By Chidi Nkwopara
January 4, 2010, Governor Ikedi Ohakim addressed a stakeholdersâ€™ forum in Owerri where he outlined the measures the state government is taking to combat criminal activities in Imo State.
He boasted that security agencies have been equipped to tackle crime. But on March 1, criminals roared andÂ at the end of chest beating a Customary Court judge and other prominent citizens of the stateÂ had been kidnapped.
The hoodlumsÂ fooled all the policemen along their route and laid siege at Eziala community, on the ever busy Enyiogugu Mbaise-Obiangwu-Umuohiagu-Airport road. At the end of the nasty exercise a yet_to_be ascertained number of people were reported kidnapped by the gangsters.
As at the last count, the President, Imo State Customary Court of Appeal, Hon. Justice Ambrose B.C. Egu, the Chief Registrar, Customary Court of Appeal and wife of the traditional ruler of Owerri, Ugoeze Pauline Njemanze and a statistician seconded to the Customary Court of Appeal simply identified as Mr. Eriri, were taken into captivity.
There was also the reported kidnap of a Deputy Vice Chancellor of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, and another university professor whose names could not be ascertained before going to press. Three journalists employed by Super Sports, including Bowei Atama, were also reported kidnapped. There could be more names of victims of the gory attack.
Rumour peddlers quickly took the centre stage. They told whoever that cared that the rampaging hoodlums got wind of the alleged ferrying of an undisclosed amount of money to the Sam Mbakwe International Cargo Airport, Owerri, and prepared heavily to destroy the convoy and cart the money away. It was also the view of the peddlers that since the convoy carrying the money took a different road, the hoodlums laid siege for unsuspecting innocent citizens.
Saturday Vanguard gathered that Hon. Justice Egu, Ugoeze Njemanze and Mr. Eriri went to Umuohiagu, Ngor Okpala local government area of the state to inspect the on-going customary court project in that community. They ran into the hoodlumsâ€™ ambush and the kidnap saga commenced.
A staff of the Customary Court of Appeal, who pleaded anonymity, told Saturday Vanguard that the two official drivers were ordered out of the vehicles, while Justice Eguâ€™s police orderly was quickly disarmed and his uniformed confiscated. All their personal mobile telephone sets were seized before they were allowed to go and tell their stories to their employers.
Some of the villagers, who stood and watched from a distance as the drama unfolded, confirmed that the hoodlums did not really have anybody in mind. They searched all the vehicles that ran into the ambush, disarmed all the escorts, and verified the quality of their prospective victims before deciding on whether to kidnap them or not.
Since the reported kidnap of Justice Egu, there has been palpable uneasy calm among the judicial officers serving in Imo State.
Some of them were heard reasoning that if government succumbs to the demands of the kidnappers all the judges would become seriously endangered. When Saturday Vanguard visited the Customary Court of Appeal Wednesday morning, it looked solemn while lawyers were seen taking dates from the court clerks.
The judges were not on strike but they were not sitting in apparent sympathy with their kidnapped colleague.
The homes of the kidnapped persons have since become a Mecca of sorts. Sympathizers have continued to flow in and out of the family homes of the Njemanzes, Egus and Eriris. The families were not really ready to discuss the sad event but a careful obverse could read grief boldly written on their faces.
The traditional ruler of Owerri, Eze Emmanuel Njemanze simply said: â€œMy wife woke up normally and was determined to continue her scheduled official businesses for the day. But it turned sour because she is yet to returnâ€.
The story is not quite different in the home of Justice Egu. Their only regret is that their bread winner recently survived a serious medical problem and was even scheduled for a routine check up before he was kidnapped. Their greatest headache is whether his abductors would be kind enough to give him his drugs as and when due.
Already, serving judges in Imo State judiciary have met to discuss the issue. It was not clear at press time what they have decided to do but Saturday Vanguard learnt that they have since had what some of them said was â€œa fruitful discussionâ€ with the Chief of Staff, Government House, Sir Emma Ohakim.
Meanwhile, Imo State Police Command has, through the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Mr. Linus Nwaiwu, expressed deep regret over what it termed â€œthe reprehensible and ungodly incident of March 1, 2010, in which a few indigenes of the state were kidnapped by yet to be identified hoodlums.
â€œThe Command shares in the pains of the family members of the victims and reiterates her readiness to do everything within the ambits of the law to ensure the safe rescue of the victims and the arrest of those culprits behind the ugly actâ€, the PPRO said.
He further insisted that the incident does not in any way suggest that the security of the state is porous or that the police in the state had gone to sleep, stressing that the Command has kept the best record in the act of rescuing kidnapped victims and Imo is still adjudged the most peaceful state in the country.
Nwaiwu further disclosed that the Command is working painstakingly to ensure that the kidnap gangs and other criminals are smashed irretrievably.