By Dayo Johnson
MOTORISTS plying the Akure-Ilesha expressway have cried out over the incessant robbery activities by hoodlums suspected to be herdsmen who kidnap, rape, kill, maim and dispossess them of their hard earned money running into millions of naira in the last two months. Infact, deep rooted fear now grip motorists plying the highway following reports of the daily robberies carried out there. Reports have it that passengers in commercial buses result in fervent prayers when they are about getting to this axis of the highway and after escaping any attack, they give praises to God for their divine escape.
Within this period, some important personalities have lost their lives during the spate of unchecked robberies on the highway. More worrisome is the lukewarm attitude of security operatives in both Ondo and Osun states to the plight of motorists who cannot but ply this road because of a lack of an alternative. Of concern also was that the robbers carry out their nefarious activities despite several security check points on the busy expressway. Some motorists believed that the robbers live inside the thick forest and return there after each operation outwitting security agencies each time.
Escape from the robbery scene
Reports had it that the robbers also engage in kidnapping on the road and only release their victims after payment of ransom by their families. One of those who met his untimely death was the former Managing Director of Daily Times, Adinoyi Ojo Onukaba, who was killed while returning from the launching of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s Presidential Library in Abeokuta, Ogun State. His vehicle ran into the robbers during one of their operations in the area around Ero village just before Ilara Mokin in Ifedore council area of Ondo State.
Onukaba who reportedly abandoned his vehicle to take cover at a nearby bush was, however, knocked down by another commercial bus, trying to escape from the robbery scene. He died instantly after the bus ran over him why trying to find a hiding iplace. The bus driver then escaped.
Vanguard was equally informed of the murder of a top banker with one of the new generation banks in Akure, Ondo State, Sola Abe, by the hoodlums on the same highway. The late Abe who was travelling alongside his driver to Lagos on official duty was attacked by the robbers. Abe’s lifeless body was later found in the bush between Igbara Oke/Ilara Mokin in Ifedore council area of the state three days after they were attacked. His driver however survived but with bullets lodged in his body. He was on admission in the hospital for weeks.
Findings from motorists plying the highway showed that the operations of the robbers have been extended to areas such as Owena, Erin Ijesha and Ipetu Ijesha in Osun State.
Victims narrate ordeal: Narrating his experience in the hands of the robbers, a commercial bus driver, Alaba Odusote, said that his vehicle was badly damaged when he managed to escape from being attacked by the hoodlums between Ipetu Ijesha and Owena in Osun State last month. According to him, “The robbers shot at the bus and I lost control of it. They came after us and ransacked the bus, carting away passengers’ goods and money and injuring occupants of the vehicle in the process. I spent about four weeks in the hospital nursing the injuries from the accident and the gun shot.”
He said that the attackers mostly wielded cutlasses, knives and clubs, adding,“several efforts had been made by the community heads in the areas, such as seeking the assistance of security operatives to curb the activities of the armed robbers who seemed to have made the highway their den.”
Odusote, however, said that the security operatives in the state should not rule out the fact that some of the perpetrators lived within these communities where these robberies were carried out, pointing out that the Police had failed to curtail the activities of the bandits. A community leader, Alhaji Lateef Ibiyemi, lamented that the Police had not been as cooperative as they would have expected in curbing the activities of the bandits on the highway.
Ibiyemi said the Police had failed on several occasions to respond to distress calls made to them by victims and motorists. He passionately appealed to both Osun and Ondo State governments to save the people from the hoodlums who are terrorizing motorists on the highway.
Odusote said, “When the road was bad, people used to sleep on this road without fear, but the robberies, which evolved into a trend, since the construction of the road; have made it more or less a taboo to travel any time on this road without fear.”
Vanguard was informed that some communities in the areas had formed themselves into vigilante groups following allegations that some of their youths perpetrate the crime.
The efforts of one of such vigilante groups, with the assistance of military men who were stationed at a checkpoints foiled one of the robbery operations recently as they engaged the bandits in a shoot-out which led to the killing of a member of a six-man armed robbery gang which operated along the Akure-Ilesha road.
Others who escaped into the thick forest reportedly sustained gun injuries during the shoot-out with the military men. Vanguard learned the robbers were operating in the early hours of the day when the vigilante group and the soldiers manning the checkpoint at Igbara Oke were informed.
Assistance of military men
On arrival at the scene, the robbers engaged them in the gun duel and were able to foil their operation. Findings by Vanguard showed that the robbers usually operate during the rush hours of the morning or during weekends and in the evenings when motorists are returning home. The robbers, who operated in large numbers, usually use heavy tree trunks to block the highway, in order to force their victims to stop before attacking them. Reports had it that the robbers are usually in groups of not more than 10 when embarking on an operation.
Vanguard was informed that the robbers do not use masks to shield their identities during operations. It was gathered that while some operated on the road, others positioned themselves on the branches of trees while another group acted as the armourer that supplied arms to those operating on the road from the side bushes.
The robbers, according to findings, usually camouflage by dressing like the villagers or farmers returning from their farms before attacking the unsuspecting motorists. Another tactic used to stop vehicles was to pretend to be hawking cold drinks in the scorching sun.
Police assures of safety: Speaking with Vanguard, the state Police command image maker, Femi Joseph, confirmed the activities of the robbers on the road but said that the highway is now under 24hr survillance. Joseph added that the command had fortified the area by deploying both plain clothe and uniformed detectives to patrols the road following complaints from motorists.He confirmed that the police, military men and some vigilante groups in the area recently engaged the hoodlums, killing one of the robbers while others escaped with bullet wounds. Joseph assured members of the public that the state police command was on top of the situation.
Also, speaking on the activities of the hoodlums on the road which incidentally has a military check point on the axis and their foiling of a robbery operation recently, the Assistant Director of Public Relations of the Artillery Brigade, Captain Ojo Adelegan, appealed to the public to offer useful information that could lead to the arrest of fleeing members of the robbery gang.
Adelegan said, “The general public is hereby enjoined to please give useful information on any suspected criminals and their hideouts to the security agency in Ondo State. The Nigerian Army and other security agencies in the state would continue to ensure the security of lives and properties of the people of this state.”
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