By Jethro Ibileke/Benin
Benin City, the capital of Edo state, occupies a strategic position in the country. It serves as a nodal point for those transiting from one point to the other, across the entire country. The ancient city serves as a thoroughfare for all motorists traveling from the west to the south-south and south-east; those traveling from the South-South/South-East to the North, vice-versa, are bound to pass through the city.
In times past, every traveller going to the north, the east or south-south, navigate their way through the road network inside the metropolis. But they had to contend with the usual traffic gridlock on the Ugbowo, Ring Road and Ikpoba Hill axis of the city.
However, travellers had to endure excruciating hours in heavy traffic within the city, causing them to spend more time spending from one entry point of Benin to the exit, than they would have spent traveling from Benin to Sapele or to Agbor and Ekpoma.
Perhaps that was why former President Olusegun Obasanjo constructed the Benin City bypass. Although it was conceived to be a ring road round the entire city, only one side of it (Benin/Auchi/Agbor/Sapele roads side), was eventually constructed, under the watch of late Tony Anenih, who was then minister of works.
Motorists heaved a sigh of relief, when the road was finally inaugurated, as they no longer had to contend with heavy traffic within the city. They could now travel to their various destinations at record time.
Beside the reduced time and the ease of traveling across the city, the road also opened up that axis of the state capital, as many communities that were hitherto unheard of, came to limelight. Besides, new communities and truck parks sprang up along the road, thereby boosting economic activities of residents of the area. In fact, the road was described as Anenih’s only gift to the Benin people.
Regrettably, however, the euphoria did not last long, as hoodlums had other plans for the Benin bypass. Before long, they turned the road to hideouts for their criminal activities. Initially, the criminals way-laid motorists and robbed them of their possessions.
What began like cases of robbery now and then, gradually increased in frequency and intensity. Beside robbing the the motorists of their possessions, the hoodlums went further to rape and forcefully abduct many of their victims.
Following cries by victims and concerned residents, security check points were set up and routine patrols commenced on the road. Those, however, did little in checking these nefarious activities, till the road finally turned notorious for kidnapping and a nightmare for travellers.
In many cases, the entire passengers of commercial buses travelling to the east or south-south, had been kidnapped and taken into thick forests, from where their abductors negotiate ransom with their loved ones.
Certain lonely areas, bends and hilly areas, like that of Ahor community, between Oluku bypass and Auchi Junction, have been turned to dark spots by kidnappers. Passing through those places without any incident brings some level of relief to travelers.
Many notable persons have either been robbed, killed or kidnapped at these points. Recently, the US-based Prince Dennis Abuda and three other persons, were kidnapped at the Ahor slope.
Abuda who came to Nigeria to celebrate the Yuletide at his country home in Fugar, Etsako Central Local Government Area of the state last year, was traveling with three others in his Toyota Sienna car to Lagos to catch his flight back to USA when they were kidnapped.
His abductors who shot him dead after he slumped as they were being dragged into the bush, later went ahead to collect N10 million ransom.
Also recently, gunmen abducted a man conveying a corpse for burial from Lagos to Enugu. During the attack at Ahor, along the Benin-Agbor bypass, the younger brother of the deceased, who was sitting in the hearse, was kidnapped and the vehicle was badly damaged. One person was killed in the process.
The driver of the vehicle, marked KRD 782 GO, Salami Orijiwa, said: “I carried a body in the ambulance; we were coming from Lagos to Enugu to bury him and the younger brother of the deceased was sitting with me in the front seat of the vehicle. He was abducted by gunmen.”
Uncountable persons have suffered similar experiences on the Benin bypass. While many were fortunate to live to tell their stories, many others were not that lucky. Travellers now move with trepidation on the Benin bypass as they are at the mercy of bandits preying on its prey.
For motorists passing through Benin city, the fear of the bypass is indeed, the beginning of wisdom.