By Anayo Okoli
THURSDAY, October 14, 2010 was a memorable day for a group of journalists, including this reporter, who elected to join the military task force operating in Abia state to flush criminals elements, that had held the state hostage paralysing Aba, the commercial capital of the city.
The journalists had assembled at the Ngwa High School Camp of the soldiers for the eye-witness account of the operation of the task force.
The journalists had assembled at the Camp by 10am and waited till about 12pm when the Assistant Director of Army Public Relations, 82 Division, Enugu, Lt. Col. Kabir Musa, who led the journalists to the bush arrived from the Asa High School Military Base. However, while we were waiting for Musa, it was observed that there were some suspected kidnappers already arrested who were being screened at the Camp.
They were led out from where they were kept for screening by the officers in charge.
At about 12.15pm, herding the journalists in four of the military trucks recently given to the task force by Governor Theodore Orji for the operation, with some soldiers joining in each of the truck, the journey into the kidnappers den began. Led by an Armoured Personnel Carrier [APC], the convoy moved to the admiration of Aba residents, who were happy that life was returning to the bubbling city that was until two weeks ago virtually a ghost town as residents left the city in droves and kidnappers ruled
Surprisingly, while the soldiers were busy restoring life and order to the city, policemen in the city were busy collecting money from motorists and tricycle operators. In fact as the convoy moved from one town to another passing the Obingwa area, which was our first port of call, some residents shouted that policemen should be removed from the city and replaced with soldiers.
From Aba the convoy moved through the bad road between thick forests to Ogbuala village Mgboko. As the convoy moved from village to village, the few people we saw were downcast . Unlike the people of Aba city who were cheering the soldiers, there was no sign of joy in them, an indication that the soldiers had come to destroy their business.
Through pa th ways, which all look alike, we arrived at the house of a native doctor who prepared charms for the kidnappers. A moderate modern house, with a sign post “Ugochinyere Trado Clinic”, the man was said to have abandoned the house when the task force entered the village.
According to Lt. Col. Musa, the kidnappers divided Abia state into groups with each group led by kidnapping kingpin, Obioma Nwankwo [Osisikankwu] who has been declared wanted by the police as the overall leader.
The Aba-Port Harcourt axis very notorious for the activities of kidnappers was under the control of a kingpin known as SUSU who was said to be very dangerous and ruthless.
So from the native doctor’s house, the convoy moved to Susu’s Camp, in Umuezi, few kilometers from the native doctor’s house. It was of great interest that as we passed from village to village in this Mgboko, it was like a ghost town as it was said that the inhabitants had all fled, both old and young when the soldiers invaded them.
As you approached Susu’s Camp, which shared a wall with St. Michael’s Catholic Church, and opposite a primary school, which from indications, had been abandoned due to the activities of these hoodlums, we saw expended shell of ammunitions scattered both inside the classrooms and on the field.
There were empty bottles of choice wines, canned beer of various brands, used packets of condom, empty packets of different bands of cigarettes, scattered both inside the class rooms and on the field. From what was observed around the house, it was certain that the hoodlums lived flamboyantly , perhaps from proceeds of the lucrative business where millions of Naria were being paid by victims as ransom.
Inside Susu’s house a very modern house with expensive POP ceiling, which served as his Camp headquarters, and has been destroyed by the task force, empty cases of expended ammunitions were scattered both inside and outside the house.
Described as a very dangerous bank armed robber, a big bank save was discovered where it was buried in a shallow hole at the back of the house bordered a very thick forest. The save was believed to have been brought there by Susu and his group perhaps in one their numerous bank attacks in Aba. A rifle was also recovered in the house by the soldiers.
It is very interesting to note that at the point of entry to Susu’s Camp, is a check-point, well fortified with sand bags, which was being manned by some members of the hoodlums. They mounted a sign-post at the check-point with which they used to deceive people. It read:”Welcome to the Amnesty Camp, Abia state. Let peace reign”. This was a deceit and ploy to lure unsuspecting persons.
However, quite surprising and embarrassing was the suspected connivance of the pastor in charge of the Catholic church which shared a wall with the Camp. From the closeness of the church and the camp and juxtaposing it with illegal point mounted by the hoodlum’s right in front of the church, the task force suspected that the pastor could not claim ignorance of the activities of the hoodlums.
On account of this, the soldiers searched the pastor’s house and they were said to have recovered five expended cases of ammunition in a car parked in his house located at the back of the church. Of course the pastor whose name Musa did not recollect has been arrested and handed over to security agencies for interrogation.
The task force believed that it was “either that the pastor was with them or aiding them”. The kidnappers were also believed to be using the pastor’s only source of water which he made available through a tap extended outside by his wall.
It was clear evidence that Mgboko village was deep into kidnapping business as through out the period we stayed in the Susu Camp and around we did not see any human being. We only saw dogs and cows mowing on the primary school field in front the church and opposite the Camp, which is a stone throw from the major road.
From there we drove again through the thick forests surrounding the villages back to Aba and on to Asa High School, on the Port Harcourt-Aba Express way. As we passed the centre of Aba, the residents jubilated.
At the camp, we saw 21 different of vehicles, including jeeps, and other exotic cars as well as buses which were either snatched by the hoodlums or belonged to kidnapped victims, some of who may have died.
They were recovered from the various bushes already combed by the soldiers.
Motorists on the hitherto dangerous Aba-Port Harcourt road now ply the road with confidence. Their only problem remains the extortion by the numerous police check-points mounted at almost every two poles on the road.
With the on-going operation, it is hoped that in a couple of weeks all those that fled Aba will all return with their families and some good natives of the notorious Ngwa villages will return