THE SECURITY CHALLENGE IN ABIA
The recent abduction of primary school pupils in Aba, Abia State, by kidnappers has brought to the fore the deteriorating security situation in the state. The 15 pupils of Abayi International School were kidnapped at Ekeakpara area of the commercial city a week ago, and were eventually released in the early hours of last Friday.
The gunmen initially demanded N20 million ransom but later increased it to N40 million. No doubt, kidnapping, which started in the Niger Delta region as a means of calling government attention to the neglect of the hitherto restive region, has now become a lucrative enterprise.
The worst hit area is Aba, the commercial nerve centre east of the Niger. For some time now, the city has known no peace, with kidnapping assuming such a frightening dimension that no week passes without an incident. Economic and social activities in the city have been paralyzed.
Perhaps, it was the dismal dimension that prompted the then Inspector General of Police, Mr. Ogbonna Onovo, to describe the high rate of kidnapping as a major security threat. Onovo's position is still valid today, as the Abia situation epitomizes. The rash of kidnap cases in Abia came to national consciousness in July this year following the abduction of three officials of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) who were returning to their base from a meeting of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Union in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State.
The hoodlums made an initial demand of N250 million. The victims were Messrs Wahab Oba (Chairman, Lagos State Council), Adolphus Okonkwo (Secretary of NUJ Zone G), Sylvester Okereke (Acting Secretary, Lagos NUJ), Sola Oyeyipo (a Lagos-based journalist) and the driver of the bus that conveyed the journalists.
Due to public outcry and government's concern about the safety of the journalists, all attention was literally shifted to Abia State. Even the erstwhile police boss, Onovo, temporarily relocated to Umuahia in the bid to contain the situation. The police headquarters seemingly functioned from the Abia capital until the journalists regained their freedom.
That it took the massive deployment of the police and security operatives to free the journalists shows that kidnapping is no longer child's play. The scourge requires a serious national response. When it first commenced in the South-South, some people thought that it would not spread to other areas. Today, kidnapping is not only a widespread phenomenon, but a national calamity.
Before the kidnap of the journalists, a popular television preacher, Evangelist Jacob Achilefu of the Church of Christ Aba, was in March abducted with four others at the Ogbor Hill area of the commercial city.
In June this year, the Vice Chancellor of Veritas Catholic University in Abia State, Rev Fr Justin Ukpong, was kidnapped. His abductors demanded N6 million ransom. Also, in August, the paramount ruler of Ike Mgboko autonomous community in Obingwa area of the state, Eze Hyacinth Onyendinazu, was kidnapped by gunmen who also demanded N10 million ransom.
Similarly, in September this year, kidnappers killed Dr. Stanley Uche, the proprietor of Victory Christian Hospital, Aba, after collecting N30 million ransom. The gynaecologist was said to be travelling home with his wife for the burial of his younger sister when they were kidnapped.
These are just few of the cases in Aba. The kidnap of primary school students is not only pathetic but also shameful and deplorable. It shows that the Nigerian society has degenerated and descended so low that pupils can be seized without any compunction. That school children are kidnapped shows the bleak security situation in a 21st century Nigeria. The act is highly reprehensible and represents a heinous crime against humanity, childhood and innocence. It is, indeed, a crime against children, who are the future hope of the nation. Those that indulge in this inhuman act are indirectly mortgaging the future of this country.
We suggest that the Federal Government should view kidnapping as a serious crisis that threatens the polity. It is a form of terrorism and ought to be treated as such. People that unleash such violence on the society should not be treated with kid's gloves. It is like waging a war against the citizens of a sovereign country. Therefore, the issue of negotiation and ransom should not arise at all.
Kidnapping thrives in Nigeria because of the porous nature of our security network, the recourse to prompt payment of huge ransom, and the fact that past perpetrators of the heinous crime were not brought to book.
That the Aba incident happened in the week of the celebration of our 50 years of independence is distressing. It demonstrates that the entire nation is under siege, and is damaging to our national pride and image.
We do not subscribe to the notion that the kidnappers are better armed or smarter than our security operatives.
We also note with sadness a seeming conspiracy of silence by traditional rulers in the Eastern zone. The custodians of our traditional institutions should wake up to their responsibility and help stop this cankerworm that is fast tearing the moral fabric of the nation to shreds.
Let the indigenes of Aba cooperate with security operatives to free their domain of these undesirable elements. Aba people should rise up to the challenge and reclaim their battered land. They should not abandon their land to hoodlums. Let all apprehended kidnappers be brought to book speedily to discourage others from indulging in such criminality.
Above all, the Federal Government should quickly respond to the security situation in Abia before it gets out of control. The state government alone cannot shoulder this responsibility. Abuja should not watch while a part of the country is gradually slipping into anarchy. The security situation in Abia has grave implications for other states of the federation. President Goodluck Jonathan should act fast and lend a helping hand before all hell is let loose.