Northern Nigerian Breaking News

SPECIAL REPORT: Dilapidated Obollo-Oturkpo road helping kidnappers in Enugu-Kogi borders

By Ben Aroh

The bad state of Obollo-Oturkpo road on Enugu-Benue borders makes passengers travelling from Eastern parts of the country to the North apply Enugu-Kogi route, which today records steady kidnap cases. Ben Aroh examines the economic importance of the road in this report.

Victims Recount Ordeals

Samson Ejikeme, a commercial driver, was in December 2023 kidnapped along Enugu-Kogi border town of Umuopu in Igboeze North Local Government Area of Enugu State. He was kidnapped alongside fourteen passengers in his bus.

Ejikeme, 37, said they were held hostage for four days without food, except gari prepared with dirty water sourced from an unkempt stream. In his words, “They were giving us dirty water sourced from a stream that cattle drank from. Those men were mean. They warned us that if we tried to escape, they would shoot us. They wielded AK-47 rifles.

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“One of the passengers actually escaped at the point of kidnap. I learnt he was a soldier, and risked it because it would have been worse had he been identified as a soldier while in their captivity. What surprised me was that there was no rescue attempt from the police operatives manning the checkpoint close to where we were kidnapped. They must have heard the gunshots of the kidnappers when they confronted us. They shot about ten times, with one of the bullets bursting the front tyre of my bus.”

It was gathered that the victims were charged N1m each, and given a timeframe to pay or risk being killed. Quoting the driver, “They said the ransom on each head was N1m. In the first two days, none of us could pay or even raise the hope of being able to pay because our various families kept pleading for the reduction of the sum. Then they began to threaten us.

They showed us some signs of possible shallow graves and human clothes suspected to belong to kidnapped dead victims. It was night, but the odour was bad. It became clear that we were in danger.

“My own family said they could only pay N100,000. They slapped nonsense out of me. They had separated women from men on the first night of our capture. One of us, a lady, I learnt, was first to pay. I guess she paid N1m. We were made to be lying face down. I had expected to cut off our heads in the extreme case.

“They later told us that the ransom had been reduced to N500,000 when it became clear that none of us could pay the N1m. By then, my family had rallied round to get the money. The kidnappers were calling my brother using my phone. They had power banks to keep our phones charged. They kept relocating us from one thick forest to the other.

“Then the threat. They said anyone who didn’t pay on the fifth day would be killed. They said they would harvest our organs and sell them to YahooPlus Boys. They were speaking Fulani.”
Ejikeme said the kidnappers told the passengers who had already gotten the ransom with their respective families to get across to his brother for delivery.

According to him, “All of them reached out to my brother. They paid the money through him. The kidnappers told him where to enter a bike. He did accordingly and cooperated with them. We regained our freedom on the night of the fourth day.”

Cajetan Ogbu drives a Siena bus. He was also kidnapped along with his passengers somewhere at Ogwugwu, a border community between Enugu and Kogi states. They were on their way to Enugu from Zuba. Ogbu said there might be no solution to the surging kidnap cases along the Enugu-Kogi borders because security operatives were not helping matters.
According to him, “The kidnappers operated unhindered. They mounted a checkpoint and dressed like soldiers. Drivers use the Enugu-Kogi route because it is smooth and faster.

“The alternative is Obollo-Oturkpo road, which is terribly bad. Trailers block the road often. Vehicles steadily break down on that road. Some passengers prefer the Kogi border route.

It takes just about seven hours to get to Abuja from there. So we risk it to save fuel and man hour. But the consequences are becoming unbearable.

“The day they kidnapped us, they took all valuables in the bus, especially food items which they forced some of the abducted female passengers to cook for them. Ironically, I am still using that route till date. Each time I get to the place I was kidnapped, I lose breathe.”

READ ALSO: JUST IN: Police arrest wanted Abuja kidnap kingpin

Unlike Ogbu, another driver that operates on Enugu-Abuja route but forbids using the dreaded Enugu-Kogi border axis is Chinwe Onyia. He said, “I use Obollo-Oturkpo route, but I pay heavily. At times, I leave Enugu around 9am, and arrive in Abuja almost midnight. It costs a lot driving for about eleven hours. Some passengers prefer it because of security. At times, we spend over three hours between Obollo and Oturkpo. I have no choice. I fell into the hand of kidnappers at Ogwugwu once, and it will never happen again to me.

They shot my windscreen when I wanted to reverse, and killed a passenger. I surrendered. I sold everything I had, and also borrowed before I raised N300, 000 to get released. My wife also had a miscarriage because of the stress.”
A passenger seen boarding a vehicle at Nsukka was heard asking the driver which route he would take. She said, “If you are following Kogi, I won’t follow you. I will look for the one taking Benue-Nasarawa-Abuja axis. It is better to arrive safely than to be kidnapped with damning consequences.”

Fix Obollo-Oturkpo Road, Users Beg FG

Onyinye Eze has a restaurant along the road. She said, “The road has become bad. The worst is that the dust generated from the road pollutes the air. Many customers don’t enjoy patronising my shop again because of pollution.

I want the federal government to act fast because we are dying. This place is turning into what Opi-Ohodo-Ogbede-9th Mile road has become. We are afraid because by the time this rainy season sets in, this road will collapse.”

A driver, Onyeke Ikpogu, said, “You can see that motor mechanic workshops, panel beaters and welders are making money here. Vehicles break down on a daily basis.

The shaft of my bus pulled when I was going to Umuahia. The goods I was conveying perished because we stayed two days to get the parts from Jos.”

Another driver, Silas, said, “I follow this road to go to Abuja for safety reasons. But it has increased the distance from Enugu to Abuja. You can travel all the way from Abuja through Nasarawa to Oturkpo in about seven hours. But Oturkpo to Obollo on a bad day can take extra four hours. At times, these trailers pack up on the road, blocking everywhere. We resorted to this route because the better one passing through Igboeze North to Kogi has become prone to kidnapping.

Most of our passengers insist we follow this bad road because of their safety. If it is not repaired before this rainy season, it will not be passable, and the only available route will be the Enugu-Kogi borders. That will mean more money for the kidnappers.”

READ ALSO: Suspected kidnappers kill 2 persons, abduct many on Lokoja – Abuja road

A community leader at Amalla Community in Udenu Local Government Area of Enugu State, Chief Innocent Odo, said, “This is a federal road. There is no political will to fix this road. It passes through a part of Benue that Chief David Mark, former Senate president, represented in the Senate for twenty years. We have always heard that contracts were awarded for its repair, but nothing tangible has happened. Governments of Benue and Enugu states have shown no concerns towards salvaging the situation.”

Silver Lining

The senator representing Enugu North in the National Assembly, Senator Okey Ezea, told THE WHISTLER that efforts were on to provide palliatives on the road. In his words, “I commissioned a team of engineers and cameramen from Oturkpo to 9th Mile, and sent the reports to power brokers. I also met with the minister of works, Engr Dave Umahi.

I also took the battle to the Senate president and the South-east Senate Caucus. I also got the buy-in from my colleague senators from Enugu State and they endorsed the document addressed to the South-east senators.”

Senator Aba Moro represents Benue South in the Senate. Enquiries sent to his email and WhatsApp line pertaining to the road were not responded to.

While the palliatives are ongoing and being anticipated on the Obollo-Oturkpo road axis, the federal government flagged off the dualisation of the Makurdi-Oturkpo-Obollo-Opi-9th Mile road which will lay to rest all the pains associated with the route.

Engr Dave Umahi, minister of works, on Thursday, January 25th, 2024, flagged off the road, giving hope of a light at the end of the tunnel. The length is 260 kilometres. It will be funded by the federal government and the Export-Import Bank of China.

Inside the Kidnappers’ Den

Security operatives have been accused of having links with the kidnappers along Kogi-Enugu borders. Sylvester Ezema was among those who secured his freedom after ransom was paid.

He said, “Our kidnappers are Fulani. The way they handle their guns makes me believe that they are professional marksmen. Again, they shot at us openly, and not far from a police checkpoint. And there was no rescue effort from the police operatives. I suspect something. All the days we stayed there, there was no security raid to secure our release.”

Ezema’s brother, Nnamdi, negotiated the release of his brother. He told our reporter that, “I reported the matter to the police when the kidnappers established links with me. Police told us to be careful in negotiating the ransom so that we could regain my brother’s freedom without much delay.

They say we should not tell them that we had much money, but to continue saying that we were borrowing. That was the only thing they told us. Why didn’t they follow us to capture the kidnappers who were communicating with us live from Ogwugwu forest?”

Monday Eze is a member of Enugu State Forest Guard. He said, “From our findings, we suspect that the kidnappers work with the soldiers stationed along the roads as well as some of our local criminals who give them information.”

However Enugu State police public relations officer, DSP Daniel Ndukwe, said he was never in the know of any allegation of police operatives conniving with kidnappers. His short response was: “I don’t have such report. Did the person report the situation to the police station?”

This report is with the support of Civil Media Lab


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