One victim escapes, suspect nabbed, undergoing interrogation
• Police, vigilante, hunters pursue armed kidnappers
• Edo Deputy Governor, Shaibu, visits scene
• Presidency, Atiku, Okowa, others condemn attack
By Michael Egbejule (Benin City), Joke Falaju (Abuja) and Monday Osayande (Asaba)
Memories of last year’s deadly Abuja-Kaduna train attack were rudely awakened on Saturday evening, following an attack at Igueben train station, in Igueben Local Council of Edo State.
A statement by the Public Relations Officer of the Edo State Police Command, Chidi Nwabuzor, on Saturday night, read: “This is to inform the gentlemen of the press that today, January 7, 2023, at about 1600hrs, unspecified number of herdsmen armed with AK 47 rifles attacked the train station at Igueben, Edo State and kidnapped unspecified number of passengers who were waiting to board the train to Warri.
“The kidnappers, who shot sporadically into the air before kidnapping some passengers, left some persons with bullet wounds.
“The Area Commander Irrua, DPO Igueben Division, and men have visited the scene of crime with members of the Edo State Security Network, local vigilante and hunters with a view to protecting the life and property of the remaining passengers.
“Bush combing operations have commenced to rescue the victims and arrest the fleeing kidnappers. Further development will be communicated.” Giving further clarification on the incident, yesterday, Edo State Commissioner for Communications and Orientation, Chris Nehikhare, said security operatives arrested one of the suspected kidnappers.
During a press briefing in Benin City, Nehikhare disclosed that one of the 31 abducted persons had escaped from the kidnappers. He said: “After 31 persons were kidnapped, the police, vigilante and local hunters swung into action, combing the bushes around the vicinity. One of the kidnapped victims was able to escape.”
He said Edo State Deputy Governor, Comrade Philip Shaibu, had visited the scene for an on-the-spot assessment and “was told that one of the suspects was arrested and he has been helping the police with investigation to arrest other fleeing members of the kidnapping gang.
“We congratulate the police and other security agencies for their swiftness in attending to the security brief. We appreciate the local hunters and members of the Edo State Security Network, as their collaboration assisted in this operation. This synergy led to the success recorded in a very short time.
“We hope this is the last time we will have such an attack on government infrastructure, especially train stations, here, in Edo State. Our security network was swift to react to the incident and we condole with the families of victims. We will give necessary support to the security agencies, vigilantes and local hunters who are on the trail of these kidnappers.”
ONE eyewitness, Comrade Odia Benson, was reported as saying: “As I speak, people are in the field all over the place…vigilantes, security agencies and other people. Everybody is concerned. But we have to be careful with what we divulge, so that we won’t jeopardise the processes we are doing.
“As for the category of people kidnapped, some of them are from Igueben, while others are passengers from other places.” He said: “The train normally arrives by 5:00 p.m. At about 20 minutes to five, bandits came through the bush path and invaded the place. They took away the station manager, took away the booking clerk and about 29 other passengers made up of males and females.
“The deputy governor left the place about an hour ago. The Commissioner of Police and his men are here. The 4 Brigade Nigerian Army Commander is here. The Director of the Department of State Services (DSS) is here, and many paramilitary representatives.
“The DPO Igueben and his men, the Esan Akatakpa Security network, and the hunters’ association have been in the forest. We are hoping that by the end of today (yesterday), they will be rescued.”
A STATEMENT signed by the Director (Press and Public Relations), Ministry of Transportation, Henshaw Ogunbike, reads: “The public is, hereby, reassured that security agencies are making efforts to rescue the kidnapped train passengers.
“The Nigeria Police are on the trail of the criminals and have mobilised, with a view to protecting the life and property of the remaining passengers.
“The government is saddened by this unpleasant development and assures of its prompt response to the ugly situation. Further details will be communicated later. ”
PRESIDENTIAL candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and former Vice President of Nigeria, Atiku Abubakar, expressed concern over the attack.
A statement signed by the Atiku Media Office, yesterday, noted that the unfortunate incident “is the latest in a long condemnable line of security breaches previously unseen in our national history.”
While condoling with victims of the attack and their families, the presidential contestant said: “The thoughts of my family and I are with the abducted and their families, as we pray for their safe return.”
He said: “While we pray, it is important to also point out that this serves as the latest reminder on the urgent need to reform our security architecture to better safeguard the life and property of Nigerian citizens.”
The former Vice President said means through which national security could be enhanced include, amending the Constitution to allow for state and community policing as a first line of security. He also said security apparatus must pay greater premium to intelligence gathering and crime prevention rather than current reactive approach.
According to Atiku, “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.” He said diplomatic pressures are needed to stem free flow of light arms and assault weapons across the West African sub-region and through borders.
“By doing this, we will severely restrict the capacity of terrorists to re-arm themselves to execute attacks.” Atiku said these policy proposals should be followed by “greatly reducing the numbers of out-of-school children on streets and improving the economy to create jobs for vast numbers of unemployed Nigerians, thereby reducing the pool from which terrorists recruit people for their nefarious activities.”
According to him, “these actions will go a long way towards reducing incidents of insecurity and providing secure environment needed for economic growth.”
ALSO, Delta State governor and PDP vice presidential candidate, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, described the incident as “very sad and unfortunate.”
In a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Olisa Ifeajika, in Asaba, yesterday, Okowa deplored the attack, lamenting that activities of gunmen across the country has remained a disturbing phenomenon.
He called on security agencies to track attackers of the train station and rescue the victims. He also charged Nigerians to rise to the occasion and assist security agencies with relevant information to enable them police the country effectively.
He urged the Federal Government to drop its lethargic attitude and cosmetic approach toward fighting insecurity in the country, saying the government should stop toying with the lives of citizens. He said: “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.
“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.”
MEANWHILE, the Managing Director of Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC), Fidet Okhiria, has said the attack on the train station will not affect the Itapkpe-Warri train service.
Okhiria made this known while speaking to newsmen, yesterday. He said train service would continue and additional security measures would be deployed. He said the investigation was ongoing to ascertain the number of passengers involved in the incident, among other details.
The Guardian Newspapers