Shittu Adebayo narrowly escaped a kidnap attempt in February. The 40-year-old signage writer was returning from work around 8 p.m. when his car came under gunfire less than 200 metres to his house. The house is in an estate in Pegi, a community in Kuje area council of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
Mr Adebayo abandoned his car and fled into the bush, keeping to a footpath that led to the fence of the estate.
“They eventually turned back when they saw that I was approaching the estate gate. Police and other people that heard the gunshots were already waiting for me in the estate,” he narrated to our reporter in February, as he showed pictures of his bullet-riddled and blood-stained car.
Edwin Obiekwe, 65, had a similar experience seven days earlier but was not as lucky as Mr Adebayo. He had instinctively turned off his car’s engine when he saw two men shooting at his vehicle.
“I turned off my engine and laid down in the bush behind my car. But the two men came flashing their torchlights. They found me and led me into the bush to join six other people they had kidnapped,” he recalled.
“I told them I was coming from Jabi where I went to collect money from my brother to eat. They asked how much? I said N20,000. They forced their hands into my pocket and took all the money, my eye glasses, handkerchief and car key.”
Mr Obiekwe said the robbers then released him when they noticed his poor health.
Kidnap-for-ransom in Pegi
Despite housing a division of the Nigerian police and a naval barracks, kidnap-for-ransom is rife in Pegi.
Community leaders said at least 30 persons had been kidnapped in the area in the last two years and about N50 million had been paid as ransom. But PREMIUM TIMES’ investigation identified about 49 direct victims of abductions in the area within that period.
Situated south of Kuje, the headquarters of one of Abuja’s six area councils, Pegi has a population of about 16,000 made up of mostly farmers, civil servants and artisans.
A massive demolition of unapproved structures in Abuja between 2003 and 2007 when Nasir El-Rufai was the FCT minister had forced many to relocate from the municipality to new settlements in rural area councils like Kuje.
Pegi had hosted the “Abuja at 30” celebration in February 2006. Many of those who relocated to Kuje had hoped the event would hasten development in the area. But that hope has not been met as the government has failed to provide basic amenities for the rising population. The residents believe the neglect has contributed to security challenges in the area.
“It started with burglary, rape, armed robbery and ritual killings. But the worst of it all has been the rise in kidnap cases in the last four years,” the chairman of the Pegi community association, Aderibigbe Taiwo, told PREMIUM TIMES. Mr Aderibigbe moved into the community in 2010.
Pegi recorded its first incident of abduction in December 2018. The victim, one Mr Atanda, was shot and left for dead at the scene before he was rescued. On December 6, 2018, a naval officer and one civilian were seriously injured in another incident less than 300 metres from the community.
What began as isolated incidents that year have since morphed into about six cases monthly, community officials said. Most of the attacks happened along bush paths within the area, in zones A and B, Kpapere and Pegi village.
In October 2019, nine persons were kidnapped in the community.
“One of the nine persons, a Chief Superintendent of the Nigerian Civil Defence Corps (NCDC), Samuel Ako, died of complications from the gunshot he received while he was being kidnapped,” Mr Taiwo told this newspaper.
Another NSCDC officer and one Alhaji Rilwan were also later abducted and paid ransoms to regain their freedom.
Cindy Jane (not real name) still carries the trauma of her encounter with kidnappers a few months ago. She was kidnapped right inside her house in Pegi and was released only after her family and friends paid a ransom of N3 million.
“It was an experience I will never wish even for my enemies,” Ms Jane told PREMIUM TIMES.
“I would have left this area if not that this house is ours. Since that day, we have been living in fear of not if, but who next,” she said.
Residents said most of the kidnap cases used to happen along the main road linking the area to the Abuja municipal area, until recently when the kidnappers took their operations to the residents’ doorsteps.
Pegi was thrown into pandemonium in November 2020 when five siblings were kidnapped from their home. Four months later on Wednesday, March 24, 2021, four other persons were also abducted from their homes in Kiyi, a village about three kilometres from Pegi.
One of the victims was Olalekan Salami, a senior official of the FCT Administration, for whose release the kidnappers demanded N50 million as ransom. It was not clear how much was eventually paid to the hoodlums.
Poor road network
Residents said about 80 per cent of the kidnap cases in Pegi occurred on roads within the community while most of the other cases were recorded on the abandoned 14-kilometre Kuje-Pegi road under construction. The road connects Pegi, Gafara and Kuje.
The contract was awarded over nine years ago at the cost of N678 million to Verallen Nigeria Limited when Adamu Aliero was FCT minister. But the project was abandoned despite the payment of N110 million as mobilisation fee to the contractor. The residents have sent countless letters of appeal to the FCT Administration, petitions to an anti-corruption agency, and even organised protests but all to no avail.
“The FCT Administration has been playing politics with the construction of the road. We have written a petition for intervention of state services. We have also written to the ICPC,” the community chairman said.
Officials: No comment
In reaction to inquiries by Premium Times, the spokesperson of Verallen Nigeria Limited, Allen Egbe, blamed the government for the abandonment of the project.
“The government is owing us. Did anybody collect money from the government and not do the job? Talk to the government,” he said over the phone.
The Permanent Secretary of the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA), Olusade Adesola, however, ignored repeated requests for comments. The Director of Satellite Town Development Department (STTD), Obiora Nwankwo, also declined comment on the ground that he did not have the permission of the minister to speak to the media.
The district police officer of Pegi Police Division, Magit Solomon, also refused to comment on the security challenges in the community, instead directing the reporter to the spokesperson of the police in the FCT, Mariam Yusuf. But Ms Yusuf also did not respond to phone calls and text messages.
The Commander of the Navy Barracks in the Pegi, Abdulahi Amhed, also declined to provide comments for this report.
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