[TNG Special Report] Abuja: Seat of power, den of kidnappers
The Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja is not only known as a resident to top echelons of government but headquarters to various federal security agencies in the country. Little wonder the general perception that its approximately 7,315 km2 landmass would be the safest in the country.
Formed in 1976 from parts of the states of old Kwara, Niger, Kaduna and Plateau States with the bulk of landmass carved out of Niger State, it came into existence due to a need to find a replacement for the capital city of Lagos which had become congested and had little space for expansion.
The territory is located just north of the confluence of the Niger River and Benue River. It is bordered by the states of Niger to the West and North, Kaduna to the northeast, Nasarawa to the east and south and Kogi to the southwest.
Lying between latitude 8.25 and 9.20 north of the equator and longitude 6.45 and 7.39 east of the Greenwich Meridian, Abuja is geographically located in the center of the country. This perhaps justifies why it is called Centre of Unity.
However, despite the brilliant display of gigantic buildings of the various security agencies (Police, Military, Navy, Air Force, DSS and para-military corps) in strategic locations within the territory, insecurity of lives and properties still remain a major concern.
While it is true that insecurity is a global phenomenon, the increasing crime rate in Abuja is worrisome- From bloody protests/processions to broad day kidnappings to gruesome murders to ‘one chance’ operators, Abuja has given many of its once-loyal inhabitants a doubtful mind on its hitherto ‘city of refuge’ status; no thanks to the helplessness of the Nigerian security agencies.
To make matters worse, rather than tackle the insecurity monster headlong and at least offer some soothing words to residents who are mostly at the receiving end, the FCT Minister, Mallam Muhammad Bello who was recently reappointed by President Muhammadu Buhari during a meeting with the FCT Security Committee which comprised of Heads of the Police, Military and Para Military formations in the FCT, Area Council Chairmen and religious leaders last week Tuesday said: “So every resident in a way is also a security officer. it is very important for residents to be vigilant and to be very conscious of their personal security”
”If for instance, you see a vehicle without a number plate, it means that vehicle is not registered and can be used for criminal activities, please report to the relevant authorities.” However, what the minister failed to provide a response to why and how an unregistered vehicle will be moving around freely in a territory he governs without proper documentation despite the security concerns in the FCT.
Meanwhile, a cross-section of the residents while reacting to the minister’s statement said they already took their security personal since the criminals now operate in broad daylight without fear of arrest by the security agencies.
Michael lives in Nyanya but works in Maitama. He told TNG that the minister’s advice came a little too late as most Abuja residents neither look up to government or security agencies for protection. “The minister is probably thinking they are responsible for the security of lives and properties in Abuja. He’s mistaken. Abuja residents have taken that basic responsibility from their shoulders long ago because they have repeatedly failed them. People now source for private security and pay handsomely for it. Even the ghettos and villages are not left out in this. It’s obvious that only those in government are safe. If it’s not Shiites today, it is one chance tomorrow, kidnappers or even some trigger happy policemen/soldiers testing their shooting skills on innocent residents. And the government has been dead silent on all of these because they are not directly affected. My brother, we are our government here in Abuja and indeed Nigeria.”
Bloody Shiites processions, NASS invasion
Nigerians, especially those in FCT will not forget in a hurry the recent bloody protest/procession by aggrieved members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) to free their leader, Sheikh El-Zakzaky and his wife, Aminat who have both been in DSS custody since 2015.
The protests which occurred almost every other day became so violent that the federal government had to approach the court to secure formal proscription of the adamant Shiites group. It also banned procession outside government buildings on July 18. Tensions then escalated on July 22 as the shiites members and security forces exchanged fire. At least 13 people died during the crackdown, including a top police officer and a Channels TV reporter covering the story on the scene.
As expected, the experience left several residents devastated. A resident who witnessed one of the protests shared her experience with TNG. “We don’t really know what Abuja is turning into. These El-Zakzaky boys are so ruthless and confrontational. Most of us were caught unawares during the protests. The presence of heavily armed security operatives is no guarantee that you are safe. Several innocent people lost their lives. It was a tragic experience and we don’t pray for a recurrence because the government is so helpless. The masses are always at the receiving end,” she said in an emotional laden voice.
Sophisticated ‘one chance’ operators
Aside from the now rested bloody processions, residents of Abuja, particularly pedestrians also live in daily fear of some daredevil robbers who operate via commercial vehicles luring unsuspecting passengers. Popularly called ‘one-chance,’ these unscrupulous elements trap, rape and in most cases drug and kidnap their victims.
In time past, various forms of vices like robbery, snatching of bags, pick-pockets and “one chance” were only rampant in places like Lagos, Aba, Port Harcourt and Kano states but the winds of this criminal activity seems to have blown far, even to the seat of power.
These robbery gangs often operate with commercial taxis. They have members of the gang in the vehicle, usually painted in the normal Abuja green commercial colours. Members pretend to be genuine passengers and drive around looking for victims.
They do not pick more than one or two victims at a time. Then they drive them to a remote place, where they are threatened with gun, cutlass, charms or other dangerous weapons and dispossess them of their money, handsets, and other valuables.
Sometimes, after dispossessing the unsuspecting passengers of their valuables, they push them out of the moving vehicle, and if they are kind enough, they stop for their victim to alight before they zoom off. These gangs operate mostly during the early hours in the morning and late in the evening.
They have added another dimension to their operations as they now target the SIM cards of their victims, alongside ATM cards. It has been discovered that, with the SIM card, they can access their victim’s bank verification number (BVN) and have total access to other accounts linked to it.
However, these robbers do not stop at that. With the advent of bank automated teller machine (ATM) as well as the Point of Sale (POS) which helps to reduce the volume of cash people carry on them, the gangs have devised new methods of robbing unsuspecting passengers.
They have realised that some people have their ATM cards in their bags or wallets, so, instead of robbing a passenger that falls prey to them and allow him or her to go, they search the passenger, take their ATM cards, take them to a particular destination and hold them hostage and demand for their ATM card pin number. Woe betides such victim if he should play smart by giving a wrong password, as he may not come out of their den alive.
Having disclosed the security code, one of the gang members would rush to the bank to empty the victim’s account, that is if they did not carry the POS machine with them.
A senior correspondent with TNG was not spared when he recently fell victim to the ‘one chance’ devils. The ugly incident happened on the eve of the rescheduled presidential and National Assembly elections. Despite the heavy presence of security operatives in Abuja express roads, the ‘one chance’ armed robbers still had a field day on that fateful day.
The robbery happened between the Ministers Hill Bus stop along the Kubwa Zuba express road.
According to him, immediately he boarded the saloon car he was made to sit in between two men.
He said” within a three-pole drive they announced themselves that they were robbers and pulled out three revolvers.
“The one by my right pointed his shotgun at my head while the one by the left pointed his in my stomach.
“The one with the driver pointed at my head and demanded my ATM card and its PIN.
” The first PIN I gave was wrong after they cross-checked with the POS and immediately threatened to blow of my head so I gave them the right PIN.
“After checking they gave me my ATM and phone SIM card after they checked and made their confirmation.
“My guy it was a harrowing and terrible experience because for every question I received a severe blow to my head.
” I was mercilessly beaten before I was shoved off the moving vehicle.
“After my ordeal the vehicle still went back to the same spot to continue the raid and I met two other victims trekking home who had a similar experience.
Recall that Ministers Hill and Berger bus stops are flash points for such raids in recent time.
Multiple kidnap cases
Perhaps, the most dreaded of the nefarious activities of these deadly gangs operating on a free-for-all mode in the FCT is kidnapping for ransom. Most residents now watch their backs in the wake up to this new development which occurs on almost a weekly basis.
TNG recalls that earlier in the month (precisely Sunday, September 8, 2019) over 13 people were reportedly kidnapped within Abuja and along the dangerous Abuja-Kaduna road. The police commands of both the FCT and Kaduna State confirmed some of the kidnapping cases.
In Abuja, a lecturer at Baze University, along Jabi Airport Road Bypass and daughter of a former governorship aspirant in Adamawa State was kidnapped. Aside this, one Hannah Azubuike and two teenagers returning from Quran lessons were also reportedly kidnapped Habiba Plaza, Maitama and Wuse Zone 6 respectively but the FCT police command only confirmed that of the lecturer and the politician’s daughter.
While the police successfully freed the lecturer from his abductors, however, the story was different for the ex-guber aspirant who confirmed paying abductors of his daughter $15,000 in bitcoins before she was freed.
However, the Public Relations Officer of the FCT command, DSP Anjuguri Manzah later released a statement insisting that some of the kidnap cases were exaggerated and not as bad as people made them appear on social media.
The statement reads, “It is pertinent to inform the public that the police has successfully rescued the Baze University lecturer, who was kidnapped on September 8, 2019.
“The command wants to also inform the public that it has commenced discreet investigation into an unfortunate kidnap case that took place at Asokoro on September 14, 2019.
“The police are currently making concerted efforts to rescue the victim.
“Contrary to speculations on the social media about an upsurge in this crime, the command wishes to correct the notion and inform the public that the aforementioned were the only cases reported and efforts are ongoing to arrest the suspects behind the crime.”
TNG reports that while the kidnappers were having a field day in the FCT metropolis, some armed bandits in their usual manner were also fearlessly abducting innocent travellers on the Kaduna-Abuja highway, same day!
The Public Relations Officer of the Kaduna Police Command, DSP Yakubu Sabo later confirmed the incident.
The abduction follows the killing of three suspected kidnappers and the arrest of 26 others by the police on the Kaduna-Abuja and Kaduna Zaria expressway barely 24 hours to the day of the kidnap.
Sabo revealed that the hoodlums dressed in military uniform, intercepted a commercial bus around 11:40pm on Sunday near Rijana Village and whisked the six persons away.
According to him, the police managed to free two of the victims from the kidnappers while efforts were ongoing to rescue the others.
The cases identified above are just a few that happened in September. Several other ones (both reported and reported) had happened before and after.
Abuja remains one of the world’s safest cities – IGP
Meanwhile the Inspector General of Police, IGP, Mohammed Adamu, shocked many last week when he dismissed the speculation making the round that the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja was under siege of kidnappers, saying that the city “is safe, secure and not under any form of siege”.
TNG reports that Adamu said this in reaction to reported cases of kidnapping in the federal capital territory in the past 48 hours.
While observing that, like other climes across the World, the country has its security challenges, the IGP, however, pointed out that a comprehensive analysis of crime statistics on major cities across the world would reveal that Abuja has one of the lowest crime rates and remains indisputably one of the safest capital cities in the world.
He stated that “the Federal Capital Territory Police Command has a robust anti-crime architecture which is continually rejigged to effectively tackle prevailing and emerging crimes.”