By Obed Minchakpu
There have of recent been upheavals in Nigeria’s northern part of the country where kidnappings have now become the latest crime in vogue. But, behind the headlines of news reports chronicling such kidnappings, the real victims of this crime have been abandoned to their fate and only a few get mentioned in the press as they’re high profile personalities with connections in high places in the society and in the corridors of power.
I decided recently to visit some of the places where these kidnappings have become a phenomenon that has become entrenched in this part of the country. One area I decided to visit is the axis of evil in Kaduna State. What I uncovered on my trip is not only shocking but also baffling. This is because in spite of the number of lives lost and the millions Naira forcefully taken away by men wielding guns as a result of kidnappings, Nigerian Government seems unperturbed by this security challenge as there is glaring evidence that not much has been done to contain the situation.
My experience during the trip to Kaduna State clearly shows that not only has kidnapping become a menace to the communities in the Southern part of Kaduna State, but that this phenomenon has become a dangerous event that is pushing the country to the brink. Unless drastic measures are adopted towards curtailing this kidnapping albatross, I am afraid that this could snowball into a dangerous conflagration.
The axis of evil in Kaduna State can be located within the triangular area encompassing the landmass extending from Kajuru, along the Kafanchan -Kachia-Kaduna highway and Jere, located along the Kafanchan- Kwoi -Bwari Highway, and Sabon Wuse and Ganya, located along the Abuja- Kaduna Highway.
This entire stretch of landmass which houses large settlements inhabited by mostly rural communities whose inhabitants are mostly farmers, has been invaded and taken over by armed bandits (believe to be Fulani Herdsmen and Terrorists) who are working in concert to terrorize local communities through kidnappings and thereby, forcing these poor people out of their lands.
My visit to the kidnappers’ enclave in Kaduna state started at Maraban Rido, a part of the city of Kaduna close to Kaduna Refinery. While here, I needed to hire someone who knows the terrain of the villages around and who was prepared to take the risk on this trip with me. Those I thought could easily find hired hands from were the commercial motorcycle riders known as ‘Yan Achaba.’ I needed one of them to guide me on the route to the enclave of the kidnappers which I found in the course of my investigation to be located around the villages of Kwanti, Tsohon Ganya, and Sabon Ganya.
The Achaba riders on seeing me rushed to get my attention as each of them struggled to have me patronize him. I told them I need to hire someone to take me to Kwanti village. On hearing the name Kwanti, they all dispersed without waiting to bargain with me. One of them told me: “Gaskiya, ko zaka bani milliyan daya, ba zan in je Kwanti ba (Meaning: Even if you give me one million Naira, I will not take the risk to take you to Kwanti).
I did not know how to convince one of them to take the job of being my guide to the area. They instead began to discuss in hush tones between themselves. From what they were saying, I was able to understand that they were speaking Gbagyi language. It dawned on me that I can use Gbagyi language to get their attention. Even though I don’t know how to speak Gbagyi fluently, but I was able to know how to exchange pleasantries with them with little I know in their language.
I decided to use one phrase in Gbagyi language to get their attention: “Agife,” I said as I approached them once more. That did the magic, they all now turned to me and said the trip I was about embarking on to Kwanti is a trip of no return. One of them even told me that his wife is from Kwanti village, but that he would never venture to go there. After much pressure from me, I was able to convince one of them, and Elderly man, who accepted to take me there, but after charging me fives the amount they usually charge.
For the about one hour drive to Kwanti, we never met a single soul on the way, either going to or returning from Kwanti. The elderly man who accepted to go with me to Kwanti, said he accepted it because he believes that if my going to that village will bring to the open their plight as a people, he was prepared to die for it so that his people can be rescued from kidnappers who have made their lives miserable.
My guide on this trip is from the village of Kankomi, but he was ready to risk it by going with me to Kwanti village. He was careful as he led the way. At every village we passed, he would stop and inquire as to how safe it is for us to proceed. And the answer had always been: “watch out, but is the risk worth it?”
The road to Kwanti was nothing to be called a road. It is just a passable bush path that only vehicles fitted with special gear levers that can drive along that dirt path. The small culverts constructed on some of the streams were death traps as one could see large holes on them. Unless a driver is careful in maneuvering a vehicle he could end up crashing into the stream. We kept moving at a slow speed.
Some of the villages we passed on the way as we made our way to Kwanti include: Azunu, Chidunu, Gani, Kashuri, Taso, Kankomi, and, Kabai.
My guide had a built up tension in him as I could see he was sweating profusely. On one side of the road as we got near Kwanti, I saw a hill to our left full with trees. In short the whole environment around us was more of a forest. I could sense the dreadfulness of the area as all around us was weird and eerie.
My guide’s eyes were roving from side to side as he was checking the bushes to be sure that the kidnappers were not lurking around and could not spring a surprise attack on us. To him, we were at that moment traveling in the shadow of the valley death. I kept assuring him not to despair as we are protected by the powers greater than that of the kidnappers, the power from above. In order to assuage his fears, I recited Psalms 23 from the Bible.
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.” (Psalm 23:1 – 23:6 KJV)
Finally, we arrived Kwanti village without being kidnapped; my guide told me that we should not celebrate yet, until we are out of the area.
In Kwanti village there are four churches built by the community. The four worship buildings belong to the Catholic Church, EKAS Church, Baptist Church, and the Assemblies of God. The village has become a ghost village as while there were numerous houses, all have been abandoned by their owners for fear of kidnappers. We met some few persons in the village who were moving their belongings out.
Kwanti, even though a village, its people are prosperous large scale commercial farmers; The reason they were able to build large church buildings. This village had been attacked by kidnappers four times within one year. And in these attacks, lives were lost and many people kidnapped. Millions of Naira was paid as ransom before the kidnapped victims who were mostly women, were released. Some men too, were kidnapped but released after their families paid large sums as ransoms. The community was deserted when the villagers could no longer bear the brunt of incessant invasion of their village by kidnappers.
I was able to speak to the few persons I met in the village, before we departed. I was concerned that there was no longer any pastor left in the village. All the pastors left because the people had fled the village. I got a phone number of one of the pastors and phoned him. He was shocked that I was in Kwanti where he had fled from. He urged me to leave the village immediately as I can become a victim of kidnapping.
“The kidnappers are heartless. They can kidnap you if they spot you. They strike anytime and ransom must paid before a victim can be released. Some times you may not be lucky to come out alive if they kidnap you. So, please leave Kwanti now, and let me know if you’re out of the place safely,” the pastor told me as we ended our phone conversation.
Apart from Kwanti, that has serially been attacked by the kidnappers, other villages also attacked by the kidnappers within that axis include: Ungwar Rimi, Bauta, Kunuko, Ronu, and Taso 2.
On our way out of Kwanti, we decided as a safety measure not return to the city of Kaduna by driving back through the same route we came in to Kwanti. Instead, we took a different route northwest of Kwanti village. The road which is similar to the one we took from Maraban Rido, has broken culverts so we had to drive into the water in the stream to find our way out of the area. Our road led us to Tsohon Ganya, and eventually led us to Sabon Ganya, along the Abuja- Kaduna highway, through Gonin Gora and back into the city of Kaduna.
It was a sigh of relief for my guide when we finally made it back to Kaduna without being kidnapped. It was a tension soaked trip I believe my guide would never want to repeat. A journey to the enclave of the kidnappers which we started at about 10:00 am, took us to Kwanti and out of the area at about 6:00 pm. But even as we thank God for journey mercies and protection, my heart was still with the victims we left behind in Kwanti who were struggling to move their belongings out of the village.
Surprisingly, some of the villagers the following morning phoned me to inquire whether I had safely reached Kaduna. It was touching chatting with them on phone as while I was worried about their safety, they too were praying for my safe drive back to Kaduna.
Nigerian and Kaduna State Governments need to urgently look into the plight of these villagers and take measures to end the menace of kidnappings that have become dreaded monsters devouring innocent lives of our citizens who are toiling the soil just to eke a living.
Copyright (c) Obed Minchakpu, Kaduna, December 2017