•Crimes rise, as police lament manpower shortage
By Henry Umahi ([email protected])
Last Friday, May 5, gunmen attacked a Chinese expatriate in Owerri, the Imo State capital, and made away with N10 million he had withdrawn from a second generation bank.
During the attack, the gunmen killed an inspector, who was his orderly. A source said: “Immediately the foreigner was driven out of the bank premises in his Toyota car, the gunmen, who were already waiting, double crossed his vehicle. Two of them jumped out of their car and attacked their target.”
Same day, four suspected armed robbers were arraigned in court in Owerri. Parading the suspects at the command’s headquarters before their arraignment, the State Police Public Relations Officer, Mr. Andrew Enwerem, said: “On April 23, 2017, operatives of the Imo State Police Command arrested the suspects during a routine patrol along Naze in Owerri North LGA.
“Suspects were arrested while conveying a stolen 50KVA sound proof Perkins power generator in a Nissan Wagon vehicle with registration number KRD 687 AM.
“Investigation revealed that the Perkins power generator belongs to Amanbo Ebikoro community in Ikeduru LGA. Investigation has been concluded and suspects would be charged to court this morning.”
On May 2, gunmen suspected to be armed robbers broke into the Imo State House of Assembly complex in Owerri and stole electronics, office equipment and some important documents. According to sources, the latest attack is the third this year.
There is a potential threat to peace in parts of the state, as Fulani herdsmen are destroying farmlands and crops with reckless abandon. On May 3, the Ogbako Ngor Okpala Youth, a socio-political group, raised the alarm over the activities of Fulani herdsmen in the area. It warned that further acts of provocation might result in self-help. The group said: “Fulani herdsmen are no longer a distant story in our council but an ugly reality, going by the recent invasion of farmlands of the people of Umuehie village, Ngor Autonomous Community by them and subsequent destruction of farmlands and crops worth millions of Naira.”
Indeed, it could be said that, in Imo, it’s one week, one trouble. For a couple of months now, the state has consistently remained in the news for the wrong reasons. Despite the killing of Vampire, crime rate continues to soar in the state.
More examples will suffice
A first year student of the Imo State University (IMSU), Owerri, whose name was given as Nkechi Onwumelu, was injured by suspected cult members on May 2 while returning to school after the Easter break. A source volunteered: “The first year female student was returning from her home town, Umugakwo-Eziama, in Ngor Okpala Local Government Area of Imo State when she was attacked. The cult members made away with her bag, containing cash, West African Secondary School Certificate Examinations results, receipts, medical report, mobile phone and other materials.”
It was further learnt that the hoodlums, who were armed with dangerous weapons, injured the student in the course of disposssessing her of her valuables.
In fact, it could be said that Imo is a land brimming with cultists, as the various groups often engage in supremacy battles and attack innocent people. For some youths in the villages, cultism has become a way of life. If you do not belong to one cult group or another, you will be looked at with disdain. Consider this: Late last month, the police in the state charged 16 undergraduates of the Federal Polytechnic, Nekede, Owerri, and the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO), for their alleged participation in cult-related operations. Enwerem, a Deputy Superintendent of Police, disclosed: “In a renewed onslaught against the menace of cultism in Imo State, operatives of the state police command on April 14, 2017, arrested over 16 cultists in a bush in Ihiagwa in the Owerri West Local Government Area. They are members of the Neo Black Movement of Africa Confraternity. The suspects have been charged to court accordingly.”
It was also learnt that three live cartridges and expended SMG ammunition were recovered from the suspected cultists. Investigation revealed many of the cultists in the state were involved in sundry criminal activities, including armed robbery, breaking and entering, rape and consumption and peddling hard drugs.
Someone who is in the know said: “In some cases, rape is part of the initiation. To show that you are a real man, you are expected to donate a girl for the members that night. About three or four boys will rape a girl that night. Sometimes, they do it even without using condoms. It is disgusting. These boys have turned to animals.”
Last month, tragedy was averted at FUTO when a Materials and Metallurgical Engineering student, Sydney, attempted to take his life by jumping into the Otammiri river. The student, who is the leader of a security outfit in the school, was said to have made several telephone calls before taking the plunge.
Stella, an eyewitness, said: “While my friends and I were doing our morning exercise at the Otammiri river bank, he was at the other side of the river, crying as he was making phone calls. We ignored him and kept jogging. But after about 20 minutes, he jumped into the river. That was when he started shouting and screaming for help from passers-by.”
She further disclosed: “He was struggling and gasping for breath. My friends ran to the street to solicit assistance from people and immediately I saw his head, I started encouraging him to hold on to a tree in the river. He finally lost consciousness and was already drowning when professional swimmers arrived and rescued him.”
A report attributed Sydney’s attempt to commit suicide to his being frustrated by the school authority. It said: “The school management has refused to allow him graduate. He has a lot of spill-over courses. And as the leader of the Man O’ War, all the allowances accrued to him in the last 12 months have been withheld. After fighting cultists in the campus, it is very annoying that the school management has been frustrating him.”
The other day, two community youth leaders, identified as Uzoma Ebo, alias Van Dan, and Chinedu, were killed by gunmen suspected to be hired assassins at Eke Obollo in the Isiala Mbano LGA of the state. It was gathered that the young men met their end at a drinking spot, called Okeosisi Bar, where the gang of four, operating in an SUV, pumped them with bullets. “The gunmen shot them repeatedly on their chests and abdomen until they were sure that their victims were dead before zooming off into the night,” a source said.
Confirming the killings, Enwerem said: “Immediately we got information that some gunmen had killed two youths of Obollo in the Isiala Mbano LGA, the commissioner of police, Chris Ezike, swiftly dispatched a crack team of police officers to the crime scene.”
Fake military men are also on the prowl in the state. Parading three suspected fake soldiers last month, Ezike explained that they were arrested at Amakohia Ubi, in the Owerri West LGA where they set up an office used to defraud unsuspecting members of the public on the pretence of recruiting them into the Nigerian Army. He said that the suspects, Edet Okon, Victor Akpan and Kingsley Inyang, were collecting N8000 and N70,000 from victims for medical tests and recruitment processing. The police boss revealed that one laptop, camouflage cap, two pairs of army uniforms and a pair of army boots were some of the exhibits recovered from the suspects.
Inyang, who was dressed in an army uniform, said that the uniform belonged to his retired soldier father. He admitted that his group had deceived and duped 22 people.
Few days earlier, a burial ceremony in Awo Omamma in the Oru East LGA came to an abrupt end when an officer of the Imo Security Network allegedly shot one of his comrades whose name was given as Chidi Onyenekwu at the event. While an unconfirmed account alleged that the unidentified security personnel used the occasion to settle scores with the deceased, a report said: “It was simply a case of accidental discharge. The security agent forgot to return his trigger lock after shooting repeatedly in the air, as part of the entertainment at the burial. Bullets hit his colleague in the chest, as he lowered the gun. The victim died on the spot.
The family of a bank worker in the Okigwe area of the state, Mr. Enyioma Okwudiri, are still weeping in the valley of tears, following the killing of their bread winner alongside one Nanman Lamak by a ruthless gang allegedly led by Toosolo Sphapiro. Same day, the gang killed two people withdrawing money from ATM as well as a police inspector along the Enugu Port Harcourt Highway. They also escaped with the officer’s Toyota Camry car. However, Shapiro was gunned down 48 hours later by the police while attempting to escape after he was cornered at Aba, Abia State.
A top politician from the area, who did not want his name mentioned, told the reporter: “There was wild celebration in Okigwe and environs when the news was heard that Shapiro had been killed by the police. He was a turn in the flesh of the people. He was in the mould of the notorious kidnapper and armed robber, called Vampire; in fact, he was our own Vampire. Some people are still doubting if he had actually been killed because he appeared to be above death.”
Kidnapping is also returning to Imo. A 55-year old businessman, Mr. Benedict Kpaduwa, was abducted last month by gunmen in his hometown in Isiala Mbano LGA last month. According to a source, “the gunmen shot repeatedly into the air. They went straight to their target and dragged him from his Toyota Corolla into their Hummer bus. They ordered a pastor of a nearby church, who came out on hearing gunshots, to lie down.”
In revenge of the killing of a member of the Black Axe allegedly by the Vikings cult group, a member of the latter, 23-year old Decency Chibundu of Umulele Irete in Owerri West LGA was murdered in April. The killing of the Black Axe member led to a supremacy war, throwing the residents into panic. “We are living in fear, we can no longer sleep. It is one killing or shooting or the other every day. The annoying aspect is that these boys are not in higher institutions. They are just villagers who have seen cultism as a way of life.”
In the same vein, a fresh graduate of Political Science and Public Adminstration, Emeka Ndubueze, aka Jayboy, was killed at IMSU back gate while waiting for his call-up letter for the National Youths Service Corps programme. A source informed that the assailants shot him several times on the chest, adding that his killing may be connected to inter-cult war on the campus. The IMSU authority confirmed the killing of the student.
Going to do transactions in banks at Owerri has become a risky venture. Again in April, daredevil armed robbers shot a man coming out of a bank and snatched the money he withdrew. The victim and his wife were robbed in front of the Imo Government House. And while the robbery was going on, policemen and NSCDC personnel at the roundabout opposite the Government House took to their heels.
An eyewitness gave the following narration: “I was at the newspaper stand across the road just before the Okigwe roundabout about 11am when I heard a gunshot and then two young men in a Camry car blocked a man and his wife, driving in another car. They asked them to handover the money. The woman ran out of the car but the man refused to handover the money to them. One of the robbers shot him three times and collected the money from him.”
Another said: “I was driving behind them, about four cars away. When I heard gunshots, it dawned on me that those in the Camry were robbers because the way they overtook me made me wonder where they were hurrying to. After snatching the money, they were shooting into the air, which sent people running in different directions, including the policemen at the Okigwe roundabout.”
Reacting to the development, prolife advocate and human right activist, Dr. Philip Njemanze, argued that it was a function of the failure of government and/or poor governance. He said: “Crime wave is increasing all over the country but it is epidemic in Imo State. The reason is that there is so much problem in the state, even to move around Owerri has become another thing. Crime wave is on the rise because of the recession in the country. In Imo, there has not been any real government programme to develop and absorb the youths. What do you want the youths to do? How do you want them to survive? Their parents are not paid salary. The workers were promised 70% of their salary monthly but most of them are either getting nothing at all or are getting 40% of what they are supposed to get. The issue is that the government has become a major obstacle to both individual development and the entire development of the state. The policies are not proper at all. They have no target goal. They are directionless in all what they doing. So, the outcome is increasing crime rate, increasing mortality of people and increasing anger. There is social discord and a lot of resentment among the people. Ordinary people are very resentful of government and every other person.”
Meanwhile, the commissioner of police in the state, Chris Ezike, who recently assumed office, admitted that the state lacked the personnel to check crime in the state. Said he: “When I arrived Imo on April 3, I discovered that the 5,500 policemen we have are not enough. I would be partnering with the vigilante group, the Imo Security Watch and all other security outfits in the state in our collective resolve to reduce crimes in the state.
“The whole essence of governance is the maintenance of law and order. When we have security, there would be abundant food, the private sector would strive, there would be good life and the economy and social life of the people would be assured.”
A police source maintained that the command and its leadership were committed to reducing cultism and criminal activities in the state.
But after a meeting with members of the Imo State Security Council yesterday, Governor Rochas Okorocha spoke about the security challenges facing the state. Among other things, he said: “We have also noticed with dismay the rising spate of cultism, which is among university students and secondary schools. We have taken decision to review the laws in this regard and make it more punitive for offenders. The House of Assembly will take this up to make the appropriate laws to check the menace of cultism in our state.
“We have noticed few cases of kidnap suspects coming from Ngor Okpala area. The security agencies are carefully watching the development in those areas with a view to making sure that it does not rear its ugly head again.”