Between May 12, when a major robbery incident led to the deaths of four persons and July 22, 2018, when four people were killed, there was no major incident that attracted wide attention, though residents of communities along the Kaduna-Abuja expressway say there were pockets of minor incidences in some of the communities.
In-between, a major incident happened when eight persons were reportedly killed while four others were wounded by suspected rustlers at Kurega village, along the expressway.
The Sunday incident which led to the deaths of four people seems to confirm that the bandits have returned to the route.
Since last week’s incident, the feeling of safety began to give way while drivers and commuters began to avoid the route.
Within the last one month, most of the activities of bandits had been along the Birnin-Gwari - Kaduna road where scores had been killed and many abducted.
Travellers have identified three major spots on the Kaduna-Abuja highway as being the most deadly. They are the portions of the road that border kakau, Rijanah and Jere communities.
Our correspondents observed that most of the criminal activities that occurred along that road in 2017 were within the vicinities of these communities.
Kakau, which has a train station, is said to attract criminals due to the influx of well-to-do people due to its relaxation spots which sell affordable and tasty roasted chicken.
Rijanna, on the other hand, is surrounded by vast green bushes and hills that make it easy for criminals to take cover, while Jere is a busy commercial town that attracts wide range of people due to its use as a stopover for tanker and trailer drivers.
Last Sunday’s attack occurred on the same route near Gidan Busa village, located between Jere and Kateri villages.
A former Commissioner of Education in Katsina State, Prof. Halimatu Sadiya Idris, an army officer and his daughter and a police officer were killed, several others wounded during the attack while many others were abducted.
Husband to the late Professor, Abdullahi Mu’azu, who was the one driving the car when the incident happened said the armed men did not try to stop their car when it approached but that they opened fire from the right flank, shooting at moving vehicles and that a bullet caught his wife who was sitting right beside him in the front passenger seat. She later died at a hospital in Kaduna from excessive bleeding.
“Since nobody asked us to stop, we did not think to stop and there was no roadblock or any object on the road. I was the one driving. Unfortunately, the bullet came through the passenger door where my wife was sitting. It hit her on the shoulder, broke her hand and penetrated her chest,” he said.
The Kaduna State Police Command confirmed the deaths of four persons in the incident and that five others were injured.
Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Mukhtar, said the police were able to dislodge the bandits when they got a distress call from concerned residents.
He said normalcy had been restored to the road with commuters moving safely without molestation
He called on the general public to volunteer information to security agencies to assist them in ridding communities of such violent miscreants.
But a day after, some commuters said there was a robbery incident on the same road. This could not, however, be confirmed by our correspondents.
A driver that plies the Kaduna/Abuja express way, Lawal, said he had every reason to believe that crime had returned to the highway, saying kidnapping and armed robbery had become the order of the day along the route once again.
He said the bandits normally operated and usually had a field day on weekends when many travellers were on the road.
“Issues of robbery and kidnapping reduced at a time, but they seem to be on the increase now. Perhaps the combing of the Birnin-Gwari axis by security personnel has made many of them run back to the Kaduna-Abuja express way.”
“Some drivers have equally been killed and some injured. Some drivers have stopped plying the Kaduna-Abuja highway, some have stopped transportation business totally, while some cannot drive again due to the injuries they have sustained on the road,” he said.
Another driver said it had become pretty difficult to drive along the Abuja-Kaduna highway, adding that the attackers storms the road anytime they deem it fit, while they wreaked “havoc, kill, steal and destroy.”
A resident of Kakau, a settlement along the highway, Andrew, said at about 7.30pm on July 13, 2018, armed bandits blocked a place called Pipeline in Kakau exactly at a point where police mounted a road block.
“Many travellers were robbed while some were kidnapped. A sachet water van driver was kidnapped in the process and was not released until ransom was paid,” he recalled.
“The following day at 2am, the bandits came back shooting again. It’s been terrible. Those of us who live close to the expressway don’t sleep with our eyes closed. These people attack at any time of the day and choose any spot to operate,” he said.
A lady trader who does business and resides along the highway told our correspondents that a letter was sent to Kakau by the bandits, telling residents that they were coming soon on a vengeance mission over the killing of some of their men by soldiers.
She appealed to both the state and Federal Governments to rise up to their responsibilities of protecting lives and property.
“Many human resources have been lost on this highway, government must end these senseless killings and make the state and the country safe for everyone,” she said.
But what might have led to the resurgence of these crimes?
Our correspondents learnt that the criminals might have returned to the route because they observed that security was usually lax during weekends.
“The recent cases happened during weekends or when there was an activity like election when they know that there won’t be much security on the road.
The May 12 incident our correspondents confirmed happened on a Saturday when local government elections were taking place.
Some also said it might have to do with the redeployment of security operatives from the area to other pressing areas like Birnin Gwari.
Our correspondents confirmed that the Birnin-Gwari axis had attracted more attention in recent time due to the frequency and bizarre nature of the attacks there.
One of the drivers that ply the route said it was possible that since they noticed that the concentration is now more on Birnin-Gwari that they (the criminals) decided to relocate where they could operate freely.
Last year, in the heat of the crime, the police command deployed 600 men on the highway to patrol it for 24 hours.
When our correspondents visited Rijana, policemen were camped in a primary school. The presence of security personnel has, however, been scaled down.
DSP Mukhtar said the police had been able to secure the Kaduna-Abuja highway before the recent return of criminals.
He said as part of measures being taken to ensure the attacks did not continue, the Kaduna State Commissioner of Police was collaborating with the Police Force Headquarters in Abuja, to provide adequate security on the highway.
“There is going to be more deployment with more Police Mobile Force personnel along the road,” he said.
He also said there would be more collaboration with locals in surrounding communities, revealing that investigation had shown that some of the bandits had sympathisers among the locals.
“There is going to be more collaboration to enhance intelligence gathering,” he added.
Commenting on the recent attack on the highway that led to the killing of Prof. Halimatu Idris and others, the police spokesperson said the police was having some lead based on the ongoing investigation.
“We will get to the root of the issue,” he said.
Part of the effort put in by the Commissioner of Police to scale down the level of crime is to make suspected rustlers, bandits and kidnappers swear to an oath on the Qur’an or the Bible, that they will no longer engage in criminal activities.
The Commissioner of Police, Austin Iwar, also engaged different community leaders to persuade deviants in their areas to abandon crime and embrace government’s “amnesty programme.”
In one of the ceremonies, a set of 400 bandits and kidnappers swore oaths on the Qur’an renouncing crime.
Iwar said the repentant criminals took advantage of the window of opportunity opened by the government and the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris.
“I assure you, very soon we will begin to recover most of these arms, as some of them have volunteered to hand over their arms back, but not in public.
“One of the strategies we decided to adopt is to see how we can get across to some community leaders in the context of community policing.
“If you want to solve a problem, you have to work with people that created the problem. We also held series of meetings with hunters as a prelude to the series of activities we call Renouncing Violence Strategies,” he said.
It is left to be seen how far these efforts, combined with the resolve to deploy more men on the route, would go in checking the resurgence.
Kaduna travellers recall that when the terminal at the Abuja airport was under repair and flights were diverted to Kaduna, there was high-security presence on the road and criminal activities were at their lowest.