On a weekly basis, John Dike travels to Abuja through the Port Harcourt/Elele/Owerri road to transact one business or another. But the danger constituted by armed bandits on that road has forced him to change his mode of transportation. He now goes by air. Although his new means of transportation is quite expensive, he said his safety was more important than the additional money he spends on his trips.
The Port Harcourt/Elele/Owerri road, as well as Ubima/Omeleru road, in Ikwerre Local Government Area of Rivers State, has become a deathtrap. On a daily basis, passengers and motorists are abducted and taken hostage. Despite the presence of a combined team of policemen and soldiers who mount many roadblocks on the road, kidnappers operate without hindrance. There are more than 13 police and army roadblocks on the road, along which there’s a thick forest.
The road is the gateway to Imo, Anambra and Delta states, as well as Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and Lagos.
The road has become so dangerous that a lot of travellers avoid it like a plague and those who do not have an alternative ply it with much fear and anguish.
In August this year, the Rivers State command of the police said it rescued eight persons from an 18-seater passenger bus that was hijacked at night by gunmen along Elele-Omarelu road.
Confirming the incident in Port Harcourt, the public relations officer of the command, DSP Nnamdi Omoni, said six of the passengers were held captive for days before they were rescued, adding that two corpses were recovered from the kidnappers.
The bus was reportedly travelling from Owerri, Imo State, to Port Harcourt when the bandits ambushed and diverted it to an unknown destination.
The commander of the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) monitoring unit in the state, Bennett Igwe, whose team rescued the victims, had assured members of the public that efforts had been intensified by his team to ensure a successful and safe rescue of the remaining passengers.
The victims were later rescued after spending six nights in the kidnappers’ den.
Shortly after that incident, another 18-seater bus returning to Port Harcourt from Abuja was hijacked along the same road. All the passengers were taken hostage for days until they were rescued by the IGP monitoring team.
The wife of a Port Harcourt-based Anglican Church pastor, Rejoice Nwosu and her colleague were also kidnapped around the Isiokpo-Elele axis of Port Harcourt-Owerri road recently. They later regained freedom through the efforts of the IGP monitoring team.
Our correspondent gathered that a man, his wife and two children who were also abducted along the same route by the same criminal gang were later set free by their abductors. They were reported to have embarked on a journey from Port Harcourt to Owerri with their children who were going back to school when they were ambushed and taken to a nearby forest.
A brother-in-law to Rejoice, who identified himself as Wosu, said the kidnappers called the clergy when they realised that one of their victims was his wife.
A source who simply identified himself as Owhonda said the victims were released without any ransom. He disclosed that the wife of the pastor and her friend were admitted in a hospital for medical attention, while the man who was abducted alongside three members of his family was taken to Isiokpo police division to recover his car.
Also, residents of the state, especially motorists and travellers who ply Elele, Omerelu and Ubima routes are scared over the activities of notorious kidnappers and ritual killers.
Our correspondent learnt that in most cases, kidnap victims are killed after huge sums of money are collected from their relatives.
A kidnap victim, Precious Isiguzo, who escaped from kidnappers’ den, narrated how she escaped from ritual killers operating along Chokocho, near Igwurita. Isiguzo told our reporter that she boarded a bus from Igwurita to Chokocho but ended up in a bush where kidnap victims were kept and butchered for ritual purposes.
“I came back from church and I was to go for child dedication. I stopped at Igwurita junction because I was going to Chokocho. When I entered a bus I met four young women and three boys. I entered the bus because I thought it was a genuine passenger bus. After the police checkpoint, the bus was parked and we were ordered to come down. The next place I saw myself was inside a bush.
Inside the bush, I saw how human beings were slaughtered. Those criminals told us that they dealt on human parts – they don’t kidnap for ransom. The girl who was with me in the bush was shot. She was crying and shouting the name of Jesus, pleading for mercy. They butchered her into parts and one of them immediately put up a call to somebody to come and pick them,’’ she narrated.
Isiguzo was lucky as she escaped from the bush when the killers started quarreling.
“I would have been the next victim but God put quarrel among and I escaped,’’ she disclosed.
Isiguzo commended the police for their efforts at rescuing kidnap victims in the state, saying the pressure mounted on the criminals through the tracking device assists victims to escape from their abductors.
One of the victims of the Omerelu incident, who pleaded anonymity, said all the female passengers of the vehicle were stripped and raped by the bandits.
Narrating their ordeal, one of the drivers of the 18-seater buses hijacked by the kidnappers, Martins Aluziwe, said they took off from Control Station in Owerri, en route Port Harcourt, but the incident happened about 7:15am.
When contacted, the Commissioner of Police, Rivers State command, Almed Zaki, said his men had increased patrol along the road. He said he had directed them to redouble their efforts at raiding all the hideouts of the criminals, including bushes and forests.
A victim of a recent kidnap incident along Omeleru road, who pleaded anonymity, said he paid a ransom of N200,000 to regain freedom when he was abducted.
“I was in a passenger bus while returning from Owerri. It was about 7:00pm, and as we approached Omerelu we sighted a roadblock mounted by three young men. I thought it was a police roadblock until we got close to the barricade. As soon as we got close, two gun-wielding youths flagged us down and ordered everybody to come down. We came down and everybody was matched inside the bush. They demanded N10 million, but I was later able to free myself with N200,000 after spending five nights inside the bush,’’ he narrated.
He called on the Rivers State Government and security agencies to beef up security in all the routes.