Crisis Resurges: South-East Region Plagued by Gunmen’s Kidnappings and Killings

After a few months of relief, covering the campaigns and elections period, residents of the South East region once now live in fear and apprehension as gunmen have once again laid siege on the region, killing, kidnapping for ransom, and maiming their victims.

They have returned in full force on the Ugwogo-Opi-Nsukka road, Eke in Udi, Adani Uzouwani, Four Corners in Enugu; Umunneochi axis of Enugu-Okigwe-Port Harcourt road in Abia, and in Imo state, the Ihube-Umulolo-Obinetiti road leading to Anambra road.

This Imo route is said to be the deadliest with Aku community said to be their major camp. The situation calls for a collective effort of the five governors in the region to tackle it.

Suspected killer herdsmen still on rampage in Umunneochi LGA

The people of Umunneochi in Abia State are again living in fear following a resurgence of killings and kidnapping allegedly being perpetrated by armed Fulani herdsmen. This is coming just after a few months of respite from the same ordeal. Last week, precisely on Sunday, June 25, 2023, suspected killer herdsmen attacked some people returning from a wedding ceremony and other travelers around the Leru area of the Enugu-Okigwe-Port Harcourt express road. An account of the incident given by a resident of the community claimed that the herders numbered over 30 including teenagers, attacked four vehicles, and kidnapped some of the passengers.

“The people are from Obuletiti. They went to a wedding on Sunday and were on their way back when they were attacked around Leru. Killer Fulani herdsmen filled the bush, they were over 30. They had accosted a vehicle and marched the occupants into the bush, another vehicle was coming but because the driver was on high speed, he stepped on his brake automatically as the hoodlums stopped him, the vehicle somersaulted; some ran away while they held others who couldn’t run.

Worried by the development a group, Concerned Umunneochi Youths has sent a save our soul message to Governor Alex Otti to come to the rescue of the people of the area.

“Our local government has become a battleground, similar to a war-torn zone. The safety of our people is at stake, and we are living in constant fear. These deadly kidnappers are more than a hundred in number; most of the victims that had regained freedom confirmed that the kidnappers are all Fulani. These men have made more than 1 billion naira from ransom.

“Recent events have left us in utter shock and despair. Innocent individuals have fallen victim to the ruthless actions of these kidnappers who show no mercy. Families have been torn apart, and the fate of many remains uncertain. The scale of the atrocities is beyond comprehension, and it is a stark reminder that we are facing an imminent security crisis.

“Umunneochi Youths can no longer afford to turn blind eyes to the urgency of the situation. Our community is in desperate need of immediate government intervention. We demand that the authorities take decisive action to restore law and order, protect our lives, and bring an end to this reign of terror in Isuochi, Nneato, Umuchieze, and the environs. Fear and uncertainty have paralyzed our communities. People are afraid to leave their homes, and the economy is suffering immensely.

“We don’t need Lokpanta Gariki market again. We don’t need the army barrack/base/checkpoint at Lomara junction again. We call upon the government, at both the State and Federal levels, to listen to our cries for help. We demand that they recognize the severity of the situation and allocate the necessary resources to combat this escalating crisis”, the group cried out.

Car theft has almost become a daily occurrence in Umuahia the state capital, and the perpetrators target churches and places where ceremonies hold as their main areas of operation. Last week, a car belonging to a Journalist was stolen from where it was parked while attending a burial ceremony at Ogbodi Umuokpara, right inside the state capital.

Rising wave of insecurity in Abia has political undertone—Rtd DIG Uda

Reacting to the development, a retired Deputy Inspector General of Police, DIG, Azubuko Uda, said the upsurge in crime in the state, had a political undertone. He said some elements who were not pleased with the challenge of power in the state were behind the pockets of criminality in parts of the state.

“Some elements that were used as thugs in the past are not happy with the change of power in the state. They were those harassing drivers and tricycle operators, imposing illegal levies on traders. Even when the Governor has ordered them to stop, some are still busy extorting money from the people”, Udah noted, saying that those behind the current wave of crime in the state “are only testing the Governor’s will”.

“The Governor already has our blueprint and knows what to do. We envisaged this and made some recommendations. Because the Governor is a technocrat interested in development and not bringing money to share, we expected this to happen but he will deal with it. “He has to work closely with the security agencies, especially the police and also set up vigilantes in every community to contain the situation. He has a new Commissioner of police who can quell the situation if given the necessary tools and support. I also want the Governor to have a formidable vigilante outfit in every community to help tackle the monster”, Uda said.

Dislodged touts are fighting back —Abia govt

The Special Adviser to the Governor on Security, Commander Macdonald Ubah attributed the ugly development to the ongoing dislodgement of touts and criminal elements from motor parks and markets but assured that measures were already being taken by the Government to address it.

“We are putting measures in place to stem the tide. You know we just changed Government that was not paying salaries; that could not build infrastructure. That was a time bomb for crime. But last week we paid salaries so that money will start circulating. When we take out those who get into criminality involuntarily, the rate of crime will drop.

“Governor Alex Otti is aware of all these and he is determined to stamp out crime in the state. He is creating an enabling environment for prosperity. He has ordered the stoppage of all forms of levies. Those who think they no longer get free money may be resorting to crime but in the coming weeks, we shall address all that”, Ubah said.

In Imo state, no community after Owerri municipality is safe as pockets of kidnappings go on. Okigwe, Oguta, and Orlu axis are the epicenter of crime in the state with kidnapping and killing being reported almost daily.

A few days ago, gunmen operating on Okigwe axis of the Enugu-Port Harcourt expressway reportedly kidnapped nine Enugu-bound passengers, going to attend a burial ceremony, and took them to a small village. Two of them were killed and others were robbed of their valuables. The victims were said to be from Amangwo Olokoro in Umuahia. The funny thing is, according to one of the victims, residents of the village were watching openly while they were tortured and molested.

Narrating their ordeal, one of the victims said their Sienna Bus was flagged down at gunpoint near the Arondizuogu Junction on the expressway and the vehicle was diverted off the expressway to Arondizuogu road and led into a hamlet far into the bush.

“I have never had this kind of experience in my life before. We were travelling to Enugu for burial and when we got close to Arondizuogu Junction, we saw a group of heavily armed men and they asked us to park. One of us in the vehicle asked them why do you ask us to park and point your guns at us, do you know who I am?

“One of the hoodlums said, now Oga you will prove to us who you are. They ordered us out of the vehicle and asked us to sit on the ground and pull off our shirts with which they blindfolded us. From there, they started beating the man that commented with a machete.

“When we alighted from the vehicle, their leader asked about the man that commented and they pointed at him. They brought him out and barely three steps away from us, they shot him dead.

“Another man with us, who saw what happened and attempted to escape was rushed and also shot dead”, he narrated.

According to him, they seized the two corpses. The hoodlums, he said were over 50 in their hideout, with 20 of them heavily armed.

“And the funniest part of it was that these men were speaking our language. They said that they declared Monday sit-at-home and we are not obeying them. They asked us to say our last prayers”. However, they were later released.

We’re raiding their hideouts —Imo Police

Last Friday, gunmen kidnapped a top businessman in Owerri, the state capital. The victim is said to be the owner of a Supermarket and Pharmacy shop. And in the last two months, kidnappings, killings, and attacks on policemen have heightened in Imo, with no fewer than six policemen killed and several cases of kidnappings recorded.

On April 21, 2023, about four policemen were killed at Okpala in Ngor Okpala Local Government Area of the state by unidentified gunmen. A month after, precisely on May 20, another two policemen were shot and killed at the same axis, while one other cop was injured. A few days later, a priest of the Catholic Church, Rev. Fr. Jude Maduka was abducted while preparing for Sunday service in Okigwe. On May 26, another priest, Rev. Fr. Matthias Opara was kidnapped while returning from a burial ceremony held in Izombe, Oguta Local Government Area of the state.

The state Police Public Relations Officer, Henry Okoye, said the command was raiding the hideout of the criminals and heightening its Operation Show of Force in the state.

In Anambra State the situation is not better as the people live in fear and apprehension, especially communities in local government areas that share boundaries with Imo and Abia states such as Aguata, Orumba North and South; Ihiala and Ogbuaru councils.

However, the Government and efforts of some communities, including Nnewi championed by Senator Ifeanyi Ubah, are helping to tackle the menace. Recently the gunmen attacked the Okija Vigilante outfit in Ihiala council area and paid dearly for that as two of them were killed.

A member of the gallant vigilante group said: “These people who call themselves unknown gunmen attacked us at our camp at Ogbenabo Okija around 3 am and started firing at us. We did not provoke them and they came to kill us for no reason. Maybe they are disturbed that Okija Vigilante is not making it easy for them to attack innocent people. Unfortunately for them, they did not succeed. They thought they could overpower us, but we taught them a big lesson. We killed two of them and many others escaped with injuries.

In Azia, also in the Ihiala council area, the gunmen no longer allow burials to take place. For instance, a woman from the community who died in Lagos could not be given a proper burial last week because of the near-impossible conditions given by the gunmen to the family to meet. According to a member of the family, the gunmen demanded a down payment of N7 million before doing anything. Because the family did not have much money, the woman was buried early in the morning, while the burial ceremony was suspended indefinitely.

Anambra State Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, DSP Tochukwu Ikenga said the state Police command would continue to work with the state vigilante outfits to ensure that gunmen do not have any opportunity to operate in any part of the state.

Also, Governor Chukwuma Soludo has been receiving commendations for the way he is handling the issue of gunmen in the state. The national coordinator of All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, Media Warriors Forum, Chinedu Obigwe said Soludo deserves commendation for his giant strides in reducing the level of insecurity in the state since his assumption of office.

Enugu state is also having a large dose of insecurity as kidnapping, armed robbery, and car theft have been on the increase in the state with recent activities of kidnappers on the busy Opi-Nsukka-Ugwogo-Nike-Enug road, Four Corner road, the Adani-Nsukka, Eke community and environs in Udi council area, from where a save our soul message emanated was last week.

Increased activities of kidnappers on Opi-Nsukka-Ugwogo-Enugu last week drew public outrage which prompted commercial vehicle drivers plying the route to barricade the road in protest. The action seems to have reminded both the State Government and security agencies that it is time to wake up from their deep slumber as sanity seems to have returned on the route.

One of the enraged protesters said: “Government should urgently intervene on this road. We cannot continue to ply this road in fear. Men, women, and children are in the bush and the government is not doing anything about it. Criminals are increasing on this road and security operatives are reducing. The attention of the government is highly needed. It is either the government intervenes or nobody will ply this road again”.

On a particular day that week, kidnappers attacked commuters on three separate operations on that route. That incident was the third in a space of days on that route, the reason the protest sparked off. Truth is that no matter what the Government does on the security situation in Enugu state, the lead actors, the police and army must sit up, and screen their operatives manning many of the checkpoints scattered across the states due to constant allegations of collaboration with these hoodlums being leveled against them.

In Ebonyi, the situation is not different as criminal activities, including kidnapping and killings, are being witnessed. A few days ago, a staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Emmanuel Igwe was killed and his wife was kidnapped allegedly by Fulani herdsmen along the Ivo axis of Afikpo-Okigwe road. Another gory incident was the slaughtering of the father of Ohaneze youth leader, Ajah Okeafor who was on his farmland, harvesting his yam.

But the Ebonyi state police Command said they have arrested the killers of the INEC worker and Ajar Okeafor and other criminals terrorizing the people of Ebonyi.

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