Aba, a city which sits on an area of about 1,328 square kilometer (513sq ml) with a population estimated to be slightly above three million, is noted for business and technology. Rich in both pre and post colonial history like the Aba Women’s riot and highlights of the Nigerian civil war, Aba has always featured prominently in the social, economic and political discourse about Nigeria in general and Abia state in particular.
But since 2009, the renowned Market City has made the headlines largely for the wrong reasons. Under the very nose of the immediate past Governor of the State, Senator Ahamaefule Theodore Orji, the city, fondly called “Japan of Africa” became notorious for the alarming level of insecurity within its walls which forced many businesses to close down and numerous residents, especially the affluent, to relocate to other towns and cities, far and near, for safety.
Many residents of the troubled City, while speaking to The Nation on the matter, said Aba, a city which prides itself as the commercial heartbeat of not just the state, but of the entire southeast as well as Nigeria, may soon become abandoned if something is not urgently done to reverse the ugly trend. Many lamented that already, the famed “melting pot for traders from neigbhouring West African countries like Ghana, Cameroun, Chad, Ivory Coast and amongst others” has been reduced to a “ghost town” as we speak.
Many were quick to recall the twin incidents of the kidnapping of three Journalists who were coming back from Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital at the end of the Nigeria Union of Journalists’ (NUJ) national executive council meeting and the abduction of 15 school children near Osisioma . Both incidents were linked to one Obioma Nwankwo, aka “Osisikankwu,” who, according to reports, had thrown the residents of Aba into an orgy of fear, bloodshed and inactivity. His reign of terror, which peaked between 2009 and 2010, still lingers in the people’s consciousness like the memories of a bad dream.
At the height of the waves of insecurity that rocked the state in general and Aba, the commercial city in particular, the federal government under the leadership of then President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, was forced to establish the Army 14 Brigade at Ohafia and the 144 Battalion at Ukwa West Local Government Area, amongst other Forward Operation Bases (FOB) introduced across the state to combat the menace of crimes and criminals. Of course, Aba and its environs got the lion share of such security measure.
Following these measures and the seriousness attached to them by the then administration of former Governor Orji’s, peace appeared to have returned to the troubled commercial city as residents were once again able to go about their lawful duties without much harassment from hoodlums and criminals. But that respite became short-lived soon as the orgy of violence returned in no distant time.
According to visibly worried residents of the City, recent developments in Aba leave no one induct that the dreaded days are here again. They say crimes ranging from kidnapping, armed robbery, cultism and other vices are back in the metropolis to shatter the peace of the city and disrupt the recovering socioeconomic life of the people.
Terror returns in new styles.
Investigation revealed that the hoodlums who now operate mainly on tricycle (Keke) now come into town with confidence to kidnap, rob and or attack their victims at any time of the day and escape to neighbouring towns and villages after their operations which have left many people maimed and dead since the return to the dark days of insecurity.
“They also sometimes escape into neighboring states of Akwa Ibom, Imo and Rivers State through the many exit routes which are largely terrain too difficult for security agencies to pass when chasing after them. They have hideouts in impossible places too. Those terrorizing Aba are not residents of Aba alone. Many of them come from towns and cities far and near. Some come from other states and return there after their operations here.
They have their routes out of the city after unleashing terror on the people. Omuma, Obohia, Ihieorji, Ekeapkara, Ovom road, Ohanku, Ngwa road by East, Bata junction, Azikiwe, Port Harcourt road, Ogbor Hill, Brass junction by Owerri road, Okpulu Umuobo, Umuojima to mention but a few, are some of the routes used by these hoodlums to whisk their victims out of the town,” a worried resident, whose relative was recently kidnapped said.
Recently, a retired civil servant and her only son were abducted by a group of kidnappers. According to eye-witness accounts, the members of the gang, in age, would range between 16 to 20 years. But for the efforts of Soldiers from the 144 Battalion who rescued the boy from his abductors, the mother would have had to cough out the three hundred thousand naira ransom demanded by the dare-devil kidnappers.
“Following incessant threats by the kidnappers to kill her son and come after her, the woman had agreed to pay the ramose before the brilliant intervention by the Soldiers who bravely and carefully went after the abductors and rescued the boy. That is just one of the numerous cases of attacks by these criminals. In Aba today, it is a case of ‘one day, one crime’,” our source said.
The immediate past chairman of the Aba Branch of Nigeria Bar Association, (NBA) Chidozie Ogunji, is yet to fully recover from the scares he received from a kidnap attempt on him by one of the numerous gangs littering Aba as we speak. Although he was lucky top escape being abducted by his attackers, he was shot in the thigh after it became obvious the plan to whisk him into hostage has failed.
Few weeks back, the Abia State Police Command foiled an attempt by gunmen, suspected to be kidnappers to kidnap a businessman at Azikiwe road, in Aba. According to sources, the incident which occurred at about 5pm near the Azikiwe/ Asa road junction, caused tension and fear in the area as the gunmen fired sporadic shots into the air.
Shop owners and motorists were said to have scampered for safety to escape being hit by stray bullets. The targeted victim, who was simply identified as a dealer on industrial sewing machines along Azikiwe road, and whose name could not be ascertained as at the time of filing this report, was said to have taken to his heels as soon as he escaped being whisked by the gunmen.
A Police source told journalists that as soon as the Aba Area Commander, ACP Peter Wagbara, was alerted by the sporadic shooting, ordered his men to block suspected exit routes in the city.
“The hoodlums escaped through Ngwa Road by East Street through the popular Good Morning market. We followed, but couldn’t engage them in a shootout due to the number of people at the market.” The Police source further disclosed.
This was even as a yet-to-be identified victim was kidnapped at Immaculate Junction, along the ever busy Aba-Owerri Road, while another victim was being feared dead after he was shot at severally by armed men attempting to kidnap him within the city.
While moving a motion headlined “Need to curb the spate of kidnapping, armed robbery and killing in Aba, Abia State” on the floor of the House of Representatives in January, the lawmaker representing Aba North and South Federal Constituency, Hon. Ossy Prestige, expressed worries that the spate of kidnapping, killing and armed robbery in and around Aba Metropolis in recent time is rapidly on the increase.
Prestige lamented that an average of five persons are kidnapped, robbed or maimed in and around the Aba Metropolis on daily basis. He stressed that the act of kidnapping the high and low in the commercial city are being perpetrated both in the day and at night. He said on Tuesday January 26, four persons were kidnapped in broad daylight within the spate of 45minutes at different strategic locations.
According to the lawmaker, the abductors were not apprehended and the victims were only released after they parted with some ransom. He however noted that the such incidents are making Aba residents to live in fears as well as causing massive exodus of people, goods and services from Aba in droves. The Aba North and South Federal lawmaker expressed fears that if the situation is not nipped in the bud soon, Aba may become a shadow of itself, which will also affect the economy of Aba North and South constituency and even the state adversely.
Speaking on the resurgence of kidnapping and other violent crimes in Aba, the Foundation for Environmental Rights and Advocacy, (FENRAD) and the Civil Liberties Organization,(CLO) Aba Unit, had in separate statements, called on the security agencies in Aba and environs to work together in order not to allow the city return to the days of kidnapping, armed robbery and other violent crimes.
CLO, in a statement signed by its Aba Unit chairman, Prof. Charles Chinekezi said; “These criminals are here again. They have started attacking and abducting people. As a human right and civil society group, we have a duty to alert the authorities on the increasing crime rate in Aba and environs.”
Also lamenting the harm which kidnappers had caused the city, FENRAD in a statement signed by its Executive Director, Comrade Nnanna Nwafor, recalled that, “In the last five years when the military came into this place by the efforts of former President Goodluck Jonathan and the Abia state government, to tackled the incidence of kidnapping, armed robbery and other violent crimes, the criminals ran away.
But they are gradually coming back. We should not allow the residents of Aba to suffer the insecurity of the past years when many of them relocated to other places. For instance, a lot of people have been abducted in the past one month. The criminals come between 9.30am and 5.30pm. They have abducted many businessmen, medical doctors, lawyers and politicians. Security agencies should re-strategize to curtail the re-emergence of violent crimes like kidnapping and armed robbery.”
FENRAD also urged the security agencies in Aba to be more dedicated to their duties of protecting lives and property as well as abstain from involving themselves in frivolous cases. The group said Soldiers should forget about mounting road blocks and concentrate on the job of securing the lives and properties of the people fog the troubled city. The group stated that insecurity can be effectively tackled in Aba and the state if there is a greater collaboration among security agencies.
“Today, soldiers have suddenly started mounting road blocks to replace the dismantled road blocks of the police force. They use small boys to collect tolls on the road and such activities tend to distract them. This has been the real problem that we are facing right now and that is why there is this breach in security which has given these criminals the leeway to re-launch their activities.”
A security expert, Mr. Okafor Timothy, in a chat with our reporter, attributed the rising cases of kidnapping and other related crime to lack of job, insincerity of the government and using youths as political thugs. He said many youths were armed with sophisticated weapons by politicians during the last election and abandoned after the election.
“It is these weapons we are daily seeing being used to kidnap, rob, kill and threaten people. It is these youths that are now all over Aba wrecking havoc since the politicians who armed them have abandoned them after winning or losing elections. And look at the amount of money said to have been looted by people who were in government. All these are responsible for the return of crime,” he said.
“If Abia State is to make headway in tackling insecurity in the state, let them device a strategy of mopping up guns that are in the hands of wrong persons. Let Governor Okezie Ikpeazu and his economic team device a means of creating wealth and job opportunity(ies) for the teeming youths in the state. If not, the state government and security agencies will be chasing shadows because these guys from what I was told, are grounded.
They know the terrain very well. They know how to beat security checkpoints. They know where they will abandon vehicles and where they will use legs to escape. All these, the security apparatus in the state are yet to know. Aba and Ngwa land is a vast place with many escape and entrance routes. And before anything meaningful can be achieved, the politicians should get the names of the people they gave guns during elections. the state government should declare true amnesty for the boys,” he said.
Last month, the fear of armed attacks in the city reached an alarming height when the convoy of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State was attacked by armed robbers, who were robbing commuters along Aba-Owerri Road. The incident took place near the same Immaculate Junction while the governor was coming back to Aba from Umuahia at 8p.m. Though no life was lost, sources said that the security details attached to the governor fired sporadic shots, which scared the robbers away.
Eye witnesses said the gunmen were robbing a suspected Lagos bound bus, when a pilot security van without siren and amber light approached the area. On sighting the security vehicle, the gunmen were said to have opened fire without knowing that it was the governor’s convoy.
“The robbers did not know that it was the governor. They thought that it could be the Army or police, but when they discovered it was the governor’s convoy with its full complement of security details, they took to their heels. I do not think it was the governor that the hoodlums wanted to attack. It is just that the governor’s convoy that was returning from work without the usual siren and the revolving amber light, ran into them,” a sources was quoted as saying.
In a press statement released to journalists by the Police Public Relations Officer of the Abia State Command, DSP Ezekiel Udeviotu, it was revealed that Ugwunagbo and Omoba Police divisions in the city rescued two children; aged two and three-years-old who were abducted by gunmen. According to the Police PRO, the two years old boy, whose name was not given, was abducted from the parents at gunpoint on 19th march 2016 was rescued by the Police at Owerrinta on 20th march 2016.
He said that the rescue of the boy was as a result of prompt report made by his parents to the Police of his abduction. According to the parents of the abducted child, the incident happened at about 8:30 pm on the fateful day when they were about going to bed as two masked men came into their house with short guns and ordered the husband to hand over the keys of his motorcycle to them.
When the gunmen learnt that the family had no motorcycle, they were said to have tied and blindfolded the couple apparently to prevent them from raising alarm and later made away with the child who was said to be sleeping at the time of the invasion. As soon as the abductors left, the couple, who managed to untie what they were bound with, rushed and reported the incident to the Police, who promptly alerted all patrol vehicles and other teams deployed in the state to watch out for the abductors and the victim.
The child, which was abandoned by the kidnappers on releasing they could not escape the Police manhunt after them, is said to have since been reunited him with his family.
Three year old Chidiebere, according to the Police, was abducted on his way from school on 24th February 2016 but was rescued on 18th march 2016 from Divine Mercy Orphanage home at Owerri in Imo State. He said that the rescue of the child followed a manhunt launched by the Police after he was declared missing by his parents.
“The synergy with the community paid off when a piece of information was processed into intelligence which led to the arrest of one John Ugorji, male aged 24 years of EziamaNvosi community who told the Police how he abducted the child on his way from school and sold him off to one Ijeoma Okro, female, aged 40 years of Okpu-umuobo road, Aba and a mother of six children, for two hundred and fifty thousand naira.
“Ijeoma Okro in turn sold the child for four hundred and ten thousand naira to the duo of Ugochi Akajiaku, female aged 38 years of Ahiazu Mbaise in Imo State, a mother of four and Marita Agulomu, female aged 38 years of Ukuogu Aboh-Mbaise, Imo state, a mother of five. Ugochi Akajiaku and Marita Agulomu in turn sold the abducted child for five hundred thousand naira to one Princess Chioma Ononiwu, female, the proprietress of Divine Mercy Orphanage home at Owerri, Imo State.”
Worried by the resurgent of criminal activities in the troubled city and in a renewed effort to ensure adequate protection of lives and property in Aba, the 14 Brigade, Ohafia, relocated its command headquarters to the city last February. Commanding Officer, 14 Brigade Ohafia, Brigadier General Lawrence Fejokwu, while announcing the relocation, said Aba had once again become a hot spot of criminal activities.
“I have gone around to familiarize myself with my location and men. My decision is that Aba have continued to be a hot spot especially on the issue of kidnapping. To this effect, I have decided to, after due clearance with my boss, the GOC, to relocate our tactical headquarters from Ohafia to Aba to see how far we can go in arresting the situation.
He vowed to collaborate with sister security agencies to end the resurgence of kidnapping in Aba and environs and make the city a safe haven for investors and residents. But residents say they are still waiting for the effect of the relocation as the city is yet to breadth a sigh of relieve from the menace of criminals and their collaborators.
Also, the State Government, which earlier banned the operation of tricycles between the hours of 7pm till 6am in Aba and Umuahia respectively, recently demolished the house of a kidnapper at Nkporo in Ohafia Local Government Area after soldiers from 14 Brigade, Ohafia arrested members of the gang who confessed to the crime.
The Nation also gathered that the state government has equally issued stern warning and vowed to dethrone any traditional ruler in the state in whose community the kidnappers keep their victims or use same as the take-off for their operations. The Police and the Army, amongst other sister agencies are also losing sleep over this ugly development and have in recent weeks, recorded several successes which came as results of well processed intelligence reports from members of the public.
On assumption of office as the Commissioner of Police in Abia State, Joshak Habila, in one of his interviews with newsmen in Aba, assured of the commitment of his command to tackle crime and criminality. This Habila said he was going to achieve through partnership with community leaders in various villages and local government areas of the state.
While waiting to see the outcome of the various efforts being put in place by the government and the security agencies to combat the activities of the criminals before they snuff life out of Aba, the commercial city, residents of the besieged City continue to live in fear and trepidation as kidnappers, armed robbers and other gunmen continue to unleash terror across the length and breadth of the city.
BY : SUNNY NWANKWO