Awka, Onitsha, Overrun by Cultists, Armed Robbers

…As Non-Govt Actors Improvise Security

Though security in the Southeast of Nigeria has worsened as a result of constant attacks by hoodlums, codenamed Unknown Gunmen, on security officials and their facilities, there is a new twist in the insecurity plaguing Anambra State, writes Ikeugonna Eleke, with additional reports from Jude Atupulazi.

The attacks on security facilities and security agents have practically caused a breakdown in conventional policing, with policemen, who have now realised their vulnerability to attacks, beating a hasty retreat and thus surrendering the public space to all manner of hoodlums.

For example, policemen no longer conduct stop and search operations on major highways, just as Fides learnt that some police stations no longer open for duty, accept reports from members of the public, or even effect arrests – no thanks to recent bloody attacks on police facilities and killing of police officers.

On the 10th of June, it was gathered that gunmen in their numbers attacked Ojoto Police Station in Idemili South Local Government Area of Anambra State. During the attack which happened in the afternoon, one police inspector was killed but the attackers were unable to burn down the Police Station as the policemen on duty stood their ground.

An eyewitness said the hoodlums came in three Sienna vehicles, but were repelled by the policemen on duty. ‘We are in trouble in this state now. Nobody knows which way to follow again. The problems and tension being created in Anambra are too much for us to bear,’ the eyewitness lamented.

Such attacks have contributed to crippling conventional policing in Anambra and the Southeast states.

But in Anambra, besides the reign of unknown gunmen, cultists and armed robbers have seized the opportunity to add to the fear in the state by operating with impunity.

In Anambra, no day passes by without incidences of armed robbery and cult killing. In many neighborhoods of the state, including the state capital, armed robbers, comprising youths, sacked a whole street, moving from one end of the street to the other, robbing shops and residential buildings, most times in broad daylight, without any form of challenge.

Cult Activities

Fides cannot exactly confirm which cult groups have been operating in the state, but in Awka, there are rampant cases of cult killings, most of which happen in the day, with gun wielding youths accosting and shooting their targets. It is believed that most of those killed are cult members targeted by rival groups.

A source told Fides that the majority of commercial tricycle operators in the capital city either belong to one cult or the other, just as their membership of such groups aide their operations in the town.

This much was given credence recently, when a leader of commercial tricycle riders at Unizik Junction, Awka, popularly known as Prince, was killed by suspected cultists moments after he alighted from his car to resume duty.

Prince was shot on Thursday afternoon, June 10, at Unizik Junction, Awka, with his body cut in several places with a machete by his assailants who reportedly arrived the area in a Toyota Sienna vehicle shortly after Prince himself arrived and parked his car inside the park, before strolling to the gate of the tricycle park, where he was attacked.

‘The men shot at him immediately, killing him on the spot, while using machetes to mutilate his body before leaving in their vehicle,’ a source said. The source also told our reporter that the killing of Prince, though cult-related, was not also unconnected to a fresh tussle by a certain group to take over the collection of toll from tricycle riders in Awka.

The source said, ‘Even the state government knows who they are, and they also know the trouble between the rival factions. There is a big man who is in charge of collecting toll at bus stations in Awka, but the ones in charge of collecting tricycle toll want to upstage the ones collecting bus toll to add it to their revenue window. This tussle has been on for a while now, and you know that these Keke (tricycle) riders are mostly members of one cult or the other, so the tussle has taken the shape of cult rivalry.’

The slain Prince who is said to be newly married, and had a little daughter, hails from Ifitedunu in Dunukofia Local Government of Anambra State.

His death sparked tension in the Anambra State capital, as it was feared that his associates might move to avenge his death. The activities of cultists in the city have totally crippled night life as residents now retire to their homes as early as 7pm.

Armed Robbery

There is also a high spate of robberies in various parts of Anambra State. This has drawn concerns from stakeholders in various communities, leading to the establishment of local security outfits. At Emma Nnaemeka Street, a neighborhood in Awka, leaders of the area have employed a private security outfit to ensure security in the area.

Also in Onitsha and Nnewi, the traditional rulers of the areas have also established private security agencies, providing them with operational vehicles, arms and ammunition. In Nkpor, Obosi and other areas, residents have resorted to self-help by meting out jungle Justice on criminals apprehended.

Recently, a pickpocket in Onitsha who had picked a handkerchief from a victim’s pocket, probably mistaking it to be money, was burnt to death. Also, in the Obinagu area of Awka, three armed robbers said to have persistently terrorised the area in motorcycles were on the night of Friday, June 11, apprehended and burnt alive.

A resident of the area, Mr Lawrence Ndu, a trader, said, ‘These boys have made life very unbearable for us. Once it is 7pm, they move from shop to shop to rob people. If you come out as early as 6am, they are also there to collect your belongings. It is not the first time we are apprehending and killing thieves, but they keep coming.’

The Public Relations Officer of the Anambra State Police Command, DSP Toochukwu Ikenga, reacting to the spate if insecurity, said the command had been working, contrary to speculations. He said investigations had been opened concerning most of the killings in the state.

Reacting to the killing of Prince, Ikenga said, ‘Preliminary investigations revealed that it was a cult related clash. These are part of incidents the command is worried about. Just recently the command launched a campaign against such by taking part in a security summit with the youths at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, and we can assure you that we are extending the campaign to other parts of the community and stakeholders.

‘Meanwhile, investigations are ongoing and patrol teams have been deployed and normalcy has been restored in the area.’

Amid this chaotic scenario in the state, seven villages in Awka, June 12, launched their own security outfit by bringing a group which many believe to be Bakassi Boys. Bakassi Boys was the name given to a private security group during the time of former Gov Chinwoke Mbadinuju of Anambra State.

This outfit, an unconventional one, used unconventional means to fight criminals whom they proceeded to decapitate and burn to death on arresting them. Their activities brought calm to the state at the time, although complaints against some of their activities, much later, led to their proscription by the Federal Government then under President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Two days after arriving Awka, the new Bakassi Boys reportedly killed six cult members at two different locations in the state capital.

Fides investigations revealed however that this new security outfit will only operate within the areas they were invited to protect. But feelers are that more communities may soon hire their services.

Although the Anambra State Government denied their arrival through a press release by the Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, Mr C. Don Adinuba, Fides can authoritatively reveal that the outfit is truly in town. This followed a confirmation by a leading member of one of the villages.

Also, on the day of their arrival, they were seen by many on the streets in an all-black attire walking behind the vehicle of a town crier who warned bad elements to leave town or face the consequences.

The recourse by individuals and groups to private security arrangements and the summary killing of suspected criminals are however seen by a section of the populace as crude. Such people prefer that such suspects be taken to court but others believe that such instant justice meted to them is the only way to stem the tide of crime in a state which until recently, prided itself as the safest in the country.

The days and months ahead will, no doubt, prove whether the unconventional approach to crime fighting currently being adopted will solve the problem or add to it.