•Attacks that informed Akeredolu’s action
Edozie Udeojo, Amusan Aina
The peace and tranquility hitherto experienced in Ondo State, is gradually being replaced by fear and uncertainty, as the state grapples with a new wave of criminality – kidnapping!
Many indigenes and residents alike, have had their fair share of experience in the hands of kidnappers.
Saturday Nigeria Daily findings revealed that these kidnappers consist of two major groups: criminals who masquerade as herdsmen. These herdsmen intercept vehicles on highway and whisk their victims into the forest, from where they contact their families for ransom. This group also attacks victims in their farmlands and takes them into the forest reserve areas, from where negotiations for their release are made through telephone conversation.
Another group of kidnappers in Ondo State are those suspected to be Militants , majority of who live In the riverine areas. For this group, its members operate both in and outside the state.
On May 25, 2017, its members stormed Igbonla Model College in Epe, through the river, abductedSix students, all boys and ferried them back to their hideout at Aboto Creek, Ilaje Local Government Area of Ondo State.
The students were kept in the creeks for 64-days, as their captors insisted on collecting ransom running into several millions of naira from the Lagos State Government under former Governor Akinwunmi Ambode’s administration, before releasing them.
They were eventually released and reunited with their families, after GovernorAkeredolu ‘s personal intervention. In fact the students’ stay in the kidnappers’ den was recorded as the longest in the South West.
Kidnap for rituals
While the Igbonla kidnap gang does its for business, investigation further revealed that some of these kidnappers who operate in Ondo State do so for money rituals purposes. They kidnap their victims, cut off parts of their bodies and abandon the rest. At times, their victims were never traced.
An instance was the case of the abduction of a 13-day-old baby, in December 2018. Two armed menhad stormed Uro quarters in Ajowa Akoko, Akokho North West Local Government Area of Ondo state, about 1am and picked the baby who lay beside his sleeping mother .
On their way out, a Septuagenarian whom they met at the veranda, was matcheted and abandoned in the pool of her blood .
But kidnapping by some herders has assumed a horrible dimension owing to the mercilessness with which they operate. They kill their victims at will, without recourse to the sanctity of human life, or consideration for age, sex and status in the society.
In 2018, four persons , among them a lecturer of the Rufus Giwa Polytechnic Owo (RUGIPO),Taiwo Akinyemi , were abducted at Amurin Village in Owo Local Government Area of the state.
Others were members of staff of the Federal Medical Centre Owowere. While the latter were freed after payment of an undisclosed ransom, after spending six days in the forest, 52-year-old Akinyemi was not.
Rather, he was killed and his lifeless body found tied to a tree in the forest. His offense was simply because his family failed to produce the ransom on time.
Same year, the Senatorial candidate for the Ondo North senatorial district on the platform of the African Democratic Congress, Jide Ipinsagba, the party’s Chairman, Bisi Ogungbemi and three others, were kidnapped along Owo-Oba Akoko road. On their part, they were released , but not without payment of ransom.
Three years earlier, former Secretary to the Government of the Federation SGF, Chief Olu Falae was a guest of the kidnappers for days . In his case, he was kidnapped right in his farmland at Ilado , Akure, the state capital, on his birthday.
That fateful Monday, some armed herdsmen , as narrated by him, stormed his farmland, brushed him with a knife, as a warning for him to cooperate with them. Thereafter, they dragged him barefooted into the forest.
The journey from his farmland started about 2.30pm , until they arrived at where he was kept by 2am.
Throughout the 12-hour journey, he was neither offered food nor water to drink.
The herdsmen, six of them, who referred to him as baba ,threatened every 30 minute, to kill him if money for his ransom was not paid. Thursday morning was given as ultimatum for the ransom for his release to be paid ,failure of which life would be snuffed out of him. Luckily, ransom was paid 21 minutes before the ultimatum.
One of the operations of the herdsmen turned kidnappers that shook Nigeria and beyond, was the killing of Mrs Funke Olakunrin, daughter of 95- year old Pa Reuben Fasoranti, the national leader of the Pan Yoruba Socio- Political group, Afenifere.
She was shot dead by suspected Fulani herdsmen along the Benin/Ore expressway in 2019. Her vehicle and others ran into the barricade mounted by the suspected herdsmen. In the kidnappers bid to do what they knew best, they fired indiscriminately in an apparent bid to bring the vehicle to a halt.
Unfortunately, a bullet hit her, killing her on the spot, while other occupants were abducted.Four suspects were later arrested.
First class monarch
Another climax of the state of worsening insecurity in Ondo State was the murder of Oba lsreal Adeusi , allegedly by herdsmen, last year November, at Elegbeke village along Akure/ Owo highway.
Children not spared
Children are not spared either, by these vicious elements. For instance, last November, three children of the same parents were abducted by gunmen along Owo/ lfon highway, alongside their mother , while traveling to attend a festival at Imoru , in the Ose Council area of the state. They were released after N2.5 million was paid as ransom.
Travelers are major targets of these kidnappers. They come out of the bush, harass travelers with gunshots and whisk many of them into the bush, from where they contact their families for ransom. In one of the instances, nine travelers who were on their way to Lagos from Abuja, were abducted at Ago Asabia, before Elegbeka. and whisked into the bush.
16 market women leaders too
Also last November, 16 travelers were abducted by the suspected Fulani herdsmen along Akure/ Owo highway..
Amongst them was the Iyaloja of Isua Akoko in Akoko North East council area of the state, Chief Mrs Helen Edward and other council officials who were travelling to Akure, the state capital for the state government monthly meeting of Iyalaje, iyalojas. They were abducted between Ogbese and Uso and demanded a N100 million ransom for their release .
Gov. Akerodolu CSO’s wife too
Again, last November, the wife of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu Chief of Staff, Chief Olugbenga Ale and her friend , were kidnapped at Owena in the Idanre council area of the state. Her kidnap sent fear down the spine of politicians and their families , as they were unsure of who would be the next victim.
She was said to have been rescued two days later, following the joint operation mounted by the Amotekun Corps and other security agencies in the state and after exchanging gunshots with her captors.
Couple, three children
Recently, a couple, Mr and Mrs Gbenga lbikunle , were abducted along Uso – Owo highway, while travelling to Ebonyi state, in the company of their three children.
Unlike the previous case, the children were abandoned inside their parents Lexus jeep on the highway, from where they watched helplessly with tear-filled eyes as their parents were being marched into the bush.
They were however released three days later after paying N2million ransom.
FUTA Deputy Registrar murdered
While Mr and Mrs Ibikunle lived to share their ordeal in the kidnappers den, same was not the case of Deputy Registrar of the Federal University of Technology, Akure, Ondo State, Dr Amos Arijesuyo , who was shot in the chest by kidnappers at Iwaraja area of Ilesa- Akure highway, in Osun State while travelling back to Akure from lbadan, a week ago. His driver narrowly escaped the same fate but the bullet hit him in the arm.
Irked by the brazen effrontery with which these herdsmen in the state, GovernorAkeredolu issued a seven-day warning to herders to vacate government forest reserves and also banned night grazing and cattle movement by underage within cities and highways in Ondo State
He stated emphatically that security reports and debriefings from victims of kidnap cases pointed in one direction traceable to some criminals masquerading as herdsmen.
The Governor in an interactive meeting with the leadership of the Hausa/Fulani and Ebira Communities in Akure, decried activities of the criminal elements whom he said had turned forest reserves in the state and across the Southwest into hideouts for keeping victims of kidnapping, negotiating for ransom and carrying out other criminal activities.
He however, gave one-week grace to those who wished to carry on with their cattle-rearing business to register with appropriate authorities.
Cheers and knocks
Since Akeredolu handed down this ultimatum , it has been greeted with mixed reactions. While some applauded him for being bold to make such a pronouncement, others were of the view that he overstepped his bounds as they argued that such comments could spike violence.
The Presidency frowned at Akeredolu’s pronouncement , as it cautioned him that such a statement could set off a chain of events which the constitution anticipated and tried to guard against.
But some bodies also backed Akeredolu, alleging that the Presidency has failed to take actions against criminal herdsmen whose operations have caused pain and sorrow in many parts of Nigeria.