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Ehor-Auchi highway robberies rob Benin city of its beauty

...Beautiful city of Benin, jungle of horrific experience along Ehor/Auchi highway

Benin City, the Edo State capital, known as the heartbeat of Nigeria, famous for its landmark cultural artworks and historic earthworks referred to as the Benin moat (“iya” in Edo language).

Edo, a nodal state to the southern, northern, and western parts of the country, is second to none in its good road networks which make it possible for travellers to pass through the state to other parts of the country.

Amazingly, while passengers embark on the road through the city, they are exposed and thrilled to its rich cultural heritage and masterpiece of artworks that always make them relish the prospect of taking another trip through the city.

But, surprisingly, the sounds and sights are short-lived as soon as they step into the jungle of Ehor/Auchi highway.

Travelling from the beautiful city of Benin to the jungle of Ehor/Auchi highway, where kidnappers hold sway, intimidate helpless motorists, is fast becoming every commuter’s nightmare.

It was a near-death experience for David Ozigbo (name withheld), at the break of dawn, while travelling through the now dreaded Benin-Ehor-Auchi road that links Edo State to the Northern part of Nigeria, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.

After evading capture, he woke up at an undisclosed hospital battling for survival following a gunshot that glanced off one of his eyes and shattered the windscreen of the vehicle he boarded.

Few months after struggling to offset his medical bills and gradually recovering from the trauma, passengers, including farmers, traders, and students, plying the routes have continued to witness series of attacks by unidentified assailants.

The Benin-Ehor-Auchi road, on a daily basis, witnesses a huge volume of traffic. Localized in South-South Nigeria, the road leads to major towns, cities, and institutions of higher learning, including Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Auchi Polytechnic, Auchi, Edo State University, Uzairue.

Kidnapping, for some time now, has been rife along Benin-Ehor-Auchi highway in Uhunmwonde Local Government Area of Edo State.

They shoot from ambush at innocent commuters, scurried their victims into their den, scare them with death threats and force them to contact their loved ones, demanding huge ransoms in exchange for the abductees.

Read also: ‘We’ll make Edo medical destination for other states’

The situation has further impoverished Nigerians, destabilized plans of affected families, and placed them in distress.

The most recent activities allegedly perpetrated by the kidnappers is a graduate of Architecture from the Ambrose Alli University (AAU), Ekpoma, Ella Williams, who was reportedly shot dead while on her way to school along Benin-Ehor-Auchi highway.

The deceased was said to be travelling from Benin to Ekpoma to pick up her call-up letter – a document used to mobilize corps members – for the one year compulsory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), when gunmen shot at their vehicle, killing her on the spot while other passengers were abducted.

Sequel to the incident, protests erupted on the ever-busy Ehor axis of the Benin-Ehor-Auchi highway in Uhunmwonde LGA of Edo State, over the unbridled activities of kidnappers.

The protest disrupted vehicular movements in the axis, leaving motorists stranded, while some travellers had to make a detour so that they could get to their respective destinations.

Another recent attack, which happened on Tuesday, June 15, along Ahor bypass in Uhunmwonde Local Government Area of the state, involved an expatriate working with a construction company in the state who was abducted.

Considering the huge vehicular and human movements along the routes, Gabriel Enoghalase, a resident, recommended that the government should seek help from local hunters in the axis and pay regular stipends to the local vigilance group as it will significantly reduce the menacing situation.

“The security implication, especially between Ehor and Iruekpen, from Ehor to Ebele, Agbor, Ekpon, Ewohimi, has a telling effect on movements of the people from Benin City to communities in Edo Central and the northern part of the state.

“Everyone travelling along the aforementioned routes puts their hearts in their mouth until they get to their destination for fear of being kidnapped by criminal elements,” Enoghalase said.

He lamented that the security challenges have become worse, thus frightening women who travel to village markets through the roads and pushing up the cost of food in Benin metropolis.

Although significant efforts have been made by the government and security agencies to remedy the situation and reduce it to the barest minimum, commuters are still terrified on a daily basis.

Recently, the Edo State government under the leadership of Governor Godwin Obaseki warned communities along the Benin-Auchi highway against conspiring with criminals to commit illegal activities on the route.

The state government and the heads of security agencies, in a meeting with community leaders, youths, and other stakeholders, said authorities have received more information to supplement the security architecture already established by the State governor, Godwin Obaseki.

Speaking at the meeting on Thursday, June 24, in Edo State, the state’s deputy governor, Philip Shaibu tasked those residing in the communities to jointly work towards ending kidnapping and other unlawful acts for the common good of the people.

Shaibu opined that “we have discovered that the issue of security has to be localised and in localising it, you must hear directly from the people.

The deputy governor added that “we came here for a fact-finding mission, we already have a security architecture that the governor is already working to deal with this menace. Youths last week protested here and we needed to come down to the community to actually know what the issues are and how to deal with them.

“We have the information, we need to understand it deeply, and fortunately for us, some of the things we have put in place are some of the solutions they are suggesting to us and we have learned one or two other things that we needed to add to the security architecture. We are good to go and what we have agreed is that we all have to domesticate every aspect of dealing with security.”

Reassuring Edo people of increased police presence in the area, the state’s Commissioner of Police, Phillip Ogbadu, urged residents in communities along the route to provide relevant information about the activities of kidnappers to the authorities.

Ogbadu, who said that some community members have more information about the activities of the criminals, however, cautioned residents in the axis against conniving with criminals.

“Also, we need information from the communities because to us, it appears that there are some community members that have more information and we have impressed on them to give us information and if there is anybody benefitting from it, we want the community to open up and search within so that if there is any deviant benefitting from what is happening, we will know and bring them to book.”

Kontongs Bello, the state’s image-maker, told BusinessDay that operatives of the force have been mobilized to comb down bushes so that criminal elements trying to lay ambush can easily be spotted by oncoming vehicles.

Bello hinted that the command is adopting another strategy to end kidnapping which according to him cannot be mentioned to the public for now until it is carried out.

“The command is doing its best to end kidnapping in that axis. The criminals no longer have their camps there; they come in, commit their crimes, and leave,” he said.

On the synergy between the command and the state vigilante security network, he said, “we are in a good working relationship. Presently, they are together in the bush.”

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