By Ferdinand Ekeoma
KIDNAP and other violent crimes are not peculiar to Abia State, the only difference is that there has always been conscientious silence and pretence that all is well in the state until the situation degenerates to a dangerous level where it becomes not just destructive, but a national and international disgrace.
The experienced in Abia in 2009/2010 when socio-economic activities came to a halt in the State as a result of kidnapping is speedily rearing its ugly head again. Unfortunately the same leadership ineptitude, nonchalant attitude and government-public relations dishonesty that paved the way for the 2009/2010 security tragedy in Abia are manifesting to the fullest once again.
During the period under review, dozens of innocent citizens were kidnapped weekly. The situation degenerated to an uncontrollable level such that Abians could not differentiate between who kidnapped for ransom and those who were assassins and merely disguised as kidnappers so as to throw up false lead for security agents in the event of them being pursued. Women and children were not spared as many innocent children were taken hostage, while innocent young and elderly women were kidnapped, brutalised and abused by these demonic creatures. Many didn’t survive the direct and indirect psychological trauma caused by these crimes.
At a point, speculation was rift in Abia that the then ruling government was behind the spate of devastating kidnapping in the state to scare away many Abia voters, majority of whom were stoutly opposed to the government of the day. It took the kidnap of journalists returning from an NUJ retreat in Uyo at the Abia end of the boundary and the disgraceful kidnap of dozens of school pupils at a school in Aba which was reported on CNN to the shame of the state and the nation for the then ruling government to admit that this criminal act was going on in the state. These two kidnap cases attracted national outrage which led to the deployment of the Joint Police and Military Task Force to the state and subsequently led to the killing of a notorious kidnapper, Obioma Nwankwo, popularly known as Osisikankwu and other high profile kidnappers. Through well planned, coordinated and executed operations the Joint Task Force was able to identify and invade many criminal camps and hideouts of the kidnappers, killing many and forcing others to flee, while many informants and collaborators were arrested and ruthlessly dealt with.
It didn’t take time after the arrival of the Joint Task Force for peace and security to returned to the state. Unfortunately before the arrival of the Task Force and return of peace, massive destructions had been done on the socio-economic, cultural and religious lives of the people. Some lost their lives, others lost their relations, loved ones and friends, while many others lost businesses either as a result of low clientele, abandonment of business premises for safety reasons or untimely and unplanned relocation to other states.
That sad period under review would have been avoided if the government in charge had listened to advice and criticisms aimed at calling its attention at the early stage of the kidnap menace. Unfortunately the critics were derogatorily dismissed as “detractors and mischief makers” trying to discredit the government.
This is 2017, seven years after the defeat and dislodging of the dreaded Abia kidnappers that almost brought the state to its knees, we are afraid that the 2009/2010 tragedy is already here and waiting to explode beyond control.
The irony of the present tragedy of kidnapping in Abia is that we saw the invitation letters brandished before our innocent faces in 2015 and we warned repeatedly, but the dangerous and desperate quest for political power, especially the governorship seat blinded the brains behind it. At the heat of the 2015 election, the ruling party was alleged to have brought back to the state many notorious criminals, including kidnappers who were dislodged and chased out of the state during the 2009/2010 anti-kidnapping onslaught. The reality of this allegation came to the fore during the campaigns and election proper when most of these suspected criminals started unleashing mayhem against opposition candidates and their supporters. On many occasions, they stormed the major cities of Aba and Umuahia dropping coffins and brandishing matchetes with a threat to kill anyone who would dare vote against their candidate.
They burnt down INEC LGA offices in some cases, beat up innocent voters in areas they considered their strongholds, shot sporadically and on many occasions and hijacked ballot boxes. The climax of their atrocity was when the hoodlums accompanied their political paymasters as they invaded the INEC headquarters and forced the resident commissioner and the Returning officer to reverse a cancellation they had announced before local and international observers.
During this period, the lives of many of the leaders of the major opposition party in the state, the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, were in serious danger as a result of threats from these criminals. This caused these party stalwarts to seek the services of armed security personnel, but like the saying goes “serving a monkey water is never a problem, but retrieving the cup with which the water was served is the real problem”.The desperate election riggers found joy in using these suspected criminals to unleash violence, scare their opponents away and achieve results through barbaric means, but it seems that either the criminals have refused to be disarmed or that the sponsors have chosen to keep them on stand by for future election crimes.
Shortly after the 2015 election, kidnap news which disappeared for some years started spreading gradually once again. Abia residents were initially shocked, wondering what could have motivated the ugly development since the criminals had only vowed to resume their crime if their candidate was not declare the governor, but discerning minds with a sense of history weren’t surprised because history has shown that managing criminals and getting them to behave in a particular way at all times is never an easy task, especially when they had been used to execute satanic agenda like was seen in Aba in 2015.
Today, kidnap has become a daily affairs in Abia, especially in Aba.Fear is already sweeping across the length and breadth of the state and this crime is already taking its toll on the people and their businesses, but this violent crime is gravely underreported, while the government has adopted a cosmestic and unserious approach to it.
Abia is on the verge of experiencing another uncontrollable drift to anarchy. The government should therefore stop pretending that all is well, except the boys have been allowed to threaten as well as incapacitate the opposition ahead of 2019.