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Aba, a dying city

By Ochereome Nnanna
On Monday, September 27, 2010, another unthinkable crime took place in Aba, the legendary Enyimba City and former “Japan of Africa”.

I say “former”, because the city is dying a slow, painful death like an accident victim suffering internal haemorrhage. Schools have closed. Banks have shut their doors.

Even before they finally closed shop, bank workers had been reporting to work in “roughs”. They would wear dirty jeans and old shirts and slippers and travel to work either trekking or conveyed by tricycles.

Before I sat down to write this sad article, I had reports that the motor parks were full of people leaving town for their respective villages. And what does “leaving town” mean?

Leaving for the weekend, or leaving for good? Leaving for good means most of them are now refugees – persons displaced by rampaging hoodlums, whose latest act of cowardice was the abduction of kindergarten-level school children going to school in a bus.

As soon as they made their dastardly “catch”, they floated a demand for N20 million. When they saw the high hoopla the entire world raised, they raised the ransom to N40 million! It was a statement in defiance. It was a thumb-in-your-eye challenge to the state and federal governments and the entire people of Nigeria.

I was in the East on assignment in the past week and I had an earful about the level that wickedness and criminality have sunk in the city where I grew up. I have three stories for you.

Story number one. A group of innocent Nigerians were travelling from Aba to Owerri in a Coaster bus recently. They were stopped along the Aba – Umuahia expressway, just before Ugba Junction, by a group of marauding Ngwa hoodlums.

This group did not have kidnapping on their minds this day, neither were they interested in stealing or killing. Armed to the teeth, they blocked the bus and ordered everyone to come down.

In broad daylight, mind you. They stripped everyone stark naked. Men, women, teenagers, children, everyone. They gathered the clothes, took them across the road, poured petrol on them and set them on fire. Then, they ordered the naked Nigerians back into the bus, and waved them safe journey!

Story number two. Another group of Ngwa gangsters have developed a special sexual fetish. They would grab your wife or daughter and take her into their den. Then, they would use her mobile handset and call you, ordering you to buy them ten packs of condoms.

They would direct you to drop it somewhere, after the same fashion they direct people to drop ransom moneys. Three days later, after using up the ten packs of condoms on your wife or daughter, they would call you again and instruct you to go to a designated spot to claim her back.

Whatever you see is what you get.

Story number three. These hoodlums have now gone corporate. The only thing remaining is for them to register with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and later on, get their “business” quoted on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE). This is how it works.

You are required to register with them with N30,000 only. Your benefits? Your immediate family is exempted from kidnapping. Besides, you get some “cuts” from time to time, when the gang strikes it big with ransom money. Either way, you “win”.

The police are said to be deeply involved in the rake-off, which informs the pluck and gumption with which these gangsters go about their crimes.  See why Nigeria is such a great country at 50!

I understand that Ngwa youths are now trying to turn the activities of criminals among them into a political “agitation”. They are asking non-Ngwa people who are mostly fellow Igbos, to “leave” Aba for them.

They are now copying the Ikwerre people who, after the Igbo people built up Port Harcourt before the war, they started agitating that all non-Ikwerre people should leave the city for them.

The onset of the civil war became a great bounty, as the Federal Government rewarded them for their support by allowing them to confiscate “abandoned” property.

I understand that is what some misguided Ngwa politicians are dreaming of, a dream that will surely turn into a nightmare. Remember, in 2003, some Ngwa politicians started calling their clan “Ngwa Ethnic Nationality”, and were even insinuating, just like the Ikwerre, that they were no longer Igbos!

I have two quick suggestions, one for the Ngwa people and the other for the Nigerian state. Even though Ngwa people have been known to harbour criminals among them, I am convinced that majority of the Ngwa people are still very much decent, law-abiding and ashamed of how a few hoodlums among them have stigmatised the image of one of the nation’s hardworking agrarian communities.

They should cooperate in implementing my second suggestion below.
The level of criminality in and around Aba has assumed emergency dimensions.

The police and state government alone can no longer cope. I am suggesting a military solution. It does not require the removal of elected authority, particularly the governor, unless anyone is discovered to aid and abet crime.

The Nigerian Army or Joint Task Force should tooth-comb the towns and villages in the flashpoints of criminality in Aba and Abia State as a whole.

A few innocent people will be victimised, but the Nigerian state has to retake Aba from hoodlums, in a swift and decisive manner.


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