Mr. Michael Nwaogwugwu, a resident of Ogbor-Hill axis of Aba, the commercial hub of Eastern Nigeria is crying bitterly. He is weeping and shedding tears, for the current security situation in the Enyimba City.
Nwaogwugwu who told News Echo that he is conscious of the past, as it still rings in his head like a bell, said that Aba is gradually retrogressing to the situation that led to the formation Bakassi Boys, the dreaded and barbaric vigilante group that existed in Abia State between 1998-2003.
The Septuagenarian lamented that the new trend of attacking police stations, shooting, and killing of police officers and carting away of weapons in police armoury, could return Aba to her regrettable past.
He said that insecurity is worse than the deadliest disease ever discovered by mankind. “It is a situation no nation, state or city aspiring to be counted among her equals should think of not to talk of allow for any reason.”
Nwaogwugwu’s fear and worry proved that he remembers the past and does not want to repeat it. He is probably aware of the statement of George Santayana, Spanish-American philosopher who said that; “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
From the creation of man till date, it has always been visible to the blind and audible to the deaf, that God made man very special by giving him one important attribute; the ability to reason.
This ability to reason can be expanded into the ability to recall the past, ability to predict the future and the ability to structure and restructure the future, to suit human development plans and harmonious existence.
There is an Igbo adage that says: “uzo dinma aga ya ugboro na abu.” It simply means that, a good experience is worth having again. Nobody will like to be reminded of his bad past not to talk of reinventing such.
Aba, the commercial hub of Eastern Nigeria has had her own share of insecurity. From the late 90s to early 2000s and then between 2006, 2010-2011.
For those who do not know what Aba looked like back then and will like to know, it is expedient that you are told that once upon a time, armed robbers, hoodlums, kidnappers and daredevil criminals reigned supreme in Aba.
“Back then hoodlums arrested Aba, partitioned the city into clusters and converted all notable areas, major roads and streets into the den of robbers, rapists, burglars, drug dealers, street urchins and stiff-necked recalcitrant troublemakers.
“They were popularly called the Mafia Boys (Ndi-Mafia) between 1991-1999.They were killing, stealing, raping and practically succeeded in reducing human lives as low as a loaf of bread.
“The police were powerless; the army who were in charge of political administration of Nigeria then never provided any help. Aba was practically left in the hands of armed hoodlums who ran the show with reckless abandon.”
He explained how the activities of the Mafias got everyone frustrated, destroyed businesses, chased investors and customers out of Aba, until the year1998 when shoe makers in Ariaria International Market decided to take the bull by the horns.
“When the shoemakers formed Bakassi in 1998, nobody opposed it, because we were all tired of insecurity and wanted change. After the democratic government took over in 1999, Bakassi became stronger because the then governor, Orji Uzo-Kalu supported them.
“In fact, they became the most supported security agency in Eastern Nigeria. They took over police works, the work of the court and even that of the correctional service. The methods the Bakassi Boys used to carry out their duties were brutal, ruthless, absolutely arbitrary in human.
“In those days, murder and torture were legalized, as Bakassi Boys were the ones deciding who is guilty or innocent relegating the court to the background. Scores of people were extra judicially executed and mutilated in public without fair hearing.
“Yes, they succeeded in reducing crime levels in Aba, hence their invitation to Onitsha. They went there and did similar things. However, the reality is that such primitive, barbaric justice and security system should never had happened and should not be allowed to repeat itself because 1998-2003 when they were finally removed is one era people must continue to regret. Lives were wasted because of chickens, goats, beverages and other petty things.”
He said that it is unfortunate that Aba gradually heading to that era again, as police have started marking some areas “no go areas” (places they cannot enter), giving rise to so many cult groups rising to claim ownership of certain areas as their own territory.
“We have suddenly forgotten what the dreaded criminal; Ekenweohia did in Aba in 2006? Why have we suddenly forgotten what Osisikankwu and his boys did to Aba from their operational base at Ogwe?
“If the state government does not want Aba to return to 1998-2000, and 2010 era, the time to act is now. Similar cult groups like; Degbam, Dewell and Downbillow that reigned supreme back then are springing up gradually again. They must be stopped now.”
News Echo reports that activities of cultists and street thugs have intensified in most parts of Aba especially; Ogbor-Hill, Over-Rail, Ndiegoro, Owerri-Aba, Umuojima, Osisioma, Abayi-Ariaria, Uratta, Ohuru-Isimiri, Umuode and Umuochalla axis.
A security expert and Abia State Chairman of Police Campaign against Cultism and Other Vices (POCACOV), Ambassador Darlington Onuoha Kalu, said that the situation is gradually scaring residents and visitors in Aba.
Kalu who is also the president general of the African Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (AASME), said that if nothing is done about the situation, customers will be scared to come to Aba.
According to him, “In Abia State, there’s lack of organizational structure on the part of the people living and doing business here. It’s difficult to say this is the person living and doing business here and that is not good for security.
“That has led to Abia shifting from a secured state to a state that is moving towards huge insecurity. In the streets of Aba, you see different kinds of people taking over our streets and nobody knows them.
“During #EndSARS and after, hoodlums took over the streets and started attacking police station and killing officers. They started with the tactical squad at Omoba road where they killed a police officer.
“They moved further and started attacking banks, destroying court premises, including the Aba Town Hall. This situation is becoming unbearable. Insecurity is trying to take over the state.”
He said they have put up a letter calling on Governor Okezie Ikpeazu that there should be security town hall meetings where people should gather and tackle the problems to enable residents to secure Aba.
Kalu who also serves as the President of the Coalition of Business Groups and Association of Nigeria, said that when the hoodlums burnt the tactical squad police station in Aba, his group made efforts to help the situation only to hear more of similar issues coming up.
“When that thing happened, the Coalition of Business Groups called all the landlords in Abia State, went to commiserate with the Inspector General of Police and also asked that they should be allowed to rebuild that station because the people that burnt the station are within Abia society or even in very houses.
“We called experts to value property that was damaged and invited and architect to draws and redesign the burnt station. We were still preparing on the day we will make a public presentation on that.
“But unfortunately while we were doing that, a police station at Omoba was burnt down. Just after that, the Abayi Police station was also burnt down. The situation is becoming unbearable.
“Insecurity is trying to take over this state. Urgent step has to be taken. We have put up a letter telling the governor that there should be a security town hall meeting where we will gather and begin to iron all these problems and see how to tackle them so that Aba will become safer for all of us as it was prior to the new trend.”
With his position also as the convener of Abia State Community Neigbourhood Crime Watch, Kalu said that the current insecurity will make the trade and investment capacity of the state to go down because there will be fear.
“When a situation like this is coming up, it will damp the trade and investment potential of the state. There is no investor that will come to Abia to invest when there is insecurity.
“There is no visitor that will come. Abia State is like a business tourism state. Hoteliers suffer because people will avoid coming to spend nights in Aba. Some people will prefer to come and go that day.
“Abia is already growing very strong in economy of recent and we are looking at generating a billion dollar investment in Abia State every year.
“Abia has that potential to get it. If you carefully check the movement of people in and out of Abia State on daily basis, you will realize what I am saying. Do you know how many buses that comes into Abia every day from other parts of Nigeria every day?
“We have plans of establishing entrepreneurship centres within the 17 Local Government Areas of this state. The leather and garment industries, the metal work, the wood work and all other works.
“There are a lot of potentials here that is still conserved. If insecurity is hitting had on the state, it will affect the economy of the state and livelihood of the people.”
He said that the aim of setting up Community Neigbourhood Crime Watch is to use knowledgeable members of the community on ground to discover and report strange, suspicious and abnormal occurrences to the police.
Kalu called on members of the Aba community not to give up in letting police know about strange things happening in their areas, stressing that nobody gives correct information and gets into trouble.
“The problem is that some people go to police lie that their creditor who only came to get his money, is threatening to kill them. When the police look into such and discover the truth, you see such people lamenting about attitude of police in handling information.
“It is time we learn how to do things properly. We are already on the campaign of reorienting our people. We are helping our youths with things like chase competition instead of allowing them to go into gambling.
“We are trying to help those set of people that can easily get involved into petty crimes to discover their talents early. Watching over our communities and bringing information about suspicious movements are the best way we can secure our land.”
He said that the Igbo-man from origin had neighbourhood watch which was why most Igbo ancient towns and kingdoms are usually aware anytime a strange face or strange groups enter their land, even in the night.
“Most of us do not know this. We had that style of police from our forefathers. Those olden days when there were inter-clannish wars who were those fighting it? Who were those people always looking around knowing when a visitor and a strange face they have not seen before enters the community?
“They were members of the community policing team set up by traditional rulers. You don’t necessarily need arms to police your place. What you need to protect your place is information.
“If you go to America, almost 60% of their citizens have detective mindset. It is an information driven society. You cannot see a police man carrying guns there anyhow. We cannot live our security in the hands of few police officers carrying guns.
“A police officer with gun is our last resort. A police man with a single gun can use it to protect 400 people in the face of trouble, but we can help do better without guns.”
Sir Goodwill Amaefula, a retired civil servant blamed the Abia State government on the current security situation in Aba and wondered why the government will allow destitute all over major roads and expect security to remain the same.
“Abia government and the police have failed. Now go to Bata Junction, Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church on East Street and the Christ the King Cathedral (CKC) at Asa road and tell me the first thing you will see?
“Let me help you. What you will see are young children, their mothers and sometimes even those who look like their fathers, blocking the roads, begging for money and food. Those children mind you, were born in the streets and before they turn 10-12 years old, they will disappear from their begging centres.
“My question to the government is this; those children whom we all saw begging in those areas I just mentioned 10-15 years ago, where are they now? Have they mixed up with the society? What are they currently contributing to the growth of Aba?
“What skills where they exposed to? What jobs are the females among them who should be in their late and early 20s doing right now on our streets? If the government and police can answers these questions, they will discover why we now have too many willing tools for criminal activities in Aba.
“The state government came up with one programme that they want to clear destitute off the streets of Aba. They announced it, but suddenly nobody heard from them again. They could not implement it.
“The politicians may not be worried! After all they need such people for elections. Just as you hear about Almajiri in Northern Nigeria, some people are gradually creating Almajiris in Igboland even as we don’t even hear their languages.
“Go to Railway Avenue, precisely at Aba Railway Station, you will see how destitute have converted most of the abandoned train coaches into homes. Nobody is asking questions.
“Nobody cares to know the states they came from. Few years of growing up in the streets of Aba, they will blend in language. All we see is their female ones getting pregnant every 11 months and we think we are safe? How can we be safe here? We are in trouble.”
He urged the government and the police to up their game and do more of crime proactive policing, rather than the current reactive policing which he said is outdated, as criminals have already mastered every step the police will make.
“One truth is that we cannot go back to bringing Bakassi Boys back. No government of the world will do business with a state where extrajudicial killings are legalized in their justice system. Except if they can rebrand it, but I don’t see that happening.
“Prior to all these burning of police station, the entire city of Aba has only eleven functional police station. I said ten because Ariaria Police Station was burnt in 2017 and it is still like that till today.
“We were left with Dragon Squad, Abayi, Ohuru-Isimiri, Eastern Ngwa, Osisioma, Ogbor-Hill, Eziama, Uratta-Eziukwu, Ndiegoro and the Central Police Station. Don’t forget that Osisioma is now in Ukwa Command that leaves Aba with just seven police divisions, because Abayi and Dragon squad are already in ruins.
“The most annoying thing is that we have more female police officers in Aba than male. Visit all the remaining police divisions and see with your eyes. In a strong city like Aba, somebody is posting female police officers here and there. They don’t go on patrol; they can’t get involved in night duties, so what is happening?