As a gateway to Abuja, the nation’s capital from the, southern part of the country, Kogi State is no more safe, as motorists and travelers are inundated with frequent sad incidences of crime along the Lokoja-Okene road, AGBO-PAUL AUGUSTINE who visited the road recently reports.
The 76 kilometre Lokoja- Okene highway in Kogi State could at present be described as the worst federal road in the country. This is judging from the fact that the single lane road has never undergone any renovation by maintenance unit of the federal ministry of works for about 30 years.
Today, that vital road that links the north, south-south and south-western parts of Nigeria including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) could be best described as a tragedy for the people of Kogi State.
It is also a nightmare for motorists’ who must swerve dangerously the pot holes daily. The tepid approach by previous administrations in the country to the all-important road has not only worsen the situation but given rise to kidnapping and robbery.
Over 80 percent of imported goods found in Abuja, the nation’s capital are said to have come through the treacherous road.
This is evident in the high traffic witness along the road daily as trucks, buses and other motorists jostle for space.
The road has seen all forms of carnages, from charred human bodies to mangled vehicles in avoidable crashes, owing to partly, the inability of successive governments to fix the collapse portions of the road.
As Kidnappers take over the road, residents and motorists have lamented that it has become a burden too much to bear.
A recent visit to the notorious road by Leadership weekend revealed that the human sufferings is beyond comprehension as kidnapping has become a trade for criminal elements in Kogi State.
According to findings by our correspondent who visited communities along the road revealed that the criminal gangs always operate early in the mornings and at evenings.
In their strategic calculations, they always put a tab on the few police patrol teams that are really seen on the road.
An elderly resident of Osara, Alhaji Bello Umar told our correspondent that the only Military checkpoint on the Lokoja-Okene road has a 25km radius on both side that is not manned by any security unit.
This he said: “The gangs take advantage of the bushes to rob and kidnap innocent motorists and they have been consistent in their acts for over two months now”.
Bello also raised the alarm that the road is more dangerous to commute at weekends especially on Sundays as only a few policemen could be seen on patrol.
Another resident who preferred anonymity said the most dangerous part of the road is Zariagi to Lokoja gateway which is about 3km and between Zariagi and Osara which is about 25km.
A victim who was almost kidnapped a few days ago just before Osara, Fatima Mohammed told Leadership weekend that she was in a commercial vehicle traveling from Okene to Abuja.
“We left Okene at about 9am that day and after traveling for some time, we realised there were no vehicles on the road apart from a truck behind us.
“Suddenly we saw two men standing on the road and realised they were criminals. We attempted to turn back but another group accosted us from behind, we ran into the bush as they started shooting.
“In the process of running I ran into a tree which got me injured, the criminals on searching some of us realised we have no money and no status to fetch them ransom money.
“They just took the few cash in us and ran away before the police arrived. It was on a Sunday morning when the road is usually free of traffic”, she stated.
For Aisha Abubakar whose cousin was kidnapped around Abobo near Itakpe, the experience was harrowing.
“The experience was harrowing as the innocent man was only driving my mother to Lokoja when they were ambushed by a group of men.
“That part of the road was bad, my cousin couldn’t manoeuvre the car to escape them. They took my cousin and left my mother in the car at about 6pm.
“After much negotiation, he was released the following day at about 7pm not only after we parted away with N100, 000 to the criminals”, she said.
While Leadership weekend was on the road, news filtered that a retired permanent Secretary in Kogi State Civil Service has been kidnapped by yet to be identified gunmen.
The source who gave the name as Mr Moses Onivehu was reportedly kidnapped around Osara village on Sunday night.
Leadership weekend learnt that the former civil servant was on his way back to Lokoja after spending the weekend with his family in Okene.
As at the time our correspondent left the road, nothing has been heard of his where about.
Not only humans suffer the humiliation, animals are daily stolen by cattle rustlers who invade farms and also ambush herdsmen.
Leadership weekend learnt that a farmer along the road lost over 140 Cows to rustlers. After three months of intense search, the farmer was only able to recover 50 of the stolen cattle.
Worried by the state of the road and the resultant effect on the people of Kogi State, a group of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) monitoring public procurement, NGO Network recently took up the matter with the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA).
In their letter to FERMA, they described the Lokoja-Okene road as the worst federal road in the country.
According to them, it stems from the reality that the road has never been touched by any maintenance unit of government since it was constructed 30 years ago.
The letter which was signed by the national project coordinator, NGO Network, Mr Mohammed Bougei Attah stated that: “we wish to submit that the Lokoja-Okene highway, albeit Zariagi-Okene roads have suffered the worst form of neglect ever in the history of road maintenance and rehabilitation in Nigeria”.
It further stated that the roads are the major link connecting the north and the southern, east and western parts of Nigeria, connecting seven states in the country and the gateway to Ajaokuta Steel Company as well as the Itakpe Iron Ore Mining Company of Nigeria.
It is no news that Lokoja is home to the first administrative capital of Nigeria. The group lamented that while other federal roads are seeing their second and third rehabilitation including dual carriage way, Lokoja-Okene road remained a nightmare.
Only recently, the Kogi State governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello expressed deep worries over the state of criminalities in the state.
Bello drew the attention of the new AIG of police Zone 8, headquartered in Lokoja, Assistant Inspector-General of Police Tijani Baba on the need to flush out some bad eggs in the police force that involve in aiding and abetting crime.
The Governor spoke when the AIG for the Zone, comprising of Kogi, Kwara and Ekiti States, paid him a courtesy call at the Government House, Lokoja.
This is coming after allegation were made that some police officers were behind the increased kidnapping in the state, and have been giving information to criminal elements to escape without being nabbed.
The Governor lamented that it has been discovered that when citizens volunteer useful information to the police, they in turn, disclose it to criminals, a development he described as very unfortunate.
He promised to give out over two hundred Police Patrol Vehicles to police and other security agencies to combat crime, as part of activities to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the creation of the state to be held on the 27th of August 2016.
Our correspondent was told that since the governor made that announcement of donation of more patrol vehicles, kidnappers sustained their nefarious acts for three days in a row.
To compliments the effort of the state government, stakeholders in the three zones in the state have been holding security meeting to finding a lasting solution to the crisis.
Speaking to Leadership weekend on the matter, the Police Public Relations Officer, Kogi State Police Command, William Ayah reiterated that the Command has added additional four units to the formal three units, making it seven units of police force on the road.
According to Ayah the new AIG of Police has dropped hint that he would not tolerate indolence in the three commands of Kogi, Kwara and Ekiti States.
For the fear of being kidnapped, Leadership weekend learnt that several highly placed individuals from Kogi Central and West have decided to stay clear of the road.
The situation has got many worried for their safety and the criminal gangs are still determine to continue their trade judging by the various tactics deplored by them in recent time.
Credit: Agbo-Paul Augustine /Leadership