For a Lagos-based engineer, Mr. Johnson Duru, January 4, 2013 would remain indelible in his mind. It was the day he, his two daughters and two other relations, were attacked by armed robbers on the notorious ‘long bridge’ along the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.
Here he narrates his experience...
Plying the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway both at daytime and night is fraught with danger. A lot of people have been attacked on the ‘long bridge,’ which is a stretch on the express road from Warewa to Kara, by hoodlums who lay siege to the bridge.
A Lagos-based engineer, Mr. Johnson Duru, his two daughters, Ada and Debby; his nephew, Chinelo and his younger sister, Chidiogo, had a raw deal in the hands of highway robbers on January 4, 2013. They still have scars to show for the horrible encounter.
Duru said it was a frightening experience that he would not forget for a long time.
It happened during his return trip to Lagos from Nkpologwu, Anambra State, where he went with members of his family to celebrate the Yuletide with his mother.
On that fateful Friday, Duru had wanted to arrive in Lagos on time, so that he could go to his office in the afternoon. But he did not get home until 2.00am the next morning, with almost a severed left arm, while his children and others had scars from machete cuts.
Duru narrated their experience: “I left Nkpologwu by 6.30am in my Toyota Highlander. I planned to get to the office in the afternoon as soon as I got to Lagos, because it was my resumption day. The journey was smooth until we got to a location between Ore and Ogun State. I heard a loud noise under the car that made the steering wheel unsteady.
“I parked the car. When I came down to see what it was, the right tyre in the front had burst. After I changed the tyre, the car refused to move. The hub around the wheel and some other parts had been destroyed, while the head lamp on the right-hand side was also gone.”
That was the beginning of his ordeal. He had to seek the service of a towing vehicle.
A towing vehicle soon showed up at the scene, and Duru negotiated with the operator to tow the vehicle to his mechanic’s place in Victoria Island, Lagos. The towing vehicle operator demanded N95,000; but after much haggling, he agreed to collect N60,000.
It was this encounter with the operator of the towing vehicle that led Duru and members of his family to the den of robbers.
Duru said, “We had hardly done a kilometre when the driver of the towing vehicle stopped abruptly and parked by the road, in the middle of nowhere. He said one of the rear tyres was leaking. I could see that the two tyres were well inflated, he insisted on changing the tyre.”
“The driver of the towing vehicle removed the tyre and went away for an hour. By the time he returned to fix the tyre, it was already past noon. And the journey to Lagos commenced afresh.
Around 5.30pm, they finally made it to the notorious ‘long bridge’ section of the expressway, after a settlement called Warewa in Ogun State. Here, Duru and his family experienced another shocking behaviour from the man who now seemed to have assumed control over their well-being.
The driver of the towing vehicle suddenly stopped along the bridge, which is about three kilometres to Berger Bus Stop, Lagos. What was the problem? The driver came up with the leaking tyre theory again.
Duru said, “As was the case the first time, I observed that the tyre was still intact, with no sign of leakage. I became suspicious. It was between 5.30pm and 6.00pm, meaning that we had spent nearly six hours between the RCCG camp and Berger – a journey of not more than 25 minutes on a normal occasion. I alighted and pleaded with him to take us to Berger Bus Stop but he refused.
“Before I knew what was happening, he had removed a tyre from the towing van, after which he made some calls on his phone, in Yoruba language, which I don’t understand or speak.
“Shortly after the call, three men emerged from under the bridge, armed with long machetes. They charged at me, barking, ‘where is the money?’ Before I could fathom what was happening, the driver had run to the other side of the road, leaving me and my family members at the mercy of the robbers.”
Still writhing in pain, with his swollen arm, he continued, “I tried to run but when I saw them attacking my children and other relations with machetes, I ran back. While two of the robbers concentrated on looting our valuables and money, the third one faced me, attempting to cut off my head, because he aimed the machete at my neck region.
“I raised my left hand and blocked it. I ended up with a big cut in my left arm, just a little above the elbow. My eight-year-old daughter, Ada, received lacerations on her thigh and leg. Debby, Chinelo and Chidiogo were also traumatised, because they also got injured during the attack.”
At the end of the attack, the robbers made away with a bag containing his laptop, phones, while his younger sister also lost two phones and an undisclosed amount of money.
After the robbery, the driver of the towing vehicle returned to where they were and fixed the tyre. During the attack, Duru said, no police patrol team showed up neither did other travellers stop to offer help. Even with blood-soaked shirt, Duru said he waved to other motorists in vain for help.
“When some motorists saw my blood-soaked shirt, they increased their speed as they drove past us,” he said. It was a woman who was driving a private bus that stopped to offer him a piece of cloth which he used to tie the wound.
The men of Federal Road Safety Commission later arrived the scene and evacuated Duru and his family to the Lagos State Accident and Emergency Hospital at the old toll gate, Lagos, where they received treatment.
His eight-year-old daughter described the experience as the worst in her life.
Duru later went to Isheri Police Station, where the policemen on duty said the area was not within their area of jurisdiction.
He was directed to Warewa Police Station, where a police woman they met on the counter addressed the driver of the towing van by name.
Duru said, “I could see that the policewoman was angry with him. As we were discussing, a superior officer emerged from his office and without any investigation or questioning of the driver, he said the driver could not be connected with the men that attacked us.
“From there, we were asked to go to Ibafo Police Station, where the policemen said the corpse of a thief who was killed on the bridge was taken to — probably infering that the thief was probably one of the men who attacked us.
“When we got there, we met the divisional crime officer who said the corpse of the thief had been taken away. At every police station we went, some officials of the Lagos State Towing Vehicle Operators Association followed us. At the end of the day, the driver was never interrogated. I got home the next day around 2.00am disappointed.”
Reacting to the incident, the Police Public Relations Officer, Ogun State Command, Mr. Muyiwa Adejobi, said police patrol teams from Ojodu-Abiodun and Ibafo police stations still patrolled the long bridge, adding that they had not abandoned the patrol regime which started last year, following the public outcry that greeted incessant attacks of travellers on the long bridge.
Adejobi said, “We have some suspects at the state command who were arrested on the long bridge last week. They are still with us. For those who might be in distress on the long bridge or Ibafo area, they can call the DPO on 08081762260, DPO Ojodu on 08081771800 or the officer-in charge, Quick Response Squad on 08081771717.”
He advised Duru to forward his complaints to the police command at Eleweran, Abeokuta, if he was not satisfied with the way his case was treated.
Duru said he learnt that a day before he was attacked, a motorist whose car developed a fault on the bridge was killed.
Attacks by robbers on the long bridge are frequent. Hardly does a week pass without reports of an attack on road users, sometimes leading to death.
On July 6, 2012, Brig. Gen. Sylvester Iruh (retd), who was returning from a burial, was killed on the long bridge as he was changing a flat tyre around 6.30pm.
Two weeks later, some passengers travelling in a 14-seater bus from Ile-Ife, Osun State, were attacked when their bus broke down on the same bridge around 7.30pm. A female journalist, whose car also broke down on the bridge, last year, had her car and valuables stolen. The car was later recovered by the police.
There are so many bad spots on the expressway which made the Federal Government embark on its repair. The reconstruction of the road has however been greeted with controversies.
In December 2012, the Federal Government revoked the three-year-old concession agreement with Bi-Courtney Highway Services for the reconstruction of the road and consequently named Julius Berger Nigeria Plc and RCC Nigeria Limited as the two new firms to handle the project.