Insecurity: Anambra awaits Soludo’s solution
Going to Okpoko area of the state is like descending into the jungle. Okpoko is the crowded neighbourhood of the economically buoyant Onitsha, the chief commercial city of the state. After Okpoko, there is Agulunkitaku running towards Ogbaru.
Okpoko is also the fringe of Ochanja, the offshoot-trading suburb of Onitsha Main Market. The upper Iweka and Bridge Head axes complete the vortex that drapes Onitsha with awe.
In times past, unintended travellers were bundled into Lagos-bound buses by agberos. The ploy is usually intended to hoodwink serious commuters with the impression that the buses were ready to proceed on the journey to Eko.
In recent times, the touts gained specialties in different criminal schemes, including illegal collection of levies ranging from emblems, traffic offences, illegal hawking and produce inspection. Pickpockets graduated from petty thievery to armed robbery, while some failed apprentices took to car jacking.
There are those who play chacha (card games), where costly items are displayed as prizes for those who stake small amount of money. It was from their group that counterfeiters rose, just as scarlet ladies assisted them in their nefarious trade to give a semblance of reality to unsuspecting house wives that want to double money.
These touts contributed to the complex feature of Onitsha; a development for which the saying goes that there is no difference between night and day in Onitsha.
At each epoch, Onitsha had manifested various acts of anti-social behaviour that only residents fail to be shocked at their desperate intensity and devilry. In the 70s and 80s, residents were forced into citizen revolt through the Boys Oye mass action that smoked criminals from their hideouts.
During that campaign, criminals were set ablaze in their hideouts, especially brothels that provided them temporary shelter for entertainment and orgiastic revelry.
One aspect of the lousy security situation around Onitsha is that most of the hoodlums usually come from the squalid neighbourhoods with makeshift shanties.
However, unlike the petty thievery of yesteryears, the spate of unexplained killings in Anambra State in recent times underscore the level of insecurity in the state. The situation is compounded by the political crisis in neighbouring Imo State and the secessionist agitations by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), whose leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, is being tried in court after his rendition from Kenya.
Against this background, when Soludo announced during his campaigns that he intends to begin his work as governor from Okpoko, many people believed that he knows where the security cum sanitation problem of Onitsha lie. He is now being expected to fulfill this electioneering promise. Nevertheless, he appears ready for the job at hand.
Soludo visited Okpoko yesterday alongside his Strategy, Execution and Evaluation (SEE) team, assuring the people, including school children, that electricity, better houses and drainages would be provided to make life worth living.
The development has enlivened hopes that may indeed take steps that would curtail rising insecurity in the state.
Recall that while presenting his inaugural speech, he had offered the olive branch to those perpetrating violence and insecurity in the state. The governor had called for cessation of hostilities, even as he endorsed a tripartite discussion with arm bearing groups, the Presidency and governors of the Southeast region.
He had pledged to engage all parties to the breakdown of peace and order in Anambra from a point of determination to solve problems and resolve disagreements with openness, integrity, equity and justice.
Soludo said: “We can’t build this homeland by turning the sword against each other. Ndi Anambra love their homeland but the recent upsurge in criminality poses a great threat. My heart bleeds to see and hear about our youth dying in senseless circumstances. Every criminal gang—kidnappers, wicked murderers, arsonists, rapists, thieves… all now claim to be freedom fighters.
“There is no conflict that dialogue, in good faith, cannot resolve. Our government is determined to urgently restore peace and security in Anambra, and we will seek the active cooperation and collaboration of all stakeholders.
“To IPOB/ESN, the Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), as well as the disparate armed groups in the forests, it is time to interrogate both the purpose and means of your campaign. To the politicians playing politics with insecurity, you are riding a tiger. The current trajectory is a road to desolation. Let us get around the table and talk. Let the elite in the closet come out, and let’s debate our future and forge a consensus.”
The governor had added: “Every day, there is a ‘sit-at-home’, these poor masses lose an estimated N19.6 billion in Anambra alone. Due to the protracted breakdown of law and order, businesses are relocating outside Igboland, with growing unemployment, and traders who used to come to shop in Onitsha, Aba etc are going elsewhere. Who is losing? By forcing our children—the future of Igboland—to stay at home instead of being in school, while even the critically sick people (including pregnant women) cannot go to hospital, we harm our future.”
Analysing the speech, residents and stakeholders insisted that security infractions in the state, which now include activities of unknown gunmen and cultism, have dealt a big blow on socio-economic activities of the state.
A public affairs analyst, Dr. Festus Igwe, concurred that there could not be development without security, stressing that it would also be difficult for Soludo to implement his lofty ideas in an environment that was in chaos.
“I think that the call is timely and I plead with those concerned to adhere to it. We cannot continue this way. So far, we have not gained anything other than killing our own defenseless innocent brothers and sisters and running businesses out of the state. As much as I appreciate the call, he should also make efforts to galvanise the process of bringing other political and religious leaders on the same page with him so they can help the process.”
On his part, former national chairman of the defunct United Progressives Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie, stated that the new Anambra governor has started on a good note. He stated that making security a priority was the tonic needed to move the state forward, stressing that the call for agitators and any other group bearing arms to lay down their arms and embrace dialogue was the way to go.
Okorie, who restated the prime place Anambra occupies in the Southeast region, stated that Soludo has extended a hand of fellowship to those who think that the best way to fight for the liberation of the region was through violence.
Okorie said: “By the call, he is simply saying that what affects one, affects the other. He could not limit himself to Anambra because if other states in the region remain unsafe, there will be a spill over. Calling for dialogue is what many of us have called all these while and seeing a new man on the saddle, he is less suspected. Now that he is a new person offering a fresh opportunity, I believe they will listen to him. Soludo has told the world what Anambra alone loses on each sit-at-home. You can decide to go round the Southeast and know what we are going through every Monday.
“So, I think the governors should give him support and all those affected hearken to the appeal for dialogue. We cannot continue to subject the same people whom we say we are protecting or liberating to hardship. Nowhere is safe again. People live in fear and the poverty rate is increasing. I do not know what we have gained by the sit-at-home we have conducted.
The children stay out of school, businesses are closed and workers are forced to stay indoors. So, I think it is time to dialogue this matter for the interest of our future. When we talk to ourselves, Soludo has offered to lead the initiative to visit other relevant institutions to end the agitations. Let South East leaders meet our younger ones and from there, we shall know the diehard criminals to save our zone. What is happening here is not in the interest of anybody.”
Also reacting, emeritus President, Aka Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazuruike, stated that the call for dialogue by Soludo was the way to go. He stated that Soludo was a well grounded man, adding that what was required to contain the rising insecurity in the state was a leader who would come down from his high horse and embrace the people.
“Anambra has become the centre for agitation by unknown gunmen. The various campaign thugs with full knowledge of what is going on; all those materials used for the campaign are still around and waiting for 2023 elections. So, Soludo is in the right direction and being a governor, he will get the confidence of the people for his actions,” he said.
Uwazuruike said he believes that there was a way of reaching the IPOB, ESN and MASSOB for dialogue, explaining that the rest of the South East region would not be safe if one was alone in chaos.
Anambra had turned into a theater of war just before the November 6, 2021, governorship election, as no day passed without ugly incidents of kidnap, killing or destruction of property being recorded.
The rising insecurity last year thwarted the campaign programme of the political parties and nearly disrupted the election, but for the heavy deployment of security that included soldiers, policemen, Civil Defence, DSS and others.
Soludo tasted the bitter pile on March 31, last year, at the Civic Centre in his Isuofia community, Aguata local council, where he had gone for a meeting with youths of the area.
The bloody attack, allegedly carried out by some young men, resulted in the death of three police officers guarding him. The boys were said to have arrived at the venue in a Toyota Corona car and started shooting while Soludo was about to conclude his address. The invading boys did not stop at killing the policemen; they also made away with the State Commissioner for Public Utilities, Emeka Ezenwanne, alongside his black Ford Ranger car.
Before the incident, earlier in February last year, one other contestant to the governorship position, Mr. Valentine Ozigbo of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had items and canopies he had put up at the venue of the kick-off of a health walk vandalised by some political thugs.
The thugs allegedly invaded the Diocesan Church Centre Field, Nnewi, venue of the kick-off of the health walk in the early hours of the day and destroyed the podium, sound equipment and canopies and set a bonfire at the place.
The attacks were sustained with killing of policemen and soldiers at checkpoints, attacks on police stations and burning of their offices.
Also last year, Dr. Chika Akunyili, husband of the former Director General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) was gruesomely murdered at Onitsha while returning from an event.
This year, some communities no longer sleep with their two eyes closed. At Lilu-Orsumoghu-Azia-Isekke-Ukpor axis, Ekwulobia and Oko environs, cult activities have become worrisome.
Within a period of two weeks, gunmen killed 12 in Oko and Ekwulobia areas, including a Professor of Economics, Prof. I.O. Onyemelukwe.
The latest incident was the killing of about 20 people at Ebenebe some weeks ago at a funeral ceremony by suspected cultists while three persons were murdered at Isuofia recently.
So, like the Americans will say, talk is cheap. The time for action is now. And Anambra earnestly awaits Soludo’s solution so that social life and unfettered economic activities could begin to stream anew in the state.