The South-East has come under bombardment with attacks coming from three major prongs: commercial crimes such as kidnapping, ritual killing and yahoo-yahoo; herdsmen attacks which leave entire communities desolate; and now, agitators who seem to acquire “odieshi”-potency- with which they confront military and police formations.
The disturbances have caused disruption in economic activities, loss of revenues and capital flight.
The zone seems to reel under the weight of bloody attacks on a daily basis, making light of the previous crime profile of the geo-political zone known then to be armed robbery and inter-communal clashes.
Now, the jaded armed robbery phenomenon, once the menace of eastern Nigeria, seems to abate. In its place seems to be kidnapping, ritual killing, yahoo-yahoo, and violent agitation which the Federal Government has labeled terrorism. An expert in industrial security once predicted that armed robbery would die. That seems to be so at the moment.
What seems to be in vogue is capturing of as many persons as the evil men want and levying amounts on them to buy themselves out like the Aro slaves of old who must buy themselves out from the shrine or remain slaves forever. Next to this is another deadly crime known as ritual killing.
A lady in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, who miraculously escaped from one of the many forest dens last week, narrated how they were kept in one room like animals. One after the other, the bunch of humans would be picked out by the ‘owners’ that would come in, point at one, and the fellow would be dragged out to the outside and such victim was never seen again. This went on until the ‘leader’ simply took a liking for her and secretly took her to a very high wall and asked her to jump. That was how she escaped.
Thus, slowly, a racket bordering on supply of human parts developed. Ritualists (native doctors) emerged who worked with the kidnappers. The kidnap kingpins roam the areas and highways poaching for humans like in the days of slave trade. Every catch is important: for ransom or for human parts, whichever come first.
This is said to be directly linked to yahoo-yahoo syndicate system. At first, it looked like yahoo-yahoo or 419, which was just about duping some unsuspecting persons (“mugu”) but it has developed into a big enterprise.
This soon exploded into a menace as many young persons, especially students, embraced the new trade; procurement of human parts to prepare sensitive charms that helped them in the yahoo-yahoo rackets.
They were convinced that with the power of such charms, the kingpin would command any person to part with any amount of foreign currency. This gave boost to upsurge in kidnapping and mysterious deaths, and disappearances even where ransom had been paid.
Kidnapping got so rampant in the zone that bands seemed to take over the forests which they turned into warehouses. It got to a height in the days of Osisikankwu, when an evil forest of Obingwa (Aba) was discovered as the abode of the criminals.
When soldiers went in (by air and land) to rescue some members of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) returning from Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, through Abia State in the evil forest, they saw a forest community of kidnap victims tied to trees and some in bush huts.
That was how they found the 23 primary school children that were “swallowed” together with their school bus, all in the evil forest. The troops saw many victims, some dead, at various locations.
The journalists also gave accounts of terrible sights and sounds in the evil forest of Obingwa, before their rescue came. They told the tale of how the kidnap lords were receiving calls from their relations telling updates of movements of the troops, an indication that kidnapping which began as an organised crime, has grown into an industry.
While the South East was being made dangerous to live and transact business in, a new trend of cruel attack reared its head; herdsmen killing.
Steady reports continued to emanate from the east about surprise attacks in northern Enugu sections. The sights looking like life in Benue continued to stream into homes through television monitors. Those with android handsets began to receive messages about killings in Enugu and later Ebonyi States.
At first, it was about some herdsmen jumping out from the bush to attack road users. Many doubted this because of the source; always from social media. Soon, it became about entire villages being wiped out.
Not much was being done about this, according to John Ummuna in Owerri who spoke with BusinessDay last week. Often, video clips emanated from the forests showing boys mating with cows, young cowboys giggling while raping female farmers, etc. Still, security agencies did not bother to trace and track the sources of these videos to at least prove them a lie.
The menace took a new turn this year when an entire village was allegedly stormed and ravaged with over 18 gruesome killings with trade mark slaughtering patterns. Arrests of over 60 persons were made but anger exploded in the east last week when they were said to have escaped from detention. There were outcries with little or no serious government response. Soon, armed men began to go round eastern region breaking up prisons and freeing inmates.
In the last few weeks, Ebonyi State has been in the news over the mindless killings by those suspected to be Fulani resident in the state. Apart from systematic slaughtering of people in their houses, some other indigenes of the state were waylaid and butchered in the most horrendous manner.
An account of a woman, Ngozi Odo-Abuchi, a graduate of the National Teachers’ Institute, who works in the Education Department of the Ishielu Local Government Area of Ebonyi State, in an interview with a national newspaper is still making the rounds in social media and other news platforms.
It was a chilling story of man’s inhumanity to fellow man. She survived by a whisker.
IPOB, ESN agitators
As if the other forms of violent crimes did not take enough tolls on the psyche of the people of the region, armed agitators either of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) stock or of those called Eastern Security Network (ESN) appear to have scaled up their agitation.
In recent times, there have been violent confrontations between the members and security agents.
Although there have been rebuttals, fingers are pointing to them as the perpetrators of the recent happenings in parts of Imo State.
For one week now, some parts of the South East has been boiling over as series of attacks by gunmen, whose identities are yet unknown, have heightened security concerns in the zone.
Mohammed Adamu, immediate past inspector-general of police, who visited Imo in the wake of the attack on Owerri Correctional Centre where almost 2000 prisoners were freed and the State CID and other security facilities where some inmates were also freed, accused members of the IPOB of being responsible.
But Hope Uzodinma, governor of the state, believes it was politically motivated and that those who carried out the attacks were mercenaries from other places.
Many observers have however, urged the security agencies to go beyond sentiment and carry out a thorough investigation to unearth those behind the series of attacks in the state.
“There is tension in the land”, says Tony Emeh, a chartered broker.
The consequences of deteriorating security situation in eastern region began when relations abroad (Diaspora) stopped coming home due to insecurity such as murder, kidnap, or robbery. The few that dared to visit especially during burials of loved ones would lodge at nearby towns especially Lagos to direct proceedings. Often, they asked for their parents to be secretly brought to the hotels to see them.
The next stage was fear of both the natives and other investors from putting up very big business facilities in the east. Banks began to close many branches and outlets.
The next is very high cost of construction in the region due to high number of armed security needed to stay at construction sites or along any construction corridor.
Thus, the combined impacts of refusal of Diaspora persons coming home and high cost of construction led to capital flight.
Another economic consequence seems to be exodus of northern elements in the businesses. Often, skirmishes occur in the eastern cities leading to loss of lives and property. The parties would be pacified and revenge killing would abate. For this reason, many lorries no long load in the north and head to the East. The trust between the northerner and easterner seems to erode fast, according to Usman Abdul who resides in Diobu, Port Harcourt.
In an interview on the sidelines of the Northern Peoples Town Hall Meeting at the Diete-Spiff Centre in December 2020, the publicity secretary of the Arewa Consultative Forum (South-South), Babaj Yav Tanko said the northerners have undergone some crisis in Rivers State ranging from business disruptions to killings.
Tanko stated further; “Our people have been slaughtered like fowls. We have so far buried a number of persons in double digit, but we have many injured and we have not concluded counting. The truth of the matter is we suffered much. We thank God that the FG and state intervened.”
A lady resident in Aba, Abia State, last Monday, told BusinessDay on condition of anonymity, that soldiers had continued to “terrorise innocent people” at a place called Ama Hausa in the Enyimba town in their bid to smoke out IPOB members.
She alleged that many of those whose houses are located within the vicinity have either moved away or still staying there in fear. She also said that bullet holes are seen on buildings around the place, and that it appears there is war going on in that part of the state on a daily basis.
Calls for a national security summit are rife. Experts say time has come for the nation to summon a security summit to look at issues of police strength, promotions, and the vexed issue of true community policing and state police system. The outcome could lead to constitutional amendments that would allow the states to breathe.
Mike Uche Chukwuma, a security expert and retired assistant commissioner of police, told BusinessDay in the course of this interview that many gaps exist that need constitutional review that can only come out during the proposed security summit. He said the police must be restructured and that community policing system must be introduced to redraw the security architecture of Nigeria.
Others have called for restructuring of Nigeria as a way of addressing most of the grievances that trigger off violence. It was also said in other circles that looting and corruption must be addressed to reassure Nigerians that their treasury was intact.