Resurgence of kidnapping
The resurgence of kidnapping in Abia State has become a matter of public concern. In the last few weeks, there has not been a day without an incidence of kidnapping. Since the abduction of the Prelate of the Methodist Church of Nigeria, His Eminence, Dr. Samuel Kanu Uche, last month at Umunneochi Local Government Area, for which N100 million ransom was paid to procure his freedom, several other incidences have been recorded even in the State capital, Umuahia. Kidnapping has been going on across the state unreported until the incident of the Methodist Prelate, which jolted and embarrassed the state government. The press conference of the Methodist Prelate after his release gave insight into the elements behind the heinous crime, their mode of operation and its purpose. Before then, such crimes were hung on the neck of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
Last week, for instance, the Abia State chapter of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) stopped work to protest the kidnap of one of their own, Professor Iweha, just as the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) called for the release of Mr. Chuks Onuoha, kidnapped in his home in Umungasi Ohuhu, Umuahia North local government area of the state. Likewise, the women of Uturu in Isuikwuato Local Government Area protested the incessant kidnap of their sons and husbands and rape of their wives, mothers and daughters even as youths in Obehie in Ukwa West Local Government Area took to the streets to protest the kidnap of their colleague by suspected Fulani herdsmen, who was later found dead. They called on security agencies to fish out the perpetrators.
Isuochi youths protest
Isuochi youths in Umunneochi Local Government Area of Abia State barricaded the council headquarters at Nkwoagu in protest against what they described as incessant kidnappings by suspected herdsmen in the area. The irate youths numbering over 500 stormed the Umunneochi Council headquarters where they conveyed their grievances to the Council Chairman. Clad in black and chanting war songs, the placard-carrying youths decried the menacing activities and atrocities of herdsmen in the area. Some of the placards read: “Enough is enough”, “Garki cattle market must go”, and “Army should open Ihube/Isuochi road.” The spokesman of the youths, Comrade Divine Uche, said the youths of Umunneochi would no longer tolerate continued harassment, torture and Kidnappings for ransom by herdsmen in the area.
The youths accused security agents, especially the Army of not doing much to checkmate the murderous herdsmen on the prowl in the area in spite of the army roadblocks mounted in the area. They, therefore, demanded immediate relocation of the Lokpanta regional cattle market which they alleged, provided cover for the criminals. The youths also demanded that the military checkpoint at Lomara junction be dismantled and the barricade by the soldiers blocking the Ihube/Isuochi road be cleared without delay so that motorists would be plying the route again. According to them, the presence of the military checkpoint has not helped the matter rather abductions for ransom go on unchecked under the nose of the security agents.
COSEYL flays abduction
Also, the Coalition of South- East Youth Leaders (COSEYL) the umbrella body of all the youth groups in the South-East geopolitical zone described the adduction of His Eminence, Samuel Kanu Uche and other ministers with him in Igboland by Fulani terrorists as the height of insult against Christianity and the Igbo Nation. The group, therefore, called on the Nigerian Army to arrest and prosecute the perpetrators within seven days. “If it was Igbo youths that committed such crime by kidnapping their religious leader in the North, will they have accepted laying low? The answer is no. “It is worrisome that such evil practice will be going on in Umunneochi that harbours so many military formations and checkpoints on her roads and these criminals will be operating freely without being apprehended by the army who are always on duties collecting bribes from motorists on our roads. “This kind of disgraceful act is going on in Abia State because the army has abandoned her primary duty of providing security and resorted to collecting bribes with impunity on our roads and the authorities of the army look the other way which is a tacit approval of the illicit activities of the soldiers.” The kidnapping of people by Fulani terrorists parading as herdsmen along the Enugu – Port Harcourt expressway and Umunneochi has been going on for a very long time without any arrest made by the army. “We have never heard of the army arresting any Fulani man for the crime. Only Igbo youths are arrested and sometimes tagged as IPOB members and extra-judicially killed without trials. The Nigerian army is now serving ethnic interest, too sad.” In a statement issued by the president-general of COSEYL, Goodluck Ibem, the group called on the army to stop threatening the Prelate and gave the Chief of Army Staff seven days ultimatum to fish out perpetrators of these dastardly acts or he should resign if he can’t perform the duties for which he is paid for with taxpayers money.
Consequently, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of the state ordered herdsmen to vacate the forest and limit their activities to the cattle market in Umuchieze. He also directed all settlers, herders and individuals residing inside the forests around Umunneochi to vacate such locations with immediate effect. Ikpeazu warned that the State government would not guarantee the safety of anyone who violated the order. In a government special announcement signed by the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Eze Chikamnayo, Ikpeazu said: “Government can no longer guarantee the safety of any person or group found to be residing in the forests around Umunneochi.”
The statement said the decision was reached after a meeting of the governor with Umunneochi Leaders, Stakeholders and Security Agencies, in which the governor also directed the Commissioner of Police, Abia State alongside Umunneochi youths, to provide immediate Security along the Ihube to Isuochi Road stretching from Ngodo through Lomara Junction all the Way to Ihube. The statement reads: “All cows and herders around Umunneochi are hereby restricted strictly to the Cattle Market located at Umuchieze until a final decision is reached concerning the menace in the Cattle Market. “The Leadership of the Youths of Umunneochi, Vigilante Groups, Hunters and the Hausa Community will continue to meet with the Governor until an amicable solution is found to the incessant cases of Insecurity in the area.” The governor last week followed up with the inauguration of a special security committee for Umunneochi, to rid the forests of stranger elements, terrorists and other criminals.
Inauguration od special c’ttee
He inaugurated the 12-member Special Security Committee for Umunneochi Local Government Area with a charge to stamp out stranger elements that have no business in their fores but have constituted themselves into security threats. Ikpeazu directed the committee to take over all ungoverned spaces in Umunneochi and set up systems that will lead to the apprehension of all elements who have become a nuisance to the people of the Council. The governor assured that government will provide all that is needed to make their job successful and announced the immediate provision of a patrol vehicle and motorcycles to facilitate their operation. Ikpeazu also assured that he will support the Committee until the story of security changes for the better in the area.
Tasks before the c’ttee
He also charged the committee to take decisive action to flush out all criminals in the area as the land belongs to the people of Umunneochi, adding that they must be firm and that any citizen of the area found to be conniving with the criminals should be identified and dealt with. The governor warned that anybody who wants to do business in Umunneochi must come out in the open and charged the committee to deepen intelligence about what is happening in the area especially moving around the area. He further directed them to collaborate with neighbouring communities outside Umunneochi in the course of the assignment, promising that the initiative will be extended to Isuikwuato and Ukwa West LGAs. The Special Security Committee which has 12 members also has the Commissioner for Information, Dr Eze Chikamnayo as Secretary and Eze Okechukwu Chukwuji as chairman. How far can the committee go given the limit of its mandate and the scope of the security challenge? True, Umunneochi/ Isuikwuato axis appears to be the flash point of kidnapping and other heinous crimes, but in recent weeks the menace has spread to other parts of the state. The concern expressed by many is that the committee’s operation is limited to Umunneochi. What happens to the other areas of the State not spared hoodlums. Also, are wondering what has become of the Ministry of Homeland Security. The Ministry was the brainchild of Ikpeazu, established primarily for the purpose of securing the State complementary to the security agencies. The question now is: how should the people understand this ad-hoc committee which operation is limited to Umunneochi and the neighbouring communities.
Sanity returns finally
It is reported that the criminals are armed with sophisticated weapons, like AK-47 assault rifles, with a will, the committee confront them in the face of resistance. The consequent business and capital flight cannot be quantified. Abia State can Ill afford a return to that era. Government should mobilise resources to protect lives and property in all parts of the state before it gets out of hand.