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A wake-up call for the South-West

Dele Agekameh

Last week, travellers on the Ibadan-Ife-Akure expressway were accosted by bandits who attacked, injured and robbed people, while shooting sporadically.

Also, in what appears to be a separate incident on the road that same day, one professor from the Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital (OAUTH) was abducted.

The incidents have brought a chilling cold running through the spine of many of us who routinely travel on that road.

This column remembers, with nolstalgia, those days in the late 70s and early 80s when one could move on that road at anytime of the day, even in the dead of the night, without fear that bandits could strike.

Students of the University of Ife, as it was then called, would cram into cars or get on their heavy-duty motor bikes and leave the campus for parties in Ibadan, Ondo or Ilesa by midnight, to return to campus in the wee hours of the morning without hassle. But not anymore.

However, the robberies and kidnappings on that route did not start last week. On June 30, 2009, Prince Dotun Layade, a building engineer and chairman of Dotlay Engineering Company, based in Ibadan, Oyo State, met his untimely death on that road.

He had left his base in Ibadan in the evening of that fateful day, on his way to Igbinedion University, Okada, Edo State, where he was supervising the construction of some buildings.

Unfortunately, he ran into a road block mounted by some bandits along the Ife-Ilesa-Akure stretch of the road. He was kidnapped along with some of the people in his entourage and taken away into a thick forest.

One thing led to another and, Dotlay, as he was fondly called by his admirers, gave up the ghost in the forest while being ruthlessly tortured by his captors.

Of course, not knowing what next to do, his captors fled the scene. His body was later found by a search party after his driver raised an alarm.

Since then, it has been one gory tale of man’s inhumanity to man, as kidnappers and robbers intermittently carry out their nefarious business along that route.

About a month ago, a senior lecturer with the Rufus Giwa Polytechnic, Owo, met his death along that route. Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo, a journalist and former managing director of Daily Times newspapers also died on that road a few years ago.

It is apparent that the innocence of that road in the past has been violated.

The situation is also made worse by the bad state of the road, which slows speeding vehicles and helps the criminals in their nefarious activities.

How many more Nigerians must fall victim before a solution is found to the menace of the bandits on that road and other roads in this country?

At the launch of “Operation Puff Adder” organised in Osogbo by Leye Oyebade, the newly posted assistant inspector general of Police (AIG);

Gboyega Oyetola, the governor of Osun State, had hinted that intelligence reports reaching him indicate that the bandits terrorising Zamfara State and the North-West had started sneaking into Osun and other contiguous States. Nobody needs a soothsayer to prove that any more.

What happened last Sunday is a pointer to the fact that the South-West may very well be under invasion. A source who lives on that axis confirmed that they have been witnessing suspicious movement along that corridor in recent times.

According to the source, truckloads of people suspected to be Fulanis, Malians or Nigeriens, are usually seen passing-by at night, heading to Ilesa or Ibadan.

The professor, Olayinka Adegbehingbe, who was earlier kidnapped last week but has now been released after a ransom was paid, also claimed his abductors are of Fulani origin.

Although one cannot attest to the veracity of the profiling or linguistic knowledge of the victims, their accounts are in line with recent news and observations about the movement of the bandits along that route.

For anyone who thinks that the scale of insecurity in this country tips towards the North, there is news for them – we are all in the eye of the storm.

The whole country is now engulfed in widespread killings, kidnappings, violent robberies and all manner of evil, and there is no sacred place or sacred cow. Anyone can be violated anywhere and at anytime.

Army generals, community leaders, lawmakers, professors, foreigners and ordinary Nigerians are fair game in the pool of insecurity the country appears to be sinking into.

Violent crime in this country is becoming a hot venture, with criminal ‘upstarts’ quickly mushrooming and replicating across the country. In the real business world, this kind of boom is only possible in an enabling environment.

As such, the authorities need to ask themselves how the status-quo is enabling violent criminals to flourish in all corners of the country. Even local and foreign aid workers are being kidnapped and killed while our top security officials are afraid to travel on our roads.

The country has also been struggling to attract investors. But how do we protect their investments and that of the existing investors in the country?

Mohammed Adamu, the energetic inspector general of Police (IGP) has said that the police force is under-staffed and under-equipped, and as such, cannot realistically contain the insecurity that pervades the country. Government strategy has been to utilise the military and form multi-agency security task forces, which, sometimes, includes ordinary citizens and local hunters with their dane-guns.

However, even this has proven to be inadequate to contain the insecurity. It means that the combination of our security forces and volunteer civilians has failed against the marauding bandits and terrorists parading more sophisticated weapons all over the place.

It is often said that, in times of peace, it is advisable to stock up on arms to boost the security capability of a country. This country has not seen peace in decades.

The equipment that materialise from the little funds that actually trickles down to bolster security are immediately deployed in fighting terrorists, bandits, armed robbers, hostile protesters, and periodically, election ‘troublemakers’, not to mention equipment lost during attacks by the same criminals.

As such, there is never enough. Finding recruits for security agencies is also most difficult in times of war, which is why there are war-time drafts. With the many civilian joint task forces (JTFs), it already appears like we are doing just that.

If one is to tell it as it is, the accounts of the attack on the Ibadan-Ife-Akure expressway last week shows that our wildest fears are coming true.

Criminal elements are setting-up interstate networks that may be too hard to contain if those in authority sleep on their duty.

Without intending to be divisive or stir emotions, it is a security breach of the greatest proportions for kidnappers and robbers of other tribes or nationalities, who constitute themselves into an army of bandits, to be terrorising people all over the place.

This is why the leaders of the South-West must come together to device strategies to prevent the zone from being turned into another theatre of war by these migrating bandits.

Unfortunately, some of the leaders, especially the traditional rulers, are currently engaged in supremacy war amongst themselves. They need to wake up to their real responsibilities.

Many of these bandits invariably live among the people, and as such, with concerted effort, they can be identified and exposed.

It is a time for vigilance, for security agencies and ordinary citizens alike. We cannot allow ourselves to be overrun by bandits. Countries that let their security apparatuses to be dismantled in the way we seem to be going almost never recover.

We cannot erect walls between states and regions, as the strength of this country is in our unity in diversity.

However, answers to questions of security begin at the local level, which is why many of us have criticised our northern leaders for so long, even as we sympathised with the innocent victims of their inaction or irresponsibility.

One hopes that indolence does not become a national leadership quality. A stitch in time saves nine.

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