From Obinna Odogwu, Awka
Less than two weeks after the Anambra State Governor, Chief Willie Obiano, banned itinerant Fulani herdsmen from entering the state, suspected herders kidnapped five persons from different locations in Ayamelum Local Government Area, just behind his Aguleri backyard in Anambra East LGA.
The state government had on March 2 held a security meeting at Prof. Dora Akunyili Women’s Development Centre, Awka, the state capital, where a number of security issues of the state were discussed.
The meeting was graced by the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, represented by DIG Joseph Egbunike, monarchs, community leaders, some Fulani herdsmen, leaderships of various security agencies in the state, including the police, army, DSS, NSCDC, local vigilantce groups and others.
Obiano, who was visibly angry about the growing level of insecurity in the state, particularly the cattle herders’ menace, ordered security agents to ‘put down’ any herdsman wielding AK47 rifle as such a person is an armed robber posing as a herdsman. He said that such people masquerading as herdsmen were the ones terrorising, raping and killing innocent people in the state and, therefore, should be treated as criminals.
The governor did not stop there. He went on to order for a headcount of all the herdsmen operating in the state, saying that there was the need to have their basic information for security purposes.
“Last year, we started the census of who really are these herdsmen living with us. January 2020, they were 77. I want the Commissioner of Police and the committee (Cattle Menace Committee) to do a new census.
“I also want to let you know that I have given clear instructions that, after the census, we will never allow itinerant herdsmen to enter Anambra again. This is because we have found out that the people that didn’t pay compensation were the itinerant ones.
“They are passing by; they don’t belong here; they don’t live here. I also heard about AK47. Any herdsman with an AK47 is an armed robber and should be put down.
“We don’t tolerate carrying of arms by herdsmen in Anambra here. That is clear and we have arrested and prosecuted some. So, any time you sight a herdsman with a gun, appropriately report the fellow because he is not a herdsman.
“In the olden days, they used sticks to control their cattle. They also used cutlass in case there is a snake to kill. But to move about with guns is fishy. It is not ordinary. So, we will not allow that.
“We will not allow itinerant herdsmen to pass through Anambra. They are the people that cause all kinds of trouble because they don’t know the route, they are the people that rape and kill to be able to pass by,” Obiano said.
But the herdsmen did not wait to be arrested or ‘put down’ before they started killing, raping, kidnapping and ‘putting down’ people in the state. They started from Ayamelum, an agrarian LGA, which is a short distance fgrom Aguleri, the governor’s hometown.
One of the kidnap incidents occurred on Friday, March 12, barely 10 days after the governor’s order. The suspected Fulani herdsmen, Daily Sun gathered, kidnapped the president-general of Omor community, Mr. Francis Onwuachu.
It was also gathered that four other persons were kidnapped from the area.
Former PG of the community, Udoji Amedu, told Daily Sun that the police recovered Onwuachu’s car and took it to the Ayamelum Divisional Headquarters in Anaku community.
Amedu said the herdsmen have established contact with the community and they demanded N10 million as ransom.
“Yes, they said that they have established contact. They mentioned N10 million. Apart from the PG, we heard that four other persons were also kidnapped by the herdsmen,” he said.
Asked if the N10 million was for all the five victims, he said it was only for the PG of Omor. So, the rest would also pay N10 million each, amounting to N50 million.
“There is fear and anger in the land right now. Our people are afraid of using the roads because they are insecure. Those who need to go to Awka or Onitsha are afraid to move.
“Before this incident, many of our people have been killed by the suspected Fulani herdsmen. There were also cases of raping of our women. My cousin was killed last month by the Fulani herdsmen,” he lamented.
Before this herdsmen’s issue, a former commissioner in the state, Dr. Christian Madubuko, went missing a few days after his controversial resignation from Gov. Obiano’s cabinet.
His elder brother, Richard Madubuko, told newsmen that the last place the ex-commissioner visited was the secretariat of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in Awka, where he went to sign papers for the constitution of a caretaker committee for their community.
Madubuko, who served in three different ministries as commissioner, raised some concerns about certain anomalies in the government before he called it quits.
To register their anger, the victim’s kinsmen in Anaku community staged a series of peaceful protests within the community for days. The protesters, in their numbers, carried placards with various inscriptions.
The family said in their efforts to see to the safe return of their son, they paid the police the sum of N100,000 and N15,000 for tracking and for sending signals, respectively. But that did not yield any fruit.
However, soldiers later rescued the ex-commissioner in faraway Abia State, where his abductors had taken him.
Police public relations officer in the state, CSP Haruna Mohammed, confirmed the incident at the time but dismissed the allegation that police collected N115,000 from the family.
From late last year till now, three different kidnaps have taken place along the Amawbia-Enugwu-Agidi-Nawgu-Ukwulu-Igbariam road. One of the victims included a female lecturer with Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University (COOU), Igbariam, Prof. Silvia Okonkwo.
She was kidnapped on October 28, 2020, along Enugwu-Agidi/Nawgu Road but was reportedly released the following day, October 29, at about 7:12pm. It was not clear if ransom was paid but the PG of the Enugwu-Agidi Town Union, Mr. Ndubuisi Obijiofor, in a statement, said that her release was secured through the collaborative efforts of the police, DSS and vigilante in the area.
Another kidnap victim was a Nigerian businessman based in Cameroon. The victim, whose name was given as Mr. Clement Uzoghelu, hailed from Nawgu community in Dunukofia Local Government Area. He was said to be returning from a private visit when he was abducted around 6pm on the fateful day.
That incident came barely 18 days after kidnappers abducted a man, his wife and child along the same road. The family of three was kidnapped on December 23, 2020.
It was gathered that the criminals usually positioned themselves at the swampy, dilapidated portion of the road where their potential victims were bound to slow down.
Sadly, the state governor, Obiano, often makes use of that road as it leads to his hometown.
On January 27, this year, an engineer working with a private company based in Ukwulu community was kidnapped. His abduction took place along the Abba-Ukwulu-Igbariam road.
His kidnap came shortly after the traditional rulers of Nawgu and Enugwu-Agidi communities reportedly met with the then Commissioner of Police, John Abang, who has since been promoted to the rank of Assistant Inspector-General of Police and redeployed.
After the monarchs’ visit, Abang had reportedly approved patrol teams for the Enugwu-Agidi-Nawgu portion of the road where previous kidnappings had taken place.
On February 24 this year, gunmen attacked and killed four policemen in Nkpologwu and Omogho communities in Aguata and Orumba North LGAs, respectively, and set their patrol vehicles ablaze.
According to sources, two policemen were killed in Nkpologwu, while the other two were killed in Omogho. They said the gunmen operated in a black Mercedes Benz 4matic and another unidentified brand of car.
This ugly incident took place a few days after the widely publicised red card issued to criminals in the state by the new Commissioner of Police, Monday Kuryas.
Police spokesperson in the state, Mohammed, confirmed the incident, saying CP Kuryas had visited the two spots to ascertain the level of damage.
Mohammed said, “The CP visited Mkpologwu, Aguata Local Government Area and Omogho in Orumba North, where hoodlums attacked police patrol teams in the morning at about 11:30am.”
At about 7pm on Thursday, February 4, gunmen stormed a church in Azia community in Ihiala LGA and killed a man whose name was given as Ken Ekwesianya. The attackers also killed his wife and daughter.
Police spokesperson in the state, Mohammed, confirmed the incident but could not give clear details of what transpired. He said that an investigation had commenced and effort was being made to arrest the perpetrators of the act and bring them to justice.
Crime rate in Onitsha, the commercial nerve centre of the state, is rapidly increasing. It is also the same situation in Obosi and Nkpor communities. Available reports show that the criminals no longer wait for nightfall to commence their operations. Daytime serves too.
The situation, according to some residents of the areas, is worse at Awada, a layout in Obosi, Upper Iweka, Fegge, Okpoko and also along the Onitsha-Owerri expressway. In these locations, criminals rule unchallenged.
But the situation is worse at night, from late evening upward. Residents of the areas lament that they now sleep with one eye open. They said the criminals operate tricycles and are usually armed with weapons such as cutlasses, guns and others.
A resident of the area, Nweke Nweke, a journalist, told Daily Sun that the security situation in Onitsha was getting worse by the day. He claimed that residents of Onitsha and Obosi now live in fear.
“They are robbing people at will. They use cutlass to attack their victims and they usually operate with Keke NAPEP. But the place that is the worst hit now is Awada and its environs.
“It is the same situation in Upper Iweka and Fegge. Owerri Road is a no-go area now. Even in the daytime you cannot pass through Owerri Road,” said.
Another resident of the area, Ejimofor Peters, a lawyer, told Daily Sun that criminal activities were becoming more rampant in the area. He narrated a robbery that happened right in his presence one fateful night.
“Last month, precisely, on Friday, February 5, when I was going for a vigil, I was at the Nkpor Junction trying to board a bus that was going my way and I saw a girl who was passing and a group of hoodlums attacked her.
“They came out from their hideout and took the lady’s handbag by force. And the girl started crying. And everybody was passing. Nobody cared to know what was going on. That was around 8pm or 9pm. I saw it happen.
“Government should try and do something about it because it is becoming worse every day.
“So, from what is going on today, there is no security in Anambra now. The highest security we have today is intellectual security; personal guidance of your movement and the timing and the location of where you go to and when you go to the place.”
Asked about the frequency of robbery and other criminal activities in the areas, Ejimofor said: “It is always rampant, as a matter of fact. Why it is like that is because as a practicing lawyer, whenever I go to the police on a daily basis, there is always a case of arrest over criminal activities.
“Sometimes, I will even be involved as a lawyer in the course of investigation. Either that I am defending a client who was accused of criminality or that I came to watch the brief of a complainant who was robbed and he complained to the police for investigation”, Ejimofor stated.
Today, there are some areas in Awka, the state capital, which one cannot pass through at certain times of the day and in the evening. This is because armed hoodlums operate in these areas unchallenged.
Insecurity in Awka intensified from early December 2019 to around March 2020. And after that period under review there was some air of calmness in the capital city and its environs but it later intensified.
From then till this moment, there have been various killings. In fact, the situation got so bad that the former head of a vigilance group in Awka whose name was given as Chief Ezeoke was gunned down.
On the night he was murdered, two other persons were equally killed in different locations in the town. Ezeoke’s killers were said to have released some gunshots in the air while their operations lasted.
They reportedly moved unchallenged through the outskirts of Umubele to Umukwa near Eke-Awka, spreading fear and sorrow as they operated. During this period, killings took place on a weekly basis, if not daily.
From that period till now, stories of armed robbery attacks fly in every day. Residents have been lamenting but their lamentations have yielded very little fruit.
Some of the hotspots in Awka, especially at night, are Nkwelle, Aguoye, Umuonaga, Amikwo, especially Ogbalingba axis, behind Eke-Awka Market, and a few others.
In these areas, armed hoodlums waylay unsuspecting residents at some streets and dispossess them of their valuables at gunpoint. This is the ugly situation in Awka, the state capital.
On August 9, 2020, the Senior Special Adviser to Governor Willie Obiano on Security, Mr. Azubuike Ekwegbalu, was killed in his residence at Commissioners’ Quarters, Awka, by unknown assailants.
Ekwegbalu, 43, who hailed from Ogbunike community in Oyi LGA of the state, according to the police spokesperson, CSP Mohammed, was killed with a kitchen knife in his home around 1:30am.
Mohammed, in a statement, said: “On August 9, 2020, at about 1:30a.m., there was a report of alleged murder of one Azuibuike Ekwegbalu, aged 43 years, a native of Ogbunike in Oyi LGA but resident at the Commissioners’ Quarters, Awka.”
But for Obiano, his administration is on top of the security issues in the state. He rated himself highly, saying he had been able to tackle security issues in the state.
The governor said, as part of his efforts to ensure security in the state, he bought many vehicles for the security agencies in the state and also fuels their vehicles every day to ensure optimum performance on their part.
Obiano said: “To make sure that you are very efficient, I spent a fortune buying so many vehicles for all of you. Since I became governor, I bought over 562 vehicles for you.
“And not only that, since the last two and half years, you have been taking fuel free of charge from designated filling stations where the government pays. Before then, sometimes, there will be a distress call and the police will tell you that they don’t have fuel.
“And I said no, I don’t want to hear that again. Let me be the fellow buying the fuel so you don’t have an excuse. And it has helped out. Today, every police vehicle you see on our road is fuelled by the governor,” Obiano said.
“Following the report, police detectives attached to ‘B’ Division Awka led by the DPO, CSP Emma Ogbuanya, visited the scene and rushed the victim who was found in a pool of blood to COOUTH Awka for medical attention.
“He was certified dead by the medical doctor on arrival while his corpse was deposited at the hospital mortuary for autopsy.”
The police spokesperson said that a careful observation on the deceased body revealed stab wounds while a blood stained kitchen knife was also recovered at the scene as exhibit.
“Consequently, one suspect who allegedly was in the premises has been arrested and the case is under investigation to unravel the circumstances surrounding the incident,” he stated.
During the security meeting earlier stated, some traditional rulers and presidents-general lamented the growing insecurity in the state especially as it concerns the herdsmen’s activities.
Although they praised Gov. Obiano for his efforts to ensure tight security in the state, they said that more needs to be done. According to them, suspected Fulani herdsmen have been perpetrating various crimes in the state.
Traditional ruler of Nanka community in Orumba North LGA, Igwe Godwin Ezeilo, lamented that herdsmen unleash terror on his subjects and as such, they no longer go to their farms.
“In Orumba North and South LGAs, we have constant problems with the herders and this thing is creating a lot of problems. Most times, these herders do things you cannot understand. Most of our farmers don’t go to farm anymore.
“In my town, Nanka particularly in Enugwu Nanka area, so many women cannot go to their farms because of herders’ activities. We should be talking about how the herders living in our bushes should vacate there.
“Having said this, we have to talk about the constant kidnapping of our underage children. Most of them are in kindergarten. So, something needs to be done”, Igwe Ezeilo lamented.
For the traditional ruler of Akwaeze community in Anaocha LGA, Igwe Christopher Okpala, the Fulani herdsmen are largely responsible for the various kidnap cases in the state.
“This issue of herdsmen has not been exhaustively treated. How about them? They are going about with AK47 rifle kidnapping, raping and doing all sorts of evil to our people? Why is it being covered?
“When you see those walking about with AK47, nobody talks but when an ordinary citizen talks, he gets arrested and locked up. We have to tell ourselves the truth.
“Our people in Lagos no longer come home because of the high level of insecurity on the road leading to the East. They kidnap them and their wives and take them into the bushes and nobody talks or takes action. When will that end?” he queried.