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Violent crimes in S/E, time for government to act

By Emeka Umeagbalasi

It is deeply saddening that the South East of the country  has become a theatre of ravaging brigandage, in terms of crime of  kidnap and armed robbery, all violent crimes.  Out of these, the crime of kidnap is more ravaging and juicier followed by crime of armed robbery, which mostly thrives on the altar of banking industry.

The third one, with inexplicable motives or gains is highway shooting and killing, whereby supposedly armed robbers operate unmolested, shooting and killing with reckless abandon, without any identifiable targets, or where no on-the-spot robbery or kidnap is recorded. The latter had led to the recent killing, of over 30 police persons and innocent civilians at road blocks in the States of Anambra and Imo.

It is estimated that about 600 persons had been kidnapped in the Southeast-Nigeria, between January 2007 and May 2010. Abia State records the highest number of violent crimes. It is also the doyen of vigilante militancy and gun-culture in the Southeast. Abia State is closely followed by Anambra State, which has recorded over 150 kidnap cases since 2007, with Nnewi alone accounting for at least 92.

The crime of kidnap is divided into: high profile and low profile categories. High profile kidnap deals with the kidnap of the super rich or highly influential persons or their loved ones, and each of them reportedly coughs out between N2million and N50million to N70million. The latter is more sophisticated and professionalized. It has webs, from some business moguls and dare-devil politicians, who finance them for economic and political gains,  top security personnel, who provide cover for them; to the executioners themselves. They also make good use of advanced technological devices as well as disguised agents such as Okada riders/phone boot operators/street hawkers. The inferior category places on, and collects from those kidnapped, between N50,000 and N1million. Those in this category are drawn from street urchins to serving and ex-operatives of motley of vigilante groups operating in the Southeast-Nigeria as well as habitual criminals.

The third most ravaging crime in the Southeast-Nigeria is crime of extortion. This is deeply rooted in the Nigeria Police Force, and to some extent, the vigilante groups. The Nigerian Mobile Police Division is worse hit, followed by the Regular Police Division, through: wetin-you-carry and illegal astronomical bail-fees. The third division of the Police that is ravaged by this crime is the Plain-cloth or Investigative Division of the Force.

It has been revealed that while it takes the investigating units at the Anambra State Police Command Headquarters the sum of N150,000 to investigate a criminal complaint, be it felony, misdemeanor or simple offence,  their counterparts at the Zone 9 Command, comprising the five Eastern States of Anambra, Abia, Enugu, Ebonyi and Imo, charge about N250,000 for similar investigation and the culture of “he who pays the piper detects the tune” accompanies such commercialized criminal inquiries.

In Anambra State alone, there are over 350 police checkpoints, manned by about 1,800 police persons, mostly drawn from the Mobile Police Division. Each checkpoint is manned by about five police persons and an average of N20,000 is collected by same on daily basis from commercial motorists and motor-cyclists. While electioneering and electoral banditry fetch the Nigeria Police Force the greatest amount of ill-gotten wealth, roadblock extortions account for  second largest source of thieving-wealth for them, this is followed by extortions arising from criminal investigations.

Apart from the traditional causes of violent crimes such as economic inequality, unemployment, value-system crisis, dry quest for material wealth or primitive accumulation of material wealth etc, other overt causes are  infiltration and proliferation of small arms and other dangerous weapons as well as proliferation of vigilante groups and  institutionalization of gun-culture.

Recently, the authorities in Anambra State admitted that there are 592 recognized or registered armed vigilante groups, operating in various parts of the state.

Independent sources believe that over 1000 registered and unregistered armed vigilante groups operate in the state, and that their numbers are increasing on daily basis. Various landlords, communities, markets, etc now engage in vigilante business because of its lucrative venture. Hundreds of millions of naira are derived from same monthly in the form of “security levies”. Many of these vigilante groups are owned by influential individuals, either for political or economic reasons. Many of them are also used for collection of sundry levies. They even abet sit-tight leadership as well as rural and urban violence.

Unfortunately, there are little or no control mechanisms put in place by the authorities to tame their excesses or regulate their conducts. The major sources of arms for these vigilante groups are believed to be illegal arms’ vendors scattered in Onitsha and Aba markets. About 800,000 to 1million illegal arms may be in circulation in Abia and Anambra States. Some of these vigilantes reportedly operate with automatic weapons at night and inferior weapons (pump-action guns, machetes, hatchets, single/double barrel guns etc) in the day time. When the Nigeria Police dislodged the Abia and the Anambra States’ Vigilante Groups, popularly called  Bakassi Boys, in 2000 and 2002 respectively, over 20,000 arms in their hands were not recovered.

Furthermore, there were no disarming, demobilization and reintegration of their operatives. Today, these boys have turned to kidnapping and armed robbery. Same applies to ex-combatants in the Aguleri-Umuleri bloody communal conflicts of the late 1990s. Some of them are now deadly political thugs, vigilantes, assassins, kidnappers, etc.  My recent investigations have revealed that most of over 5,000 ex-operatives of former Bakassi Boys or AVS are either jobless or engaged in sundry criminal activities, including armed robbery and kidnapping.

Few “born-again” ones have managed to join motley of vigilante groups in Anambra and Abia States as “commanders”. All in all, Abia State is the most devastated as per violent crimes, followed by Anambra State, then Imo, Enugu and Ebonyi States. Recall that the states of Abia and Anambra were the theatres of vigilante militancy and cradle of jungle-justice in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

These violent crimes are not insurmountable. The main reason why they thrive seemingly uncontrollably is due to rabid corruption in the Nigeria Police Force, especially as it concerns crime of extortion, and government’s smokescreen methods, in the face of these rabid social threats. Once the collection of bribes at all the police checkpoints is practicably or practically abolished, the police will sit up and these crime will be reduced to the manageable proportions.

Commercialization of criminal investigations must also be abolished by the Force High Command. There must be an end to ceaseless proliferation of armed vigilante groups in the Southeast, because it takes a non-arms bearer a very difficult process to be recruited into armed robbery or kidnapping gang. On the other hand, a vigilante operative is a potential kidnapper, assassin or armed robber.

There must be effective control of illicit arms flooding Nigerian black-markets from the Republics of Benin and Ghana. The activities of serving and ex-vigilantes must be check-mated. It is not entirely correct to say that the former Niger-Delta militants have relocated to the Southeast, and are entirely responsible for the current violent crime in the zone. The truth is that sometimes, they provide “technical assistance” to some sophisticated kidnap kingpins in the zone. The fact remains that our disgruntled youths are solely involved. Our political leaders must address the ravaging economic under-development and imbalance, including unemployment and official corruption.

To ensure efficiency in the operational capacity of the Nigeria Police Force in the Southeast zone there should be quarterly transfer of regular police persons in the zone, particularly in Anambra and Abia States. Because of the peculiar nature of those charged with investigation duties, including special squads like anti-robbery/kidnap units, there should be bi-annual mass transfer of those officers and persons. In the area of Mobile Police, there should be monthly mass transfer of officers and persons of the Division.  Similarly, it is the civic duty of the leaders of commercial motorists and motor-cyclists in the Southeast, particularly in Onitsha, Nnewi, and Awka zones of Anambra State as well as similar zones in Abia State to issue firm directives to their members to update their driver’s or rider’s licenses and other relevant vehicle and cycle/tricycle papers and stop offering bribes to police persons mounting legal or illegal checkpoints.

It is very baffling that despite the fact that Southeast zone is the most heavily policed and crowded (with motley of conventional and unconventional security personnel), the spate of violent crime in the zone has reached a crescendo. Our IGP and his team have answers to these monumental social vices. So long as top police officers in the Nigeria Police High Command, continues to smile to the bank everyday, thanks to roadblock extortions, the violent crime will continue unabated. The roadblock extortions have so disorganized the affected police persons to the extent that their guns are hardly serviced, not to talk of traditional early morning body exercises being carried out to instill physical fitness in them. Nowadays, there is no difference between hitherto “agile MOPOLs” and “bloody civilians”, because when the sound of a gun-shot oozes out, “agile MOPOLs” run helter-skelter  as if they are “bloody civilians” instead of taking cover.

Lastly, I sincerely appreciate the predicament of Nnewi People, with respect to reported ravaging violent crime, engulfing the area, but mass-ignorance appears to be their second problem, if not, how come they resolved to create more armed robbers and kidnappers of tomorrow, in the form of “invitation of original Bakassi Boys”? If I may further ask,  who are the original and fake “Bakassi Boys”? What are the criteria for ascertaining their fakery or originality?  The monster that is now ravaging the area was created 12 years ago (1998) by the same Nnewi People, in the form of “original Nnewi Bakassi Boys”.

It is only God Almighty that knows how many hundreds, if not thousands of innocent people that were slaughtered during the butchery. These ugly developments have now resulted to ownership of private armies by frontline business moguls in the town. The end-results are kidnap-supremacy among those business moguls, with some trying to out-kidnap others. The case of Ogbuawa and Innocent Chukwuma is a case in po
int, even though the matter is in court.

Maybe to them, butchery signifies the “originality” of the so-called Bakassi Boys. Ignorance, they say, is a disease, which is more cancerous than cancer. It is very easy to arm a group, ruffians and street urchins for that matter, but to disarm, demobilize and reintegrate them is like trekking from Nigerian soil to Japanese soil. The sad events in the Niger-Delta region ought to teach us an unforgettable lesson. Vigilante militancy in the Southeast Nigeria is a time-bomb and its consequences are unprecedented.


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