The twin problem of kidnapping and banditry are forcing residents of Adamawa state to abandon their homes as Ibrahim abdul’Aziz reports.
As Adamawa one of the states devastated by the dreaded Boko Haram terrorist group is recovering, the peaceful atmosphere is again being threatened by kidnappers and banditry.
According to Babayo Aboki (not real name), “I heard a bang on the door, so decided to look to know who was around; I didn’t know they were kidnappers.
‘’And in a twinkle of an eye, I saw strange faces wielding sophisticated guns. The others stayed outside manning all nooks and crannies. Four of them entered the house threatening to kill anyone that dares utter a word. In front of my family, they pointed a gun on my head and ordered that I go with them or be killed.
‘’Without a word, I obliged. We trekked for over 80 kilometres into their den where they operate in cells.
‘’I saw hell while in their den; In fact, I don’t want to recall my experiences in their hands because it was terrible,” recalled this local resident who regained his freedom recently.
While Aboki was lucky to regain his freedom after payment of ransome, the fate of Mallam Buba Jilli a retired public servant is yet to be known.
Jilli was abducted from his residence at Yolde-Pate in the ancient town of Yola three months ago, leaving his family in despair and agony.
‘’ We are not sure if he is alive or not because they stopped calling us for a month or more than that now.
‘’They first called and demanded for N10 million. After bargaining, they slashed it down to N5 million. Since then, we haven’t hear anything from them.
‘’Two days after the abduction, there was an effort by security operatives to launch mop up operation during which fight ensued and some kidnappers were reportedly killed. So, we don’t know whether he was killed during that attack.
‘’We have been praying for his release,’’ said a family source.
These and many were the words from the people of Adamawa, one of the states devastated by the dreaded Boko Haram terror group.
Kidnapping in the state has assumed a new dimension in the past two years as no single day passes without reported cases of kidnapping.
Like other parts of the country, kidnapping has become a lucrative business so much that everybody is suspicious of their neighbour. The situation has forced many residents to desert their houses for fear.
‘’Yes, we have to desert our houses because of the fear that these criminals would strike especially in the night.
‘’It’s so disturbing that top government officials, businessmen, the academia and even farmers are not left out of this madness,’’ said Joseph Micheal, a resident of Sangere one of the areas hit by kindnappers.
The scourge has assumed a notorious dimension such that questions are being raised whether security agents, local vigilante groups and other concerned citizens have become helpless in handling the situation.
‘’Look, people are now alleging that security agents are either colluding with the kidnappers to the effect that negotiation are made on behalf of victims before being set free or they are handicapped that they cannot apprehend them even though GSM services are used in the bargain,’’Micheal said.
Why kidnapping lingers
The incessant cases of kidnapping has generated serious concern with many posing big question on why it has lingered for long. Some alleged that it is because of the mountainous terrain in the state plus having the problem of one ethnic group being accused of masterminding the evil.
Available record indicates that in Adamawa, no fewer than 300 cases of kidnapping were recorded by the state police command in 2019 alone. There were others that were not recorded on the advice of the victims and their families. In such cases, the families simply negotiate with the abductors for payment to regain their loved ones.
‘’You know such families are of the opinion that reporting the abduction of their loved ones to the police or other security agents would not help matters much, but prefer to negotiate directly with the kidnappers to secure the freedom of their victims,’’ said a public affairs commentator, Timothy Hurrom.
For instance, Modibbo Adama University of Technology (MAUTECH) located in the outskirt of the state capital has had a raw share of attack as not less than 13 of its professors were kidnapped in 2019 alone. The figure does not include other staff and students abducted within the same period.
Although, the reason for concentration of the menace in that institution is not yet established, however, security analysts saw possible connivance by insiders within the institution and kidnappers while others blame closeness of the university to the overlapping mountainous vicinity which makes it easier for abductors to operate.
‘’One might be right to fault the security operatives for their inability to contain the upsurge of kidnapping in MAUTECH and entire Girei Local Government Area despite its proximity to the state capital.
‘’The frequent onslaught of kidnappers on the people of Girei and its suburbs is so disturbing to the extent that some security operatives could be accomplices and government has to wake up,’’ Hurom observes.
It could be recalled that these allegations that arrested kidnappers are easily released by security operatives forced the people to embark on series of protests to drive home their points.
Only recently, the people of Girei held more than three protests over the release of arrested suspected kidnappers. During the protest, the Yola–Mubi Federal Highway leading to Northern Adamawa Senatorial Zone and Borno state were completely barricaded and blocked for hours causing untold hardship to commuters and other road users.
The protesters accused the security agents of releasing arrested suspected kidnappers within a short period of time, only for the suspects to return and unleash more mayhem.
A week ago, one of such protests almost turned sour as miscreants capitalised on the situation to attack vehicles of security operatives plying the road, accusing them of complicity in releasing arrested suspected kidnappers but the situation was quickly brought under control.
Informants usually murdered
It is on record that in the recent past, four or more head of vigilante groups that have assisted the police in the arrest of suspected kidnappers were recognised and rewarded by the state police commissioner, Mr Audu Madaki.
The ceremony attracted a lot of dignitaries, including traditional and opinion leaders from the communities the awardees hail from, top security operatives in the state were also in attendance while some arrested suspected kidnappers were also paraded at the ceremony. Amazingly, their joy was short-lived as no fewer than four top commanders of the vigilante groups were murdered. Curiously, the killers were not identified or arrested by the police that honoured them.
Sources, however said it was the same kidnappers they once arrested that turned round to kill after their release from detention. Others were of the opinion that associates of the arrested suspects were responsible.
Families of the bereaved have been left in devastation as there are no person to take care of them any more.
We are on top of the situation – Police
The state police command, however, disagreed with the insulation that the situation is beyond its power. The command said in 2019 alone, over 300 suspected kidnappers were arrested, paraded and charged to courts for prosecution, but what happens in the courts is not within their purview.
The Ccmmand spokesman Suleiman Nguroje, (DSP ) said, ‘’The command would not relent in keeping Adamawa state free of kidnapping and other crimes.’’
Nguroje stated that because of the deployment and employed tactics by the command, kidnappers have abandoned the state capital and relocated to the interior.
“Security strategies are being put in place. We would not tell you our strategies, but within the shortest possible time, kidnapping will be a thing of the past in Adamawa state,” he assured.
“There is a collaboration with the sister security agencies fully supported by the state government and the moment that force becomes operational, we would see where the kidnappers woukd hide.
Nguroje further said that a new security outpost code-named ‘Operation Farauta’ is now in place intended to flush out all the criminal hideouts and black spots, either on top of the mountains, in the forest or elsewhere in the state.
Commenting on the recent protests over alleged release of kidnap suspects, especially that of Girei, he said, “All the suspects were charged before Magistrate Court 4 in Yola and are currently in prison awaiting trial”, he disclosed.
“But simply because the people were denied applying jungle justice on the suspects, they decided to go to the street to protest”, he explained.
Analyst bemoan situation
A public affairs commentator, Mohammed Ismail, said the spiraling rate of kidnap for ransom has become a major security threat to the lives and properties of innocent citizens who have been at the receiving end of the scourge.
“Many families who are already facing rough times occasioned by economic downturn in the country have been further thrown into economic woes having been forced to pay millions of naira as ransom in order to secure lives of relatives of their loved ones who were taken to the kidnappers den.
“The spate and manner at which kidnapping is taking place almost on a daily basis has begun to cause uneasy calm between the people, the security agencies and even the judiciary who are constitutionally mandated to punish defaulters,” he lamented
In the last few months, dozens have been kidnapped by the armed assailants including a serving Divisional Police Officer (DPO) making the families of the victims to cough out several millions of naira in order to security freedom for their loved ones.
Some of the families were compelled to sell prized items including landed properties and households utensils in order to offset the ransom demanded by the kidnappers.