By Chika Anthony Udeh
It was the former President of the United States, George W. Bush, who first used the phrase axis of evil in his State of the Union address on January 29, 2002, and this became a catchphrase all through his presidency in describing foreign governments that allegedly sponsored terrorism and sought weapons of mass destruction during his administration. But today, it is commonly used to refer to geographic locations that are deemed to be dangerous.
If anybody who lives in Enugu today is asked to name Enugu’s axis of the evils of robbery and kidnapping, the person would not waste time to name the Ogwugwu axis. Since immediately after the civil war, the Ogwugwu axis comprising Ihe, Agbogugu, Ogbaku, Isu-Awaa, etc. on the old and later the new and dualised Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway, has always been a den of robbers. Every child born around those our communities grows up knowing this axis as the theatre and epicenter of armed robbery and recently, of kidnapping.
It has nothing to do with the good people of those communities, but about the combination of thick vegetation and a topography that comprises multiple caves of all sizes, hills, and the long tunnels running through the dual carriage expressway, which criminals perennially take advantage of. The area in question is hardly cultivated because of the difficult topography and hence provides the quietude required for their smooth operations.
Many daredevil criminals are known to have operated around this axis at one time. For instance, at a point, one Nnanne was the overlord. At another point, it was Ngwu Ekere Omu. Whoever it was always had all sorts of mysteries woven around them as they operated with maximum impact, taking on and demystifying security agents like Oyenusi, Lawrence Anenih and Shina Rambo. The likes of Nnanne and Ngwu Ekere Omu and their gangs made life so hellish for road users, especially the length of Four Corners Junction all the way to Ogbaku on your way to the Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway.
As a primary school pupil and later a student at St. Vincent’s Agbogugu, I remember how armed robbers used to waylay road users only to disappear into what we taught to be thin air. I particularly remember how armed robbers stormed Ozalla Four Corners. They robbed, shot for nearly an hour around 1990 and gradually receded into the Ogwugwu axis with some of the monies they robbed littering the road.
There was nothing like internet banking and neither could anyone withdraw money from any other branch of his bank in those days except the branch the account was opened. So, it was always harvest of a kind for criminals as every generation of robbers produced daredevil kingpins that reigned in the area until they were cut down by law enforcement agents or by the revolt of the community members themselves.
It has also not been a ride in the park for the law enforcement agents as several tough and fearless cops have paid with their lives. A typical example is the police officer from Ihe town known as IG. As a native of Ihe in that axis, who understood the topography very well, IG took it upon himself to rout out the criminals in those areas. He was a true description of one-man squad and worked with credible intelligence provided by the locals. Together with a few trusted officers, IG tracked the criminals down, eliminating even the worst of the robbery kingpins in the mid 200s. Unfortunately, since they could neither bribe nor kill him in open crossfire, he was eventually trailed by the protégées of one of the kingpins he eliminated and shot dead at One Day Bus Stop along the popular Agbani Road, Enugu.
It is not surprising therefore that this same axis has remained a source of concern since the advent of commercial kidnapping around Enugu State. It is instructive that the late Rev. Fr. Paul Offu was killed along Ihe-Agbudu road at that axis. The traditional ruler of Obom-Agbogugu, Igwe Sunday Orji and his wife, were kidnapped around Ogbaku on the Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway. The Permanent Secretary of the Enugu State Ministry of Land and Urban Development, Augustine Udeh, was also kidnapped between Ituku and Isu-Awaa. National Youth Leader of PDP, Hon. Sunday Ude-Okoye was kidnapped at his poultry farm in Agbogugu.
The felons, now joined by some criminal herders, jump onto the roads and open fire on any vehicles at sight. Then they proceed to rob or kidnap their victims and disappear into the thick forests, tunnels or caves. For instance, the kidnapped Permanent Secretary was rescued by security agents in the hilly thick forest of Ogbaku. The traditional ruler of Obom Agbogugu was rescued from one of the tunnels in Umuogba along, the Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway.
It is therefore instructive that the Government of Enugu State has for over a month now declared a sort of State of Emergency to dislodge criminals from that axis of the State. The Governor has personally led a combined team of security agencies to Umuogba Ihe tunnel; Agbogugu Isu-Awaa-Agbudu caves; and Ihe-Agbogugu-Ogbaku-Isu Awaa-Amuri forests. The surroundings of the caves, tunnels, the sides of the roads and road medians in the axis have all been cleared with extra patrol and military checkpoints put in place. It is noteworthy that the tunnel where the kidnapped traditional ruler was eventually rescued had never been opened for over 30 years.
In addition, Enugu State has also recruited and is deploying the first batch of Forest Guards, in a statewide novel intervention by the administration to checkmate the security challenges, particularly kidnapping and violent crimes, which now emanate from the forests.
However, while the state government puts in efforts to arrest criminalities in the area, it is high time the Federal Government, particularly the Office of the National Security Adviser, paid special attention to this axis of robbery and kidnapping in the State and its environ. For instance, it was discovered that while the criminals use the tunnels and geography of the Ogwgwu axis to launch their attacks and escapes, they normally retire to the area known as Slaughter House around Lokpatanta and Isuochi in Abia State. With many slum settlements, the Slaughter House area serves as criminal hideout from where all sorts of criminals blend into the society undetected.
This is therefore a call on the Federal Government to pay special attention to this axis of evils of crime and robbery. As the African adage says, an unusual disease requires unusual herb. If the bird learns to fly without perching, the hunting must learn to be a sharp shooter, and able to get his target without missing. Also, if you strike the shepherd, the sheep would scatter. If you remove the trees, you disable the monkeys.
And this, the Federal Government, especially the Office of the National Security Adviser, needs to do immediately. it is important to round up and get the criminals operating in that axis. However, since new sets of criminals usually grow to succeed the destroyed or dislodged one, the Office of the NSA needs to coordinate and unleash Nigeria’s intelligence and security might in a special intervention that would find a permanent cure to challenges posed by that axis to security in the State. The insecurity at the axis, from the tunnel of death in Enugu to the slaughter house in Abia, has become a national security problem. This informs the call on Inpector General of Police and the National Security Adviser. The Federal Government needs to fix that terrain and make it permanently uninhabitable for hoodlums now threatening national security. How some have reacted and tried to politicise the moves to check criminality in the area also qualifies the challenge a national security problem. It should, therefore, be squarely tackled.
Udeh, an indigene of Awgu LGA writes from Enugu