By John Shiklam
The recent brutal attack on the Managing Director of the Kaduna-based Safari Farms, Mr. Shadrack Madlion and his family along the Abuja-Kaduna Expressway, is an indication that armed bandits have not relented in their criminal activities despite the massive deployment of security personnel by the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Ibrahim Idris.
Noted for its notoriety for kidnapping and armed robbery activities, many commuters dread plying the road. Many Nigerians, including foreigners, had been victims of these bandits that have been terrorising the road in the past three years. They kill, rape and collect millions of naira as ransom from their victims. Sometimes they kill their victims after collecting huge sums of money.
Despite the massive onslaught on the hoodlums by the police, they seemed to be undeterred as they pounce on their victims on the slightest opportunity.
Madlion and his family are the latest victims who the daredevil bandits nearly eliminated entirely. The agriculturalist, his wife, two sons and his sister-in-law were returning to Kaduna that fateful Friday, April 6, 2018, when the bandits struck in a commando-like style as they opened fire on the SUV they were travelling in.
It was just 4 p.m. and they had just passed Jere town in Kagarko Local Government Area of Kaduna State when the deadly attack took place.
They pumped bullets into the vehicle, hitting the tyres and windscreen, the vehicle somersaulted four times, before it came to a halt.
How they survived the attack was a miracle!
“We survived the attack by divine providence,” Madlion said.
Dazed, traumatised, the bandits swooped on him and dragged him out of the wrecked vehicle, alongside his nine-year-old son to the bush.
A man and his wife on the other side of the expressway were said to have been killed on the spot. The bandits were said to have blocked the highway shooting sporadically in the air with their sophisticated weapons as some commuters turned back to run for their lives.
Giving details of his ordeal, Madlion said, “My family and I – my wife and my two sons and my sister-in-law were driving in an SUV, we had passed Jere from Abuja going to Kaduna. By the time we passed Jere, unconsciously I just made a joke, I said to my wife, ‘we have just passed the danger area’.
“Before we could get to the Kateri Bridge, four men came out and shot our vehicle.”
According to him, “The car somersaulted four times. They shot at the tyres, the body of the car and the windscreen. None of us was hit by the bullets.
“We were somersaulting and the car eventually came to a standstill. Thank God for the seatbelt and airbag.
“When the vehicle stopped it took me some time to understand what had happened. I saw people shooting at me. A man came out from the bush and brought out a machete and the first thing he did while I was still lying on the floor was to slap me with a machete and dragged me to the bush.
“The bandits were still shooting to stop people from coming close. A man and his wife who were driving on the other side of the road were shot dead instantly.
“They took me away and kept me inside a cave.
“They took me and my son into the bush. We trekked for about five hours. At about 9 p.m., we got to a place and we slept on the ground.
“They saw some light around the area, and they moved us to another location. We trekked for another four hours. All these added up to about 29 kilometres of trekking in the forest. I had my farm compass on my neck, so that tells me where I am at every given time.
“My wallet was the first thing they took from me and they went through it. When they picked my son, they picked my driver’s phone who was driving the second car that was behind us.”
Speaking further, Madlion said the bandits switched on the phone and the first call that came in, they told the person who called, that they are kidnappers and they should go and look for N50 million ransom.
“At about 1:45 a.m., they took us to another location, a flat rock and we slept there with my nine-year-old son.”
Speaking further, Madlion said, the hoodlums were well armed with sophisticated guns that he had never seen before.
“The guns they were carrying are more sophisticated than the ones I see our armed forces carrying.
“They have double magazines, the rucksack they carried on their backs was filled with bullets. They also have another rucksack that contains drugs – iodine, panadol.
“They gave me some drugs because I had a dislocated hips. In the morning they took us to a rock that is about 46 metres high and kept us there,” he said.
He commended the personnel of the Department for State Security (DSS) who, according to him, did their best.
“They (DSS) were the ones speaking with them and the ransom was negotiated from N50 million to N10 million.
By 11:47 a.m. on Sunday (April 8), the money was delivered to them. They had to confirm the money before they released us,” he said.
Madlion lamented the deadly activities carried out by bandits across the country, particularly in Kaduna, where, according to him, farming communities no longer go to their farmers for fear of being abducted.
He said the government has failed in its responsibility of safeguarding lives and property of the citizens.
“We believe that the previous government was a failure, but what I am seeing today is a disaster. The primary responsibility of any given government anywhere in the world is the protection of lives and property. Lives and property are not being protected. Farmers no longer go to their farms because of insecurity,” he said.
Many people, especially the elites have abandoned the roads for train services from Kaduna to Abuja, which was meant to provide affordable means of transport to the masses.
A visit to the train station in Rigassa area of Kaduna revealed that about 60 per cent of train passengers are top politicians, government functionaries, businessmen and women and other professionals.
They park their cars at the station to go to Abuja and pick their cars upon returning from the train station.
A senior lawyer who didn’t want his name in print said travelling by train is the safest means of transportation due to the activities of bandits on the highway.
“It is very risky travelling on the Kaduna-Abuja highway. Though the rate of kidnapping seems to have dropped, this is because many people no longer travel by road to Abuja.
“As you can see, many people now travel to Abuja by train. So we have left the road for kidnappers.
“It baffles us so much that, despite the deployment of about 700 anti-riot policemen backed with over 80 patrol vehicles, people are being abducted on the highway.
“If you recall, the road became very safe and under strict surveillance when flights were diverted to Kaduna in 2017. But immediately after flight operations were returned to Abuja, the bandits resumed their nefarious activities in full swing,” he said.
Also speaking at the Rigassa Train Station, a top politician who also pleaded to remain anonymous said, the Kaduna-Abuja Highway has become a no-go area for many ‘big men’.
“Even with the heavy security, the kidnappers seem to know where to strike. They operate even more deadly. I heard how a man and his family were almost killed when the kidnappers opened fire on them.
“Such incidents are scaring and do not make people have confidence in the security personnel. That is why you see everybody who is scared of the road trooping to the train station,” he said.
As a result of the high patronage, railway fares were increased from N1,500 to N2,000 and N3,000 depending on whether it is first class, economy or popular. The train also operated three trips from Kaduna-Abuja to cope with the high influx of passengers.
Speaking during the just concluded Kaduna Investment Forum, Minister of Transport, Mr. Chibuike Amaechi, said railway fares were jacked up when it was discovered that rich people had taken over the trains.
“Actually rich men use the train but the actual intent of President Muhammadu Buhari is to allow us to move the poor people from Kaduna to Abuja.
“But if you go to Idu Railway Station or Rigasa Railway Station, you will see big men park their cars and use the train, chasing away the poor men. Since we discovered big men are using the railway, we jacked up the price,” he said.
“This is what is called appropriate pricing. So we price according to your pocket. But this doesn’t affect our subsidy because we still subsidise our railway,” he said.
As it is, it has become very dangerous to ply the Abuja-Kaduna Expressway. Some of those who dare to ply the highway, do so with fear of the unknown and prayers for God’s protection against the hoodlums.
As a gateway to the Northwestern states, the road plays a very important role in the economic activities of the people.
Although the security agencies have succeeded in flushing out many of the hoodlums by arresting hundreds of them, there is the need to be more proactive in tackling the remnants that are unleashing terror on innocent people by adopting new strategies.
This op-ed was originally published in This Day