Saturday, January 7, 2023 was just like any other day. The Christmas/New Year festivities were just at an end and many Nigerians who travelled to various parts of the country were returning to their various stations in readiness for work/school resumption on Monday, January 9.
Late that evening, however, news filtered into the Edo State capital, Benin City, of the kidnap of some passengers who were waiting at the Igueben Train Station in Igueben Local Government Area of the state to board a train to Warri in Delta State.
Eyewitness reports said the passengers were abducted by AK-47-wielding herdsmen who invaded the train station on Saturday evening and abducted a number of passengers waiting to board a train.
Initial reports put the number of kidnapped victims at 32. However, at a media briefing in Benin City on january 11, the Edo State Commissioner for Communications and Orientation, Chris Nehikhare, said that intelligence report showed that 20 persons were kidnapped during the attack at the Igueben train station.
Following the incident, the Edo State government quickly swung into action. The government provided support to a joint security team in the state that comprised members of the Police, Nigerian Army, Nigerian Air Force, Department of State Services (DSS), local hunters, Edo State Security Network, among others, to track and intercept the kidnappers in the forest and rescue the victims. The joint security team started combing the bushes around the vicinity.
Below is a blow-by-blow account of what followed:
Early on Sunday, January 8, the Edo State Police Command continued combing forests in Igueben and environs in search of the passengers who were abducted by AK-47-wielding herdsmen the day before.
The command, in a press statement signed by its spokesman, Chidi Nwabuzor, stated that the incident happened at about 4pm. It said the suspected herdsmen, armed with AK-47 rifles, stormed the train station at Igueben and shot sporadically into the air before herding an unspecified number of intending travellers into the bush.
The police said some of the passengers were kidnapped in the process while some sustained bullet wounds, and assured the public that the bush combing and rescue operations had begun to rescue those kidnapped.
“The kidnappers who shot sporadically into the air before kidnapping some passengers left some persons with bullet wounds. The Area Commander, Irrua; the DPO (Divisional Police Officer) Igueben Division, and their men have visited the scene of crime with members of Edo State Security Network, local vigilante, and hunters with a view to protecting the lives and property of the remaining passengers,” Nwabuzor said.
On the same day, there was a report that the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC), which manages the station, had closed down Ekehen Station in Edo State after the Saturday attack. The announcement, which was posted on the NRC’s passengers’ WhatsApp Group, stated that the decision became necessary following rising security challenges.
Meanwhile, the Edo State Commissioner for Communications and Orientation, Chris Nehikhare, said security operatives had arrested one of the suspected kidnappers involved in the kidnapping of some passengers at the train station and that one out of the persons who were attacked at the train station had escaped from the kidnappers.
The state Deputy Governor, Comrade Philip Shaibu, visited the scene of the attack for on-the-spot assessment and was told that one of the suspects was arrested and had been helping the police with investigation to arrest other fleeing members of the kidnapping gang.
In solidarity with Edo State, Governor of Delta State and Vice-Presidential Candidate of People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Sen. (Dr) Ifeanyi Okowa, urged the Federal Government to drop its lethargic attitude and cosmetic approach toward fighting insecurity in Nigeria.
The governor also asked the government to stop toying with the lives of citizens while reacting to the January 7 Igueben train station attack.
Okowa, who described the incident as “very sad and unfortunate”, charged security agencies in the country to track down the attackers and rescue the kidnapped victims.
The governor, in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr Olisa Ifejika, in Asaba, lamented that activities of gunmen across the country had remained a disturbing phenomenon.
The PDP vice-presidential candidate also charged Nigerians to rise to the occasion and assist security agencies with relevant information to enable them police the country effectively.
“As a country we must be deeply concerned about the activities of armed groups and non-state actors trying to destabilise our nation,” Okowa said.
”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,” he said.
Edo State Deputy Governor Shaibu met with heads of security agencies and community leaders at the Igueben Railway Station. He was joined in the meeting by senior government officials, including Clifford Ordia, the Senator representing Edo Central Senatorial District, and Marcus Onobun, Speaker, Edo State House of Assembly.
Emerging from the meeting, Shaibu called for calm among residents of Igueben LGA and urged members of the public to provide useful information that would aid rescue efforts by security agencies. The deputy governor said the government was strengthening security to check crime, pledging that the Governor Godwin Obaseki administration would make the state unsafe for kidnappers and other criminal elements.
“We were here on Sunday for a fact finding mission and today, we are here again to give moral support to our security troops on ground and also have another discussion to review all our activities since this kidnapping incident happened and to see areas to improve on,” Shaibu said.
“The important point is that more persons have been rescued and the numbers are reducing. Our target is for everybody to be released,” he said.
He thanked the security agencies, the Inspector-General of Police, Chief of Air Staff and the Chief of Army Staff, for their efforts in ensuring that all the kidnapped persons were released.
“We are doing all to ensure we get these people out. The governor has asked us to give morale boost to troops on ground and also review our security strategy,” he said.
Later, the Edo State Police Public Relations Officer, Chidi Nwabuzor, held a press briefing in Benin City where he announced that another victim of the train station attack, a female whose family is resident in Delta State, had been rescued and released to the family, bringing the total number of those rescued to seven.
At a press conference in Benin City, the Edo State Commissioner for Communication and Orientation, Chris Nehikhare, said the government was leveraging its community information-sharing channels to track the activities of the kidnappers at the Igueben Train Station while security agencies were intensifying efforts to rescue the remaining victims.
He informed that at the meeting the deputy governor had with heads of security agencies and traditional rulers, the deputy governor tasked the traditional rulers and the village heads to secure their communities against criminal activities.
“Before now, we had established protocols with village heads, delineating their roles in our rural areas, especially in the communities. We have reminded them of their responsibilities which include the identification of strangers within their communities which also means that they are supposed to have a surveillance team,” Nehikhare said.
He said the deputy governor at the meeting also told the traditional rulers the consequences of harbouring kidnappers and terrorists, which include forfeiture and destruction of properties used in harbouring criminals. Furthermore, if those found using these facilities were found to have murdered any of their captives, the owners of that property would be charged and prosecuted along with the perpetrators of the crime.
Three additional victims, including a magistrate, were rescued.
On the same day, Deputy Governor Shaibu led other top government officials and security officers to the home of late DSP Michael Adams on Airport Road, Benin City, to condole with the family. DSP Adams lost his life during a successful rescue operation of some of the kidnap victims.
Commiserating with the family on behalf of the Edo State government, Shaibu noted that the late DSP Adams was a gallant officer whose exploits should be commended and emulated.
“All the heads of security agencies are here. We are grieving. He left a family behind and we have to come and commiserate with them and also join them in this dark moment. The loss is not for the family alone but for all of us because when we lose gallant men like this, then it’s a major problem for us because we need a lot of these gallant officers alive to tackle insecurity,” Shaibu said.
“It’s very unfortunate that we lost him but what is key is that he was a gallant officer that went on a successful mission. Fortunately, the mission was successful and they were able to rescue the victims alive. Spending over five days in the bush and rescuing victims alive is not something that is common. Such an officer obviously deserves a posthumous medal,” he said.
He further noted that more progress was being recorded in the then ongoing rescue mission of the kidnapped victims.
“The officer and other men have been in the bush. They are rescuing victims and more of these victims are being rescued. Apart from the magistrate, two more persons have been rescued. Their effort is really yielding results and I must commend them for what they have been doing,” he said.
The Edo State Commissioner of Police, Mohammed Adamu Dankwara, dispelled the rumours that Adams had died in a shoot-out.
“They went for an operation and along the line he felt that he was not feeling too well after the rescue of the magistrate and other victims. He was not shot,” Dankwara said.
Responding on behalf of the family, the elder brother of the deceased, Ebi Naingba, expressed appreciation to the state government and other security chiefs and pleaded on behalf of the family that the state should step in for the upkeep and education of the children left behind by DSP Adams.
The number of rescued abductees rose to 18 as security forces announced that they had freed 12 more hostages of the train station attack, with only two still in the hands of their abductors.
Police Commissioner Dankwara told journalists in Benin City that the Joint Security Forces acted on technical intelligence and stormed Ugboha Forest, located in Esan South-East Local Government Area of the state, where they rescued the 18 abductees and that efforts had been intensified to free the remaining two hostages.
“On 14th January, at about 2200hrs, the Joint Security Forces in Edo State in a concerted effort to rescue the victims of Igueben Train Station attack, stormed Ugboha Forest in a joint operation, through technical intelligence provided to the Command and Control Intelligence Rapid Response Squad and rescued 12 victims unhurt,” Dankwara said.
“The 12 victims rescued are, Eunice Eseba ‘f’ 56yrs, Marian Mowoe ‘f’ age 28yrs, Faith Smart ‘f’ age 42yrs, Precious Egwuje ‘f’ age 28yrs, Obehi Omaben ‘f’ age 39yrs, Amm Benson ‘f’ age 42yrs, Favour Akungo ‘f’ age 18yrs, and Akhimen Ehiemamen ‘m’ age 48yrs.
“Others are Christian Iyere ‘m’ age 33yrs, Emmanuel Esieba ‘m’ age 67yrs, lyoha Julius ‘m’ age 25yrs and Aguele Beatrice ‘f’ 42yrs,” he said.
Also, Governor Obaseki visited the freed hostages at the Police Cottage Hospital, Benin City, where they had been taken for tests and rehabilitation.
He assured families of the two remaining abductees that the full apparatus of the state would be deployed to ensure their release.
Governor Obaseki also told journalists that he had instructed that traditional rulers be investigated and that anyone of them found to be harbouring people they should not harbour in their domains would have questions to answer.
“We are working and consulting with the Commissioner of Police and with the service chiefs because we have information that some traditional rulers, particularly in that area, are not respecting government decisions to make sure that grazing land are not given to herders in their forests,” the governor said.
“If the monarchs had cooperated in their communities in line with government directive, there wouldn’t have been that kind of incident,” he said.
The Edo State House of Assembly, during its first plenary sitting after resumption from recess, commended Governor Obaseki and members of the state security agencies for the prompt response so far in securing the release of most of the abducted train passengers in Igueben train station.
The Speaker, Rt. Hon. Marcus Onobun, said the feat was an assurance that Edo State is not a haven for criminal elements.
Some the rescued victims also narrated their ordeal with the kidnappers and hailed the state government for ensuring their safe return to their families.
Speaking with journalists at the Police Cottage Hospital, where they were taken for tests and rehabilitation after their ordeal, the rescued victims noted that a combined team of security operatives led the operation.
“We appreciate the state government and all the security agencies who worked to ensure our rescue. The eight days we spent in captivity was not easy,” said one of the kidnapped victims, Christian Iyere.
Another victim identified as Aguele Beatrice, who was also rescued along with 11 others, thanked the security team, noting, “We were rescued by the security from the forest. The rescue operation was timely, as it has saved our lives. It has also ensured that our families and loved ones are free from trauma.”
Edo residents and public policy experts applauded the swift and coordinated response and deployment of technology by Governor Obaseki and security agencies, which led to the rescue of a majority of the victims.
The residents commended the government’s commitment to the security and safety of citizens, noting that the community-based security model adopted by the Obaseki-led administration “has helped to create a sense of shared responsibility and active participation of all stakeholders for the safety and well-being of all communities in the state”.
Akhere Obozele, the Convener of Esan Agenda, a pro-development group, told newsmen in Benin City that the governor’s leadership acumen, deployment of technology and the continuous efforts of the security agencies have helped to deter criminal activities and also build trust and unity among Edo citizens.
“What a lot of people have not realised so far is that Edo State, perhaps, has the most sophisticated technology equipment to track crime in Nigeria. The rescue operation was facilitated with the deployment of high-tech. With a technology base supporting the troops on the field, the success rate has been high. Now, we have just two people left to be rescued. That cannot be said of other states in Nigeria, where a similar incident has occurred,” Obozele said.
“The team received support from the Edo State Command and Control Centre, which is a novel intervention that deploys technological tools for tracking, monitoring and interception of criminals no matter where they are located in the state,” he said.
On his part, policy expert and lecturer at the University of Benin, Ikponmwosa Nosakhare, said the state government’s strategy on security, especially the deployment of sophisticated technology to support security operatives, was highly commendable and should be emulated by other states faced with security challenges.
“It is one thing to have a security situation, and yet another thing to have technology backup to outsmart criminals in Edo State. This is what Governor Obaseki has done and we can see the reverberating impact on security, and curbing criminality in the state,” Nosakhare said.
Two traditional rulers in Igueben Local Government Area of Edo State and five others were arrested in connection with the abduction of 20 passengers during a train station attack. Also, security forces secured the release of the two remaining hostages, who are staff of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC), taken during the attack.
The Edo State Commissioner for Communication and Orientation, Mr. Nehikhare, did not reveal the identities of the two royal fathers and five others arrested with them.
“I am happy to inform you all the remaining victims of the Igueben train station attack have been rescued,” the Commissioner told journalists. “As at today, none of the victims are in the hand of the abductors. Also seven persons which include two traditional rulers have been arrested in alleged connection with the train station attack.”
The seven suspects were taken for interrogation at the state police command headquarters in Benin City.
A source said the traditional rulers were alleged to have compromised, having received undisclosed amount of cash and numbers of cows from cattle herders. Thereafter, they allegedly allowed the herders to settle in strategic spots in Igueben forests from where they launched the attack on the train station.
Why traditional rulers were arrested
On July 10, 2022, the Edo State government warned that traditional rulers and village heads in the state would be held responsible for any kidnapping act in their domains.
Deputy Governor Shaibu, who announced this in Benin City after a security meeting with traditional rulers, heads of local government councils, vigilantes, and hunters, among others, also warned herdsmen and other groups occupying the state’s forest in the guise of camping to vacate such areas with immediate effect.
Shaibu mandated councils’ heads in the state to use security apparatus including police, army, vigilante groups, and hunters to forcefully remove any groups or individuals that failed to vacate the place within 10 days of the announcement.
He also warned traditional rulers and village heads who had collected money from herdsmen and allowed any form of camping or grazing in the state’s forest to refund such money and ask them to leave with immediate effect.
“After ten days, traditional rulers and village heads would be held responsible for any act of kidnapping or terrorism in their domains,” he said, charging local governments to recruit hunters and vigilante groups with good knowledge of the terrain in their areas to assist the state security agencies in forcefully ejecting any group that failed to leave.
Barely six months after the charge, kidnappers struck at the Igueben Train Station, kidnapping 20 Nigerians.
Shaibu, at the meeting with heads of security agencies and traditional rulers after the Igueben incident, reminded the traditional rulers and the village heads of the charge to secure their communities against criminal activities.
The arrest of the traditional rulers was, therefore, necessitated by findings on ground as, according to a source, the traditional rulers were alleged to have compromised after receiving undisclosed amount of cash and numbers of cows from herdsmen. Thereafter, they allegedly allowed the herders to settle in strategic spots in Igueben forests from where they launched the attack on the train station.
The story behind the success and lessons to learn
The success of the Edo State government in the rescue of Nigerians kidnapped during a January 7 attack at Igueben train station in Edo State has sent many wondering what kind of magic the state government used in the rescue operation. The reason is simple: such a total success without ransom payment has not been recorded in the history of rescue of kidnap victims in today’s Nigeria.
Since kidnapping for ransom became rife in Nigeria in recent times, two scenarios have always played out. One, the kidnappers ask for and get the ransom, then release the victim after the ransom is paid. Two, the kidnappers ask for and get the ransom and still go ahead to kill their victim. But none of these played out in the recent Edo episode.
However, for those who have some understanding of the Edo State Security Network, such a result did not come as a surprise.
Three things came into play in the rescue operations – Coordination, Cooperation, and Use of Technology.
First, Edo State has perhaps the most sophisticated technology equipment to track crime in Nigeria. Thus, the rescue operation was facilitated with the deployment of high-tech. With a technology base supporting the troops on the field, the success rate has been high. Now, no one of the kidnapped victims is left unrescued, which cannot be said of other states in Nigeria where a similar incident has occurred.
Again, the team received support from the Edo State Command and Control Centre, a novel intervention that deploys technological tools for tracking, monitoring and interception of criminals no matter where they are located in the state.
Furthermore, the rescue mission involved a concerted, joint operation by the Joint Security Forces in Edo State through technical intelligence provided to the Command and Control Intelligence Rapid Response Squad.
Thus, as Ikponmwosa Nosakhare, a policy expert and lecturer at the University of Benin, said, the Edo State government’s strategy on security, especially the deployment of sophisticated technology to support security operatives, needs to be emulated by other states faced with security challenges.
The success story in Edo, which is an outcome of a deliberate policy of the state government to reduce criminality to the barest minimum within its domain, is a lesson for other states. The whole episode brings to mind the idea behind the Big Brother concept – Big Brother is always watching. In Edo State, once you are involved in crime and criminality, you can only run but you can’t hide.