It is becoming increasingly perilous to commute by road in Rivers State as dare-devil kidnappers lay siege to just about every road in the state, snatching passengers away for ransom. ANAYO ONUKWUGHA writes.
From late last year, kidnappers who seem to operate freely along major roads in Rivers State, especially the East-West Road and the Port Harcourt-Owerri Road, started targeting commercial buses of most popular transport companies and their passengers.
Just last Monday, August 7, 2017, 16 passengers of a commercial bus were kidnapped along the East-West Road at Elibrada community in Emohua local government area of the state. The commercial bus which was travelling from Port Harcourt, the state capital, to Lagos State, was intercepted by gunmen at about 7:30am in the morning.
It was further gathered that the gunmen ordered the driver of the bus, which is owned by a popular transport company, and all the passengers out of the vehicle before marching them into a nearby forest.
Several others cars that were en route the East-West Road to the destinations were forced to go back to the Port Harcourt till 8am when movement resumed on the road.
A source, who craved anonymity disclosed that the armed men used tree trunks to block the highway and that when the bus got to the point unknowingly the kidnappers materialized around the bus shooting heavily.
The source further disclosed that the hoodlums shot directly at the bus, but stated that no dead body was found in the abandoned bus after the incident, adding that the occupants of the bus were moved to an unknown destination by the criminals gunmen on gun point.
Speaking on the hijack of a commercial bus and kidnap, the police public relations officer (PPRO) in the state, Omoni Nnamdi, a deputy superintendent of police (DSP), claimed that it was only five passengers and the driver of the vehicle that were rather taken away.
Omoni said, “Five passengers were kidnapped on the East-West this morning (yesterday). Three of them have been rescued already and the police have also gone on the trail of the criminals to rescue the remaining two people.
“At no time they will be released. The CP (commissioner of Police) has made deployment in the area to ensure they are released unconditionally.”
Before this incident, seven passengers, including two female workers of the Rivers State Judiciary, were kidnapped along Elele-Isiokpo axis of the Port Harcourt-Owerri Road in Ikwerre local government area of Rivers State on July 4, this year.
The two female judiciary workers were identified as Carol Tams-Tolofari and Ibim Opusunju, who are vice-chairman and secretary, respectively of the state chapter of the Judicial Staff Association of Nigeria (JUSUN).
It was gathered that the victims were kidnapped after their commercial bus, which was coming to Port Harcourt, from Abuja, was ambushed by gunmen, near Isiokpo, headquarters of Ikwerre local government area of the state.
Chairman of JUSUN in the state, Comrade George Sokari, who confirmed the abduction of the seven passengers to newsmen in Port Harcourt, said Tams-Tolofari and Opusunju, were returning to Port Harcourt after attending the union’s meeting in Abuja.
Reacting to the abduction of the two union officials and five others, the chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in the state, Comrade Beatrice Itubo, expressed shock over the incident, and appealed to the abductors to release them unconditionally.
Itubo reminded the abductors that their victims, especially the two judiciary workers are civil servants and have no money to pay for ransom to secure their release.
She urged security agencies in the state to swing into action and ensure that the two judicial workers and five other passengers of the commercial bus are released.
On June 7, 2017, seven passengers were abducted from a commercial bus traveling from Omoku, the headquarters of Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni local government area of the state to Port Harcourt, the state capital.
In September last year, 14 staff of an oil company, Nestoil were abducted when their company bus was ambushed by gunmen along the Omoku-Elele Road in Ogba/, Egbema/Ndoni local government area of the state. The kidnappers later abandoned the bus after moving the oil company staff to their hideout.
In August, similar kidnap took place on Elele Link Road, this time the gunmen allegedly set the bus on fire before disappearing with the passengers into a hide out.
Way back July 2016, 14 passengers travelling from Warri in Delta State to Port-Harcourt, Rivers State were kidnapped by gunmen along the East-West Road at Rumoji in Emohua local government area of the state.
The kidnappers demanded a ransom of N1 million to secure the release of each passenger, bringing the ransom to a total of N14 million, but late reduced the ransom to N100,000 for each passenger.
The kidnapped passengers had been travelling in a 14-seater bus owned by one of the popular transport companies (name withheld) when they were ambushed by the gunmen. A security agency connected to the transport company later recovered the bus from where the incident happened.
In June last year, a commercial bus was ambushed and hijacked by suspected kidnappers operating along Kalabari-Ogbakiri-Emohua Road in Emohua local government area of Rivers State. The driver of the ill-fated bus was conveying six persons, including two other drivers, from Buguma to Port Harcourt, when the vehicle came under attack.
It gathered that some drivers were seen at the Abali Motor Park around Mile One area of Port Harcourt after the bus failed to arrive at the destination. One of the park officials confirmed that some of the passengers were later released by the kidnappers.
The chairman of the Community Development Coordinating Committee in Asari-Toru local government area of the state, Saturday Ngorji, who confirmed the hijacking of the commercial bus then, said it was intercepted at Israel-Ama Junction by the hoodlums, who took away all the passengers, including the driver.
According to some rescued kidnap victims, the hoodlums alway demand for the automated teller machine (ATM) cards of their victims and then take time to withdraw from all in their accounts while the hostages are with them.
A source said, “The kidnappers keep the hostages in their custody, demand for their ATM cards and ensure they withdraw all the money there before releasing them. In some cases, they ask the hostages to call people to send money for their release.”