Emmanuel Ugwu writes on the rising crime wave in Abia State and the steps taken by the government to checkmate the negative trend
“A clear message has been sent to criminals: there is no safe haven for them in Abia.” So said Godwin Adindu, the Chief Press Secretary to Abia State governor, in justifying the action of government after four buildings were leveled to ground zero for being used by kidnappers. It demonstrated how tetchy Abia government has become in tackling the crime of kidnapping. And justifiably so having in the recent years suffered the negative impact of the heinous crime on the economic and social wellbeing of the state.
Abia had, with the help of soldiers, dealt a devastating blow to kidnappers between 2010 and 2011 during the administration of Senator Theodore Orji. The then governor had to throw in every available resources to retrieve Aba, the commercial city in particular from the vice-like grip of kidnappers.
But the security being enjoyed in the state began to wear away shortly after the 2015 general election. Kidnapping and car snatching incidents began to rear their ugly heads. The crime wave was exacerbated when on March 12, 2016 two students of Abia State University (ABSU), Uturu, were murdered and beheaded by suspected student cultists, who stormed one of the off campus hostels where the victims and other students were staying. The state government was shocked and embarrassed by this crime as the killers even had the bravado of using the severed heads to set up goal posts on the lawn outside the university’s perimeter wall.
Obviously alarmed and enraged by the effrontery of these criminals, Abia State governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu vowed to hit the hoodlums real hard. The demolition of the four buildings at Nkporo in Ohafia Local Government Area on April 15, 2015 was part of the measures taken to make crime a very bad venture. The bulldozer was called to action following the dismantling of a kidnap gang that usually snatched their victims at Aba and carry them to Nkporo where they were kept in the affected houses pending the payment of ransoms. The bubble burst for the “notorious” gang when troops of the 14 Brigade Garrison Ohafia stormed their hideout at Nkporo where they kept a victim they abducted at Aba.
Army public relations officer of 14 Brigade, Major Sydney Mbaneme, told journalists that the leader of the gang identified as Ifeanyi fell to his death from the roof of the house, two escaped while Chidiebere Sunday, 39, was arrested. He was paraded as items recovered from their hideout were displayed. They included N5, 490, 000, two AK 47 rifles, police special pistol, nine magazines loaded with 124 rounds of 7.62mm special ammunition, two rounds of 9mm ammunition, six GSM handsets, RAV 4 Jeep marked Lagos MUS 428 RZ, generator, among others.
Though Sunday, who said he was doing business in Benue, denied being a member of the gang, claiming that he only went to collect money from his friend of 10 years Ifeanyi, his motive of being found with the criminals gave him out. The kidnap suspect disclosed that he was preparing for the burial of his father and his friend invited him to come and receive financial assistance. It was easy for the soldiers to conclude that the suspect was intent on giving his late father a big funeral and ransom money was a very attractive for him to actualise his dream. But it ended as a pipe dream as argument that arose among the gang members on the sharing formula of their loot attracted the attention of residents in the area.
The army spokesman said that troops deployed to Abriba in Ohafia Local Government Area were tipped off about “suspicious persons in the area (Nkporo)” and their prompt response ended the bazaar for the hoodlums. The kidnap victim, said to be a trader in second hand cloths was targeted by his fellow trader and leader of the gang, Ifeanyi, whose intention was to eliminate the victim to avoid being identified. His plan boomeranged while his victim escaped with a gunshot wound.
Even though the incidents of kidnapping have not exploded to the dimension of the Osisikankwu era the rate at which people were being snatched was worrisome. Several of such incidents turned out to be successful operations for the hoodlums as victims, against police advice, paid to regain their freedom. While kidnappers were targeting individuals, car snatchers kept car owners on the edge. Cases of missing cars have become common as car thieves either dispossess them from their owners at gun point or make away with cars from where they are parked.
Toyota cars, especially Camry and Honda CRV are the most common targets of the car thieves. In Umuahia, the state capital, the World Bank Housing Estate has become the vulnerable area and hunting ground for the car thieves. The commercial city of Aba is equally experiencing high incidents of car snatching. In fact, announcements of stolen cars have become very frequent on radio with the police asking for useful information to recover the vehicles.
In his drive to transform the Abia economy through massive rehabilitation of infrastructure to attract investors, the state Governor Ikpeazu considers the rising incidents of criminal activities as a major challenge that must be surmounted. He has vowed to sustain the war against crime and even apply drastic measures as in the demolition of houses or hotels found to be used by kidnappers for their nefarious operations.
That was why he did not hesitate to send the demolition squad to Nkporo led by his special adviser on security, Capt. Awa Udensi to ensure that the four bungalows were reduced to rubbles under the weight of bulldozers. Udensi assured that it was a legal operation, since according to him, it was done in accordance with an extant anti-terrorism law of the state, which provides that any building or property used by kidnappers for their nefarious activities would be demolished and forfeited to the state.
He said that the affected buildings were properly identified as the hideout of kidnappers, adding that the demolition would serve as a deterrent to other people involved in the obnoxious business of kidnapping. The special adviser on security sternly warned kidnappers and other criminal elements that Abia would remain uncomfortable for them. He stated that any community that allows any part of its land or forest to be used as a hideout by kidnappers would lose ownership and forfeit it to the state.
To further demonstrate his determination to put criminals at bay in the state, Ikpeazu has been giving support to the security agencies in Abia. On February 19, 2015 he donated 20 patrol cars to Abia State police command to facilitate the war against criminals. The patrol vehicles, fully equipped with communication gadgets, were handed over to the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mr. Solomon Arase when he visited Abia.
The Abia governor commended the efforts of the police command in maintaining peace and security in the state, saying that the donation of the vehicles was in recognition of their efforts in ensuring that criminals were not allowed to have a field day in the state.
Ikpeazu urged the Abia police “to step up their game and ensure that no place is comfortable for criminals in Abia”. To sustain the logistics support to the security agencies the governor said that the Bill on Security Trust Fund has been passed into law, assuring that his government would ensure the full implementation of its provisions in order to give the police the needed confidence to keep criminals out of Abia.
In explaining the apparent surge in criminalities, Ikpeazu said that the geographical location of Abia was a major factor. Abia is strategically located between South-east and South-south geopolitical zones and shares border with six states hence Ikpeazu noted that criminals could readily drift into Abia whenever the situation becomes hot for them in neighbouring states. According to him, “the criminal community has no home and always on the move (hence) every state should ensure that their borders are safe (while) we want to make our state as safe as possible. We are not pretending that crimes can be wiped out completely but we want to keep it as low as possible,” Ikpeazu said.
Given the very disturbing statistics of crime wave in many states across Nigeria, IGP Arase said that “the security situation in Abia is tolerable”, adding that the police “are going to work harder to sustain the prevailing peace” and keep making improvements. While expressing appreciation to the Abia governor for assisting the state police command, the IGP said that even though the police force is in the exclusive list in the Constitution of Nigeria it has become imperative for state governments to support the police as they strive to provide security in the land.
With the posture of the security agencies in the state it would be an uphill task for kidnappers and other criminal elements to operate comfortably in Abia. As a matter of fact, God’s Own state has no reason to feel threatened by criminals since it hosts the 14 Brigade of Nigeria Army and the headquarters of Zone 9 Police Command.
The Garrison Commander, 14 Brigade Ohafia, Lt. Col Sani Ahmed, said that the Army formation in Abia was committed in its efforts to rid the state of kidnapping and all other crimes in line with its mandate of ensuring peace and security in Abia.
The new Assistant Inspector General of Police in charge of Zone 9, Mr. Yerima Fyarah in his maiden press conference last month assured that “our men will work tirelessly to provide security” in the zone comprising Abia, Enugu, Anambra and Imo states.
He said that the zonal command has mapped out strategies to rout criminals, adding that areas of concentration in fighting the criminals have already been identified in all the states. “We will give you the best of service,” AIG Fyarah assured, adding, “we are going to use all the resources we can muster to combat crime. But he pointed out that people should live under the illusion that crime incidents would not occur from time to time as not even the developed nations with all their sophisticated technology in crime fighting have achieved the feat of crime free society. “The battle against criminals is unending because people will always commit crimes. So we keep evolving strategies to checkmate criminals,” the Zone 9 police boss said.
The Abia Police Command on its part has been making some successes in its war against criminals operating in Abia. Every now and the Command parades suspected criminal of all shades arrested at various operations the police mounted across the state. In one of such events last week the State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Joshak Habila, told journalists that his men were not leaving any stone unturned in their efforts to neutralise criminal activities. He said that the police have adopted new tactics which has been yielding the needed results as more and more criminals are getting to the end of the road in crime business.
According to him, the tempo of surveillance activities of his command has increased, more so as the patrol vehicles donated by the state government have been deployed to strategic parts of the state. The CP said that the police was enjoying an appreciable level of cooperation from the people in provision of useful information hence the successes being recorded in dismantling criminal gangs. Last week, the police killed a notorious criminal terrorising the state and also successfully arrested other criminals who were paraded before journalists.
While supporting the security agencies to make life unbearable for criminals in Abia, Ikpeazu has also seen the need to tackle crime from its roots. He has identified youth employment as effective tool in fighting crime. To this end, Ikpeazu has embarked on youth employment programmes, including the Education for Employment (E4E), which aims at equipping youths with vocational skills to make them self-employed. The coordinator of the programme said that over 30, 000 youths have registered for the programme while the Abia Youth Employment in Agriculture programme has been introduced. This particular programme is targeted at engaging 10, 000 Abia youths in agriculture thereby steering them away from crime.