A peep into the success story of Gov. Otti’s security intervention


By Ogbonnaya Ikokwu

On assumption of office on May 29, Gov. Alex Chioma Otti, succinctly communicated his resolve to rid Abia State of all criminal elements for its residents and visitors to enjoy peace and securiry of lives and property.

The governor in his inaugural speech unambiguously warned those suspected men of the under world to take a flight out of the state.

Otti unequivocally stated that no inch of the state’s territory would be left for hoodlums to continue with their nefarious activities.

The governor had identified two sets of criminals, including situational criminals, being those who took to crime as a result of unemployment and hardened criminals, who vowed to make a living through crime.

He promised that the former would be forced to change through creation of employment, while the latter would be sent out of the state through a robust security programme by his administration.

It will be recalled that prior to Gov. Otti’s election and inauguration, many communities in Umunneochi and Isuikwuato Local Government Areas of the state had become safe havens for kidnappers and armed robbers.

Prominent among the criminal flashpoints in the area was the Lokpanta Cattle Market, located at Umuchieze, a community in Umunneochi LGA.

The heinous activities of criminals in the area stretched into Ihube-Uturu-Isuikwuato communities, making these communities a danger zone for the residents and travellers.

Despite the public outcry against the evil acts of those hoodlums around the cattle market, which is not far away from many military and police checkpoints, successive administrations in the state seemed overwhelmed by the insecurity bedeviling travellers around the market.

This is because all the efforts that were made to rid the area of criminals, who hide in brothels within the market to carry out their heinous acts, were often rebuffed by the traders, who repeatedly claimed ignorance of all the criminal activities around the market.

Confessions by many kidnaped victims, who regained their freedom after paying huge amounts of money as ransom, had revealed that the suspected kidnappers, who often disguised themselves as herdsmen, operate within the cattle market, in collaboration with some indigenes of the host community.

It would be recalled that
the former Prelate of the Methodist Church of Nigeria, His Eminence, Dr Chukwuemeka Kanu Uche, was abducted by kidnappers around the Lokpanta cattle market.

The clergyman, who was freed after paying a whooping N100 million to his abductors, whom he identified as herdsmen, had accused the military of alleged complicity on national television as the incident happened very close to one of their checkpoints.

A bullion van was said to have passed through the checkpoint to pick up the ransom dropped for the suspects.

Another incident was the abduction of mourners, who were conveying the remains of their deceased for burial on the same axis of the Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway.

Also, on many occasions, commercial buses fully loaded with passengers, had been abducted in the same area.

But in line with his administration’s commitment to provide security to ensure the safety of lives and property of Abia residents as well as visitors, Gov. Otti inaugurated a special security operation codenamed ‘Operation Crush’ on August 9.

Otti said during the inauguration that, “Operation Crush is a strong and coordinated response to the lingering challenge of insecurity in parts of the state, which has made life nightmarish for many.

“Operation Crush is a joint task force with membership drawn from various security formations, including operatives of the Nigeria Police Force, the Nigerian Army, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, the Department of State Services and the Nigerian Navy.”

The governor also said that the security task force was to counter kidnapping, armed robbery and other forms of violent crimes.

“Special attention shall be paid to the flashpoints around communities within Umunneochi and Isuikwuato LGAs with a firm determination to identify and clear all criminal hideouts using the superiority of our arms and the operational expertise of the security personnel on this team,” he said.

Barely two months after the lunch of the joint security outfit, residents have started to heave a sign of relief with a reduction in kidnap incidents, armed robbery and car thefts within Aba, Umuahia and some other parts of the state.

The Security Adviser to the Governor, Navy Commander MacDonald Ubah, (Rtd.), in a recent chat with journalists in Umuahia, revealed that ransom for kidnap victims around Uturu-Umunneochi axis were paid in the cattle market, where the kidnappers and their accomplices hide in brothels and shantties within the market.

As a result of their findings, the state government carried out a demolition of the brothels and shanties with 160 rooms in the market.

The government also revealed its decision to make the cattle market a daily and non-residential one to ensure that the suspected kidnappers would not re-group and mix with the traders, who had been residing within the market.

Again, the revelation made by Gov Otti himself on Sunday October 29, during the second edition of his monthly media chat with journalists was another eye opener.

The governor said that 50 decomposing bodies, 20 headless bodies and uncountable skeletons were uncovered in the forest near the cattle market during a raid by security agencies.

This brings to mind the earlier revelation of sight of lifeless bodies made by the Prelate of the Methodist when he was kidnaped.

But one would wonder why the security agencies, especially the military, would not investigate the incident properly even when it was accused of alleged complicity.

Their inaction again lay credence to a saying accredited to the former Head of State, late General Sani Abacha, that “if insurgency lasts for more than 48 hours, the government must have a hand in it”.

Therefore, the immediate past People’s Democratic Party-led goverment in the state must also receive its own blame for not taking any concrete steps to arrest the situation after those revelation by the clergyman.

Efforts must be made to sustain the reduction in kidnap incidents, achieved so far in the fight against every form of criminality, especially after the recent raid of some hideouts around the Lokpanta cattle market by security operatives attached to the ‘Operation Crush’.

While Gov. Otti deserves to be commended for insisting that “no inch of Abia territory will be left for criminals elements”, those that are giving tribal colouration to the decision of the state government to make the cattle market non-residential must refrain from such a
parochial line of thought.

Insecurity is an evil wind that blows nobody any good. For instance, amongst the decomposing headless bodies found in the forest, nobody can differentiate between which is Hausa, Igbo or Yoruba among the victims.

Although the cattle market is predominantly populated by traders from the Northern part of the country who reside in the market, the action of the state government should not be seen as targeted against a particular region as people from all the geo-political zones of the country and beyond also engage in trading in the market on a daily basis.

Giving the fact that the Lokpanta cattle market is located at a border town, surrounded by communities in Imo, Enugu, Anambra and Ebonyi states, there is a need for the South-East Governors Forum to form a synergy to share intelligence and resources in order to restore peace in the zone.

The use of technological devices for monitoring the activities of criminals around the cattle market as announced by Otti must be encouraged and sustained, while those doing the surveillance must be honest enough in reporting their findings to the appropriate quarters

Security of every part of the state should be seen as the business of all and sundry because neither the government, private organizations, religious bodies nor the private individuals can make any reasonable progress in the face of insecurity.
#A new Abia is possible

Ogbonnaya Ikokwu, a journalist and public affairs analyst, writes from Umuahia.