Missing in transit

August 21, 2021
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The spate of kidnappings in Nigeria today has taken an alarming dimension, with citizens feeling unsafe. OLARONKE JAIYEOLA looks into how the situation has become an everyday affair and the possible ways out.

Kidnapping is one of the major problems currently facing Nigeria as a country. However, while one aspect was about kidnapping individuals and schoolchildren for ransom, another variant is using public commercial vehicles to pick passengers and then change the route to a destination other than the predetermined one and selling them to money ritualists.

That was the case with some passengers in Ojota , Lagos sometimes ago, when they boarded a vehicle going to a destination somewhere in Delta State, only to find themselves almost entering Ibadan, Oyo State before one of the passengers raised the alarm, while the others had slept off.

One of the passengers, a woman, who also did not sleep off in the course of the journey pointed out that she noticed that the driver spread clothes on the foot mats inside the car and she had thought it was to prevent the car mats from dirt.

One of the passengers who slept off did not know where he was but was brought back to reality when there was a shout of people calling on Amotekun Corps for help.  The passengers were lucky, others were not, as they ended up in ritualists’ den and were never found.

One of the would-be victims narrated his experience thus: “We boarded a Delta State-bound vehicle of five passengers from a transport company (name withheld) at Ojota and we were all issued receipts to the effect.

“A few minutes into the said journey, three of the passengers were already snoring, fast asleep. Only a woman and I were awake. We were awake, yet oblivious of where the driver was headed.

“It was at the Sat Guru Maharaj Ji area of Ibadan that I was jolted to reality and I immediately queried the driver about what we were doing in Ibadan when we were supposed to go through Sagamu interchange (to Delta State).

“Knowing I was back to my senses, he (driver) made a quick U-turn on that one way and wanted to pick a waiting guy, to which I vehemently objected, saying the car was already full. He could not pick the guy, but said he was taking us to a village. On hearing this, I started dragging the steering wheel with him and forced him to park as I snatched the car key from him.

“People had gathered at that time and a man in police uniform came around, ordered me to give him the car key and on giving him, he made an attempt to hand it over to the driver so he could escape. At that point, a mob that had seen how the car was swerving had gathered, telling me that we should call Amotekun Corps as according to them, the police officer could not be trusted. They gave me the Amotekun Corps’ number. I placed the distress call and they came swiftly.

“We were all taken to their office and on interrogating the driver, he said he was in Ibadan to pay a vulcaniser the balance of the money for a tyre he bought from him.”

When the driver was asked if he took permission from the passengers before taking action, he said he forgot to do so and that it was when the man who raised the alarm asked what they were doing in Ibadan that he remembered he did not inform them.

It is worthy of note that government at different levels had in the past taken steps to deal with cases of kidnapping.

It will be recalled that in 2009, the 36 state governors met in Abuja and urged the Federal Government to take a tougher stance on the matter by bringing the full weight of the law on culprits. And in September 2017, the Senate passed a bill imposing death penalty for abduction, wrongful restraint and confinement for ransom.

Similarly, some states already have laws against abduction and kidnapping. The laws passed by 16 out of the 36 worst-affected states prescribed capital punishment for kidnapping, especially in cases where a victim had died while in the custody of kidnappers. But the question is, is the law being enforced or is it just on paper?

To put the problem in check, several checkpoints with hundreds of officers have been deployed to patrol the federal highways to tackle kidnapping, including an anti-kidnapping unit within the police force, but results are not visible.

The kidnappers, according to a source, often demand ATM cards of their victims and then take time to transfer all that is in their accounts while the hostages are with them.

Sunday Tribune spoke with those in the transport sector for their own views on kidnapping with public transport vehicles.

In an interview with the manager of Peace Mass Transit, Ibadan, Mr Fidelis Ogbonna, he said “the issue of kidnapping is an alarming development which has changed everything for us as a nation and as a growing concern.

“We all expect that government should do its best, as it is the responsibility of government to provide security for lives and property of citizens. Majority of these cases of kidnapping occur on federal highways despite the many checkpoints being manned by our security agencies. And if government, with all the power and resources has not been able to surmount kidnapping, how does an individual organisation go about it?

“We urge government to stop at nothing in ensuring that security is top of its priority and deal with it swiftly, so that the people can be safe.  You can’t talk about investment without security. Passengers are scared of travelling these days and as such, the number of passengers has drastically reduced as a result of incessant kidnappings. The company is not enjoying business like before.

“For our passengers, we believe that maximum security is from God, and as such, should always hand over any journey into God’s hand. However, we still have our own security measures in place. For instance, once a passenger arrives our office for booking, we take all his/her details – names, destination, time of arrival, next of kin, address, phone number, etc and document same. We then issue the passenger a receipt. We already have details of the driver and the registration number of the bus he will be driving for that day.

Missing in transit“To further ensure safety as well as prevent diversion of bus and passengers, we have tracked all our buses and once there’s any security breach or any emergency, we demobilise the vehicle and immediately contact security agencies.

“My advice to passengers is to ensure that they board from registered transport companies because I doubt the transport company in question is registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). Anybody, due to Nigeria’s failing system can just print receipt and start loading passengers they end up diverting and extorting for money.

“Passengers should also ensure they enter into the reception area of known and notable transport companies and get their details taken, because some allow ‘agberos’ to talk them into paying less for the same journey in a different vehicle outside the company’s jurisdiction, thus falling victim.”

Also, the deputy chairman, Park Manager System, Iwo Road North/East II, Ibadan, Mr Sarafadeen Adewale, said such dastardly act cannot occur in any of their parks.

“We do not allow drivers from nowhere to load passengers. We know all our drivers and they are duly registered.  Probably, the transport company whose driver diverted passengers after hypnotising them was fake and not registered.

“For every passenger boarding from our motor parks, we write their details on what we call manifests, which is in duplicate from Travelers Insurance Scheme. The driver takes one with him on the journey and drops the duplicate at the park office. This is in case of any eventuality; the passengers don’t get stranded on their journey, as we will make alternative arrangement as soon as possible.

“This manifest also helps us to track the vehicle and the driver in question, should a passenger report at the motor park that he/she forgot his/her personal effects in the vehicle. They always get them back intact.

“Passengers are safer this way and with the help of God too. We work in sync with the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), police and Amotekun Corps and they have been responsive. For instance, a FRSC officer, after stopping any of our vehicles, asks for the manifest which the driver must produce and a quick headcount is done. Should the number not tally, the vehicle will be impounded and driver will be arrested.

“My advice to passengers is that they should board vehicles from motor parks and not by roadside. Times are changing and people are desperate to make money by all means. The lesser fare you want to pay may lead to abduction,” he said.

In his reaction to the development, chairman, Amotekun Corps in Oyo State, General Kunle Togun (retd), said the law that established the Amotekun Corps gave it power to arrest, investigate, but leaves prosecution to the Police.

“Amotekun is not independent, it is to work with the Police to stem insecurity,” he said, noting that the driver in question had been handed over to the Police.

General Togun stressed that Nigerians lack security consciousness, adding that this is a major problem that has to be addressed.

“With all the noise about kidnapping, some people still stay by roadside, wave down any vehicle, requesting a lift.

“I remember when we were young; everyone was his/her brother’s keeper. We always look out for one another. We did not take on an indifferent approach; we all took the issue of security seriously. No stranger is overlooked as if ‘it doesn’t concern me.’ Any stranger entering a compound gets questioned about which flat he was headed and the person he was looking for.

“We really have to step up our game by being skeptical of strange faces. Should a stranger stop you to make an inquiry, distance yourself from such and if he is closing up, shout for help and run for your life.

“Amotekun Corps will soon start security education in Oyo State, which will further train our minds on how to stay secure,” General Togun said.

Since cases of kidnapping with public transport often go unreported, it is very important for individuals to be security conscious, but the question is: are Nigerians security conscious?

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