Penultimate Sunday, the Abia State Governor, Dr Alex Chioma Otti, shocked the world with the horrific news regarding the outcomes of his government’s deployment of technology to permanently end the lingering security breaches at Isuochi, Umuchieze and Lokpanta axis of Umunneochi Local Government Area (LGA) of the state.
Gov. Otti spoke at the second edition of his well-attended monthly media parley, held at the Banquet Hall of the Government House, Umuahia at the instance of the Office of his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr Ferdinand Ekeoma.
The revelations that were made possible through the security gadgets installed in the area by the government were not only blood-curdling but extremely mind-boggling.
He said: “We installed electronic equipment to find out what is happening in every part of the state.
“A few weeks ago, we found that a lot of the ransom that was paid for kidnapping ended up somewhere around Umunneochi LGA.
“We decided to dominate the place and what we saw was shocking.
“In less than 48 hours, we recovered over 80 dead bodies around the cattle market, and we recovered 20 headless and decomposing bodies, which included adults and children.
“We recovered uncountable skeletons of people, who had been killed and left to decompose still around that axis.”
No wonder the governor, apparently rattled up by the findings, vowed never to condone nor get involved in supporting insecurity in any form or manner.
He, therefore, expressed his government’s resolve to leave no stone unturned to actualise his avowed promise to rid Abia of all forms of crime and criminality.
Recall his promise while being sworn in on May 29. He said that “no inch of Abia territory will be left for criminals elements”.
Consquently, he insisted that the government’s dedication to solving the security challenges remained sacrosanct, pointing out that “no government succeeds in the face of insecurity”.
As part of the measures to enhance security around the troubled area and the precincts of the market, the governor said the government decided to transform the market from cattle to daily general market.
Beyond that, the government also resolved to secure the market with a perimeter fence and issued a directive for the traders to reside within the neighbouring communities outside the market.
Thus, the market henceforth ceases to be residential. And as a daily market, it is expected to open from 6am to 6pm.
The governor also expressed government’s commitment to dislodge other criminal elements, who take cover inside the cattle market to deal in gunrunning, prostitution, narcotics trade and heavy use of sundry illicit substances.
And beyond the mere exposition of the intelligence discoveries, he said that government had initiated investigations with security agencies “to ascertain the people involved in the crime”.
The decision to undertake an investigation into the sacrilegious criminal activities around the Lokpanta Market is roundly commendable and in sinc with the recommendations of some security experts, who insist that the perpetrators of the heinous crime against humanity must not go free but should be smoked out from their hiding, arrested, prosecuted and served justice in order to serve as a deterrent to others within Abia and beyond.
Meanwhile, the governor has expressed optimism that with the measures already put in place, the highly dreaded portion of the Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway would be calm and secure from now going forward for both Abia residents and travellers, who were basically vulnerable and subjects of attacks by the dare-devil gang of kidnappers and violent criminals.
But the unanswered question is: how and when did these blood-thirsty hoodlums gain access and dominance of this part of the Abia territory, turning it into a lair from where they regularly launched vicious attacks on their unsuspecting preys along the ever-busy expressway, in spite of the multiplicity of security checkpoints?
Did they occupy the area with or without the knowledge of the security agencies and the then Chief Security Officer and Governor, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu?
Pointedly, was there no government in place to notice the gradual occupation of a section of Abia territory by mindless blood-sucking criminals and timeously initiate incisive measures to nip the dangerous trend in the bud?
The answer, of course, is yes. There was a chief security officer and government in place but as commonly said, when the head of a fish is rotten, the entire fish is also dead and rotten.
The unwholesome phenomenon started like a little harmatan fire with pockets of kidnap of students of the state-owned University, Uturu.
It later snowballed into a full-blown kidnapping enterprise with unsuspecting travellers on the expressway, including the former Methodist Prelate, Most Rev. Samuel Kanu-Uche, falling victims at one point or another.
The problem, however, was that at a crucial moment in the history of Abia, requiring stringent measures to deal with a critical security situation, the chief security officer, Ikpeazu, was as usual found wanting.
He literally abandoned his duty post when the people’s lives and property were seriously threatened by a rampaging kidnap gang and opted for gallivanting and globetrotting, partying in choice cities around the world under the auspices of the G-5 Governors.
His case was a shameful reminder of the proverbial houseowner, who went in chase of a mouse, while his house was being razed down by ferocious fire.
The unfortunate Lokpanta scenario remains yet another pointer to the record of an unpleasant, wasted era, characterised by demonstrable government failure, ineptitude and clueless eight-year-long administration of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Ikpeazu, who upon assumption of office in 2015 said he preferred to be addressed as ‘Mr Governor’.
Suffice it to recall here that a similar security scenario prevailed in Abia under the watch of Sen. Theodore Ahamefula Orji, another PDP governor, between 2007 and 2010.
That was when a horrific terror gang, which specialised in killing and kidnapping for heavy ransom, took over Aba and its environs, holding the state and its residents as well as thouroughfarers by the jugular.
The bestial savage gang was recruited and led by a kidnap kingpin, Obiọma Nwankwo, aka Osisikankwu, who hailed from Ogwe in Ukwa West LGA. You remember him?
The criminal group went for the high and mighty in society, including prominent business moguls and industrialists in Aba, expatriate construction workers and politicians.
The nefarious activities of the formidable gang transcended the boundaries of Abia up to Obigbo in Rivers State.
It once ambushed Ochendo’s motorcade, which had gone to pick him on his return from a trip outside the state at the Port Harcourt Airport. The attack occurred at Obiyekwe axis.
Though the governor’s vehicle escaped, others, including journalists, abandoned their vehicles and scampered into the bush for safety.
The gang’s uncomplimentary exploits took a more notorious and dangerous dimension with the kidnap of three journalists and their driver, who were Lagos-bound after attending a National Executive Council Meeting of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. They were attacked at Umuafuoka Junction, near Ukpakiri in Obingwa LGA.
All the victims paid ransom that ran into tens of millions of naira before they were released to their people and in some cases, dead.
Like the Lokpanta episode, which overwhelmed Ikpeazu’s government, Ochendo’s administration was also incapacitated to confront the heavily dreaded armed gang.
The gang had its last attack on Sept. 27, 2010, when it kidnapped 15 pupils of Abayi International School, Osisioma.
This was truly a misfire and it attracted global attention to the activities of the gang for which Osisikankwu and some of his men eventually paid the ultimate price.
The attack on the minors was described as the last straw that broke the camel’s back, compelling Ochendo to seek external assistance from the Federal Government. It took the intervention of a Federal Joint Military Task Force to neutralise Osisikankwu and his 3000 armed men.
Today, God has come down to Abia, through a volunteer, who got to the zenith of his banking career, but decided to quit his comfort zone and venture into the murky waters of Nigerian politics.
He has been executing great and wondrous projects designed to bring Abia at par with its contemporaries, in terms of physical infrastructure and social amenities, amongst other social and economic indices of growth and development.
That man is today’s Abia governor, who has mustered the courage and political will to deal a fatal blow on crime and criminality in the state.
And beyond receiving accolades for his breath-taking infrastructure development, Otti has since his rescue mission at Lokpanta been receiving standing ovation from Abia residents as well as indigenes in the Diaspora for his brave, focused, visionary and people-oriented leadership initiatives.
Eagle Okoro is a public affairs analyst and writes from Umuahia.