IN THE BEGINNING
THE menace of kidnapping in Abia state became noticeable about two years ago but assumed a very worrying and dangerous dimension last year when residents of the state, especially Aba, the commercial capital, deserted the city and relocated to other states, mainly Abuja, Lagos and Asaba.Â
Â Initially, the government saw it as the handiwork of political opponents out to distract it from carrying out developmental projects in the state.
But, it continued and with increased force, as more people fell prey to the kidnappers. The situation was so bad that at a stage, in the late 2008, banks in Aba and Umuahia closed shops against their customers in protest against incessant kidnapping of their colleagues.Â Following their foot steps, lawyers in Aba also protested. In fact, their national leadership came down to Aba and Umuahia and staged a protest. They handed the governor a 21- day ultimatum to flush out kidnappers and other criminals in the state or face their anger.Â
VICTIMS OF KIDNAPPING
Among some prominent persons kidnapped in the state within the last two years included traditional rulers, the clergy , law makers, top civil servants, bankers, lawyers, administrators, top businessmen, and government officials including the chairman of Abia state electoral commission [ABSIEC], Prof. Steve Emejuaiwe, whose police orderly was killed in the process, Monday Ejegbu, a law maker in the Abia state House of Assembly, Anyansi Agwu, chairman of Enyima Football club, Aba etc.Â Â Â
This menace continued to the extent that the traditional rulers of Old Bende accused Ngwa people of targeting their people. In fact, royal fathers from the zone made a representation led by Eze John Akamiro to the royal fathers in Ngwaland. They visited prominent Ngwa traditional rulers like Eze Ukwu of Ngwaland, Eze Bernard Enweremadu.Â
GOVERNMENT PARTNERED TRADITIONAL RULERS TO FIGHT IT
True to the allegation by the Old Bende traditional rulers, accusing fingers were also pointed by the government on Ngwa people as the main culprits in the crime of kidnapping. In fact, the government dethroned two traditional rulers for their alleged complicity in the crime. Though one of them went to court, alleging political witch-hunting by a prominent politician in the area. Governor Theodore Orji also summoned meetings of traditional rulers where he asked them to assist in fighting the menace of kidnapping by fishing out the bad boys in their community.
This could have yielded some good results but it suffered a serious set- back when a traditional ruler in Abala community in Obingwa Council, was said to have given information of criminal activities in his community and he and the wife wereÂ killed when their house was set ablaze allegedly by some of the hoodlums who came from Port Harcourt.
The incident sent dangerous signals to other royal fathers who preferredÂ to keep quiet while their areasÂ taken overÂ by kidnapers are regarded as safe haven for kidnappers and other criminals. Perhaps,Â sharing of border with Akwa Ibom state could be a major influence as they could easily escape through the state or even Rivers state. Because of this, more number of policemen have always been deployed to this area but that has not yielded much result.
As the menace continued, Abia state donated more patrol vans and other logistics, including communication equipments. Armoured Personnel Carrier [APC] was also deployed by the police. Regular, mobile and anti_terrorists police men were sent in their thousands, yet the problem persisted. To the government, that has turned to an embarrassing situation. It looked seriously for a solution and decided on amnesty programme.
Â DECLARES AMNESTY FOR KIDNAPPERS, SPONSORS
The government announced an amnesty programme and urged the kidnappers to surrender their weapons and submit themselves for rehabilitation. The programme was at its primary stage as few of them had indicated interest to submit themselves when crisis burst out following the killing of one of them by security forces.
Â The slain suspected kidnapper was said to be going to one ofÂ the camps set up by the government for submission of illegal weapons when, he was allegedly killed byÂ
security personnel. This incident automatically killed the programme.
THEÂ LASTÂ Â STRAW
The killing of the suspected kidnapper madeÂ hisÂ colleaguesÂ to go hay wire, terrorizing people in the state. In fact, Aba became a no-go area.Â Banks are closed for business for oneÂ week, an action which inflicted serious hardship on the residents and businessmen from other parts of the world. The criminals literarily took over Aba. This became a source of worry and embarrassment not only to AbiaÂ State Government, but also to Federal Government.Â
Â In response, the Federal Government sent in additional thousands of policemen to the state, majority of who were sent to Aba. It was called operation Ihe [Light]. There was some calm and Aba residents began to rejoice as life and business were returning to the city. Suddenly, last Sunday, four journalists returning from Uyo were kidnapped by these hoodlums in Ukwakiri area of Obingwa.
Â This turned out to be kidnapping that drew the highest attention.Â Â The Inspector-General of Police, Ognonna Onovo quickly relocated to the South-East.Â He met and secured the commitment of traditional rulers in Abia and Imo States to face the menace of kidnapping head long.Â
Following the out burst of emotions, both by the Federal Government and many Nigerians over the abduction of the journalists who were returning from an official assignment in Akwa Ibom State, Israeli secret agents were also reportedly hired by the Federal Government.Â They were seen with the IGP when they visited Umuahia and Aba, last Tuesday in preparation for the operation.Â
Also on Tuesday, the Police boss met with the Governor ofÂ the State, Dr. Theodore Orji, Aba business community and over 800 traditional rulers from the state including those from Obingwa council seen as haven for crimes especially, kidnapping.Â
Police sources said efforts to track down the criminals discreetly were been thwarted by alleged leakage of operational strategies by some unscrupulous policemen who are suspected to be neck deep in the crime ofÂ Â kidnapping in the area.Â This prompted the Police boss toÂ threaten to not only post out all those suspected to have stayed long in the state but to stop their promotion for now pending when the crime will abate.Â A source in Aba said the warning by the Inspector-General of police against the payment of ransom to kidnappers has not helped issues over the early release of the journalists.Â
According to the source, â€œthese criminals have a very wild network and virtually all the security agencies are beneficiaries of their devilish exploits.Â So, that warning is like taking food out of their mouth and they are hell bent on taking a pound of flesh either by getting their ransom or going to the extreme, which, of course will not augur well for allâ€.Â
Crime Guard gathered reliably that police detectives which included their Israeli counterparts were able to track down the kidnapperâ€™s position in a remote junior secondary school in Aba.Â They reportedly carried out surveillance around the bush but could not strike in order not to jeopardize the lives of the abducted journalists.Â
Meanwhile, while the journalists are reported to be making frantic calls, appealing that the abductorâ€™s demands be met, a team of battle-ready policemen are busy combing the nooks and crannies of the area, searching for the criminals.Â Â As at 6pm on Thursday, heavy presence ofÂ both regular and mobile policemen including plain clothed detectives was noticed in strategic areas of the State.Â In fact, unconfirmed sources said the Governor of Abia State had personally taken up the gauntlet and had virtually re-located to Aba in search of a way out of the quagmire.Â Â
Â This is coming, especially with calls in high places, for the a state of emergency to be declared in Abia State. However, sources assured that reprieve will certainly come the way of the abducted journalists before the week runs out based on concerted efforts, both discreet and operational , being embarked upon by both security agents and many other interested parties including traditional rulers and business moguls in the area who are desirous of peace returning to their beleaguered zone.