village went into the bush to continue with their business and they told us that it was clear.
“They are the ones giving us firsthand information since they always come across those people inside the bush.”
A trader in Rijana market, Tasiu Lawal, thanked God for the improvement of security situation in the area few days ago, but added that no vehicle plies the road from 7pm.
He said, “For the past six days we have not heard that any driver was stopped along this road or somebody kidnapped. Now, our friends can go to farm peacefully. Our appeal to the government is to be more committed in terms of providing support to the security agencies working along the highway. As you can see, this highway is surrounded by forest. We believe that if pressure becomes too much on the criminals, some of them will abandon the act and become better citizens.”
A former Ardo in Doka district, Yahaya Suleiman, also said there was improvement in the security situation on the expressway. He said he was happy with the step taken by the government, adding that there’s the need to sustain the tempo.
He, however, said that a major concern was the way the security agencies deployed to carry out operations in the area intimidated the Fulani by arresting them indiscriminately. He said the police would come on market days and arrest people without giving reasons.
He said, “Three days ago, three of our people were arrested by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). Again, yesterday four of our men were arrested on their way to the market, making a total of seven. And no reason was given for their arrest. Based on our knowledge, they are not bad people; if they were, we would not even waste our time going to plead on their behalf. I will never support or cover a bad person.
“There is no way the whole community will be bad. We still have good citizens among us, but security agencies will blame our children for all the atrocities committed. We are not trying to stop the government from arresting criminals among us, but they need to separate good men from the bad ones. This is all we are saying.”
Also speaking on the situation, the village head of Fada Achi in Rijana, Mr Ayuba Dodo Dakolo said, “Our people depend on farming as a source of livelihood. You cannot go to farm freely with what is going on along this route, but now that the government has taken this step to secure the area, we are hoping that we will go to farm this season without fear.
“My appeal goes to my people, including the Fulani among us, not to allow others to deceive us and push us against each other. We shouldn’t hide strangers among us, who may end up becoming a problem to the community.
“I commend the effort of our district head and the state governor on the security steps taken, as well as the plan to set up a military base nearby.’’
Also, Ayuba Audu, the village head of Kafewa who lives at Rijana because of insecurity in his village, said he lost about seven people when they came under attack.
“The people and I had no option than to flee the area. We are here in Rijana on exile, pending when security will improve so that we can return home.ý We left our farm produce behind, and by the time our youths went back, everything had gone.”
Our correspondents, who travelled on the route and spoke with some people, learnt from several sources that no case of abduction had taken place in four days.
This is a great improvement for those who live in communities along that expressway, especially within the last three weeks.
Between the last week of March and the first week of April, more than 40 persons were abducted along the road in various separate attacks that consistently took place on a daily basis for more than seven days.
The situation got worse, such that people began to avoid the route, preferring to negotiate roads that would take them several hours to get to their destinations, or use the only available train service.
Many wondered what the security agencies were doing as the criminals became more emboldened, striking in broad daylight or any time of their choice.
A fortnight ago, the governor of Kaduna State, Malam Nasir el-Rufai encountered the bandits while travelling by road to Abuja for an investment summit. He stopped his convoy and ordered his security details to go after them.
On the same day, a Daily Trust reporter, who was travelling to Abuja, also came across a scene of kidnapping at 4.15pm, a few kilometers to Kurmin Kare village.
Following a public outrage over criminal activities across the country, acting Inspector General of Police Muhammed Adamu launched what he called Operation Puff-Ader along the Kaduna-Abuja expressway. The operation, which is carried out in collaboration with the Nigerian Armed Forces and the Department of State Service (DSS), is aimed at tackling kidnapping, banditry and other criminal activities.
Less than a week after the launch of the operation, the IG declared that the Kaduna-Abuja highway had become safe. He said, “I want to assure Nigerians that the Kaduna-Abuja road is now safe. We have cleared the road, we have arrested a lot of kidnappers, and some of them were fatally injured during the confrontation we had with them.
“Our patrol teams, comprising a combined security services, are there constantly, working for 24 hours each day.’’
Our correspondents observed that the number of vehicles plying the road had drastically reduced as many still prefer to travel by rail.
It was observed that mostly courageous commercial vehicles now ply the road. For the several hours that our correspondents were on the road, they did not see any SUV or expensive vehicles, not even those with government insignia.
Most of the motorists also move at top speed to avoid stopping along the way to carry passengers.
A driver in one of the motor parks, who spoke to our correspondent on condition of anonymity, said they had taken measures to avoid falling into the trap of kidnappers. For example, they no longer ferry passengers very early in the morning and late in the evening. They have also stopped carrying passengers along the road.
“The criminals normally operate very early in the morning or in the evening. Most of our drivers are afraid, but one cannot sit at home. So we have to take passengers and pray we don’t meet them,” he said.
The chairman of taxi drivers along Kaduna-Abuja road, Mr. Jerry Shayin, appealed to the Federal Government to deploy more security personnel to the route.
Our correspondents also noticed that most of the petrol stations on the highway are now virtually empty as fuel attendants sit idle for lack of customers.
Daily Trust on Sunday also noticed that a number of vehicles belonging to security agencies, mainly the police and Federal Road Safety Corps, were parked around Kakau, Sabon Gaya, Dutsen Gaya, Rijanaa and other places.