Kidnappings seem to have spread to Abuja in the past month after several people were reportedly abducted in different parts of the city. The most recent was on Kwame Nkrumah Crescent outside Blinkers Plaza in Asokoro on September 14, where Aisha Umar Ado, a 24-year-old daughter of a former governorship aspirant in Adamawa State, Umar Ardo, was kidnapped at about 7:45pm.
The manager of a supermarket in the plaza, Emmanuel Ameji, narrated how his attention was called to the kidnapping of a customer. He said Ardo came into the premises with a driver who waited for her while she shopped, but when she returned a second time the driver parked outside the premises. That was when they learned that she was kidnapped.
It was reported that the gunmen who drove away in an ash-coloured Toyota Camry car initially parked close to the plaza and whisked her at gun-point to an unknown destination. She was however released after a ransom of $15,000 was paid in bitcoins (crypto currency).
Another victim who preferred to remain anonymous narrated his ordeal in the hands of kidnappers within the capital’s city centre on September 7.
“I was driving back to my residence when I ran into a group of torch-lights around 12am. I had earlier gone home but had to step out. It was very dark and bushy on the path to my home. I tried to reverse and make a getaway, but unfortunately the car fell into a ditch and got stuck. They were four and came over and grabbed me from the car. Then we began a journey into the bush that took six hours,” he said.
He added that he was taken to a mountain far away from town, and that was where he stayed for three days. His kidnappers were between the ages of 19 and 30 and spoke Fulani and Hausa.
“I was treated well on the mountain, they brought rice, beans and the like, although I wasn’t eating. I wasn’t tied and their faces were not covered but I wasn’t allowed to look at them. I was free throughout my captivity. We chatted and they asked questions about issues like amnesty, what I do and so on. They even allowed me to perform my ‘salat’ (prayer). They were with me throughout the three days. It was from there that they communicated with my relative who brought the ransom. I didn’t initiate any conversation with them, I only answered their questions and they commended my composure. I was calm and careful. Whenever it rained, we would be under it, although there was one time when they brought a plastic for us to cover ourselves,” he said.
He was held with a woman who was released on the same day.
Grumbles on the system
He revealed that the kidnappers ranted about the injustice in the Nigerian system, the lack of jobs, embezzlement by government officials and so on, while people suffer. “She wasn’t molested to the best of my knowledge, even their commander was particular about that and said that wasn’t their priority,” he said.
He said after his relative paid N3m bargained from the initial demand of N100m, he was released. “It was on the other side of where we came through, and I just found myself on the expressway. It was when the car started moving that I noticed I was on Airport Road. They gave me N1,000 for transport,” he said.
“I really think it’s the bandits from states like Zamfara who are coming to Abuja because they believe it is the hot spot. The kidnappers were uneducated, although very organized as they were very careful not to call their names. They spoke fully in Fulani and I don’t speak Fulani, so I couldn’t get a hint of who they were,” he added. After he was set free on September 10, he said the police came to take his statement on September 11.
“I also got my car that was in the station back,” he said. Parents of two children who were alleged to be kidnapped also declined to speak to our reporter when we approached them at their home at Wuse 2 to tell us what their children went through.
All efforts to get them to talk failed as the father rightly declined to speak saying he doesn’t want to speak saying anyone who doesn’t believe the story shouldn’t pray to find themselves in that situation. The Islamiya our reporter noted was about two streets away from the house, even though a mallam at the Islamiya said the alleged kidnap didn’t happen at the Islamiya.
Taken in Gwarinpa
When Helen Ikechukwu (not real name) decided to take a cab from Galadima in Gwarinpa to Dutse Alhaji in preparation for a skills acquisition programme the next day, she had no idea what was to befall her.
“I never knew someone was inside. I just turned to drop my bag and one of them hit me hard on my face. I wanted to scream but they asked me not to talk and collected my bag. They then started beating me and held me till the next day,” she said.
Helen explained that the two young men, between the ages of 30 and 35, didn’t have masks but she was ordered not to look at them and was beaten until she disclosed her ATM pin.
“That was when they pushed me out of the car after taking my bag. I was stranded because they took all I had. They withdrew all the money I had in my account, over N200,000. There was the physical cash I had in my bag and the wristwatch I bought from Ghana, which cost about N200,000.”
She could not recall where the kidnappers left her. A priest helped get her to a hospital, after which she went to the police station in Galadima and gave a report. “Till date they have not got back to me on any arrest or finding from their investigation,” she said.
The FCT police commissioner, Bala Ciroma, told Daily Trust Saturday that all the black spots within the city metropolis have been marked and police personnel have been deployed with patrol vehicles.
He, however, said the command had only been able to get only two kidnap cases within the city, which included a Baze University lecturer and Aisha Ardo, whom he said was rescued by the police due to intelligence information. “Investigations are still ongoing which I cannot reveal now because it will jeopardize the entire investigation,” Ciroma said.
“What we have been doing is to intensify vehicular patrols, raids, stop and search operations within the metro.
“We require a lot of information to succeed and that is why we reached out to various stakeholders across the territory. The information we are getting from the public are really yielding good results.”
According to Ciroma, the command has been able to arrest some of the suspected kidnappers as a result of the synergy between the police and other security agencies within the capital city.
FCT comparatively safe – Minister
The FCT Minister, Muhammad Musa Bello had, after a security meeting with heads of the police, military and para-military formations in the FCT, as well as area council chairmen and religious leaders, said in comparison to several cities around the world, the FCT remained quite safe.
Intelligence analyst faults IGP
Dr. Amechi Nwokolo, an International Terrorism and Intelligence analyst, said he listened to the Inspector General of Police’s effort to assuage fears among members of the public that the FCT is very safe and found it disturbing.
Nwokolo narrated how several military personnel, within the last month, had been attacked, beaten and some even killed while boarding cabs. “One of them was beaten terribly. She serves in one of our most important security architecture.
They tried to collect her money between Area 1 and Abacha Barracks,” he said. “Another soldier was picked up immediately after the Democracy Day parade near Maitama Junction. They collected his allowance, beat him up mercilessly and threw him in the bush. Yet another was stabbed to death after being picked close to the barracks,” he said.
The intelligence analyst wondered that if this can happen to military personnel, what about civilians. “It is very unfair to say these things are not happening. We can’t sweep it under the carpet. We must find a pro-active way of approaching the situation,” he added.
The way out
Nwokolo lamented that officers and other military men loiter around doing administrative work instead of being in the field.
“People conversant with certain environments should be posted there, even if it is on covert operation. Sting operations should be organized more to arrest these criminals,” he said, adding that dangerous routes in Abuja include Nyanya, AYA and Zuba.
“There is also the Lugbe to Area 1 axis and Berger to Kubwa. Between the hours of 9am and 4pm, you see a lot of such criminal activities going on. It is difficult for them (criminals) during the rush hours. They are able to operate when the roads are free,” he said.
Murky, groggy roads
Nwokolo stressed that many parts of Abuja are in darkness and the roads are not in good shape.
“It is a shame that the minister from 2015 to 2019 was brought back. Right now, there are plans to spend money on CCTV (Close Circuit Television cameras), but we know how it happened in the past. The authorities should make a policy where private businesses and individuals are encouraged to have CCTV cameras. Countries rely on private individuals and businesses to provide information,” he said.
A retired Commissioner of Police (CP), Lawrence Alobi, told Daily Trust Saturday that kidnapping has become a common phenomenon in Nigeria and one of the serious crimes confronting many states including the Federal Capital Territory Abuja. He advised people to install CCTVs in their business environment to help in checkmating crime.
The massive deployment of policemen to known kidnapping flashpoints around the country would serve as an immediate short-term measure of curbing the menace, a socio-criminologist, Professor Femi Odekunle said.
Bad governance, a ready cause
Odekunle who spoke to Daily Trust Saturday on telephone explained that decades of maladministration and bad governance are to blame for the current spike in kidnapping and other crimes in the country. He bemoaned that the current recruitment and training of policemen, adding that it must be proper and thorough.
Bitcoins for ransom? Chimezie Chuta, the coordinator of Block Chain Nigeria User group, said constitutionally, only the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has the authority to issue currency that can be a legal tender within the country. As such, bitcoin, which is a virtual currency, is not legal tender in Nigeria.
“It is also not an illegal tender because it a peer-to-peer cash, and as far as the receiver is comfortable with the payer, the transaction can be contracted. So, because of the peer-to-peer nature of bitcoin, it does not need to be legal tender before it becomes an instrument for transaction,” he said, adding that the organization is pushing for a regulatory framework required to manage the use of and transactions of digital financial aspects, so as to curb activities of people who use technology to practice their criminal enterprise. Chuta continued:
“We want a proper regulatory policy for operators in the industry. When it comes to digital transactions like bitcoin, the operators, that is, the exchanges are the gateway for entering in and for escaping. For instance, nobody can buy bitcoin except he/she has money and he can only buy it from an exchange.
“So if an exchange is made to comply with regulatory requirements, and also made to maintain anti-money laundering policy, as well as reporting principles and standard, then, it will be very easy to be able to utilize the entry and exit point to regulate what people can do and what they cannot do,” he explained.
Easy to trace
The IT expert disclosed that it is easier to trace bitcoin transactions, noting that the user’s wallet every time is interacting with the internet and as long as it does so, proper forensic analysis can be done to capture who has the wallet.
“Bitcoin is not anonymous, it is pseudo-anonymous, meaning that, even if you cover yourself while collecting, we can go to the back to remove your face and know who you are. Bitcoin is a good thing. You cannot use it without being identified.
“When a wallet address is created and you have a KYC of the owner, you can easily trace the person based on the documents he/she submitted. Proper KYC means a verified identity. We also pushed for application of BVN number for the exchanger.
” An Associate Professor of Economics at University of Abuja, Prof. Mohammed Yelwa, said bitcoin is not tenable in Nigeria and it could be difficult for it to be converted to actual naira or dollars.
Residents take precaution
“Whenever I go out and do not return by 6pm or if my uncle gets home before me, he would quickly call or send a text telling me to return home on time. For every message he sends during the day, it ends with “please be safe,” a National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) member, Oluwaseun, serving in the FCT, said. Oluwaseun, who lived in Lagos with his parents, said one night he had stayed out long because it was his first time in Abuja and found his uncle waiting by the door when he returned. “That was when he told me that Abuja was no longer safe due to some cases of abduction,” he said.
Another resident, Mrs. Abidemi Adeleye, became vigilant when she received a forwarded message on social media that the FCT was under siege. She said whenever her four-year-old boy leaves for school, she warns him not to leave the premises or collect food, biscuit or anything from strangers. “Now, it’s either I pick my children from school or my husband does. I do not send anybody to the school,” she said.
Mrs. Adeleye also showed our reporter, from her phone, a copy of a press statement issued by the FCT Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Anjuguri Manzah, where the police reassured the public that the FCT was safe and that it had reinvigorated its crime-fighting strategy to ensure the protection of lives and property.
But this did not help in addressing her fears because, as she said, kidnapping in the FCT is not an isolated case, it has been happening in other states and is now spreading. Fortunately, the private school Mrs. Adeleye’s children attend in Gwarinpa has CCTV cameras in its entry and exit points. “You will have to go your child’s classroom to pick him, and if a stranger wants to pick your child, the school would notify you,” she said.
While Mrs. Adeleye’s children attend a well-fenced school with CCTV cameras, Mr. Uche Anthony is worried about the thousands of secondary school students whose parents cannot afford a car to drive them to school or have their mothers pick them up after school hours.
“These children walk long distances to school, be it a bush path or expressway. We have seen crimes being committed in these areas, so nowhere is safe, but God has been keeping them,” he said.