November 15, 2023

Insecurity: The chilling discoveries in South East forests

Insecurity: The chilling discoveries in South East forests

By Anayo Okoli & Steve Oko

HARD to narrate ugly and shocking discoveries that are being made in many forests and bushes occupied by criminal elements that have been terrorizing the people of the South East region in the last three years.

These chilly discoveries include decapitated human corpses, shallow graves, and abandoned vehicles of all types, belonging to kidnapped victims who were either killed or released and their vehicles seized. Some of these things were uncovered during raids by security operatives in the forests occupied by killer Fulani bandits and the dreaded unknown gunmen, two killer groups that have been holding the region hostage, killing, kidnapping, maiming, and destabilizing the social and economic life of the people. 

South East Governors must check what goes on in forests and bushes in their states.

A cross-section of residents of the region agreed that forests and bushes in their areas  are no safer, haven been occupied by criminal elements and turned into places for torture, killing, maiming, rape, shrines, and all manners of evil activities. They called on the five governors of the zone to take it as an  emergency  task to sanitize forests and bushes in their states by raiding and clearing them and turning them into useful places.

Shocking discovery around Lokpanta cattle market is an eye-opener

The announcement made by Abia State Governor, Alex Otti, of the barbaric discovery of 50 decomposing and 20 headless bodies around the Lokpanta Cattle Market in Umunneochi council area of Abia State, was an eye opener and the tip of the  iceberg of what could be found in many other forests and bushes in the zone going by the atrocities meted out to residents and visitors to the area in the last two to three years. A  raid in forests and thick bushes in communities Nnewi and Ihiala council areas of Anambra will surely be more shocking. Forests in Enugu, Ebonyi, and particularly in Imo communities, and other parts of Abia will reveal more shocking discoveries.

Revealing what was discovered around Lokpanta Cattle market, in Abia state, Governor Alex Otti noted with regret that the vicinity of the market had turned into a den for criminal atrocities.

Otti insisted that the government would not go back on the decision to sanitize the market and make it a daily market and non-residential. He vowed that no inch of the state would be allowed to serve as a breeding ground for criminals. He warned that anybody opposed to his government’s efforts to sanitize the Lokpanta cattle market must be a criminal or an accomplice.

“We have installed electronic equipment that tells us what is happening in every part of the state. A few weeks ago, we found that a lot of ransom that was paid for kidnapping ended up somewhere around Umunneochi, and we decided to raid the place. During the raid, we made shocking discoveries.

“In less than 48 hours, we   recovered over 50 dead bodies around the cattle market in Umunneochi. We recovered over 20 decomposing headless bodies- men, women, and children. We recovered so many skeletons of people killed.

“We also discovered that gun running, prostitution  and so many evil things were happening in the market. So, we realized that the first thing to be done is to secure the market. We went in and brought down many brothels, and we felt that the market, just like any other market, should be a day market that starts in the morning and closes in the evening”.

Continuing, Otti said: “We have started fencing the market even though it will cost a lot of fortunes. We also want to  make  it a general market, not just for cattle alone. There will be sections for provisions, foodstuffs, electronics, and others.

“We also feel that those people hibernating in the market should go and live in the communities. We want to have a peaceful environment around Umunneochi and other parts of the state. Anybody not supporting this move must be a criminal, and there is no place for criminals anymore in Abia”, he warned.

Discoveries by soldiers on Southeast Operation Udoka

Also raiding criminal hideouts in the region, soldiers on Operation Udoka, at Ugbakwa community in Nkanu East council of Enugu State, apprehended one Chimezie Chukwu (aka Biggi), said to have escaped during the Jos prison break and also said to be a known  drug peddler, gunrunner and specialist in armed robbery.

They recovered from him items such as mobile phones and mobile phone batteries; a Moniepoint POS and ATM card, packs of substances suspected to be cannabis, and some cash. Also, in camps at Ogbunka, Orumba South council area, which security operatives said had been abandoned by the criminals, they recovered three abandoned vehicles, two Toyota Highlander jeeps and one Mercedes Benz ML350 jeep.

Cattle dealers kick against plans to sanitize, make Lokpanta market a daily market

The people residing inside the Cattle Market, who are of Northern extraction, some of them cattle dealers, have rejected the eviction order by Abia Government. Their spokesperson, Mallam Buba Abdullahi Kedemure, said the plan to fence the market situated on 80 hectares of land “will not work”.

Kedemure said  asking them to live outside the cattle market, which they have occupied since 2005, translates to telling them to leave Abia State as it was not practicable for the 15,000 members of the Northern community to live among the natives.

“If the government will fence the market, demolish  our houses, urge us to go and live in the neighbouring villages, it means the government has automatically chased us away from Abia State,” he claimed.

Also, a statement signed by 14 market leaders and cattle traders, including the chairman, Alhaji Saleh Algare, and the secretary, Auwal Hamma, said “It is unjust, unfair and ungodly for anyone to prevent any Nigerian, irrespective of tribe and religious affiliation from staying in any part they desire to stay in Nigeria”.

Peter Obi supports the Abia Govt to sanitize the market

The Labour Party’s presidential candidate in the 2023 Elections, Peter Obi described the discovery of decomposing corpses as “bone-chilling” and “extremely cruel”.

Obi said the discovery “reflects how insecure our environment has been” and “unearths how insecurity has continued to ravage many parts of the country, taking innocent lives and killing the economy”.

He commended Governor Otti, for taking a “bold step” against insecurity in the state and recalled facing a similar situation in 2013 as the Governor of Anambra State.

Obi said that the security of lives and property remains the primary duty of any government.

“We must prioritize security. “We cannot continue to allow our people to live in fear and uncertainty”.

We support Government plan- Environmental Rights Group 

Foundation for Environmental Rights, Advocacy and Development, FENRAD, a leading human and environmental rights advocacy group, supports the Government’s plan and calls for proper investigation of anyone opposed to the move to fence the Lokpanta Cattle Market. The Executive Director, Comrade Nelson Nwafor, said no responsible government folds its arms while any part of its territory is converted into a breeding ground for criminals.

“What an infamy that the market built to promote cattle and foodstuff enterprise was turned into a den of hostage takers who run a kidnapping and abduction industry that has thrived for decades now. FENRAD is aware of the gruesome activities of these faceless gangs which have been extended from Lokpanta and Umunneochi to Ihube, Uturu, Okigwe, and Isuikwuato axis. The fact that the killings and decapitation happened and were not reported, neither by the traders nor market occupants, only leaves much to be desired”, the group said.

The Civil Liberties Organization, CLO, Anambra State also supports the plan of Abia State Government. The chairman, Comrade Vincent Ezekwueme, CLO commended Governor Alex Oti for the effort that led to the shocking discoveries around the Umuezechi/Lokpanta cattle market.

Umunneochi community, stakeholders back Government to sanitize the market 

The immediate past member who represented Umunneochi state constituency at the Abia State House of Assembly, Hon. Okey Igwe, said the revelation by the Governor, though shocking and pathetic, was not new to some stakeholders.

“To some people, it is just coming to light but we have lived with this terror for a long time. But hopefully, this is the start of the lasting solution to the menace. I don’t think the Governor of the state will be playing a game with a serious issue like this. I have seen some of the pictures. I don’t think anybody should lecture me on the reality of the situation. If anybody is in denial that we have been besieged, I don’t know why.

“People who were kidnapped lost their lives in the process. A senior police officer in Isuochi was kidnapped and later killed. The former Prelate of the Methodist Church was also kidnapped in this same area. So, I don’t think anybody should be in denial of this. It shouldn’t be a tribal thing. I rather think what should matter to all  is how  to bring a lasting solution to the menace. Our people  have been through this horror, and I hope we are beginning to get respite.

“If the measures by the state government are considered the solution to this security threat, it should be supported by all because anybody could be a victim. So, I don’t think the move is to witch-haunt anybody.

 “It’s a security policy, and if the Government suspects that the cattle market has been hijacked by some elements, fencing it and making it a day market, I think, makes sense. I don’t think the original  intention was to make it a residential market. People should  go to the  market and return to their houses afterward. I don’t think the market should be a residential area”.

Prince Ikedi Ezekwesili, also a former lawmaker, said that movement around Umunneochi had become a nightmare following a spike in criminality in the area. He said that the number of casualties as disclosed by the Governor should not be argued considering the atrocious activities of bandits and kidnappers on the prowl in the area spanning to Isuochi/Ihube/Aku forest.

“It is quite a disturbing revelation. It was a common knowledge. When our women went to the farm they would return with very gory experiences of having met decomposing bodies or skeletons or documents of kidnap victims.