Judex Okoro, Calabar
In the past, Calabar, the capital of Cross River State, was noted for its serene and tranquil nature. The Canaan city, as it is popularly called, was, indeed, a place of rest.
But today, the land that once flowed with milk and honey seems to have lost its charm as gunmen have taken over the metropolis abducting about dozens of people in the last five months. The relative ease with which kidnappers operate has created fear and panic among the residents and visitors.
Nightlife is gradually dying in Calabar as fun seekers and night crawlers, who used to hang out, especially on weekends, are thoroughly scared of the night unlike before when they hopped in and out of clubs. Businessmen are relocating their businesses and families to nearby states just as residents and socialites are shutting down as early as 6:30pm daily.
Checks by Daily Sun revealed that streets in highbrow areas, including Satellite Town, State and Federal Housing Estates as well as some major streets within the metropolis are deserted from 7pm because of fear of falling into the hands of miscreants.
Investigations showed that 2019 would remain sorrowful for many families as their breadwinners and loved ones were kidnapped and ransom running into several millions of naira paid while some lost their lives in the process. Between September and November 2019, over six members of staff of the University of Calabar and teaching hospital were abducted.
Within the same period, two spare parts merchants – Nonso and Chibuzor- with shops at Chamley and Eight Miles respectively, a son in-law to a senior lecturer in Faculty of Arts, University of Calabar, and one Mr Emmanuel Abbeng, a retired civil servant, were abducted.
It was leant that a senior staff of one of the leading banks simply identified as Nonso, and two others simply identified as Idorenyen and Celestine Uzondu, all traders were quietly kidnapped and ransom ranging from N1m to N2.5m paid.
Family sources confided in Daily Sun that Nonso, who was beaten to coma by his abductors, later died at University of Calabar Teaching hospital, UCTH.
New Year boom
The business of kidnapping has continued to boom in the state in 2020. Seven persons were reportedly kidnapped between January and February for ransom Calabar.
They include Dr David Ugwu, a lecturer at the University of Calabar, who was whisked away from his residence along Atimbo; an accounting staff with the Nigerian Chronicle Newspaper, Maurice Archibong; and a businessman, Chief Desmond Oko, who was later released after paying N2million to his abductors.
Another businessman, popularly known as Champion, was kidnapped at Garden Street and his brother was also picked up when he went with a ransom to free Champion. The kidnappers collected the ransom, released Champion and then detained the brother asking for more money. The duo paid N3.5million ransom, according to family sources.
An unidentified Calabar socialite was kidnapped on Saturday, February 22, at Efio-Ete in Calabar municipality about 9pm.
On March 5, the police arrested three kidnappers and rescued a woman who was already in the kidnappers den. Between March 7 and 10, a popular Calabar night club owner, Akeem Ibrahim, a University of Calabar Teaching Hospital, UCTH, Assistant Director and the wife of Medical Director of Akwa Ibom Specialist Hospital, Uyo, Mrs Christian Ekanem, were all kidnapped by gunmen and they have all regained freedom.
Victims, residents react
Expressing dismay at the rate of kidnapping, one of the victims, who didn’t want his name in print, said: “I can tell you that kidnapping is silently going on in Calabar almost on daily basis. I was in their custody for about four days and within that period, they brought in five other victims and I wondered how the pass all the security checkpoints.
“It is really a booming business in this our Calabar and it is a pity that a city that was known for its serene and peaceful ambience had lost it. If it continues, then we are doomed.”
Another victim, Mrs Grace Adams, said her rescue was purely a divine intervention and professionalism on the part of police officers.
She said: “The gang picked me up at about 7.15 pm on Thursday, March 12, and took me away while we were coming back from shop. I am a coca cola distributor.
“In the early hours of Friday, March 13, I heard a gunshot and I discovered it was the police. They saw me and asked me what i was doing at the location. I told them I was kidnapped by some people, who brought me here yesterday and they are demanding N30m from my family.
“But I thank God I never knew the police can be so effective and efficient in their operations. I am grateful to God for them,” she said.
Also lamenting, Mrs Christiana Ekanemn, a staff of UCTH, who was picked up in front of her residence at School Road, Satellite Town on March 10, and was released on Saturday, March 21, about 10pm by her abductors after 11 days in their captivity, said: “I thank God almighty that I came back alive. I am really coming from another world. I didn’t know I would come back to my family.
“I was beaten to a pulp. There was this day I almost died because of the beating but God was with me. I thank all those who prayed for me.”
Lamentation of Igbo
Expressing concern over the kidnap of some Igbo traders and businessmen in Calabar metropolis, a concerned group, Igbo Traders Amalgamated, ITA, raised the alarm and vowed to close their shops if they are not protected.
The spokesperson, Nnayelugo Okwuoma, said: “We had thought that kidnapping had stopped. But we are surprised that it is on the rise again. We call on government to act fast, otherwise we shall be forced to close down our shops. Already a lot of our people are relocating to Uyo, Akwa Ibom.
“Some top Igbo businessmen are said to have sent a delegation to Akwa Ibom government to allocate some parcel of land where they can build shops as Cross River is becoming too insecure. We have had series of meetings in recent times. So, we advise Igbo businessmen to try and relocate their businesses to a more friendly state rather than staying here and making money for kidnappers.”
In his WhatsApp posting on March 11, Agba Jalingo, the publisher of crossriverwatch, a leading community blog in the state, said: “November 2019, while I was still incarcerated, we heard in our transistor radios how the “AK 47 Economy” aka kidnapping was flourishing in Calabar. The news was awash with cases of rampant kidnapping in a town where such occurrences were hitherto unheard of.
“While in Afokang prison, inmates call kidnapping work. When any alleged kidnapper is brought in and they tell us their ‘new man’ story, they are usually upset that they went for work and the work failed. They don’t see it as a crime. It is work.
“Hours after any kidnapping case in the “outside world” those of us in the “inside world” are already abreast and in no time, the alleged kidnappers in prison are making contacts and already telling you which gang has “done the work.”
Jalingo is of the view that making kidnapping a capital or small offence is beside the point, rather suggested that it is high time society resorted to looking for how to gainfully employ these youths to make them better citizens in future.
Doctors shut down hospitals over kidnapping
Piqued by the incessant kidnapping of their colleagues and their dependents, the Nigeria Medical Association, NMA, Cross River branch, on March 12, embarked on an indefinite strike in protest against the kidnap of the wife of their colleague and staff of the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital, Mrs. Christian Ekanem.
The members of the association, which embarked on a 14-kilometre walk, carried placards with inscriptions such as “End kidnapping in Calabar,’ ‘Make Cross River safe again’, ‘NMA in Cross River demand unconditional and safe release of our doctor’s wife.”
Speaking shortly after the protest on Friday in Calabar, the Cross River State Chairman of NMA, Dr Agam Ayuk, said: “We are not safe anymore; we believe that the government can do more in using the necessary machineries to ensure that we have a safer Cross River. Cross River State used to be a place where people come to live and be at rest; we want it to go back to where it was.
“We all know that doctors are migrating from the country, those of us left behind to serve the public cannot wait and be kidnapped one after the other to pay ransom. We are out here to tell the public that enough is enough. We call on non-government organisations and civil societies to join in the struggle for a safer Cross River.
“We, therefore, call on President Buhari and the Inspector General of Police as a matter of urgency to declare a state of emergency on security in Cross River State.” He added that “NMA will henceforth withdraw all medical services without any notice anytime a doctor or dependents are taken captive in future. The unfortunate incident of the kidnap of the wife of a member of NMA is worrisome.
“The NMA in Cross River is not unmindful of the impact of the withdrawal of medical services on the good people of Cross River. However, we cannot continue to save lives while we are under constant threat by armed bandits and kidnappers. NMA in Cross River has proceeded on a total and indefinite withdrawal of medical services in both the private, public and institutional hospitals in the state.”
Cultism is also on the rise in Calabar and environs. Many people have been killed in clashes involving members of rival cult groups in the state. Some of the victims were allegedly beheaded.
Take this: Last month, a middle-aged man, Victor, was roasted in Calabar for stealing a fowl.
Varsity wages war against bandits
University of Calabar beefed up security with a police post and committed to fighting kidnapping within the academic community. The Vice Chancellor of the university, Prof Zana Akpagu, on Thursday, March 18, inaugurated the first university police station in the South-South zone of the country.
Handing over the station located at the staff quarters of the institution to the Police Commissioner, Cross River State Command, Mr Nkereuwem Akpan, Akpagu said the station would assist in foisting a crime free environment, which is a panacea for growth and healthy leaving.
He said: “It was imperative for this administration to establish a police station within the campus in order to ensure a crime free learning and teaching environment. Besides, there was need to address the incessant cases of kidnapping, robbery and insurgency that have bedeviled the institution.
“Since 2016, my administration has recorded about five cases of kidnapping within the university staff quarters and other sundry crimes hence the need for enhanced security presence. I commend the Inspector General of Police, IGP, for promptly obliging him the request of erecting a police post to curb crimes, especially in the protection of lives of staff and students.”
Perhaps, disturbed by the reported increase in crime rate in his state, Governor Ben Ayade on Friday, March 13, 2020 summoned emergency Security Council meeting.
In a press release signed by Mr Christian Ita, Special Adviser Media and Publicity to Ayade, all security chiefs were invited for the meeting. Others also invited are traditional rulers of the seven local government areas of the Southern Senatorial district, including Bakassi, Akpabuyo, Calabar South, Calabar Municipality, Odukpani, Akamkpa and Biase.
Sources close to the meeting confided in our correspondent that Ayade told the security chiefs and traditional rulers to do everything possible to stop further kidnapping as it is giving the state a bad image.
Speaking on the state’s efforts to curb crimes in the state, particularly kidnapping, the Special Adviser to the governor on security, Southern senatorial zone, Mr Ani Essien, told Daily Sun that very soon the issue of kidnapping would be a thing of the past in Cross River as the governor is very committed to securing the lives and property of all residents in the state.
Essien said: “The collapse of educational system, demographic behavioral and attitude change have contributed to the current high rate of crime. All these bad habits have impacted negatively on the business community of CRS.
“Evening business are no longer inviting as shops closes early, customers no longer patronize late night businesses and security is stressed to breaking point as distress calls are endless. Social life in the metropolis is restricted to green zones of the city.
“But we are not resting on our oars as government. So, as the dynamic of their (criminals) operation is changing, government is also coming up with new strategies to stop the menace. We will be more engaging with a wide range of sectors to formulate polices that will be near watertight with a room for improvement.”
Calling on the public to have confidence in Ayade’s leadership of the state and security operatives, the special adviser enjoined residents to be vigilant and report suspicious movements to appropriate authorities.
He also warned property owners to take charge of their property, as they will be held accountable for any wrong use of the asset, urging them to know their neighbours and neighbourhoods.
Police not resting
However, the Cross River state police command is not resting on its oars as it has also declared war on criminals in the state and arrested some kidnappers including a police sergeant.
Parading some of the five kidnap suspects at the command headquarters at Diamond Hill, on February 27, 2020, the Cross River Police Commissioner, Mr Nkereuwem Akpan, said they are making progress, including the arrest of a police officer sergeant, who is undergoing investigation for alleged involvement in kidnapping.
Akpan said some of the suspected kidnappers were arrested by Anti Cultism and Kidnapping Squad in Calabar while the officer was arrested by Operation Skolombo.
He said: “The sergeant from Zone 6, Calabar, that was arrested by the military is undergoing interrogation in connection with cases of kidnapping. When the whole thing is ripe, definitely there will be no hiding place because the general public will be informed accordingly.”
He further said four of the kidnappers were arrested following a petition by one Egbe Enya on July 20, 2019 that his relatives were kidnapped at gun point in Calabar.
“The other suspected kidnapper, one Nwanakwo, who is a serial kidnapper, escaped in the custody of the Department of State Service in 2018 and was re-arrested on February 20, by the police. During investigations, the suspects confessed their involvement in the kidnapping and they will be charged to court as soon as investigation is concluded.”