*One regains freedom, several injured as deputy governor visits scene
*FG condemns incident, says security agencies making efforts to rescue victims
*Atiku expresses concern, insists presidential election is all about salvaging Nigeria
Chuks Okocha, Kasim Sumaina in Abuja; Adibe Emenyonu in Benin City and Sunday Okobi in Lagos
No fewer than 31 passengers and staff of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) were believed to have been abducted by gunmen on Saturday at the Igueben train sub-station in Edo State, while several passengers were injured. Edo State Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Mr. Chris Nehikhare, disclosed this yesterday, during a media briefing.
The state police command, in a statement yesterday, said the kidnappers were herdsmen armed with AK-47 riffles. It said some of the passengers sustained bullet wounds, and assured that bush combing and rescue operations had begun to try to rescue the victims.
The federal government, in its own reaction yesterday, condemned the kidnapping incident at Tom Ikimi Train Station, Igueben, as despicable and utterly barbaric. The government, through the Ministry of Transportation, stated that efforts were being made to rescue the kidnapped passengers and officials of the train station.
The presidential candidate of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, also expressed concern over the attack. A statement by the Atiku Media Office, yesterday, said the incident, “is the latest in a long condemnable line of security breaches previously unseen in our national history.” To deal with such brazen assaults and enhance security nationwide, Atiku suggested the “amending our constitution to allow for state and community policing as a first line of security.”
However, Nehikhare disclosed that one of the kidnappers had been arrested and was currently helping the police in their investigation, while one of the victims escaped.
The information commissioner said, “After 32 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.
“The Edo State Deputy Governor, Philip Shaibu, has visited the scene of the attack for 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 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.”
The Edo State police command press statement read, “This is to inform the gentlemen of the press that on Saturday, 7th of January, 2023 at about 1600hrs, unspecified number of herdsmen armed with AK 47 riffles 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 vigilantes, and hunters with a view to protecting the lives and property of the remaining passengers.”
The command, in the statement signed by its spokesman, Chidi Nwabuzor, explained that the suspected herdsmen took their victims into the bush.
Director, Press/Public Relations, Federal Ministry of Transportation, Henshaw Ogubike, in a statement made available to journalists in Abuja, explained, “The public is hereby reassured that the security agencies are making efforts to rescue the kidnapped train passengers.”
Ogubike added that the Nigeria Police were on the trail of the criminals and had mobilised with a view to protecting the lives and property of the remaining passengers.
He said, “The government is saddened by this unpleasant development and assures on its prompt response to the ugly situation. Further details will be communicated later.”
Liaison Officer to Igueben Local Government Area, Best Oseh, said security agencies and paramilitary organisations were already combing the forests within the area to get clues for possible rescue of victims and arrest of those behind the act.
Oseh said, “As I speak, people are in the field all over the place, vigilante, 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 of what we are doing.
“As for the category of people kidnapped, some of them are from Igueben while others are passengers from other places and as for the number, for now, we are looking at over 30 but we can only give comprehensive number when preliminary investigations are concluded.”
A resident of the area, Mr. Odia Benson, said the abductors released two kids, who were with them, while a woman escaped. Benson said some staff of NRC, including the station manager and ticket clerk, were among those abducted.
According to him, “The train normally arrives by 5pm. A about 20 minutes to that time, bandits just came through the bush part 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.
“As I speak with you, the Deputy Governor of the state, Philip Shaibu, left the place about an hour ago, the Commissioner of Police and his men are here, men of the 4 Brigade Nigerian Army are here, the Director of the Department of State Services (DSS) and some personnel and many paramilitary representatives are all here, including the DPO Igueben and his men, the Esan Akatakpa Security network, the hunters’ association have been in the forest since last night doing bush combing. We are hoping that by the end of today, the victims would be rescued.
“The railway station is surrounded by forest, and there is no security, no police, no vigilante and they are at the mercy of God. The station is in Igeueben town, just about 1.2 km away from Igueben General Hospital.
“I think only about three of the victims are from Igueben; one of them is from Ward 8. We also had another who is married to an Igueben man but based in Warri while others are from Ekpoma, Uromi, Ubiaja, and elsewhere outside Edo State.
“The kidnappers released two children, it is believed that they felt the children will slow down their movements. They dropped them in an abandoned petrol station, they called the family of the mother of the children that they should go and pick the children from the place they dropped them.
“One woman also escaped with her little baby. The woman escaped and found herself in Opoji, which in Esan Central Local Government Area.”
Meanwhile, Atiku expressed concern over what he called the latest in the litany of shameful security breaches under the President Muhammadu Buhari government.
A statement by the Atiku Media Office condoled with the victims of the attack and their families. It quoted the PDP presidential candidate as saying, “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 to also point out that this serves as the latest reminder on the urgent need to reform our security architecture to better safeguard the lives and properties of the Nigerian citizens.”
The former vice president stated that the security apparatus must pay greater attention to intelligence gathering and crime prevention than the 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 the security agencies,” Atiku said.
He urged the use of technology towards tracking the terrorists and “degrading their existing capacity to attack our people across the country.”
The PDP presidential candidate also advocated “applying diplomatic pressures needed to stem the free flow of light arms and assault weapons across the West African sub-region and through our borders.
“By doing this we will severely restrict the capacity for 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 our streets and improving the economy to create jobs for vast numbers of unemployed Nigerians, thereby reducing the pool from which these terrorists recruit people for their nefarious activities.”
According to him, “I believe these actions will go a long way towards reducing incidents of insecurity and providing the secure environment needed for economic growth.”
Atiku stated that he would commit to implementing those initiatives if Nigerians trusted him with their mandate to become the next president.
In a related development, Atiku said it was important to remind Nigerians that next month’s election was about the future of the country.
In a statement he signed, Atiku said the poll would be an opportunity for Nigerians to right all the wrongs that the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) had brought upon the country.
According to him, “While we exercise our mandate in the upcoming elections, it is necessary that we reflect properly about the scorecards of both the PDP and the APC. We must avoid being overwhelmed by the deceptions of the ruling party. “Indeed, we must vote to punish the APC for their poor performance since they came to the saddle in 2015.
“We must remember, also, that February 25 is a date to recover Nigeria. I am the candidate who comes with a plan that accommodates everyone. I am the candidate who best guarantees a future of prosperity and security for our great country.
“My wealth of experience in public service and the private sector is unrivaled. As we inch towards election day on February 25, tell your friends, family and colleagues that the PDP is the best option for the country. Also tell them that Atiku is the presidential candidate who has the plan to Recover Nigeria.”