The Ajegwu-Idah road is a ‘kind’ as well as a ‘cruel’ one, for it rewards kidnappers, and cripples the economy of the rich, villagers and travellers. Kidnappers flourish within the forests and valleys lining both sides of it. “It’s a 30 minute drive to Idah, but a whole lot can happen in a second on that route,”one contact says.
Daily Trust is informed that a kidnapper recently boasted to his victim that he has a degree in mathematics, and that he has plans of travelling abroad when he has saved enough from the ransom payments. Today, he must live for a while as a mathematician in the forest, an Euclid dwelling in a valley solving equations in leafy surroundings relating to victims and ransoms.From the account given he appears to function as part of the intellectual side to the group of kidnappers along the Ajegwu-Idah road. Nigeria is the big loser when its mathematicians and thinkers are pushed to contemplate the wrong sort of calculations in a forest, and, paradoxically,the country is badly in need of mathematicians. Nigeria at present does not have the required number of mathematics teachers it needs. A newspaper report of 2016 laments the shortage of maths teachers at every level in the country. The Director General of the National Mathematical Centre at that time is quoted as encouraging the federal government to declare a state of emergency on mathematics, as a response to the shortage of maths teachers in the country.
But the people who live along the road are getting poorer every day, and an increasing sense of fear, a life lived in daily awe of the kidnapper, is a form of poverty too. A reluctance to display wealth is another version of the same thing, for an open show of material success, would attract the kidnappers. Rich sons of Idah park their fancy jeeps in Lokoja, the Kogi State capital, or at Okene and make the trip home using taxis. Gucci bags, dresses, designer perfumes and elegant shoes, are left behind by women while they journey home. Fewer weddings hold in Idah today simply because of the fear of the kidnapper, and many people prefer Abuja or Lokoja as locations for the event. Fear rules the road, and taxi drivers progress at a fast pace while travelling, which makes it ‘impossible to stop if we run into kidnappers,’ one of them explains to me with a laugh as we hurtle towards Idah. Many families in Idah today lock their gates by 8:00pm, because nobody knows who may come knocking. But some persons have decided never to return to Idah again. Daily Trust is told of Ahmed Ogwuche (not real name) who after his release by the kidnappers, vowed never to return to Idah. He has made up his mind about this, and the closest he can get to Igalaland today is Gwagwalada, in the FCT. He says that it is only when he has passed on, that his remains could be taken to Idah for burial. This macabre thought is almost funny, but it is not. He reasons that it makes more sense to visit his home town when he has departed the flesh, rather than while he is alive. Instances exist of a brother who arranges for his wealthy uncle to be kidnapped. A N5,000 debt led to one man being abducted by his relative and this was to teach the former a lesson, Daily Trust learns.
One respondent explains the situation in the following words “If you owe somebody today, he arranges for you to be kidnapped.” Meanwhile, salaries of local government staff have not been paid for many months, power supply is epileptic, and cult groups, composed of male and female members, regularly clash in Idah in broad daylight. This is a well-known fact in the community, and it is gathered that there are two major cult groups in Idah, with the female group going by the name White Angels. These groups have five cult groups each under them, making a total of twelve cult groups doing battle in Idah. A female trader tells me that on some market days cultists gather near the market and cause an uproar, which makes everyone to flee. They then help themselves to the goods in the market. A cult attack in Idah took place on April 23, 2016, in which 17 persons were killed. Ado Jibrin (not real name) was attacked in his house by the cultists on the same day. He was shot in a leg which was later amputated. His wife was wounded, and his son, shot in the neck, soon died. Today, Jibrin walks with the aid of crutches as a constant hurting reminder of that ‘cruel’ April.
John Ado, who prefers anonymity, speaks on the impact of kidnapping “It has had negative impact on the economy. Women have been raped, traumatised, and there are so many women and children who are victims of kidnapping. This has affected the socio-economic life of the people, by virtue of the fact that in certain parts of Idah up till 11:00/12:00 pm you still see economic activities going on, but since kidnapping started, by 9:00pm most commercial establishments have closed. When communities shut down that early, it leaves a greater part of the night in the hands of hoodlums. That is the current problem. One commercial bank in Idah closes to customers by 3:00pm every day, as against the normal 4:00pm, and this is because of the security situation.”
William Aya, Kogi Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) observes that kidnapping and cult activities in Idah and environs have seen a decline, and that many cultists and kidnappers are in several prisons in the state, including the Koton Karfe and Lokoja prisons. According to Aya the police recently intensified patrols along the Ajegwu-Idah road, and this has reduced the incidents of kidnapping along the route, at the same time he refers to a new interface between the police and traditional rulers to arrest the situation. He emphasised that this effort by the police also covers other parts of the state. But the inhabitants of Idah contradict Aya in respect of the situation on the Ajegwu-Idah road, pointing to the fact that on Friday (06/04/18) 13 persons were kidnapped at Ukunube village along the road, which include the Idah local government cashier, its revenue officer and a driver. Many kidnappers emerged from the forest dressed in Military uniform, the people say. One of the kidnappers was knocked down in the melee by a car, and his uniformed body was taken to Idah, Daily Trust gathers. The locals argue that kidnappings along the road have not declined, rather they have intensified. They however point to the fact that the Navy regularly set up check points along the road ,which has helped somewhat. Aya also argues that locals should endeavour to report any incident of kidnapping to the nearest police station, to avoid any discrepancy between the public account of a kidnapping incident, and what has been captured in police reports.
Four spectacular acts of kidnapping at a tertiary institution in Idah sparked off the cycle of kidnappings some year’s ago. According to a source “The first kidnapping done within the Ajegwu-Idah axis was the serial kidnapping of officials of a tertiary institution in Idah. The first person that was kidnapped was the bursar. His residence was attacked, his nephew killed, and he was released after the sum of N5m was paid.Later,they went after the rector, and kidnapped him from inside the institution. But they had an accident at the gate of the institution, where they abandoned him and ran away. They also subsequently kidnapped two other senior officials.”
There are still many more instances of kidnappings in the Idah area according to a usually very reliable source, indeed much more than listed beneath: In 2017 a lawyer and a high court judge were kidnapped along the Ajegwu-Idah road, and they were released after a ransom of N3m was paid for each of them. The owner of a petrol station station was also abducted.He paid N3.5m before he was released. A trader in tiles was kidnapped, and he had to pay N7m as ransom. Another individual was kidnapped in the GRA, Idah, and he paid a N2m ransom. Last year the manager of a bank was kidnapped. But it is not known how much was paid as ransom. Another was held for ten days and a ransom of N4m was paid. Two wives from a household were recently taken at the Egabada area of Idah, and the kidnappers are asking for N10m from the husband who was not at home when the kidnappers visited. This brief list shows that kidnappers are raking in millions of Naira from their ransoms, and this must be a huge drain on the local economy. A prominent women leader narrates the ordeal suffered by women traders who were returning from a business trip to Onitsha “On the way back some kidnappers abducted them, and they were asked to bring N4m each. Later, the kidnappers reduced the figure to N400,000 per person.” Daily Trust is told that in late march this year the manager of a first generation bank in Lokoja, who was travelling along the same road, was kidnapped. It is not clear if a ransom demand has been made, or if he has been released.
To be continued