Who will tame the state of insecurity in Imo State?

by Joel Nwokeoma

Obviously worried by the disturbing state of insecurity in Igboland in recent times, governors of the South East zone hurried, or as some accounts said, were “summoned”, to Aso Rock, penultimate week, for a parley with the Acting President, Goodluck Jonathan.

Addressing journalists after the meeting, the leader of the delegation and Chairman of the South East Governors Forum, Peter Obi of Anambra State, reportedly lamented that the South East governors were spending huge funds to support the police and other security agencies “but we found out that the hoodlums’ firepower is more than the police. The security agencies are trying but they need more support from the Federal Government”.

Curiously, two of the governors whose states have been turned into “the valley of the shadow of death” of sorts, in the South East, on account of growing insecurity of lives and property, were reportedly absent from the meeting. They are Ikedi Ohakim of Imo State and Martins Elechi of Ebonyi State.

In the case of the latter, at the last count, over 100 lives have been lost in the raging Ezza-Ezillo communal clash in Ishielu Local Government Area of the state, including that of a presidential aide, Pastor Sunday Ntan, from Cross River State, who was shot and burnt to death in his car together with his police aide. The most evident consequence of this crisis, however, is that the ever-busy Ezillo –Ezza Ezillo section of the Enugu-Abakaliki Expressway, which connects the state with neighbouring Enugu and Cross River States, has become something akin to the devil’s gate, where people now travel at their own peril.

Interestingly, while the state government and some prominent politicians from the state resident in Abuja engage in a needless blame-game, there is no end yet in sight to the dangers posed to travellers and residents caught up in the cross-fire of the belligerent communities.

The case of Imo state looks more intriguing, but dangerous nonetheless. The state, popularly referred to as the Eastern Heartland, has literally become the heartland of kidnappers in recent weeks. The resultant effect of the horrifying tales out of the state is that indigenes, and residents alike, cannot afford the luxury of sleeping with their two eyes closed for fear of being “picked”, as kidnapping is called in the state.

If reports emanating from Imo State recently are anything to go by, it is obvious that these are both trying and sad times for the state and its traumatised indigenes. What seemed like a floodgate of kidnapping incidents was opened in the state in March when it recorded the highest occurrence of kidnapping and criminal activities in the country in the month.

Just a few might suffice here. Days after a South African sports journalist and two Nigerian colleagues, working for the South African satellite television company, M-Net, were ambushed and kidnapped by gunmen on Monday, March 1, near Owerri, it was the turn of the wife of the former Managing Director, Nigerian Breweries Plc, Festus Odimegwu, Stella, who was abducted during a church service at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Assa-Ubirielem, in Orsu Local Government, by about 30 gunmen who stormed the church in two Hiace buses.

Mrs. Odimegwu, said to be a local government chairmanship aspirant, was later released after reportedly paying a ransom of N500 million, after the gunmen had reduced it from a princely N1 billion.

As if the hallowed ambience of a worship centre has lost its meaning and reverence, another gang of six gunmen traced Eze Herbert Obichere, the Ola 1 of Offorola, an agrarian and dusty community in Owerri North Local Government, to the Christ Anglican Church Offorola, located some metres away from his palace, where he was abducted and whisked away at gunpoint. According to an eye-witness account, the gunmen were said to have trailed him to the church, where they waited in a near-by beer palour for the church to close before pouncing on their unsuspecting victim whom they forced into their waiting jeep and sped off.

By the time Eze Obichere was kidnapped, three other monarchs from different parts of the state had earlier been “picked” by unknown kidnappers, the most pathetic being that of Eze Samuel Ohiri, the traditional ruler of Orodo and Chairman, Mbaitoli Council of Traditional Rulers, who was abducted by a gang who, in the process, killed his aged father and cousin in the palace. He was reported to have paid N12 million ransom before his eventual release, and this, after spending one month in the camp of his abductors

Later, a gang of 50 bandits waylaid and abducted the President of the Customary Court of Appeal, Justice A.B.C Egu and a Senior Magistrate and wife of Eze Emmanuel Njemanze, the traditional ruler of Owerri, Mrs Pauline Njemanze, near the Sam Mbakwe Cargo Airport axis in Owerri while on their way to their official duties in the same car. The only response of note from the police was a lame lamentation by the Imo State Police Command spokesman, Linus Nwaiwu, that it was a “reprehensible and ungodly incident”. Talk of institutional helplessness, and you are near it!

Late last year, Eze Okpara, the Eshi of Nkwere, was kidnapped and released after a ransom was paid. But the hoodlums have since been emboldened by the apparent failure of government to provide security in the state by going a notch higher when another group of armed men, on March 19, ambushed some operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and killed an officer, Mr. Eze Edoga, in Owerri while the EFCC team was returning from a court session involving the trial of Herbert Chikwe, the husband of Nigeria’s Ambassador to Ireland, Mrs. Kema Chikwe. Four other operatives were reportedly on danger-list at an undisclosed hospital in the state.

While it might be convenient for the Ohakim government to attempt to exculpate itself of any blame in these scary incidents, it is undeniable that they are pointers that it has failed in the performance of its statutory duties to the indigenes of the state. It bears repeating that the main purpose of government is to promote the welfare of the citizens and ensure their protection and security from brigandage. It is simply a failure of governance for brigands to operate unmolested in a state. Besides, nothing encourages criminality as impunity, which also is a sign of weakness of government.

Given that crime thrives most among the jobless, the state government, like most states in the South East, has failed to provide an enabling environment for job creation for the teeming unemployed youths. This, unfortunately, it has compounded by some of its policies and programmes such as the ban on okada in the state in pursuit of its well vilified Clean and Green initiative, at a time many of the youths engaged in it for a living in the absence of any gainful employment .

There are many who are also quick to add that the open display of opulence by few public office holders in the midst of widespread poverty is an incentive for crime. With the breakdown of social values in the state, youths are more inclined to believing that wealth, however gotten, not good name and character, is an indicator of success in life.
The challenge before the state government is to show purposeful and accountable leadership, which many say it lacks, be firm and resolute in the enforcement of laws, and create jobs for the unemployed, for as they say, an idle mind is the devil’s workshop.

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