• As robbers cart away telecoms mast
By Sam Otti
In the early hours of Sunday, March 12, 2017, robbers shattered the peace of Ugbene Ajima, a community in Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area of Enugu State, and plunged the residents into agony.
The villagers were roused from their sleep by a staccato of gunfire by robbers, who had stormed their community and carted away the only solar telecommunication mast serving the area. The incident cut off the area from telecommunication service. Since then, the villagers have been forced to ascend hills in the locality to make phone calls.
A native of the community, Aluma Jona Enyi, told Daily Sun that the robbers broke into the entrance of the solar-powered MTN mast located at Akutala-Oda and took away 24 pieces of solar energy batteries estimated at N24 million. He explained that Mr. Samuel Ajogwu Okwe, the landlord that provided the space where the local telephony was sited and who also monitors the facility, was unable to confront the dare-devil robbers, who fired volleys of bullets into the air during the raid. It was reported that the robbers spent hours dismantling the facility before speeding away in their vehicle.
At dawn, Mr Ajogwu hastened to the police station in a neighbouring community, where he was subsequently arrested and detained. He said some MTN officials visited the area to assess the situation and promised to restore the stolen items. But, one month after, the community has had no respite.
Investigations revealed that the local neighbourhood watch appointed to provide security in the area was also unable to confront the robbers.
The traditional ruler of the community, Igwe Bartholomew Aluma, Okwunoke 1 of Ugbene Ajima, who spoke with this reporter in his palace, condemned the attack on the community by hoodlums, and urged the police to apprehend the criminals. He said the unfortunate incident has brought untold suffering and agony on poor villagers.
Igwe Aluma further explained that the stolen mast was too small for the entire Ugbene community, which was among the largest in population in Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area. According to him, the community had at several times pleaded for a bigger mast that would cover the entire area. He noted that the solar-powered mast vandalised by the hoodlums was installed in Akutala but had limited coverage, cutting off areas like Ajona-Oda, Ajona Ugwu and Akibite. Several villages had no coverage, including Umuologonye, Akibite, Ujaju, Ashenyi, Umuasa, Amachukwu, Anioma, Ngwokwa, Amaogidi, Akakwu, Orba, Isiama, Umueze, Uwani-Areji, Agboda, Ezi-Ugbene, Amaogbo and Echara, among others.
A chieftain of the community, former provost of the Federal College of Education (FCE), Ehamufu, Chief Robert Ezike, decried the activities of the criminals that stole the transmission gadget, noting that the absence of telecommunication network had drained the economic life of the community.
“The effect on the community is unimaginable,” he lamented. “It has affected everybody, both those residing in the villages and their relatives living in various cities. You could imagine the effect of staying without a mobile phone for one week. Life has become quite miserable for our people during this period. We implore the telecoms service provider to expand its service and install a higher capacity mast that would serve the community better. We also invite other service providers to take advantage of the large market in our area and install their own masts,” he said.
Ezike also lamented the absence of a police post in the four communities within the area, noting that such unfortunate incidents could have been averted with the presence of the police. He stressed that the activities of criminals fleeing the cities to rural areas could be checked if the government took a proactive step to secure life and property in rural communities.
“There is no police station in Ugbene, Abbi, Nrobo and Nimbo. The nearest police station to these four communities is Adani, which is over one hour’s drive from our town. People go as far as Nsukka township to report cases to the police. There is the need for a police station, or even a divisional police command to serve the security needs of these four communities,” he said.
On his part, a pastor with the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, Onitsha, Anambra State, Bartholomew Echegi, who hails from the community, said the incident had made it difficult for him to communicate with his relatives at home. He urged other telecom companies like Globalcom, Etisalat and Airtel to extend their services to the community, since he described the area as business-friendly. He said the robbery attack on the MTN facility in the community was quite regrettable, and urged other investors not to be discouraged.
Another native of the community, Festus Versatile Utazi, said the lack of telecommunication service had compelled him to travel regularly to the village to see his relatives. In addition, he noted that those living in the cities no longer responded swiftly to emergency situations in the village.
“My mother, Okike Nwaja, told me that she sets out at dawn to make phone calls on the hill. Sadly, the network from the mast located in faraway places often fluctuates on the hillside. It is not quite steady. Sometimes, she goes home disappointed after several attempts to speak with me. It is so painful staying for weeks without hearing from your old parents in the village,” he said.
Benwhite Ugwueze, who also hails from the community, said he couldn’t make a phone call throughout the period he stayed in the village for the recent Easter celebration. He described the experience as sad, a situation that could encourage rural-urban migration of youths.
In his reaction, Sunny Bright, said the loss of telecommunication service had crippled the local economy of the community and impoverished the rural folks, even as some youths run up the hills or climb tall trees searching for telecommunication service.
“Our people cannot be contacted when an urgent need arises. Businesses are suffering because suppliers cannot be contacted. Our people need an urgent repairing of the mast to enable us reconnect with the rest of the world,” he said.