On 7th March 2017, the Nigerian government announced that it was closing the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja for renovations that were fourteen years overdue. This announcement was immediately met with apprehension, skepticism, criticism and concern for various reasons.
The first was the inability of the Kaduna Airport to handle the volume of air traffic currently being handled by the Abuja Airport. According to figures from the Nigerian Airport Authority (NAA), Kaduna airport handled 12 flights in December 2015, compared with 812 handled by the Abuja airport within the same time period.
The second cause of concern had to do with the level of insecurity in and around Kaduna state. Kaduna has been in the media for a number of reasons majority of which have to do with security related incidents including: constant protests and clashes between government security forces and members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) over the continued detention of their leader.
Incessant kidnapping along the Abuja-Kaduna Highway is another major insecurity issue in the area. The worst part of which has been the inability of government security forces to prevent such kidnapping and highway robberies.
Most recent security challenge in Kaduna has been the constant cases of “Fulani Gunmen (or Herdsmen) carrying out attacks against whole villages, killing, maiming and destroying properties. Again, government security forces have been unable to apprehend and prosecute any of the perpetrators, neither have they been able to bring an end to the attacks.
These and many more are part of the reason foreign airlines have refused to fly into Kaduna airport while the Abuja Airport is closed.
To appease local and foreign jittery nerves, the Nigerian Police and other concerned security agencies stated that they have begun ramping up security in and around the airport as well as along the highways. The Inspector General of Police stated that the force would deploy land and aerial surveillance along the highways, along with counter terrorism, Canine and anti-bomb squads to handle security in and around the airport.
The FRSC also stated that it had set up eight outposts and four ambulance points to handle emergencies along the Abuja-Kaduna road. The distance between the Kaduna Airport and the Abuja drop off point is approximately 199 kilometers.
The airport closure is inevitable, therefore those who must conduct necessary travel must ensure they put in place and utilize appropriate security measures to travel and stay safe. This report takes a deeper look at some of the threats and risks associated with the traveling to Abuja while the airport is closed. It also gives recommendations on the best possible course of action.
Part of the reason why violent criminal activities exists within Kaduna state has to do with the inability of the state’s current security force structure, to effectively tackle crime within the state. Kaduna is filled with vast unoccupied land which the government and state security currently have no presence or visibility in. Criminals in the area are able to hide out around such areas with the confidence that they will never be caught.
Passengers travelling by road to Kaduna are faced with significant threat posed from armed robbery, kidnappers, petty crimes, road accidents and attacks by Armed Herdsmen.
Kidnapping is a major issue along the Abuja-Kaduna highway.
“Most of the kidnap incidents in the North West occurred in Kaduna and also on the road. Such road abductions are opportunistic meaning cars are targeted as they happen to be on that specific highway”.
Although, there are certain criteria that would make a vehicle a target such as: the presence of a foreigner (Non-black), SUVs, the presence of a Mobile Policeman (Single MOPOL).
The kidnappers attack by coming in a large group, sometimes about 20 or 30, armed and dressed in military uniforms. They block the highway, or simply wait at the bad portions of the roads where vehicles are forced to slow down, steal any valuables in the car, abduct the passengers that appear financially valuable to them, and immediately dash deep into the forest either on foot, or on get away motorcycles where they stake out until ransom is paid.
The kidnappers abduct farmers, herdsmen and cattle from the nearby village communities. But these incidents don’t make it to the news. Most of the cases which make it to the media are high profile cases including:
- On 25th March 2016, a Nigerian Army Colonel was abducted along the highway
- Iliya Anthony, vice-president, United Church of Christ in Nigeria died in the hands of his abductors recently. The man was kidnapped along with the President of the Church, Rev. Emmanuel Dziggau and Rev. Yakubu Dzarma who were later released.
- Also, a former executive director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and now a director in Dangote Group of companies, Mansur Ahmed, was reportedly kidnapped and later regained freedom.
- On 1st July 2016, a Sierra Leonean Diplomat was kidnapped while traveling along the highway
- On 3rd October, 2016, an ex-minister and her husband were abducted along the highway by six gunmen suspected to be kidnappers. A ransom was later demanded before the release of the victims.
- On 6th October, 2016, a University lecturer was kidnapped along the road when their bus broke down. The abductors approached the stranded passengers and took them all.
- On 22nd February, 2017, two German archaeologists were kidnapped along the highway.
Most incidents tend to happen between the Zuba, Bwari axis of the FCT up to Jere in Kagarko local government area of Kaduna State. Other cases of kidnapping along the Abuja-Kaduna highway often occur between Katari and Sabon Maro which is a distance of about 37 kilometres.
The most severe kidnap area however is the Jere Junction, the area is considered to be the hub of kidnappers and other criminal factions. Jere is about 115 kilometres to Kaduna Airport. In 2015, as many as 25 cases of kidnappings were reported to have taken place along the Bwari/Jere axis.
The highway leading from Abuja to Kaduna is assessed to be high risk. The highway is isolated and mostly surrounded by bushes and hills. These factors have given criminals more opportunities to carry out attacks on unsuspecting individuals on the highway.
Other volatile areas were identified as Gidan Makama and Rando. Both areas are said to be notorious with kidnappers and highway robbers.
For the duration of the airport diversion, security forces have been deployed to the highway following repeated cases of kidnapping, armed robbery and other forms of crime. The Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, has deployed 510 mobile police personnel to patrol the road.
- Tend to avoid the areas that have static police presence. They operate near the points that have no U-Turns
- They come in as a group on motorcycle which they use to barricade the road and encircle their targets
- Environmental factors such as rain serve as opportunities for them to strike due to low visibility by vehicle drivers, as well as low police presence outdoors during the rain. This can also be a deterrent even for aerial surveillance.
- Typically have informants who spot an intended target and notify another group ahead to attack their target. The informants also give advanced warning if they spot any security forces in the area.
- Occupants of vehicles who have to stop at the roadside are an opportune target.
- Kidnappers check the bank account balance of their victims through text messages received from their banks. This often helps them profile and choose their target.
The most reported incidents from the North West region of Nigeria are Road Accidents. Katsina reported the most road accidents as did Jigawa, Kaduna and Zamfara. The North West is agriculture heavy and products produced in the region are transported via the same “poor road infrastructure” to other parts of the country.
“These bad and poorly lit roads coupled with young and careless drivers lead to frequent road crashes”.
- Travelers are advised to remain alert of their surroundings always whilst transiting or at the airport.
- Residents and visitors are expected to schedule travel on time to avoid over speeding which can lead to road accident or crash.
- Whilst at the airport, avoid guides and other strangers who may approach you with offers of assistance.
- Avoid travelling late as most roads in the area are often poorly lit and in poor condition and are littered with potholes.
- Overall, extreme vigilance is advised in order to avoid being a target.
- It is recommended that all individuals exercise increased situational awareness and immediately report anyone acting suspicious particularly at the airport.
- It is advised that motorists on the route cooperate with road safety officials and obey traffic regulations to avoid unnecessary crashes.
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