SAMUEL AWOYINFA (Lagos), MIKE ODIEGWU (Bayelsa), FEMI MAKINDE (Ado-Ekiti), ETIM EKPIMAH (Uyo), SUCCESS NWOGU (Ilorin), OZIOMA UBABUKOH (Enugu) & EMMANUEL OBE (Awka)
Kidnapping seems to have become the biggest nightmare for the well-to-do in the society, despite the heavy security that protects them. And, if the highly-placed have become easy preys as it now seems, what can anyone say about ordinary Nigerians who, though aware of the menace, have no clues how they can secure themselves and their loved ones.
And now that the end of the year is around the corner, with the usual festivities and financial commitment that go with it, kidnappers, armed robbers and allied criminals have been on the prowl, inflicting all sorts of harm on their victims.
From the Niger Delta region, to the South-East, and the South-West, criminals are on the loose. In the North, the problem is that of bombing of religious worship centres and assassinations of perceived enemies â€” whether those in government or private citizens. In essence, no one is safe.
When prominent Nigerians cannot be easy prey, their relations become the target. On Sunday, December 9, the octogenarian mother of the finance minister, Prof. Kamene Okonjo, was kidnapped right inside her husbandâ€™s palace in Ogwuashi-Ugwu, Delta State, by some gunmen. She was released by her captors five days later. Her abductors had asked for N200m, which they later reduced to N100m.
But while the 82-year-old professor was lucky to have been released, Titilayo, the wife of retired Gen. Oluwole Rotimi, who was also kidnapped by unknown gunmen in Ibadan, Oyo State, on December 10 at about 6:30 pm in front of her firm, AOK Logistics Limited, Old Ife Road, is still being held incommunicado.
She was allegedly abducted by four armed men as she was leaving her office at the close of work.
The scourge of kidnapping hit Enugu State sometime in August when the Vice-Chancellor of the Enugu State University of Science and Technology, Prof. Cyprian Onyeji, was abducted by gunmen at about 11.30 a.m. at the university gate, on his way to work.
Lagos has not been left out. Early this month, a member of staff of the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria, Mrs. Hajara Musa, was kidnapped by gunmen at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, on her way from work.
The kidnappers reportedly contacted her family, demanding a ransom of N10m.
Since the security situation has become a serious cause for concern all over the country in recent times, security agencies across the nation have mapped out various strategies aimed at confronting criminals this festive season.
In Lagos, the Lagos State Police Command noted that with a population of over 18 million people, the state might likely experience a number of challenges.
The Police Public Relations Officer, Lagos State Command, Ms. Ngozi Braide, said there would be an intensive presence of motorised patrols across the state, while plain-clothes undercover operatives would be deployed in strategic areas.
She said, â€œWe have deployed undercover operatives in churches, mosques, marts and eventsâ€™ centres across the state. Also, on the highways and the streets, police presence will be visible. Visibility policing is what the Inspector-General prescribed and that is what we are doing. The presence of policemen will keep people who may want to commit any crime at bay.â€
Braide advised residents to report any suspicious vehicles, persons or movements in their areas to the nearest police station or post. She called on residents to endeavour to get the telephone numbers of the Divisional Police Officers in their localities, so that they could get across to him or her quickly whenever the need arises.
She gave out numbers which residents could use in case of any threat to their peace: They are toll free lines: 767 and 112; Police Control Room numbers: 08060357795; 08065154338 and CCTV Control room: 08063299264.
The Police in Bayelsa State, in partnership with the state government, have begun a special operation against sea pirates, kidnappers and other suspected criminals to ensure a hitch-free Yuletide.
Our correspondent gathered that the government had, through its special police outfit code-named, Operation Doo-Akpor, purchased additional gunboats to strengthen security on the waterways.
The government had also mandated the outfit to ensure â€˜visibility policingâ€™ by stationing their patrol vans at strategic places where people could see them.
The Commissioner of Police in the state, Mr. Kingsley Omire, and other top police officers had mapped out the operational strategies of locating leaders of pirates and their hideouts.
Omire said the command had drawn a new map of the waterways indicating sensitive areas and routes of sea robbers. He said the operation was in line with the directive of the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar, that all police commands must evolve operational orders to ensure peaceful celebrations.
Omire said, â€œThe IG had directed that all the highways and waterways be effectively patrolled. Within the limited resources of the Force, he had empowered the various commands to see that the task is completed.
â€œOur patrol vehicles have been serviced. The men have been warned to be alert and active. The men have been briefed on some new modes of criminality that we have recently discovered. We have also sensitised members of the public to the need to be security-conscious. We are also collaborating with other security agencies to achieve good result.â€
He added that the police would deploy all their available gunboats and patrol vans in strategic areas to achieve the objectives of the operation.
He said the police would rely on intelligence, not on additional security hardware, to clamp down on the criminals.
â€œWe are not going to allow them to strike again. We are not going to wait for them to harass the peace-loving people of the state,â€ he warned, disclosing that the police had the leader of pirates in the state under their surveillance.
He noted that most cases of kidnapping in the state occurred in the coastal communities, regretting that abductors had capitalised on the security challenges to strike at will.
He confirmed that the police were expecting the delivery of additional gunboats ordered by the state government ahead of the festivities. He also said the special police outfit would continue to stick to its mandate of fighting crimes through visibility policing.
â€œThey are in strategic junctions and members of the public can call them. They move quickly to trouble spots and their response time is less than five minutes, he said.
He said to prevent cases of kidnapping, the police would heighten security in recreational centres and relaxation spots.
During Christmas period, the twin crimes of armed robbery and kidnapping are what the people usually experience. However, to ensure that these are kept in check, the Ekiti State government has commenced arrangements with security agencies to ensure crime-free end-of-the-year festivities.
Our correspondent observed that the government was working to ensure that streetlights were installed ahead of the festivities. â€œWhen public places are well lit, criminals cannot but check themselves,â€ a government official confided.
At Ajilosun Road, workers were seen repairing light poles that were malfunctioning. And in many sections of the road â€” from Fajuyi Park to Ekiti State University Teaching Hospital, streetlights are either being repaired or new ones erected.
Also, security patrol has increased in Ado-Ekiti, the state capital and other parts of the state to ensure protection of lives and property. The presence of armed policemen is more obvious along Iyin Road, especially at sharp corners which have become vantage positions for criminals to attack unsuspecting travellers.
The police have also erected sheds along this road so that their men are always around to protect road users from marauders.
Policemen and officials of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence are seen day and night at Fajuyi Park, which is one of the most popular rendezvous for fun seekers. The park has also been illuminated and well decorated with Christmas lights.
The Commissioner for Information, Mr. Funminiyi Afuye, in an interview with our correspondent said although the state was one of the most peaceful, the government was not relenting in its efforts to ensure that security arrangement were tight during the Yuletide and beyond.
He said security arrangements would not be limited to the festive period alone, but would remain intact even after the New Year.
Afuye said, â€œEkiti State remains the haven of peace in Nigeria. Thereâ€™s no apprehension about insecurity. This is largely due to the age-long good nature of our people and the democratic atmosphere engendered by the government of the day. This is unlike what happened in the past when crime was the order of the day.â€
In Akwa Ibom State, the Police Command has expressed its readiness to collaborate with communities to ensure effective policing during the festive period.
The Police Commissioner, Mr. Umar Gwadabe, at a press briefing in Uyo, said the police would not relent in their efforts to fight criminality from all fronts.
He said the police would mount vigorous campaigns and engage in sensitisation campaigns alongside other security agencies for effective policing.
He said, â€œWe have intensified vehicular and foot patrols to thwart criminalsâ€™ plans. We will fully collaborate with the people we are serving. We have noticed how criminals operate and will go on vigorous sensitisation campaigns and collaborate with other security agencies.â€
The Kwara State Governor, Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed has directed the law enforcement agencies such as the police, Federal Road Safety Corps and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps to ensure increased surveillance and effective security measures for safety of lives and property, especially during the yuletide.
In a telephone interview with our correspondent on Thursday, Ahmedâ€™s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Communication, Dr. Muyideen Akorede, said the State Security Council had also met. He said they had also activated some security measures to improve on the existing peace and harmony in the state.
He, however, refused to disclose those security measures so as not to jeorpadise their implementation.
He added that the government had reached out to community and religious leaders to ensure that their subjects and faithful respectively did not engage in violence.
He said the government had also directed the law enforcement agencies to ensure better traffic management for the comfort of road users.
Akorede said, â€œThe Executive Governor had always shown commitment to the safety of people and property in the state all year round, but in view of the increased human and vehicular traffic on the roads for the Yuletide, he has directed all security agencies such as the police, FRSC and civil defence corps to ensure that security measures are heightened in the state and that the roads are made safe for the people and ensure that there is no breakdown of law and order.
â€œThe governor has emphasised the need for people to live in peace and harmony. He has advised residents to avail themselves of the services of dispute resolution structures such as the court whenever they have disputes.
â€œThe State Security Council has also met and has fashioned out strategies to make sure that there is no outbreak of violence at all in the state.â€
Efforts to get the response of the stateâ€™s Police Public Relations Officer, Mr. Olufemi Fabode, proved abortive as he did not answer calls made to his mobile telephone number.
The Enugu State Police Command on Friday disclosed to SUNDAY PUNCH that the ban on the use of knockouts and other fireworks is still in force.
The Police Public Relations Officer, Mr. Ebere Amaraizu, said the ban on fireworks was not just in Enugu State, but in the entire country.
â€œThe order is even from the headquarters of the Nigeria Police Force and it is binding on the general public,â€ Amaraizu said.
He also said, â€œThe command further wishes to inform members of the public that the use of knockouts and other fireworks has security and safety implications, as they can divert attention of the security agencies from knowing when distress calls are placed by members of the public.â€
The PPRO warned that the objects could cause fire outbreak when they hit highly inflammable objects.
He said, â€œThe command once more wishes to remind members of the public that before any firework is used by any person or group of persons, the permission of the Commissioner of Police, Musa Daura, is to be sought for proper authorisation.
â€œTo this end, the command has directed its security operatives, in partnership with other sister security agencies, to fish out violators of the use of knockout and fireworks so that they can be prosecuted accordingly.â€
On how the police plan to curtail kidnapping during the festive season, Amaraizu said, â€œWithout being told, we are aware that we have to pay serious attention to kidnapping and kidnappers; so, we have mapped out our strategy and I can assure you that the state will be safe during this period.â€
The PPRO declined to comment on the plan mapped out by the police, saying, â€œIf I do so, I would be jeopardising our efforts and criminals could cash in on it.â€
He said, â€œWe are also aware that the kidnappers have a very strong base in Enugu, but they have not been able to exercise so much authority here in the last two years because the police in Enugu have done a good job in checkmating them.
â€œThough they seem to have their headquarters here, their activities are rather more visible in neighbouring states and not in Enugu State.â€
The Anambra State Police Command has stepped up security to ensure that those who are visiting the state for the Yuletide enjoy their stay.
The Police Public Relations Officer, Mr. Raphael Uzoigwe, told SUNDAY PUNCH that even though the police had been able to scale down the activities of armed robbers and kidnappers, the command was not leaving anything to chance, as eminent citizens of the state return from other parts of Nigeria and abroad to celebrate Christmas with their kith and kin.
He said two MOPOL squads â€” Mopol 24 and Mopol 29 â€” had been equipped to patrol Onitsha and Awka, while they have also been trained to respond quickly to distress calls.
Anambra has remained the hotbed of kidnapping and armed robbery in the past five years, prompting the state government to make a law prescribing death sentence for kidnapping and the forfeiture of property of convicted kidnappers.
Uzoigwe said, â€œWe are strengthening our patrol and we have given our men vehicles that will help them with the stop-and-search operations. We are also raiding black spots.â€
He said the command was happy to report that the scale of kidnapping in the state had dropped significantly after the arrest of two major kingpins, Olisa Ifedika and Emeka Ezekude, whose houses were pulled down by the state government after armadas of arms were found in their homes.
â€œIn the past years, you know what had been happening. You cannot hear of them now again because of our efforts. All the roads in Anambra State, from Ekwulobia to Uga, Awka to Abagana, Onitsha to Owerri are well policed,â€ the PPRO said.
He denied claims by residents that police road blocks had been revived on some major roads in the state.
â€œWhat we have are nipping points. You cannot see where the police have blocked any road. Those who are saying that checkpoints are coming back are criminals who want to discredit the measures the police have put in place to check crime, so that the police will leave the road for them to operate freely.
Uzoigwe said the state of readiness of the police notwithstanding, members of the public should also be prepared to volunteer information to security agents on the activities of criminals.
Meanwhile, the Anambra State Government has boosted the security of the communities with the provision of N354m to the 177 communities in the state for security and welfare.
The governor issued the cheques to the communities in Awka on Friday. He said each of the communities would use N1m for security and another N1m to fix community roads.
He urged traditional rulers and president-generals of the communities to help the police and other security agencies to check the activities of criminals.