By Ozioruva Aliu & Ezra Ukanwa
BENIN CITY—Eyewitnesses said yesterday that the kidnappers that attacked a sub-station of the Nigerian Railway Corporation, NRC in Igueben, Edo State and abducted over 30 passengers and staff on Saturday, struck because the train station was not protected by security men.
This came as Edo State Government confirmed that at least one of the kidnappers had been arrested by security men and hunters in the area.
No fewer than 30 passengers and staff of the Nigerian Railway Corporation were kidnapped on Saturday by gunmen suspected to be herdsmen, while those who escaped abduction sustained bullet wounds.
Following the attack, the Nigeria Railway Corporation yesterday announced closure of Ekehen Station in Edo State till further notice.
Over 30 missing, kids freed, female escaped
Speaking on the development, yesterday, the Liaison officer to the local government area, Best Oseh, said security agencies and paramilitary organisations were combing forests in the area for clues.
He said: “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 we don’t jeopardize the processes we are doing.
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“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 a comprehensive number when preliminary investigations are concluded.”
Giving more information on the development, a resident of the area, Comrade Odia Benson, said the abductors released two kids who were with them, while a woman reportedly escaped.
He said some staff of the NRC, including the station manager and ticket clerk, were among those abducted.
He said: “The train normally arrives by 5 pm, so at about 20 minutes to 5, the outlaws came through the bush path and invaded the place, taking away the station manager, booking clerk and about 29 other passengers made up of males and females.
“As I speak with you, 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, the hunters association have been in the forest since last night (Saturday night) doing bush combing. We are hoping that by the end of today, (yesterday), they will be rescued.
“The railway station is in the forest, 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 three of the victims are from Igueben; one of them is from Ward 8, we had another who is married to an Igueben man but based in Warri, while others are from Ekpoma, Uromi, and Ubiaja. Some are not even from 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 and called the family of the mother of the children that they should go and pick them up from the place they were dropped.
‘’One woman also escaped with her little baby. The woman escaped and found herself in Opoji, which is in Esan Central local government area.”
Edo State Commissioner for Communication and Orientation, Chris Nehikhare, who disclosed news of arrest of the suspect yesterday, also said the military, police, vigilante, hunters and others are on the trails of the kidnappers.
Addressing journalists in Benin City, Nehikhare said the deputy governor of the state, Comrade Philip Shaibu, had also visited the train station where he met with one of the victims who escaped.
He 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 yesterday, one suspect has been captured and is helping the Police with their investigation.
“One victim of the 32 people kidnapped escaped from of the abductors. We are confident that the other victims will be rescued in the coming hours.”
The commissioner also said, “the deputy governor of the State, Comrade Philip Shaibu, has visited the Igueben train station for an on-the-spot assessment of rescue efforts and to throw the government’s weight behind the security operations.”
He said the Edo State government “sympathises 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 neighbourhoods, particularly in the area where the rescue operation was taking place.
NRC shuts Edo train station indefinitely
Meanwhile, the Nigeria Railway Corporation yesterday announced the closure of Ekehen Station in Edo State till further notice.
The organisation said the decision became necessary, following rising security challenges.
The incident in Edo came barely one year after the March 28, 2022 attack by bandits on the Abuja-Kaduna train, resulting in the death of about 14 passengers while 65 others were abducted.
A public announcement by the NRC posted on the passengers’ WhatsApp Group, said the closure was “till further notice.”
The “Public announcement read: “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 read: “Due to the incident at Ekehen station on Saturday, WITS 01/ 02 will no longer stop at Ekehen Station. Please advise our customers.”
Gunmen suspected to be herdsmen on Saturday evening abducted many passengers waiting to board a train from the Igueben station in Igueben Local Government Area of Edo State to Warri in Delta State, while many others sustained injuries.
The spokesperson for Edo State Police Command, Chidi Nwabuzor, confirmed the incident in a statement.
According to him, the abductors, armed with AK 47, invaded the train station and shot sporadically into the air before abducting scores of intending travellers into the bush.
Nwabuzor said many of the passengers sustained bullet wounds, assuring that operatives were on the trail of the abductors with the aim of rescuing those the kidnappers herded into the bush.
He said: “This is to inform the gentlemen of the press that on January 7, 2023, at about 1600hrs, an unspecified number of herdsmen armed with AK 47 riffles attacked the train station at Igueben, Edo State and kidnapped an 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 the 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.
“Bush combing operations have commenced in order to rescue the victims and arrest the fleeing kidnappers. Further developments will be communicated.”
Attack on innocent citizens despicable, barbaric — FG
Reacting to the attack, the Minister of Transportation, Mua’zu Sambo, described it as despicable and utterly barbaric.
In a statement by the Director, Press and Public Relations, Henshaw Ogubike, the minister assured Nigerians that security agencies were making efforts to ensure that the kidnapped passengers were rescued.
The statement reads: “The Public is hereby reassured that the security agencies are making efforts to rescue the kidnapped Train passengers.
“The Nigerian Police is on the trail of the criminals and have mobilised with a view to protecting the lives and property of the remaining passengers. The government is saddened by this unpleasant development and assures its prompt response to the ugly situation.”
Atiku condemns attack, says state police urgently needed
Reacting to the attack, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, while condemning it, said the country urgently needs state police.
In a Twitter post, Atiku said he would put in place specific initiatives. if elected president to curb such attacks.
Atiku said: “The attack on a train station in Igueben LGA of Edo State, during which armed men kidnapped an undetermined number of people is the latest in a long condemnable line of security breaches previously unseen in our national history.
“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 also to point out that this serves as the latest reminder of the urgent need to reform our security architecture to better safeguard the lives and properties of Nigerian citizens.
“We can do this by doing the following; amending our constitution to allow for state and community policing as a first line of security.
“Modify our security apparatus to pay greater premium to intelligence gathering and crime prevention than our 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 security agencies.”
Atiku said there is a need to deploy technology toward tracking terrorists and degrading their existing capacity to attack people.
“Apply the diplomatic pressures needed to stem the free flow of light arms and assault weapons across the West African sub-region and our borders. By doing this, we will severely restrict the capacity for terrorists to re-arm themselves to execute attacks.
“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.
“I firmly believe that these actions will go a long way towards reducing incidents of insecurity and providing the secure environment needed for economic growth. And I commit to implementing these initiatives if Nigerians trust me with their mandate and elect me as their president next month,’’ he added.