Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt
Worried by the increasing activities of kidnappers and cultists, 14 communities in Ikwerre Local Government Area of Rivers State have said they would comb the forests in their land to flush out all criminals.
In recent times, some motorists and commuters in commercial vehicles have been kidnapped while travelling through the area especially to and from neighbouring Imo State.
The Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, had at the inauguration of the new local government council chairmen in the state on June 18, given them marching orders to fight insecurity and crime in their domains.
Addressing journalists at Isiokpo Thursday, the Chairman of Ikwerre Local Government Council, Samuel Nwanosike, said the communities had agreed to take over the war against criminals and criminal activities in the area.
He noted that criminals were overtaking communities and converting farmlands and forests to kidnappers’ and armed robbers’ hideouts, sometimes with the active connivance of the community officials.
He gave cult groups and kidnappers operating in communities in the local government area an ultimatum of three weeks to turn a new leaf and surrender their arms and ammunition to security agencies or face the wrath of the law.
He also said he has given himself a three-week deadline to clear the forests of criminals and encourage farmers in the area to return to their farmlands, stressing that the council was already compiling names of women who collect money from criminals to cook and send food to them in the forests.
“Very soon, communities will move into the forests en masse to flush out criminals taking refuge there,” he said, adding that the situation has become so bad that kidnap and cult gang leaders no longer respect traditional rulers but sometimes summon them to their houses to flog them.
He said: “The amnesty that was granted to criminals sometime ago was done in conjunction with security agencies and there were no monies attached to it. I was the caretaker committee chairman then. Soon after, some of those people who were granted amnesty returned to crime and criminality.
“The criminals still have the opportunity to turn a new leaf and surrender their arms and ammunition to security agencies. Thank God we now have a Police Area Commander here. The Director of DSS is here and the JTF is here.
“Let them surrender their arms and they will be taken care of.”
Nwanosike further explained that he dissolved the leadership of the Community Development Committees (CDC) of the 14 communities in the area because of the involvement of some of the chairmen in cultism.
He said: “How can you come to a community where you claim to be a CDC chairman and people are going about with AK-47 rifles. We found out that majority of the CDC chairmen belong to either Deygbam or Deywell cult groups. How can a community move forward with such persons?
“Community leaders were subjecting themselves to the rulership of the so-called civilian generals who terrorise our communities. How can a chief go to the house of a criminal for settlement of issues? You see these chiefs being flogged by these boys.
“We dissolved the CDCs in the presence of traditional rulers from this local government area, both first class and second class traditional rulers. And they all supported our decision to sack them. We will conduct election into the CDC of the 14 communities in the state within the next 60 days.”
He emphasised: â€œOur communities must take over this war against crime. Any traditional ruler that encourages crime will have us to contend with.â€
The local government chairman said he has constituted three committees pursuant to the fulfilment of his campaign promises namely: Employment and Empowerment, Back to Farm, and Back to School Committees.
He explained that the Employment and Empowerment Committee has the responsibility of going around Rivers State and beyond to search out employment opportunities for youths of the local government and assisting them to explore and benefit from such openings.
According to him, the Back to School Committee would be responsible for considering every Ikwerre man and woman that is involved in peasant farming saying: “We must support them to make sure that as we chase those criminals out of the farmlands, we need to get our people back to the farms so that we can bring out Ikwerre garri again for Rivers people and Nigeria.”
On the Back to School programme, he said the local government would “deliberately create policies to return our children back to school”, adding that the idea was tailored towards the policy of late Obafemi Awolowo in the South-west that saw many people in the area gaining education and economic power.
“Education is key”, Nwanosike stated, adding that through the policy, young boys and girls of the local government would be assisted to write WAEC and support indigent ones among them to go through school and make sure they obtain qualifications that they can defend.