Abia State, A Case Study Revisited
Did you know that sometime and not too long ago, that armored personnel and assault weapons were stationed at strategic points in Abia Land?
Could you ever imagine that a hunter and school dropout, terrorized the lion hearted and chased policemen into rat holes, challenging government at all levels compromising some?
Could you recall that journalists, not in the moneyed class were abducted on their way back from a national conference in Akwa Ibom and demanded a demented ransom of 250 million Naira.
Would it shock you to hear that banks closed operations in Aba, not caused by Covid 10 and bullion vans serially hijacked and assaulted with police killed and the driver forced to veer of his destination?
If these sounded like jokes, could you believe that in Igboland, with utmost love for education, that parents withheld their children from schools and defiant husbands who hitherto ignored the opinions of their wives dived under the bed and covered with women’s wrapper under the bed or interned in the toilets just for a slight knock on the door at night?
These, like hypothetic cases and worse happened in Igboland and took place in Aba, the most populous city in Abia, noted worldwide for industry and mercantile activities. These are no jokes as you will find out.
The period from 2009 to 2012 wasn’t a beautiful experience for Abia State and the Governor, now Senator T A Orji who grew gray hairs overnight due to dare devil armed robberies and sophisticated kidnappings. A bus load of school children of Abayi International School, of mixed classes, numbering 15, were heartlessly blocked and abducted with their driver. In other cases, bullion vans were robbed and people vanished without good traces.
The so-called rich men discarded affluence, disguised into simple clothing and hid their big cars in hovels and villages. Some even wore women’s dresses to evade the prying eyes of kidnap scouts. The face mask that is compulsory today would have been easily adopted but its time hadn’t come then.
Aba town and environs where most of the kidnappings took place were described by many newspapers as the kidnap headquarters of Nigeria. Even the BBC on 29th Sept 2010, made a special report. People of all walks of life, Clergy and laity, traders and all, scampered into quiet neighboring cities like Umuahia, Okigwe, Owerri and other towns for refuge. Not even the police was left out as Akpa Police station was abandoned after incessant raids. To make matters worse, a royal father and wife were murdered for squealing to the police.
The 2011 election was fast approaching and it was evident in some quarters that some politicians bought into it as many started using their contacts to call for the declaration of a state of emergency in Abia by the Goodluck Jonathan led Federal Government. As unbelievable as it sounded, one of the kingpins of the odious act had the boldness to grant a newspaper interview justifying their kidnap hobby. That was Obioma Nwankwo, alias Osisikanwu, a former hunter.
In the heat of all theses, what happened a few months later can only be likened to the bible account of St Mark in Chapter 4 verse 39 when Jesus Christ and his crew of disciples who shouted for help when the waves tossed them in a short and local cruise and nearly submerged their vessel. When Jesus was aroused from his nap, the word ‘peace be still’ which was let out of his mouth settled the whole life-threatening case as if it never happened. ‘Peace be still’ is a catchphrase today and rendered in multiple songs in many languages. Not wanting to sound blasphemous, how kidnapping ended in Abia was abrupt and unexpected. An peace returned!
When the then Inspector General of police Mohamed Dikko visited Abia in an official call, he described the security situation in Abia before his visit and how it fizzled out as a case study. For those who do not know, case studies are processes or records of research in the development of a particular person, group or situation over a period of time. The recent issues of crime and criminology in the country now has crowned Abia as a good case study of immense magnitude.
Governor Orji showed the man in him revealing that he wasn’t a pushover by employing many strategic maneuvers.
As an astute administrator and a man who abhorred extra judicial killing, he dispatched an executive bill to the Abia State House of Assembly that legislated kidnapping as a capital offence. It is an irony of life that many states today are doing so after over ten years that Abia passed the historic bill. Not resting on his oars, he welcomed military presence so much so that the 82nddiv in Enugu swooped with military might not bothering whose ox was gored. They ambushed the hotspots and den of the kidnappers in the heart of Ukwa West with vast and dank forests termed the evil forest by observers, notably Ogwe and Ugwuati where Osisikankwu raved with his accomplices and other evil lieutenants like Susu, and Onyeme.
All around the state, military hardware became commonplace as if in a war zone, especially in Aba the commercial city and Umuahia the capital, including Ukwa West areas, Port Harcourt Road and the environs that served as hideouts and getaway tracks. Additionally, a helipad was constructed at Isuikwuato to assist the military in aerial reconnoiter flights and hastened actions too. Cozy guest houses were speedily constructed to accommodate the Army, police and navy in Umuahia and Aba. These are still in use till today.
There were more sensitive logistical installations made. They are still in use today and cannot be discussed here. I was amused when people talk about giving account of the security votes and it seemed like telling America to publish the amount they used in Panama or Latin America against the Sandinistas and Iraq.
We seem to have forgotten all these. That is human behavior especially when beset by other problems but I am sure of one man who took this story to his grave and would share with angels if he is lucky. Eze Ahuama from Ukwa West paid a glowing tribute the day the governor visited his community after liberation. In an emotion laden voice he said, ‘I will ever be grateful to you till my last day, even if you do not do any other thing for me and my community. I was a wrestler in my youth and most times hired by close communities to represent them, so I grew up loved and celebrated not fearing any but this little boy Osisikankwu drove me and my wives into exile, but Ochendo you brought me back.’ Eze Ahuama died about a year after that speech.
Now what have we learnt from the Abia imbroglio? Are we not supposed to use one tough experience to apply to other cases as witnessed world over? Kaduna, Lokoja Abuja highway, Katsina, Adamawa, Borno and other frontline states in the North East have sadder tales and horrible stories worse than the streets of Beirut some years gone.
Gov Zulum of Borno State, a very practical and innovative leader suggested using hunters. We can take advantage of technology profusely available to solve this problem which can be more fruitful while minimize carnage.
Along that line of thought, hunters could be better equipped with complex gadgets like micro chip implants in their Dane guns or belts and slings. Arrows could be modified to take photographs or make videos. These special hunters could equally be trained in martial arts and would be able to defend themselves in case of surprise attacks.
Palm wine tappers and farmers could be trained to play sensitive roles with drones and other soft wares of great interest. Agric and health fumigators can spray sleep inducers in a kidnapper- infested forest. The Nigerian Police could do a lot better with surveillance choppers. The GOC 82nd DIV Enugu, who stormed Osisikankwu’s camp even if retired, may be useful.
With legislation, there could be a House or Senate Committee on kidnapping to come out with deterrent laws after public hearings with people who have battled kidnapping like legislators and kidnap victims who were forced to watch their activities while in captivity. The list is endless.
Obiamarije Ogbonna, N0 5 Glass gate Rd Ogbo hill Aba.