Adibe Emenyonu reports that the recent attack and subsequent abduction of 32 persons at the Tom Ikimi sub-station at Igueben, in Igueben Local Government Area of Edo State, has brought to the front burner the worrisome increase of kidnapping in the state and need for citizens to be protected at all costs
It was a sad moment, Saturday, January 7, 2023 for travellers waiting to board a train at the Tom Ikimi, sub-station at Igueben, in Igueben Local Government Area of Edo State. Hoodlums, suspected to be herdsmen laid siege at the station, waiting like a hawk hunting for prey, before it struck at about 4:00pm.
According to eyewitness account, the hoodlums disguised themselves as passengers waiting to board the expected train coming from Warri, Delta State to Kogi State. He said while some of abductors came by vehicles, others were by the bush paths when they abducted their victims and escaped into the bush.
He identified some of those abducted among 32 persons as the Train Station Manger, Godwin Okpe; Head of Security, simply called Ikhayere; an Igueben community resident known as Victor Osarobho and the Station Ticket Clerk, also identified as Akhere.
The witness who preferred anonymity, disclosed that during the attack, the hoodlums, who were armed with AK 47 rifles, while invading the train station, shot sporadically into the air before herding unspecified number of intending travellers into the bush.
It was also gathered that after the victims had been successfully abducted, 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 and 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,” said a witness who refused to give his name for security reasons,” the witness noted.
Edo Police React
Immediately the incident happened, the Edo State Police Command, earlier in a statement by signed by the Public Relations Officer, Chidi Nwabuzor, issued late Saturday night, noted that during the attack, some of the passengers, sustained bullet wounds.
The text of police statement reads: “This is to inform the gentlemen of the press that today, 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 Edo State Security Network, local vigilante, and hunter with a view to protect the lives and property of the remaining passengers.
“Bush Combing operations have commenced in order to rescue the victims and arrest the fleeing kidnappers. Further developmen will be communicated”, the PPRO stated.
Then, the police could not give account of the exact number of persons abducted. However, at a Media briefing the following day Sunday, the Edo State Government said a total of 32 persons was abducted.
However, in the cause of the briefing the state Commissioner for Communication and Orientation, Mr. Chris Nekhihare, stated that while 32 persons were confirmed to have been kidnapped, one of the kidnapped victims escaped
He also gave a cheering news that one of the suspects have been apprehended and is now helping the police in their investigation. According to him, a combined team of the Military, the Police, men of the state vigilante network and hunters are currently on the heels of the kidnappers that attacked the train station at Igueben, Igueben local government area of the state, on Saturday and abducted 32 passengers of which one escaped.
Nekhihare who gave further update on efforts of the Edo State Government to rescue the kidnapped passengers in Benin on Sunday, said: “At the moment, security personnel made up of the military and the police as well as men of the vigilante network and hunters are intensifying search and rescue operations in reasonable radius to rescue the kidnap victims. As at 3pm Sunday, one suspect has been captured and is helping Police with their investigation.
“One victim out of the 32 people kidnapped escaped from the hands of the abductors. We are confident that the other victims will be rescued in the coming hours.”
He also said that “the Deputy Governor of the State, Mr. Philip Shaibu has visited the Igueben Train Station for an on-the-spot assessment of rescue efforts and to throw government’s weight behind the security operations.”
He said the Edo State government condoles with the families of the victims for this unfortunate occurrence.
Nehikhare appealed for calm and urged citizens to assist security personnel with information of suspicious movements in and around their neighborhoods, particularly in the area where the rescue operation is taking place.
Temporary Measure by NRC
Apparently as a temporary measure, the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC), has announced the indefinite shutdown of sub-station located at a place called Ekehen.
In a message shared on the passengers’ WhatApp Group, the Corporation said, “Public Announcement: This is to inform our general public and most especially our esteemed passengers, that Ekehen Station has been temporarily closed due to security issues, till further notice.
“Another notice reads, “Due to the incident at Ekehen station on Saturday, WITS 01/ 02 will no longer stop at Ekehen Station. Please advise our customers,” a development that was
confirmed by the Edo Police Public Relations Officer.
According to a resident in the area, Mr. Odia Benson said, “The train normally arrives by 5 pm so as at about 20 minutes to that time, bandits just came through the bush part and invaded the place, and took away the station manager, took away the booking clerk and about 30 other passengers made up of males and females.
Also speaking on the development, the Liaison Officer to the Igueben local government area, Best Oseh, confirmed that security agencies and paramilitary organisations are combing the forests within in the area to get clues for possible rescue of victims and arrest of those behind the dastard act.
He 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 jeopardize 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 32 but we can only give comprehensive number when preliminary investigations are concluded.”
“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 from Brigade Nigerian Army Commander are here, the Director of the Department of State Services (DSS) and some of 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 will 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 about only 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.
Traditional Ruler’s React
Moreover, the traditional rulers of Igueben, HRH Ehizojie Eluojierior I, Onogie of Igueben and Okaigun of Esanland, has described the incident as appalling, adding that the entire community was thrown into “unwanted silence” as the people were yet to come to terms with the kidnap.
The Enojie who confirmed the incident, added that many of such incidents had taken place in the past without being reported in the media.
He said the the mood and activities in the town are quiet but have been activated because the police, vigilantes, and the hunters are working together on the issue. “They combed the bush till midnight on Saturday and have resumed on Sunday morning.
“I hear there has been similar attempt in Delta State by bandits from other part of the country, which was repelled. The attack took everyone by surprise and it happened at about 4pm when the train was being expected”, the Onogie said.
Resolve to Rescue Victims
Nevertheless, the state government has said it is not in slumber; that efforts are on to rescue the victims and at the same time, arrest the perpetrators.
In view of this, it announced through the Commissioner for Communication and Orientation, Chris Nekhihare that six more persons out of the 31 in custody of kidnappers in the Saturday abduction, have been rescued by a combined team of security agencies.
The government spokesman who reiterated his principal resolve to rescue the remaining hostages, said Obaseki, assured that the train passengers would be released soon. According to him, those rescued are a 65 year-old man, a mother and her baby, two sibling another person, adding that two more of the abductors have been arrested making the figure three so far in connection with the kidnap saga.
“Our Governor, Mr Godwin Obaseki, spoke with me this morning to share the latest information on the efforts being made by the military, police and personnel drawn from other security agencies, including the vigilante and hunters who know the bushes like their backyards to ensure the kidnapped passengers are released soon,” the Commissioner declared
However, while reeling out the success so far achieved to ensure rescue of the remaining persons still in the kidnappers dean, information filtered in on the kidnap o three persons: a serving Magistrate, former lawmaker of the state assembly within the same axis the 32 persons were hauled away into a vehicle and bush path.
The three kidnapped persons were identified as Festus Edughele, former member, representing Esan South East constituency, in the Edo State House of Assembly; a Customary Court Magistrate, Mrs. Precious Aigbonoga; and another person who is said to be with the kidnapped lawmaker. The three new victims were whisked away Monday morning
Investigations revealed that while Mrs Aigbonoga was around Ugoneki on her way to court in Igueben, Festus Edughele with his co-traveller were also kidnapped by suspected gunmen in Ubiaja while on their way to Benin.
Incidentally, Mrs Precious Aigbonoga is the wife of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate for Etsako West Constituency I, Mr. Afebu Aigbonoga.
In a statement, Publicity Secretary of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Benin branch, Festus Osagie, Usiobaifo, said the Edo Chairman of NBA, Chief Nosa Francis Edo-Osagie and members are deeply sad by this development and condemns, in strong terms, the worrisome insensitivity of these bandits in kidnapping Mrs Precious Aigbonoga; an easygoing, gentle, and hardworking judicial officer.
He said the NBA is working in league with the state Commissioner of Police, Mohammed Adamu Dankwara, adding that by the grace of God Almighty, the kidnapped Magistrate shall be rescued unhurt, and the bandits brought to book.
The abduction of Edughele, and the man with him was said to occured while they were travelling from Ubiaja to Benin to board a plane to Abuja. A former deputy Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Festus Ebea, who confirmed the incident said his former colleague intended earlier to board the now suspended train service from Ubeaja to Abuja but changed his mind after the news of kidnap broke out
Ebea said, “He was kidnapped this morning in Ubiaja on his way from Orhionmwon to Benin to board a plane. He had intended to take the train for Ubeaja but he could do so since the train services has been suspended. The family is aware of his kidnap, the police division in that area has been informed and we hope action will be taken to rescue him.”
(1) Edo State Deputy Governor, Mr. Philip Shaibu flanked by state Security Chiefs during an on-the-spot assessment after the kidnap saga at the Tom Ikimi rail station in Igueben LGA of the state
(2) Administrative Block of Tom Ikimi rail station at Igueben
(3) Kidnapped former Edo Assembly member, Festus Edughele who represented Esan South East State Constituency
(4) Kidnapped Magistrate, Mrs. Precious Aigbonoga