June 13, 2009

Kidnapping gives me headache—Gov. Orji

By Anayo Okoli
IF there is one thing that causes sleepless nights to Governor Theodore Orji of Abia State it is the problem of rising insecurity in the state, more so the activities of kidnappers, who have found comfort in the state. Governor Orji is worried not because he would be kidnapped but because the activities of these hoodlums are hampering development in the state.

The rising incidence of kidnapping has continued to scare investors. In fact, the Governor admitted this much when he said on Monday that the problem of kidnapping is his greatest headache. And he has invited the army to Abia to join in the fight against kidnapping and other violent crimes.

The problem of kidnapping started in the state about two years ago like a small problem, but has since grown to become a very dangerous and monstrous money-making business which has not only caused the people great embarrassment but has also depleted their purse in the payment of ransom by family members of kidnap victims.

Though Abia State is not alone in this ugly business, other South East States are also infested with the evil, but from statistics available Abia tops the other states in the zone.

From available statistics, some prominent  persons who had at one time of the fallen victim include Monday Ajaegbu, a member of Abia State House of Assembly, Kelechi Nwankpa, Chairman of Obingwa Local Government Council; Prof. Steven Emejuaiwe, Chairman of Abia State Independent Electoral Commission, whose Police orderly, a sergeant was killed in the attack that led to his kidnaps.

Others re Chief J.D. Iruke, a former ASUBEB chairman, Chief Anyansi Agwu, the chairman of Enyimba Football Club, Elechi Okoro, Joseph Ogwu, Eze Ezenwata Mbakwe, Eze Appolos, daughter of Navy Captain Obike Ogbonna, traditional rulers, several lawyers, bankers and scores of businessmen. Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe was lucky as recent attempt to kidnap him failed. Ransom running into billions of Naira has been spent by families of kidnap victims.

This statistics cannot be disputed because of the number of victims recorded in the state. Last national statistics released by the police in Abuja showed that of the about 500 kidnappers arrested across the country within a given period, Abia State alone had over 100.

Also, the Abia State Police Commissioner, Edgar Nanakumo, this week, disclosed that between January and May this year, his commanded arrested over 50 kidnappers and rescued 13 victims.

Nanakumo also disclosed that 18 of the arrested kidnappers died from various gun wounds they sustained while trying to escape. Despite this police claim incidence of kidnapping has continued to rise on daily basis in the state.

This development has continued to give Governor Orji headache. Some time last year, the governor had promised a cash reward of N1 million to any person who provided useful information on the activities of kidnappers.

Shortly after this incentive was announced, the police brought to the governor a masked person whom they claimed gave them useful information.

The Governor made good his promise and paid N1 million to the masked person. But rather than help the situation got worse as the crime of kidnapping increased and became almost a daily affair.

The police and other security agencies in the state provided no solution.
Residents complained and live in fear.

Lawyers in Aba, the commercial city of the state which witnesses more crime than any other city in the state protested and gave the government ultimatum to secure the state. Banks in the state followed, and closed shops for some days in protest against insecurity.

The lawyers claimed that 11 of their members had at that time so far been kidnapped. The government tagged their action then as “politically motivated” and aimed at destabilizing it.

But subsequent events made the government to come to terms with the reality of the insecurity situation of the state.

The situation degenerated  that it almost ignited communal crisis in the state. Traditional rulers from the Old Bende zne led by Eze John Akaniro   accused the Ngwa people of being behind the kidnappings going on. They claimed that their people had spent over N45 million as ransom to kidnappers to rescue their people kidnapped.

Eze Akaniro led a delegation of royal fathers to the royal fathers of Ngwa land. They visited Eze Bernard Enweremadu to make the complain. They threatened to retaliate if nothing was done to stop the attack, especially on people from their area who they claimed were major targets.

Ngwa royal fathers agreed that kidnapping was dealing a serious blow on the people of the state but disagreed with Bende royal fathers that their people were the major target as their own people were also falling victims.

Meanwhile, the toll of the menace continues to affect the development of the state. Expatriates who work with some construction firms were kidnapped which made them to flee the area and abandon the jobs. This irked the government.

The government in reaction to the general insecurity, especially menace of kidnapping, summoned separate meetings with traditional rulers in the state where over 800 of them attended, as well as  that of council chairmen of the 17 councils in the state.

The Governor, Theodore Orji charged them to fight kidnapping in their areas. Orji went further to threaten to dethrone any Eze in whose domain kidnapping goes on or where the hoodlums use as hideouts. The governor had called this meeting more than three times yet noting seemed to have changed.

kidnapping a capital offence

Still worried, the governor caused the House of Assembly to make a law which now makes kidnapping a capital offence. The Law known as “Abia state of Nigeria Law No. 9 of 2008”, was cited as “Criminal Code Law [Amendment] No. 1 Law”, and it took effect in December 2008.

The law provides that a convicted kidnapper apart from paying the prime price will also forfeit his properties to the state.  The police and even the government said that many kidnappers have been arrested but it is not yet known when their trial would commence.

Government invites JTF to operate in Abia

Government also in its reaction to the rising activities of kidnappers said it would invite the Joint Military Task Force (JTF) which operates in the Niger Delta region to flush out the kidnappers.

Already, the government has invited the army to come to the state to assist fight the menace. The soldiers are expected soon as the general officer commanding 82 Division Major General Mohammed Isa who was in Umuahia had given a green light to the government’s invitation.

The government has also directed all the villages in the state to set up a 24-hour vigilante group to check crimes and criminals in the state.

Governor Orji has also called on the Federal Government to deploy its might to fight kidnapping as it is fast turning to a national problem as people are now kidnapped in every part of the country.

Abians now live in fear

Abians now live in fear. Government may be doing its best to fight this but effort of the police and other security agencies towards fighting kidnapping and other violent crimes is suspect.

Police presence is all over the state, especially in areas seen as den of kidnappers and roads notorious yet these crimes still go abated.

Some stakeholders, including lawyers association had suggested a total overhaul of the state police command, and redeploy those who have stayed many years in the state, alleging that some of them work hands -in-gloves with the kidnappers and other criminals. For now, Abia is unsecured but the government is working hard to make it a better place.

The question remains if they would succeed without smashing the big brains behind the “business”. The coming days will tell.