Railway workers, non-passengers, S’South residents among abductees – NRC boss, official
Two underage victims rescued, suspect arrested as FG, Obaseki condemn kidnapping
Soldiers, police personnel and vigilantes are currently tracking the abductors of no fewer than 31 train passengers who were whisked away from the Tom Ikimi Train Station, Igueben, Edo State, on Saturday.
Among the victims are the Manager of the station, Godwin Okpe and head of security of the station, simply identified as Ikhayere and 29 passengers.
The incident is coming 10 months after bandits attacked the Abuja-Kaduna train service, killing 14 passengers and abducting 65 others. They were released after spending months in captivity and paying ransoms.
The Managing Director and Chief Executive of Nigeria Railway Corporation, Fidel Okhiria confirmed to The PUNCH on Sunday that security agencies were on the trail of the abductors believed to be armed herdsmen.
He said, “The police, vigilante and Army are all after the people in the bush; that’s all I can say. There are certain things that we need to clear before we issue a statement.”
The Force Public Relations Officer, Muyiwa Adejobi, also affirmed that efforts were ongoing to rescue the abductees.
“We will give necessary support to Edo State Police command and Railway Police Command on the rescue of the abducted victims; efforts are being intensified to rescue them and arrest the culprits,’’ he assured.
When asked about the nature of support being given to the state command, Adejobi simply stated, ‘’Support is support. It’s a security matter’’ and declined further comment.
The PUNCH, however, gathered that the Inspector-General of Police, Usman Baba, had dispatched police special squads, including the Intelligence Response Team and Anti-Terrorism Squad to Edo State to rescue the victims.
The squads, it was gathered, would complement the efforts of the police in the state.
A senior officer stated, ‘’The IG has deployed the IRT and the anti-terrorism squad to Edo from Force headquarters. But the security agencies should have taken pre-emptive measures by deploying armed agents around the stations.
“There are communities around the area who can also give information to the security agencies. Though the area is forested, it is not that thick.
They (security agencies) should liaise with the community and vigilantes for information on the kidnappers. There was a time I complained about that station when I was going to Warri. It is a bit lonely and isolated; it is not by the roadside. I don’t know why they didn’t take note of that fact. I saw a few policemen but they were not enough.
‘’They should have posted at least 10 policemen to guard that station. I know they have closed the terminal at Ayangba road; they are using the one at Itakpe. They should have taken note of the incident that led to the shutdown of the terminal at Ajaokuta.’’
The PUNCH gathered that two children aged between two and five, whose parents were believed to have been abducted, were in the custody of the Police Headquarters in Agbor, Delta State.
Most of the victims, it was learnt, were from the South-South and South-East.
Efforts to confirm from the state police spokesman, Chidi Nwabuzor, if the children were in the custody of police did not succeed as calls to his mobile phone did not go through neither did he respond to an SMS sent to him.
This newspaper reports that the Itakpe-Warri train is the only train service for passengers going to the South-East and South-South.
Passengers going to Benin, Warri, Agbor, Asaba, Port Harcourt, Yenagoa and Aba are known to patronise the train service.
The Edo State Commissioner of Communication and Orientation, Chris Nehikhare, said one of the abducted victims escaped at 8.15pm on Saturday, noting that 31 others were still with their captors.
He also disclosed that a suspect had been taken into custody.
Nehikhare stated, “The kidnap is the most difficult occurrence in the state currently. Few armed men who came with vehicles at about 4pm started shooting indiscriminately at the Igueben train station, kidnapping 32 while many others were injured. They came with cars but took their victims into the bush on foot.
“The police, working with the vigilante and hunters, started combing the bush almost immediately and one suspect has been arrested and he is helping the police in their investigation.
“The Deputy Governor, Philip Shaibu visited the scene of the incident and we are sure that with a suspect apprehended, the investigation will lead to the arrest of others and the rescue of the victims.
“The state government commends the police for their prompt response while we also praise the vigilantes and hunters who took part in the bush combing operation. We hope this will be the last time occurrence like this will happen in the state.’’
But the managing director of the NRC said the corporation could not confirm the number of abducted people. He stated, “We don’t know the number of persons abducted because when there is a stampede like that, you won’t know. It is not that they lined themselves up before they were carried. They would have taken some people that are not passengers. The only thing I can confirm is that they took two of our staff.”
The police spokesman for Edo State according to a report by AP, said the kidnappers “shot sporadically into the air” before taking the passengers, leaving some with bullet wounds, Nwabuzor said, “Rescue operations are underway to find the victims and arrest the abductors.”
Shedding light on the incident, an NRC worker who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, “As I speak, two little children aged two and five years were seen inside the train and are with the Railway Police in our headquarters in Agbor. Their parents were abducted. The little girl aged five years was able to identify their area (community) in Warri.
“We understand that no fewer than 25 passengers were abducted. Among them are husbands and wives. Others are some shop owners and two NRC staff.’’
Narrating how the attack was carried out, the worker said, “The bandits appeared after the arrival of the train at the Ekehen Station. They started firing gunshots in the air and later made their way into the train, telling all passengers to lie down flat before ordering them outside into the nearby bushes.
During the attack, both passengers and non-passengers such as shop owners and okada riders were abducted. The victims were picked at random, depending on their clothes, dressing and the wrist watches they were wearing.
‘’In some cases, husbands and wives were picked; they also went away with some men and left their wives and vice versa. A survivor said the attackers were selecting those that were rich, those that wore expensive wrist watches and clothes; those that are fat and look well fed. In fact, a woman who was standing on the road was ordered to go back because she looked haggard.”
Meanwhile, the Federal Government has condemned the abduction, describing it as barbaric.
FG condemns attack
This was contained in a statement by the Director, Press and Public Relations, Ministry of Transportation, Henshaw Ogubike, on Sunday.
The statement read, “The public is hereby reassured that the security agencies are making efforts to rescue the kidnapped train passengers. The Nigeria Police is on the trail of the criminals and have mobilised with a view to protecting the lives and property of the remaining passengers.
“The government is saddened by this unpleasant development and assures its prompt response to the ugly situation. Further details will be communicated later.”
The Delta State Governor, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa similarly deplored the abduction of the passengers in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr Olisa Ifeajika, on Sunday.
Okowa observed that the activities of gunmen across the country had remained a disturbing phenomenon.
Calling on the security agencies to rescue the victims, the governor admonished the Federal Government to “drop its lethargic attitude and cosmetic approach toward fighting insecurity in the country.”
He asked the FG to stop toying with the lives of citizens.
“As a country, we must be deeply concerned about the activities of armed groups and non-state actors trying to destabilise our nation. With the general elections a few weeks away, this dastardly act is not just worrisome but condemnable, and we urge security agencies to quickly track and apprehend the gunmen and rescue the victims.
“On behalf of the government and people of Delta, I sympathise with the authorities of the Nigerian Railway Corporation and families of the kidnapped intending passengers at the train station. Our thoughts and prayers are with their families at this difficult time and we pray for the early return of the victims to reunite with their families,’’ Okowa, the vice presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party standard bearer said.
Commenting on the abduction, the PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, stressed that the country urgently needed state police.
The former vice-president, who said this in a Twitter post on Sunday, promised to put in place specific initiatives if elected president in the coming election.
“The attack on a train station in Igueben LGA of Edo state, during which armed men kidnapped an undetermined number of people is the latest in a long condemnable line of security breaches previously unseen in our national history,” Atiku wrote.
He added, “The thoughts of my family and I are with the abducted and their families as we pray for their safe return. While we pray, it is important also to point out that this serves as the latest reminder of the urgent need to reform our security architecture to better safeguard the lives and properties of Nigerian citizens.
“We can do this by doing the following; amending our constitution to allow for state and community policing as a first line of security. Modify our security apparatus to pay a greater premium to intelligence gathering and crime prevention than our current reactive approach.
‘’It is unacceptable for terrorists to plan attacks of this nature, mobilise arms and ammunition, secure funding and move large numbers of people across large spaces without detection by security agencies.”
Atiku said there is a need to deploy technology toward tracking terrorists and degrading their existing capacity to attack the people.
He advised the FG to apply the diplomatic pressures needed to stem the free flow of light arms and assault weapons across the West African sub-region and the borders.
By doing this, he explained, the nation can severely restrict the capacity of terrorists to re-arm themselves to execute attacks.
According to him, reducing the numbers of out-of-school children and improving the economy to create jobs for the vast numbers of unemployed Nigerians would limit the pool from which the terrorists recruit people for their nefarious activities.
The Onogie of Igueben and Okaigun of Esanland, Ehizojie Eluojierior I, noted that the kidnapping of the train passengers had devastated the community.
He told The PUNCH that most incidences of abduction in the area go unreported.
He said, “The mood in the town is quiet; the police, vigilantes, and the hunters are working together on the issue. They combed the bush till midnight on Saturday and resumed on Sunday morning.
‘’I heard there have been similar attempts in Delta State by bandits from other parts of the country, which were repelled. The attack took everyone by surprise and it happened at about 4pm when the train was being expected.
“We are still trying to find out if our people were kidnapped or shot. Some people might probably be in the hospital but we are still trying to get details of what happened. No community member has come forward to complain about the kidnap of their family members.’’
The Executive Director, Esan Youth for Good Governance and Social Justice, Benson Odia revealed that a woman escaped during the abduction, noting that the station manager and booking clerk were also missing.
Odia lamented that the attacks were being carried out with the connivance of the locals from Igueben and environ.
“At about 8.15 pm, a woman escaped and found herself in Okpoji in Esan Central and she was reunited with her family. The woman is not from Igueben, she came for a ceremony and was at the station to take the train back to her destination in Warri.
‘’These attacks have become incessant in Edo Central and it is becoming difficult to use the Federal roads. I will call on the state government to work with the Federal Government to site a military base in Esanland. We are aware that kidnappers have their camps in Igueben,’’ he added.