The serious concern raised by the leaderships of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) and the National Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO) about the killing of their members on the highways should not be handled with levity.
The two unions are not alarmed by the killings caused by the deplorable state of our roads which, sadly, have been accepted as fait accompli. Rather, they are worried by the constant attacks their members suffer in the hands of highway robbers.
The latest concern followed the recent murder of the former Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshall Alex Badeh along the KeffiBade road. The portion of the highway has constituted a nightmare for motorists and passengers alike.
The unions were unanimous in their assessment of the danger the road constituted after the miscreants succeeded in killing the former military general and allegedly made away with heavy cash they found on him following a tip-off.
They claimed that no fewer than four of their members had been killed in recent months. Armed bandits operating in a commando fashion along the axis for years now are said to be carrying out their nefarious activities without any let or hindrance. And because the robbers strike freely, kidnappers have also chosen the spot to execute their missions.
Their hapless victims include passengers, farmers, local milkmaids and residents along the road. Community members living on the dreaded Keffi-Bade stretch of the highway also narrated their experiences in the hands of the criminal elements. They said that the operation of the bandits escalated about a year ago, using the sharp bend around Ungwuwan Mangwaro village near Tudu Uku community, before Zango Gitata. Passengers and other commuters who are condemned to passing through the road do so with their hearts in their mouths, unsure of their safety.
Some of them go as far as consulting seers from time to time for green lights before they embark on any trips along the route. One of the factors the commuters believe is responsible for the state of affairs along the axis is the thick bushes on both flanks of the road stretching several kilometres.
The shrubs provide a perfect cover for the bandits to strike and vanish without being traced. The dreaded Keffi-Bade road is just one of such pockets of dangerous spots dotting the nation’s highways.
Those that are scared of the dreaded axis had turned to the Keffi-Akwanga road as an alternative route until lately when the criminal elements struck along Akwanga-Jos route, robbing and abducting people while commuting to states like Plateau, Bauchi, Gombe and beyond. There is virtually no part of this country that does not have its own fair share of black spots.
The Abuja-Kaduna highway has become a nightmare to ply in recent years. Lokoja-Okene road also posed dangers to motorists until the Kogi state Government cleared the bushy shoulders of the highway, providing no hiding place for armed bandits and kidnappers to strike. The ever busy Lagos-Ibadan highway and such other roads that are especially in bad conditions are also not spared.
The saddest part of this situation is that the bandits strike with such ease as if they are carrying out legitimate operations. For instance, the Keffi-Bade and the Akwanga-Keffi roads are dotted by military and police checkpoints at some intervals between them. Nevertheless, the criminal elements are not deterred by the presence of the checkpoints.
In most cases, they strike in-between the checkpoints. They then avoid the highways after their operations or bribe their way through if the need to pass through the barriers arises. In view of the recent upsurge in criminal activities along our roads, there is the need to reintroduce effective highway patrols.
Checkpoints have not been a deterrent to criminal activities on our highways ostensibly due to the corrupt tendencies of those assigned to such duties. It is common knowledge that some bandits buy off their areas of operations on the highways for a period of time during which security agents make themselves unavailable only to race to the spots after the criminals have carried out their operations and vanished into thin air Checkpoints are predictable, but there are elements of surprise when patrols or stop-and-search operations are carried out.
The federal government should spare no efforts to ensure that our roads are secure for use by all Nigerians irrespective of their status. A situation where everyone has to commute from one place to another in fear is not acceptable as it would amount to surrendering to the social vermin