By Ikeugonna Eleke
A new wave of petty criminals have taken over Anambra State in recent times. This is coming as the governor of the state, Prof Chukwuma Soludo, seems to have virtually defeated killer gunmen, also known as unknown gunmen.
Previously, the state was held hostage by dreaded gunmen who engaged in daily killings, beheading victims, kidnapping of motorists and engaging in open shootouts in busy junctions in most towns in the state.
At some point in the state, up to four different cases of kidnap were recorded in one day, while the lucky ones were only dispossessed of their vehicles for use in deadly operations.
Top politicians and individuals were not also spared to the point that a lawmaker and his aide were kidnapped and beheaded. The lawmaker, Hon Okey Okoye, and his aide, Cyril Chiegboka, were beheaded after ransom was allegedly collected, and their severed heads found in a town far away from Aguata where they were kidnapped, while their trunks were found in a separate town.
The husband of the late former Minister of Information, Prof Dora Akunyili, Dr Chike Akunyili, was also hacked down by the gunmen in broad daylight at Nkpor Junction, Onitsha, shortly after he collected a posthumous award on behalf of his late spouse.
The gunmen, operating in broad daylight in the very busy Nkpor Junction, close to Onitsha, pumped a hail of bullets into his face to send him to an untimely death. He was said to have been mistaken for a politician as he was riding in a black Toyota Prado SUV, and had a Police Orderly. His Orderly was also not spared as he was also shot dead.
During the period, public facilities were not also spared. Facilities belonging to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC; the Nigeria Police and many others, were attacked. The police seemed the most hit as many police stations in Anambra were attacked, razed and many police operatives paid the supreme price.
About seven local government areas of the state were found to have almost been taken over by the deadly criminals. Bushes of most of the communities were taken over as camps, while sources also stated that energetic young men in many communities were forcefully conscripted into the terror gangs, led through oaths, and made to participate in the orgy of killings.
Anambra State Governor, Prof Soludo, working with security agencies, declared war on them, pounding them in their various hideouts on a daily basis until their strength began to wane. But just as the state heaved a sigh of relief from the activities of the bloodsuckers, petty crimes seem to be the major problem of Anambra today.
In recent times, most parts of the Anambra State capital, Awka, have become difficult to pass by at odd times, with criminals operating in tricycles now terrorizing residents of the city.
The thieves, who operate with locally made arms in groups of four or more, usually operate, using tricycles. Their strategy is usually to swoop on unsuspecting people, sometimes in beer joints, and dispossessing them of their phones.
A source said this became their latest strategy since after the cashless economy made it difficult to find anyone with lump sums. ‘Some carry POS machines with them, but sometimes they simply raid a place and take away people’s phones which they now use the SIM cards to try to access their bank accounts,’ said the source.
The not so lucky ones sometimes get kidnapped and are forced to pay ransom by making transfers to dedicated bank accounts before they are allowed to go.
A female journalist (name withheld) recently experienced this fate, when her husband was kidnapped.
She told this reporter that the incident happened right in front of their house after they returned home from shopping. The husband had alighted from the car to open the gate when some men, riding in a tricycle, ordered him back into the car at gunpoint, while the female journalist and her children were pushed out and her husband taken to an unknown destination. The journalist who recently had a baby was to have her child dedication on the weekend before the incident happened, forcing the family to put a hold on the event.
A note she sent to this reporter read: ‘Cancellation of Child Dedication Reception. This is to inform you that the dedication of our child will hold as planned on Sunday. However, the reception has been cancelled. This is due to the kidnap of my husband on Wednesday, 12/04/23 at the gate of our compound in Okpuno, Awka. To the glory of God, he was released by his captors in the early hours of Thursday, 13/04/23 at a forest in Mbaukwu. The experience was traumatic for my husband.’
It was learnt that the man was released after he was forced to transfer money running into millions from his account to those of his captors.
In another incident, this reporter almost fell victim to gun-toting young men. The reporter was approached by a robber wielding a pump action rifle which he held to the head of this reporter, demanding for his phone. Through a stroke of luck, the reporter flung the phone far away from both himself and the robber, and dashed in a different direction, causing the robber to release a shot in the air, before taking to his heels, abandoning this reporter and even the phone.
In Onitsha, armed robbers operating in mini buses, who are known as ‘one chance’ robbers, have taken over the town. They usually pose as commuters and once they pick up a passenger, they force-drive them to an area where they rob them of their belongings, or even hold them hostage until ransom is paid.
An Onitsha resident, Mrs Gloria Anaeze, said: ‘Once you are boarding public transport in Onitsha, be it tricycle, minibus or normal bus, you must be on alert, else, you may just be handing yourself over to your kidnappers. I cannot count the number of times I have lost phones to hoodlums in Onitsha.’
Added to this are incidences of car theft. The trend which is growing now is for people to have their vehicles stolen at functions, while others have theirs snatched at gun point on the road.
The Anambra State Police Command had through a press release by the Public Relations Officer, DSP, Tochukwu Ikenga, said the command was working to ensure that such small crimes were dealt with. In a press release to journalists during the Easter and Salah celebrations, Ikenga said the command had deployed operatives to public places and also taken note of flashpoints to ensure the safety of Anambra indigenes and residents alike.
But despite these measures, the miscreants seem undeterred. Worse still, with physical cash slowly returning to the pockets of many, the dare-devil robbers appear to have returned. Last Tuesday a Catholic priest was abducted in Nnobi in broad daylight, while before then, reports of similar actions had been reported in parts of the state, with one of them being the abduction of a Medical Doctor in Neni, Anaocha LGA.
As the state gasps for air amid the tightening grip of these hoodlums, the expectations are that the state government and security agencies will up their ante for the citizenry to breathe easier.