…Bandits are agents of some masters in cities—Sheikh Gunmi
…They collect millions as ransom but you’ll never see anything of value with them; they are fronts —Shehu Sani
…Our hunters once chased them, they ran into a waiting jeep and zoomed off —Edo traditional ruler
…How they connive with residents of some communities
By Omeiza Ajayi and Ozioruva Aliu
Startling revelations have continued to emerge that kidnappers who have daily become terror to the country actually have highly placed Nigerians as sponsors.
Findings from Edo, one of the states badly hit by kidnappers have confirmed recent comments from Sheikh Gumi, Senator Shehu Sani and Alhaji Baba Ngekzarma that kidnap merchants sponsor the kidnappers who terrorise Nigerians in farmlands and on highways.
These kidnappers, who are now mostly criminal herdsmen abduct commuters on the high ways and from their homes, march them into the deep forest and collect millions of naira as ransom while raping the women among them. Some of the victims end up being killed. Some of the kidnappers themselves have confirmed that they were mere agents to people in the cities. It has also been discovered that some residents of communities connive with the kidnappers in their areas.
Bandits are only paid operational fee, sponsors collect the ransom—Sheikh Gumi
Last month, Kaduna based Islamic cleric, Dr Ahmad Gumi embarked on a daring peace mission to several Fulani communities that were noted for banditry and kidnapping in Kaduna and Zamfara states. After meeting them some of the self confessed kidnappers and bandits gave conditions to end the menace while some of them actually promised to turn a new leaf. In an interview he granted on his shuttle diplomacy to the Fulani communities, Gumi said, “when we asked some of the bandits why they kidnap people, they said they don’t go to towns but there are people in the cities who ask them to attack certain rich people.
So, the bandits are only agents. When the ransom is paid, it belongs to those people in the town, the bandits are only paid operational fee. If you see them, they are tattered. One of the commanders was wearing slippers and you cannot see any sign of millions on them”.
Big merchants behind kidnapping, banditry—Shehu Sani, Miyetti Allah
Speaking in a similar vein, former Kaduna Central Senator, Comrade Shehu Sani and National Secretary of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, MACBAN, Alhaji Baba Ngelzarma, have accused some highly placed Nigerians of sponsoring bandits across the country.
Shehu who spoke on a breakfast show in Abuja noted that while some kidnappers of Southern origin actually live off the proceeds of their crimes those who have taken to banditry from the North are mere foot soldiers working for some top individuals.
He said; “a few years ago, a kidnap mastermind was arrested in Lagos and you could see that he had big property, investments and so many things to show as proceeds of crime. However, in the case of these bandits, particularly those in the Northwest, they have been collecting hundreds of millions of naira from their victims and families everyday. But just pick one kidnapper from among those who have been collecting these money and you will not see anything of value that is worth N20, 000 on him. I have never seen any hotel, any property or car worth two to three million naira belonging to these kidnappers in the north.
So, it is possible to deduce that these kidnappers are actually fronts for some people who are acting behind the scenes. I strongly believe in that. From Kaduna to Abuja, kidnappings have been taking place and these bandits collect hundreds of millions of naira everyday but each time there is an arrest of these culprits, you cannot see anything that is worth up to N40, 000. So, it shows that someone or some people are actually acting behind the scenes”.
On his part, Ngelzarma, the scribe of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders said there were big merchants behind the kidnapping racket. According to him, “so many times when they were caught and interviewed, they will tell you N10m has been taken as ransom on a victim. Out of that figure, if you ask them how much was given to them, they would tell you either N20,000 or N50,000. So, that should tell you that there are some big merchants behind these rackets”.
Travails of Edo communities on the highway
In Edo state, there is no safe area in the three senatorial districts. Communities like Urokhosa, Obagie, Ugha, Igieduma, Obadan and others in Uhunmwonde Local Government Area along the Benin – Auchi – Okenne road are among the dangerous spots where kidnappers believed to be criminally minded Fulani always have a field day abducting persons and collecting ransom in millions of naira. Several villages in interior local government areas like Orhionmwon, Ovia South West and Ovia North East have been sacked by these criminal elements and in some instances kidnapping farmers and slaughtering them as was the case few days ago in Ugo in Orhionmwon Local Government where some farmers were abducted and their remains later discovered in the forests.
From the forests in these communities, the kidnappers extended their illicit activities into parts of Esan land in Edo Central Senatorial District where the roads that connect the communities there link up parts of Delta state. In Edo North Senatorial district, the Okpella axis of the road that shares boundary with Okene in Kogi State is a nightmare for road users and travelers. Testimonies from victims indicate that the kidnappers are more familiar with the terrains than even the locals who have been living in the areas for years which is a mystery.
The kidnappers are just errand boys for their sponsors – community head
The enogie designate of Igieduma, David Obasohan said while speaking with Saturday Vanguard that findings by the hunters and vigilante in his community pointed to the fact that these kidnappers had sponsors and that he had instructed his subjects to watch over themselves to fish out traitors and also interrogate strange faces and alert the police if they were not satisfied.
According to him, “I feel very bad and very uncomfortable, the situation is very unfriendly to travelers. Both in the morning before 10 am and also late evenings, anybody traveling on that road is at risk. Immediately the #EndSARS protest stopped, these kidnappers resumed their activities and became even more daring and up till now they are still operating. They would pick any terrain where they can operate and strike. However, these kidnappers are just field workers because they have their managers or executives who are always somewhere. When these kidnappers collect ransom the managers would collect it and give them a token and these people will foolishly collect it and continue kidnapping.
“About two weeks ago, one of the hunters told me that when they saw some of the kidnappers, they started pursuing them but the suspected kidnappers were running towards the tarred road and that when they got to the road, a jeep was already waiting for them which they quickly entered and zoomed off. So, they have masters, those people who are on the road kidnapping are mere field workers because those kidnappers running away would have contacted the driver of the jeep man on phone. Those kidnappers are dangerous, they even tend to know the terrain more than the natives.
“But the fear I have is that it seems some of the natives are working for these kidnappers or they are in collaboration with them because without collaboration, it is not possible for them to operate without them being caught. I will not blame the police because they don’t know the terrain inside the bush, they police the highways and the roads, that is their main duty but the vigilante go as far as to the forests supported by hunters who are used to those forests and chase them out but they relocate.
“My people are very vigilant now. I have told them to be very vigilant, if they see any strange faces, they should interrogate them and if their explanation is not convincing, they should hand them over to the police. The vigilante and the hunters are working seriously. We have vigilante in the day and we also have in the night too parading our community and environs but these kidnappers have sophisticated weapons”
We’re tired of kidnapping, raping—Uromi women
Fed up with the activities of killer herdsmen, women in Uromi in Esan North East Local Government Area on Wednesday, blocked the road protesting against kidnapping by suspected criminally minded Fulani herdsmen, raping of their girls and women and destruction of their crops in the farm. The women blocked the entire stretch of the road from the palace of Ojuromi of Uromi, HRH Anselm Aidenojie and the police station insisting that they should be addressed by the Onojie and the Divisional Police Officer. But the two men were said not to be in town before the women dispersed and promised to converge another day. This protest created gridlock in the busy road that connects travelers going to the eastern part of Nigeria from the north.
One of the women, Mrs Rosemary Ordia said,”we are tired of kidnapping in our community by criminal Fulani herdsmen, they don’t only kidnap our people, they rape our girls and women, others take their cows to our farms to eat and destroy our crops. How can we be living in our community and we are afraid? It has never been like this in the history of this place”
Activities of criminal herdsmen worrisome—Ojuromi
In his reaction, the Ojuromi of Uromi, Anslem Aidenojie II appealed for calm and assured the women that he would take their grievances to the authorities. He said “yes, the activities of the criminal herdsmen are worrisome and quite disturbing. They kidnap our people, rape the women, maim and do a lot of havoc.
They don’t allow people to go to their farms anymore, so their activities are terrible. But that does not mean that there are no good Fulani people because they have been living with us in peace in our kingdom. But this set of Fulani that are engaged in criminal activities are strange and are not known to us. We condemn in entirety their activities but we are handicapped. We are trying to encourage the vigilantes, giving support to the Police and that is the best we can do. We cannot tell our people to take up arms”
The kidnappers have been so daring that they boasted to their victims that they were untouchable and recently sent one of their victims, ThankGod Okuk to tell the Nigerian police in Edo State that they were coming for them. Also last year when the wife of the former Speaker of Edo State House of Assembly, Zakawanu Garuba was kidnapped alongside her driver while traveling from Abuja to Auchi to bury her husband, her kidnappers told the family member who went to pay ransom for her release that they were in charge of the forests. The family member said “They told me that they have taken over the whole of that forest and no farmer could dare to farm there again and that they had taken over the stretch of the bush to Okenne down to Ajaokuta. They said they owned the forest and that three days after the kidnap, they would still come back to the road.”
Insiders connive with kidnappers
There are indications that residents of some of these communities connive with the kidnappers. They either act as informants or run errands for them like buying food and drinks. Saturday Vanguard gathered that late last year, the people of Ugha community commenced an investigation in their community when the activities of the kidnappers became so worrisome and unbearable that they could no longer go to their farms nor carry out their daily activities. The community was forced to organise its hunters and formed a vigilante group which was able to trail a resident in the village who was a palm wine tapper acting as errand boy to the kidnappers.
What ThankGod Okuk said in our story two weeks ago lay credence to the connivance of people in some communities. He was kidnapped along with four others on the same Benin- Auchi road. He said that they saw dead bodies in the forest where they were kept. After ransom was paid they were released. He said the following on how they regained freedom:
“On the night four of us were to be released, the leader of the gang said I should tell the Police they were out for them, that their plan was to kill all policemen that would cross their path and that their intention was to take over Edo state. I told him I would personally deliver the message to the Commissioner of Police , Edo State”.
They went to collect the ransom earlier before we were released and told my brother to wait for us. They came with loaves of bread and bottles of water which were among what my brother brought. They gave us a loaf of bread and a bottle of water each.
But we were too tired to eat because our stomach was locked. We only took water .
Two of the kidnappers marched us through the forest. We trekked for about two hours inside the forest before arriving at Obagie/Ehor expressway. They left us but told us to walk into the community and narrate our ordeal to anyone we met . They said we would meet my brother there.
On reaching the community, we met some youths outside and narrated our ordeal to them. They took us to their leader who provided a room for the two girls to sleep, while the fourth man and I slept outside the hut. I was taken to a Police check point where my brother, who was held on his way back from the designated point of ransom payment, was”.
Certainly, residents of this community must know a thing or two about these kidnappers.
A resident in Ugha community told Saturday Vanguard: “I have been here for several years, we have never had it so bad to the extent that we could no longer go to our farms, I had to stop my wife from going to the farm and even myself I could no longer go into the forest to tap palm wine until the residents came together to confront these people when it was discovered that a member of the community, who was also a palm wine tapper was the one supplying these kidnappers with food. The man is from Cross River State but had been staying here for a long time. He was arrested and handed over to the police.
Also in Ewohimi, Esan South East Local Government Area, a victim simply identified as Paul was kidnapped while returning to Benin shortly after his father’s burial.
He said: “they kidnapped me on my way back to Benin after the burial of my father. They broke my hand while torturing me. They told me how I spent money to bury my late father, in fact, they told me everything I did throughout the ceremony and I was shocked”.
The family member of late Zakawanu who went to secure the release of his wife and her driver shared the same view that the kidnappers connive with insiders in the villages to operate. He said: “They have insider in Okpella. Before we entered into the bush, they asked us to buy food for them. They said I should get six wraps of fufu and whatever soup that was available and that I should also buy them N6,000 worth of suya as well as malt and water which I bought. Seven of them came to collect the ransom from me. One of them who spoke with me was speaking pidgin English like us in the south.”
Police fortify security measures
However, security has been fortified in some of the areas with increased checkpoints being manned by police, army, Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and vigilante groups. The Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Chidi Nwabuzor said the state government was also supporting security agencies to protect the areas.
He told Saturday Vanguard that, “the kidnapping on these roads has actually reduced in the sense that different sets of measures have been put in place to checkmate kidnapping. Along the highways, you will see military personnel, the police, men of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, you equally see the local security outfits that are the vigilante group and the hunters collaborating with the government security services. This, we are doing to ensure that everywhere will be checked and policed. The Benin – Auchi road has been fortified and we pray to God that this arrangement can be sustained to ensure that we do not witness kidnapping again.
He said “The state government is giving an enabling environment for the security operatives to work and also assisting on the issue of logistic.