•Extort, batter, dehumanize brazenly
•Intimidate, harass, subject motorists, passers-by to untold hardship
•Create gridlocks for daylight robbery
•Victims allege government complicity
By Chimaobi Nwaiwu – Onitsha
The commercial city of Anambra state is indeed something else. Beyond commercial activities, particularly buying and selling which it is known for, the bustling city can conveniently be said to be under siege by a terror gang as a result of the number of hoodlums that operate freely in and around it.
While daily commercial transactions are going on inside the city, one of the busiest areas called Upper Iweka to Head Bridge axis are always under the control of daredevil hoodlums who unleash terror on innocent motorists by forcefully jumping into their vehicles to extort one form of levy or the other. Unsuspecting passers-by are not left out in the crisis that will ensue.
Baptism of fire in thuggery
Members of the vicious gang who are always clad in dirty rags with frightful hairdos are simply outlaws as they carry out their nefarious activities even in the full glare of law enforcement agents.
They are always armed with dangerous weapons like cudgels, pocket knives, sticks and even hidden local guns.
For a first time visitor to the commercial nerve centre of the east, the baptism of fire in thuggery and hooliganism starts from the head bridge and extends precariously towards Upper Iweka and the adjoining streets.
However, the story takes a different tune when one gets inside the city where traders who engage in a beehive of commercial activities live and enjoy their lives peacefully.
The alarming and fearful activities of young men who in broad daylight wield all types of dangerous weapons to extort money by harassing motorists, tricycle operators and even those on foot have beclouded what Onitsha really is, the biggest commercial city in West Africa.
Broad daylight attacks
In broad daylight, in traffic gridlock, these hoodlums armed with dangerous weapons openly harass and extort money from motorists in the name of all manner of levies; they fear nobody, including Police, Army, Navy, DSS and Civil Defense operatives.
They brazenly operate unhindered and any attempt to resist them results to open fracas, intimidation and harassment which always end up in bloody fights with the victims sustaining injuries.
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Victims said no iota of pleading will ever make them change their minds as the only language they understand is just drop the money and go.
They operate and behave as if they are government or law unto themselves. Unfortunately, law enforcement agents entrusted with the responsibility of checkmating them view their activities as normal and hustling.
They only challenge them whenever they step on the toes of people in authority either in government or security circles.
Fear grip traders, motorists
Members of these gangs have succeeded in instilling fear in the minds of traders no matter how rich they are by operating freely in front of their shops without intervention from either the market unions or security agents.
Their criminal activities are not even limited to unsuspecting customers who throng the city from far and near. They are dreaded and avoided like a plague whenever they embark on open extortion of money from their victims.
These terror gangs go by different fearful and meaningless names that make victims who encounter them take to their heels after extorting them.
They are ready to fight at any time to have their way with the victims and boasts of being untouchables by government and law enforcement agents who actually know them and allow them to operate freely and unhindered.
They reek of alcohol 24 hours. They are simply a huge source of embarrassment to residents and visitors to Onitsha.
Petite traders as victims
Frighteningly, they also extort money from petty traders and market women, who sell items such as vegetables, fruits and other consumable sellers who make lesser than N2000 daily.
They spare nobody including wheelbarrow pushers. In the attempt to extort, they brazenly jump into moving vehicles, remove part of the goods loaded in the vehicles; or seize goods loaded on tricycles, wheelbarrows and carts just to force their victims to succumb. An unlucky victim may meet over six of the terror groups in a day in various parts of the town.
Areas where they operate
Areas notorious for their activities include: Old Market and New Market road, the road that connects Onitsha North Local Government Area with the popular Onitsha Main Market; Marine Market and Ose Okwodu Market areas, Iweka road that connects Onitsha South Local Government with the popular Ochanja Central Market; Port Harcourt road, Creek road, Oguta road, New Cemetery road, Ezeiweka road, Awada, Court road, Water Site, Emejulu street, Onitsha Owerri road, Onitsha Enugu expressway starting from Niger Bridge Head up to Zik’s Roundabout.
They are also visible around New and Old Spare Parts Market, Nkpor, as well as Nkpor Flyover, among others.
They are authority unto themselves and understand one common language of intimidation, harassment and extortion unchallenged.
Anambra State government has not helped matters either as they keep collecting all manner of levies from individuals they call contractors, who subsequently, employed some of the boys that have turned to terror gangs and ravaging the city in the name of collecting the levies for them.
Many of the terror gangs on their own hide under the name of the contractors and embark on illegal activities.
Failed attempt for sanity
An attempt by a former Commissioner for Transport in the state, Dr Christian Maduako (who was later kidnapped when he resigned and advised Governor Obiano to take charge of his administration) to tame the violent activities of the terror gang with the formation of a group called ‘Focused Initiative Against Touting’, FIAT, was frustrated by the people the gangs were working for.
For over two weeks, the Commissioner and his FIAT operatives succeeded in arresting and prosecuting some of them at the Mobile Court set up for FIAT. Sanity temporarily returned in Onitsha and the violent activities of the terror gang reduced.
However, shortly, with the intervention of some highly placed people who have the ears of the State Government, the mobile court became ineffective, the Commissioner and his outfit became weak and at a point FIAT officials were attacked and wounded by the terror gang and the state government did nothing to protect their officials, including the Commissioner who then sought for the protection of the police and DSS officials.
The attack on FIAT officials marked the end of the fight against touting and the boys returned to business, now more deadly.
Allegations of government complicity
The impression by the public was that the contractors have gone to bribe some powerful senior government officials who control the administration, especially when Dr Maduako became difficult to be settled as he was rather busy searching for the leaders and sponsors of the terror gangs to arrest them.
One of the traders who identified himself as Chief Okeke told Crime Guard that the city has never had it so bad. According to him, passing through Upper Iweka and Head bridge area of the city is simply a nightmare.
These hoodlums operate brazenly and extort money from both motorists and passers-by in the full glare of law enforcement agents.
If you are a first-timer to the city, you will shed tears after experiencing their mode of operation.
Woe betide you if you fail to respond to their demand. If the state government cannot checkmate these atrocities, the federal government should urgently intervene because Nigerians from different areas of the country and beyond are victims and it does not speak well of Igbos.