Tuesday Column By VICTORIA NGOZI IKEANO
The recent attack on the convoy of the Nasarawa State deputy governor, Dr. Emmanuel Akabe who is barely three months old in office along the Lafia – Akwanga road in Nasarawa state is not the first on V.I.Ps (very important personalities) on that highway. What is shocking is that one, two, three policemen and two other persons were killed by the apparently rampaging bandits. Dr. Akabe himself who was visibly shaken at such deaths was unharmed. The deputy governor had to shelve his official assignment to Abuja, headed back to Lafia, the state capital and immediately visited the State Specialist Hospital where corpses of the fallen policemen and others were deposited. According to accounts at about 6p.m., the convoy was alerted of a robbery operation ahead of them and stopped for apparent consultation among the security personnel. Thereafter it was decided that the policemen should clear the road for safe passage by leading the convoy and shooting in the air to scare away the robbers. Sadly, the gunmen fired at the policemen, killing aforementioned five persons. They escaped. This writer is ignoring all the conspiracy theories about the incident being spewed by gossipers, male and female alike.
A visibly angry Governor Abdullahi Sule immediately called a security meeting where he vowed to take drastic actions against such hoodlums and their ilk. Governor Sule should be understandably concerned because the northern senatorial zone where this incident occurred is his base, he hails from Akwanga local government area. The governor later told state house correspondents that the bandits were able to gun down the policemen and others because they greatly outnumbered them (police), disclosing that the gunmen were 40! Can you imagine such number of armed bandits carrying out a robbery operation before the deputy governor’s convoy arrived, that is, the scale of their operation, the number of motorists they would have robbed? That would have made headline news. However, the status of Dr. Akabe as a deputy governor and the number of policemen killed overshadowed and indeed ‘killed’ the news of the several other persons that were victims of those robbers that attacked his convoy. Another deputy governor of Nasarawa State suffered a similar fate on that same highway. Some years ago, during the second tenure of then Governor Abdullahi Adamu, his then deputy, Hon. Labaran Maku’s convoy was attacked on the Lafia – Akwanga road. However, there were no casualties as security men in the erstwhile deputy governor’s entourage chased the bandits into the bush where they disappeared.
Way back in 2004 the Benue State governor then, Chief George Akume was also targeted on that same Lafia-Akwanga highway and in fact he lost a friend who sat beside him in his official jeep vehicle. The deceased was Mr. Andrew Agom, then managing director of the now defunct Nigeria Airways. A security detail, Sergeant John Ngam was also killed in that attack which happened around 7 a.m. Akume was heading to Kaduna to attend a meeting of northern governors when the gunmen struck, their bullet piercing the window to hit Agom who sat together with him. He was rushed to the National Hospital, Abuja where he gave up the ghost. To say that the former Benue state governor now a minister of the federal republic miraculously escaped death is no exaggeration. In march of this year the wife of an official of the NUJ Correspondents’ chapel, Nasarawa state and her friends were kidnapped on the highway while on their way to Keffi. They were later released after payment of some ransom. Many a public servant who do not enjoy privilege of police escorts as well as many private citizens have fallen prey to robbers on this Lafia – Akwanga road. And those that ply this road frequently would have experienced having to stop somewhere along the road in a long queue of private and commercial vehicles as news filter that robbers are ‘operating in front’, continuing their journey only when signal reaches them confirming that the hoodlums have left.
This Lafia – Akwanga highway is also notorious for motor accidents. Indeed there was a portion of the road named ‘Many have gone’, so-called because of the fatal accidents that occur there. Before its reconstruction by the federal government (a construction that is still ongoing in certain parts as it is gathered that the plan is to dualise the road), it was a snaky, hilly, undulating highway. Heavy vehicles such as trucks and trailers that cannot climb the hilly parts often break down on the road, obstructing traffic. With the reconstruction the hilly parts have largely been levelled. The ‘many have gone’ portion has been renamed ‘many have survived’. Accidents still do occur on this road though. On September 18, 2012 there was an accident involving a Hilux vehicle with registration number NSGH 37 and a commuter bus with plate number XC212 GW. A total of 19 persons including two policemen died in that unfortunate accident with only one survivor. There are several others involving ordinary Nigerians.
In 2015 a bizarre incident which almost resulted in the immediate past governor, Alhaji Tanko Almakura’s convoy having an accident on this Lafia-Akwanga road occurred. The government in an official statement stated what happened thus, “On Thursday September 10, at about 3p.m. when the convoy of His Excellency was approaching Nasarawa Eggon local government, a vehicle was right in the middle of the road and in spite of several efforts by the police outrider and the pilot to slow the car down, the vehicle remained right in the centre of the road refusing to make way for the convoy which nearly caused an accident. The action of the vehicle gave room for suspicion. After a close look at the vehicle, the Escort commander noticed a woman driving with a minor in the front seat and directed the convoy to track her with caution. This took three to five minutes before the Escort commander managed to halt her. She stopped abruptly on the road forcing the convoy to also stop and other road users, causing heavy traffic along the highway. As she came out she began to rain abuses on the police boasting that she is a lawyer and daughter of a police Commissioner and has the right to drive the way she wants. Noticing her unruly behaviour, the Governor directed the Escort commander to invite the police from the nearest police station to handle the matter to avoid further congestion and obstruction of traffic on the highway while the convoy continued on its journey to Abuja”. The lady had said that she was assaulted, an allegation the governor vehemently denied.
One sympathises with the deputy governor and his boss, the government and people of Nasarawa state, the Police and families of those who lost their lives over the convoy attack by hoodlums. However, it appears the policemen took things for granted. One wonders why they were not wearing bullet-proof jackets. I believe that the appropriate authorities would have learnt some lessons from this ugly incident and that they are taking needed actions to avoid/mitigate similar incidents in future. For the safety of the ordinary users of this highway though, the police should consider reintroducing checkpoints on the road. A police post(s) could also be erected along this road.