CHIJIOKE AGWU, Abakaliki
Inmates of the St. Vincent De Paul Old People’s and Destitute Home in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, have become cheap targets of hoodlums terrorizing the Kpirikpiri axis of the state capital. Located at number 20 Alo Street, off Kpiripkiri, the home houses the aged, the physically challenged persons and all manner of destitute in Abakaliki.
The inmates survive mainly on alms from government, churches, organizations and public-spirited individuals. However, despite battling one form of ailment or disability or the other, the inmates of the home live happily and in unity like one big family. And to avoid depending wholly on alms from the public for survival, some of them engage in skills production. For instance, some of the men are into shoemaking while their women learn tailoring. Last year, four women from the home graduated from a tailoring training school and one good Nigerian procured four brand new sewing machines for them, which they used to ‘patch’ and sew clothes for people living around the area as a way of survival.
Now, the biggest challenge of the inmates is frequent robbery attacks. Our correspondent gathered that the inmates no longer sleep with their two eyes closed because of the menace of hoodlums. Last year, one of them lost her wheelchair to them while many lost their mobile phones in the frequent attack.
Miss Gloria Ikemba, 20, and Miss Chinasa Oshim, 24, all deaf and dumb inmates of the home were among the latest victims who lost their sewing machines to hoodlums in the recent attack of September 7, 2020.
Inmates lament losses
Narrating their painful experiences, the caretaker of the home, Mr. Lekpa John, a cripple, told Saturday Sun that four sewing machines and unspecified number of mobile phones and clothes were stolen by the hoodlums in their most recent escapade there. He lamented that since after the attack life has been very difficult for the victims whom he said has now resorted to crying inside their rooms on daily basis.
“I don’t really know how to describe it,” he said. “For a number of times now, we have not been sleeping every day. The hoodlums would come in the night when everybody has gone to asleep. They would jump over the fence or break the main gate, enter the compound and pack whatever they like. The most recent one occurred on 7th of this month (September). They forced their way through the gate, entered the compound and packed four new sewing machines that some of our inmates, all physically challenged women, were using to patch clothes for people to support themselves. Some of the women were trained on sewing skills so that anytime help did not come as expected they use them to mend clothes for people and collect N10, N20 or so, just to put food on the table because no matter what happens, we must eat. You know, most times people remember us only when they have occasion. It is a very bad experience and our lives are no longer safe here.”
He then appealed to the state government and security agencies to take actions to protect them from the rampaging hoodlums while expressing fears that all the inmates could be abducted if nothing was done.
His appeal: “We are using this opportunity to appeal to the government of Ebonyi State, the security agencies and the good people of Ebonyi State and Nigeria at large to talk to the authorities concerned to provide us with security before they start kidnapping us. If nothing happens, one day you may come here and discover that all of us have been kidnapped. These days, our members no longer go outside the gate any time it is 7pm because at that time, the bad boys are already hanging around, and if they see you, they will snatch your phones from you. Many of our members have lost their phones to bad boys just in front of the gate by few minutes to 7pm.’’
For Mrs. Elizabeth Agbo, another victim of the frequent criminal attacks, it was double tragedy as she lost her sewing machine and wheelchair to hoodlums. She narrated what happened: “It was on 7th of September, this month that we packed our machines in front of our doors and went to sleep. We usually packed them in front of our doors so that customers can easily see them and know that we sew clothes and come to patronize us. But by the time we woke up in the morning, the four machines had disappeared. We cried and searched everywhere to no avail. Individuals donated those machines to us after we finished our trainings on sewing. They were bought just last year at the cost of N180, 000. Since that day, we have not been doing anything.
“As you can see when you came, I was indoor thinking and crying. If it were before, as you enter into the compound, you would met all of us on our machines working. We sew clothes for people and also patch (mend) the ones that need to be patched, and that is how we survive because it is not all the times that people bring alms. This year is even worse because since the COVID-19 started, things have not been the same as everybody is struggling to survive with his/her family. So, it is this machine that we use to survive. The same thing happened last year. The same hoodlums came in the night and stole my wheelchair. It was around 12am that I said let me go inside and urinate, by the time I came out, my machine had disappeared. We searched everywhere that night but we could not find it. Before then, it never occurred to me that any person could ever contemplate stealing a wheelchair belonging to a cripple. Even our clothes are not spared. The hoodlums will jump through the fence and pack our clothes.’’
Our lives no longer safe, they say
The inmates have cried out to the government and security agencies to take actions to ensure the protection of their lives and property, saying that they were no longer feel safe living there. The matron of the home, Mrs. Maria Lekpa, who made the appeal on behalf of her colleagues, stated, like her husband earlier did, that if nothing was done to protect them the hoodlums may graduate to kidnapping them.
She said: “I am using this opportunity on behalf of my colleagues to make a special and official appeal to the government and the security agencies to remember us in their security plans because, if things continue this way, the hoodlums may come here one day and kidnap all of us. Our lives are also important. No matter our conditions, since we have not died yet, we are still citizens of this country. And it is part of our rights to be protected by the security agencies and government.’’
Abakaliki now unbearable for criminals – Police
Reacting to the development, the Ebonyi State Police Command said that it was committed to protecting the lives and property of all citizens and residents of the state, no matter their social status. The Police Public Relations Officer of the Command, Loveth Odah (Deputy Superintendent of Police, DSP) said although the command has not been officially notified of the attack on the destitute home, the police recently arrested some of the hoodlums who were part of the gang terrorizing the state capital.
She said: “The attacks have not been reported to us. Someone should have helped them to report the matter at the Kpirikpiri Police Station, the station nearest to them. We are not magicians to know what is happening in all the parts of the state. However, remember that recently, the Commissioner of Police briefed the press on the happenings in Abakaliki and the arrest of the 7-man gang responsible for the robberies in Abakaliki who confessed to have robbed some churches, some supermarkets, POS centre where they stole N120, 000 and other places.
“We have arrested them but about two of them are still at large but we are on serious manhunt for them to ensure that they are arrested. The 7-man gang was among the people released by the government during the COVID-19 pandemic fight in the state. But when they came out, instead of becoming good people, they went back to crime and I believe that they are part of the hoodlums disturbing the city because since they were arrested, there has been relative peace in Abakaliki.’’