It is supposed to be a burgeoning community because of its closeness to Benin, the Edo State capital, but Upper Sakponba is besieged by some notorious characters, who have lowered the value of the area to a crime capital. FRANCIS OGBUAGU reports from Benin City
For anybody familiar with Upper Sakponba, a suburb in Benin City, the Edo State capital, the name evokes intense fear, dread and insecurity. The community is in present day Ikpoba- Okha Local Government Area of Edo State and stretches more than 25 kilometers, starting from Muritala Muhammad Way (3rd Junction) to Idogbo,(the Ikpoba- Okha LGA Headquarters) a rural community bordering Edo and Delta states.
The community is populated by indigenous Binis, believed to have migrated from Oriohmwon and Uhunmwode Local Government areas, with others from nieghbouring Delta State. According to Sir Tony Abolo, a BBC trained Veteran Broadcaster and a Management Consultant, most of the people in Upper Sakponba are believed to have migrated from the nieghbouring Oriohmwon and Uhunmwode Local Government areas, while others came from Delta states. He said that studies have shown that Upper Sakponba is the most depressed part of Edo State, where people wallow in abject poverty, decades of neglect from governments. And these bring a sense of alienation from the rest of the society. With the overstretching increase in population, people tend to crime like cultism, armed robbery, illicit drugs and prostitution to survive.”
Upper Sakponba is known to be a haven for criminals. For example, all recent cult killings in Benin City, Edo State, started from Upper Sakponba before circulating to other parts of the city or the state. The community serves as a hideout for cultists when running away from law enforcement agents. With spots like St Saviour Road, Nomayo Street and Three House Junction as the most dangerous areas in Upper Sakponba. For people living in this suburb, social live and economic activities begin from 6.00am and end by 6.00pm.
Anything before or after this time may cost you some valuables like money, phone and anything found on the person. Armed robbery is a daily occurrence, mostly perpetuated by teenagers, who may have been mentored by fathers, older siblings or neighbours. The EndSARS protest revealed the level of criminalities going on in this community. For instance, the burning of police stations and breaking of Correctional Centres in Edo State started in Ugbeku Police station(an area seen as the heart of Upper Sakponba).
As earlier as 7.00 am on the 19th of October,2020, hoodlums had invaded the Police station, sacked police officers on duty, freed suspects, carted away weapons and police uniforms, ( a video was later released of one wearing the DPO uniform, “new DPO” in Ugbeku Division) before the station was set on fire.That was the beginning of arson by hoodlums in the state (and all other parts of Nigeria where government property were burnt),as they moved to Ring Road to join the groups that set the Oba Market Police station ablaze; then to the two Correctional Centres, where over 2,000 in mate were released.
The Upper Sakponba boys were so magical, that hoodlums from other parts of Benin City just have to wait for the Upper boys to come before committing any serious arson during the EndSARS Protest. Apart from the Nigerian Police Force that was the main victim of the protest as they lost four police stations in the community, the Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) was the next victim as the state command office located in the Upper Sakponba Road was set ablaze after hoodlums carted away weapons and hundreds of bags of hard drugs.
The Public Relation Officer of the NDLEA in Edo State, Mitchell Ofoyeju, captured it this way, while reacting to the havoc done to the agency’s office in Benin during the EndSARS protest. “I don’t understand. This is not the case of hunger again. People invading the place to cart away bags of hard drugs? What do they want to do with it? It is sad. This is a case of a sick society.” Eyewitness revealed that women and children were not left out on the bazaar of carting away hard drugs from the NDLEA’s warehouse.
Illicit drugs sales and usage
The sales and usage of hard drugs and other controlled substances amongst people of different sex and ages in the community is alarming. It is common to see even teenage boys and girls sale and smoke hard drugs in the public. The carting away of hundreds of bags of hard drugs from the warehouse of NDLEA in the community during the EndSARS protest also hiked this practice. People were still seen going to cart away the substances even a day after the incident took place.
It is common knowledge that any community where alcohol and hard drugs are commonly used, the next thing on the table will be prostitution. The community is notorious for this,as most streets in Upper Sakponba have brothels and sex camps,( disguised as residential houses) and mostly hidden from security agents and strangers. Some of the houses are said to habour under-aged girls as young as 13 and 14 years also. Under-aged male prostitutes are also involved. According to National Agency for Prohibition in Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP),the community serves as the highest recruiting point in Edo State for human traffickers with their destination to Europe. Those who are lucky, go overseas to change their standard of living and family’s fortunes, while the unlucky ones continue their trade at home.
Though, Upper Sakponba is a highly populated community, that would have been an advantage economically. The high level of crime and poverty rate make the community very unattractive for both business and residence. The consequence is a fall in prices of property. For example, a three bedroom flat in other middle class areas like Ugbowo, Upper Mission, Ekenwan Road goes for N250,000 to N350,000 per annum but goes for N150,000 to N200,000 per annum in Upper Sakponba. A 2 bedroom flat in some of the above mentioned areas goes for between N150,000 to N250,000; the same goes for between N100,000 to N150,000 in the area. Also, a 12×12 store that goes for between N7,000 – N15,000 in most parts of the mentioned areas per month, goes for between N3,000 to N7,000 per month in Upper Sakponba. Another serious effect of the high level of crime and criminality is that people are scared of raising children in the neighborhood, as most parents fear that their children and wards could turn wayward.