By Vincent Ujumadu
FOR nearly one year, the so- called unknown gunmen have turned Anambra State, the once acclaimed safest state in Nigeria, into a harvest of deaths.
From what has been happening since the emergence of Professor Chukwuma Soludo as the governor of the state, it might be argued that some people do not want the governor to succeed, or the state to progress, as hardly a day passes without the gunmen causing havoc in one part of the state.
When the problem of gunmen began, it was happening sporadically, but with time, it became a daily practice, such that it is getting to a situation where the gunmen may soon be telling Anambra people that there is nothing anyone can do to stop them.
Take the issue of spread of their activities, for instance, at the beginning, they were operating only at the border town of Lilu in Ihiala local government area, only to extend their tentacles to other neighbouring towns. Today, towns like Orsumogbu, Mbosi-, Ukpor, Azia, Ihiala, Okija, Nnewi, Aguluezechukwu, Isuofia, Mkpologwu, Ekwulobia, Umuchu, Umunze, Uga, and, in fact almost all the communities in Anambra South senatorial zone, have become dreaded places.
In most of these communities, youths have made their people to live in fear. In Okija, for instance, some youths, in collaboration with gunmen from outside the area, recently stormed the palace of the traditional ruler of the town and removed over 20 motorcycles purchased for distribution to vigilante operatives, after destroying personal property of the royal father who was away at the time. They also invaded the country home of an industrialist in the town and after killing his dog, looted the house.
A source told Saturday Vanguard that people are now applying to be enlisted as gunmen in some communities, which has become a lucrative business.
The source said: “Do you know that the newly recruited gunmen are assigned to look out for their people who come into the community? They trail such people to their destinations and inform their senior colleagues who then invade the area to abduct the returnees and take them to the forests for negotiations. Recently, one of such trainee gunmen led his senior colleagues to a burial ceremony at a village in Okija where they abducted one of the relations of the deceased. After a few hours, they contacted the victim’s relations and demanded for N10 million. Eventually, N6 million was contributed and a go- between was given the money and the man was released”.
At Mkpologwu in Orumba South local government area, it was gathered that some of the gunmen came into the area and demanded that all the pump action guns purchased for use by vigilante operatives in the area be given to them. The guns were confiscated by the gunmen as had been done in many other communities. A president -general in of the communities said with the development, most communities can no longer defend their areas.
In what looked like a well- designed modus operandi, the gunmen, mostly from outside the state, started recruiting youths of various communities into their gang. It was these recruited youths that helped in establishing kidnappers dens in forests in many communities where victims are taken to and ransom demanded and paid.
The most worrisome aspect is that the recruited youths have become threats to their people as they transform from apprentices to actual gunmen. They kill and cannibalize and even use the social media to advertise themselves.
Two killings too many in the state in recent week were those of the House of Assembly representing Governor Chukwuma Soludo’s constituency, Okechukwu Okoye who was beheaded and a pregnant woman Harira Jibril and her four children.
Although Governor Soludo has been battling to find a solution to the insecurity situation in the state since he assumed office, the latest killings apparently forced him to impose 6 pm – 6am curfew in the entire seven local government areas of Anambra South and Ogbaru in Anambra North. In fact, The governor was so worried about the death of Harira and her children that he despatched his Commissioner for Information, Mr. Paul Nwosu and that of Women and Social Welfare, Mrs. Ify Obinabo to go and commiserate with her husband, Malam Jibril Ahmed. Harira Jibril was 32 years, while the four children were Fatima, 9; Khadijah, 7; Hadiza, 5; and Zaituna, 2.
Ahmed’s emotion – laden speech during the visit of Soludo’s delegation was touching. His words: “ I’m now left with nobody. They have wiped out my entire family. My late wife was nine months pregnant and the family was expecting a new baby within the week before they were killed.
“They were coming back home after she visited her sister who was living in the nearby town. She and the four children were all wearing hijabs; that may be why the gunmen targeted them”. Jibril, who works as a security guard in the state, however, commended the governor for the visit of his aides.
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The leader of Miyetti Allah in the South-East, Mallam Gidado Sadiq, who was also in the entourage promised to work with the state government to bring about peace and security in the state. “The visit by the governor’s team was quite commendable and I am happy that he has promised that those who have a hand in the killing of the woman and her children will be fished out and made to face the law,” Sadiq said.
Soludo, while announcing the introduction of curfew in the eight local government areas recalled how he expressed conviction that sustainable peace and security could only be achieved, if there is cooperation and solidarity of the people, during his inauguration.
Wondering why all these were still happening, the governor said: “We consulted and collaborated with the South East Joint Body of Bishops and traditional rulers; issuing joint statements, with the Joint body of bishops organizing prayers sessions in the entire South East on 4th April, 2022, with the goal of ending the sit-at-home and ensuring an enduring peace and security in the South East;
“We organized Anambra Peace and Security Dialogue, with the leadership of the Christian denominations, town unions, traditional rulers, youth organizations, women, market, and transport unions, as well as political leaders and non-indigenes on XX with a Communique calling for an end to the Sit- at home—and peace and security in the South East on 2nd April, 2022;
“We offered the Olive branch to all the armed youths in the forests to come out, surrender their guns and with the commitment that our government would help to retrain and empower them to contribute positively to our development. Our government has, in our proposed revised budget, provided handsomely for youth empowerment.
“The official leadership of IPOB also repeatedly issued statements dissociating itself from the senseless and destructive Sit- at home on Mondays etc as well as the kidnappings and criminal actions of gangs in the state and the south east;
“We set up the Truth, Justice and Peace Committee, with the goal of getting to the remote and immediate causes of the agitation and criminality, with a view to proffering systematic and lasting solutions;
“We have severally again met with town union leaders and traditional rulers; landlords etc, all in the mobilization of the people for lasting peace and security;
“True to our commitment to engage with all state and non-state actors relevant to the search for lasting peace and security, we visited Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, and he reiterated that he never authorized the senseless sit at home, and absolved his organization, IPOB, from the crass criminality especially the barbaric enforcement of the sit at home and the kidnappings and spilling of blood. Mazi Kanu expressed his willingness to personally address the press to charge his followers to keep the peace. Subsequently, his lawyer issued an official statement confirming this position and his associate also addressed the media in the same vein;
We have also had Town Hall meetings with Ndi Anambra in Lagos and Abuja, and our people are united in their condemnation of the criminality going on in the state and environs, and demonstrated their commitment to join hands with us in solving it.
“Despite all these, the criminal gangs are unrelenting in their desperation to maintain their very lucrative criminal enterprise and expand their other agenda of domination.
“Routinely they kidnap for ransom, rape, and murder their victims as well as burn houses and properties. They relish in shooting soft targets, including recently a poor woman frying akara in front of her house on a Monday. Over the past one week, Ndi Anambra and indeed the nation have been treated to the gory stories of the kidnapping and subsequent beheading of Hon Okechukwu Okoye (member of the State House of Assembly) and his aide, Cyril Chiegboka (both from my community, Isuofia) as well as the brutal murder Mrs Harirat Jubril from Adamawa state and her four children and three other northerners. Anambra people have been in shock. This is not who we are. Our deepest condolences are with the families of the various victims. We are working round the clock with the security agencies and the perpetrators must be brought to book.
“The truth is that this tiny minority (certainly far less than 0.1% of us), is bent upon challenging the foundation of the things that make us who we are:
“No part of Anambra State (house, bush or forest) shall be used as camps for these criminals. Anyone with a gun in a camp is considered a criminal in Anambra State, and the government and people will work with security agencies to flush them out. The State Government shall pursuant to its powers under the Land Use Act revoke and acquire any land found to be harboring these criminals, for public purpose. Henceforth, every community is required to provide information on any part of their land occupied by these criminals as camps. If the community fails to do so, the government will take over such land.
“All communities are hereby charged to take over their communities completely and through the leadership of their Town Unions and Traditional Rulers give weekly security reports (submitted every Friday) to the State Government on the state of security in their communities. The cooperation of the youths in that regard is now imperative. I charge the vigilantes of each community to rise to the occasion and contend with these criminals in your locality whether they are in your bush or the houses in your community. The State Government expects the report of any progress made in this regard and shall support and reward you accordingly.
Any buildings found to be harboring these kidnappers and murderers who have laid siege on our State will, as provided by Criminal Code (Amendment No.3) Law 2013, be forfeited to the State Government. To that extent, all landlords are hereby directed to proceed on “Operation Know Your Tenant” by keeping appropriate records of their tenants and report anyone suspected of being involved in criminal activities. Each community leadership must keep full register of all tenants in their communities, their occupation, etc and keep an eye on their activities. The State Government shall as an emergency measure, disband the leadership of any community which fails to report criminal activities in their communities or immediately respond to the requests contained in this address.
“All market leaders and stakeholders are hereby charged to join the communities in taking back their territory and monitor the activities in their markets. They are all required to return weekly security reports to the State Government.
“Everybody who either in person or through telephone calls demands cash support or ransom from anyone in furtherance of any criminal activities or groups should immediately be reported to the government via the telephone lines provided.
“All transporters, i.e, bus drivers, shuttle drivers, tricycle (keke) and motorcycle (okada) riders must immediately report any suspicious passengers. Because it has come to the knowledge of the State Government that over 80% of transport operators use fake plate numbers and identities, all transport operators must henceforth re-register their vehicles, tricycles and motorcycles with their valid means of identification and their biometrics captured. This exercise shall immediately be commenced and anyone who defaults in doing that after four weeks from today would be treated as a suspect and adequate measures taken against him or her.
“All hotels are directed to obtain the means of identification of their guests and keep an inventory of all guests in their hotels. The management of the hotels should immediately report any suspicious persons or group of persons checking into or converging in their hotels. Immediate sanctions would attend any dereliction in that regard, including possibly shutting down or demolition of such hotels.
“All fuel stations are hereby directed to, within four weeks from today, place surveillance cameras in their stations and keep the records generated by those cameras in order to assist the State Government, when required, in tracking these criminals who inevitably fuel their vehicles at fuel stations.
“Let me urge our people to remain calm. This season shall pass. The God of Anambra assures that we shall overcome the forces of darkness. Indeed, this tough beginning foretells of a more glorious future. We thank all the stakeholders in the Anambra project, and particularly thank the security agencies for their determination and sacrifice. We enjoin our religious leaders to continue to lift up the state in prayers and to also mobilize our people as they fight evil in our land. Together, we shall take back our state and make it the true Light of the Nation”.