Abia: Once upon a kidnapping headquarters

Posted by Boniface Okoro, Umuahia | 24 November 2012 | 5,116 times

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When in 2007, kidnapping crept into Abia State, Governor Theodore Orji, an eaglet on the seat of power then, was the butt of all manner of jokes, caustic remarks and criticisms and vitriolic attacks; mostly for his inability to tackle the menace headlong.

From the outset, though, kidnapping and other violent crimes that were threatening to submerge the state like a rampaging flood were viewed as political configurations of both the opposition and the government in power.

This school of thought gathered the garb of credibility, and was in fact fuelled by media adverts by the dreaded kidnap kingpin, Obioma Nwankwo (a.k.a Osisikankwu). The adverts alleged that the kidnappers were on a reprisal mission following the governor’s alleged breach of an agreement the Osisikankwu armed band, then functioning as political thugs, was said to have been reached with ex-Governor Orji Uzor Kalu.

Osisikankwu had claimed in the advert that he and his boys had worked hard during the 2007 election for the success of Chief Theodore Orji who was then in detention. He alleged that they had entered into agreement that when Governor TA Orji took over the baton of power, he (TA) would make monthly payments running into millions of naira to Osisikankwu and company.

Osisikankwu said he and his boys were piqued that Governor TA Orji, after complying with the terms of the agreement for a few months, reneged and discarded that agreement and called their bluff.

In reaction, they reached for their guns and to the trenches they went to commence a deadly campaign of kidnapping and other violent crimes. They also claimed that their nefarious activities were to register their protest against the bad governance of the TA Orji administration.

Those convinced by Osisikankwu’s claims saw a legitimate window to blast the government, which they believed was treating the kidnappers with kid gloves so that they could still deploy them for the 2011 general elections.

Even in their memoir, the four Lagos-based journalists kidnapped in Abia on July 10, 2010, noted that when they were freed, they were handed over a letter to transmit to the state government by their “kind hosts” for eight days in which the kidnappers claimed, among others, that they were peeved by the under-development of Ngwaland.

But many believed that the reasons adduced by the hoodlums were lacking in logic. Those opposed to their views could not see the correlation between their heinous crimes which inflicted heavy casualties resulting in both human and material losses and brought untold hardship to the populace and fighting a perceived enemy who failed to keep to a purported agreement. Many simply saw their escapades as a declaration of war on the society.

In those days, kidnapping, bank robbery, killings, highway banditry and all manner of crimes seemed to have quartered in Abia, with Aba, the commercial nerve centre of state, being the worst hit. These crimes increased in frequency and sophistry to the extent that Abia alone seemed to have promoted Nigeria to the unenviable status of the world’s kidnapping capital.

Victims ranged from wealthy professionals such as legal luminaries and medical doctors to businessmen, journalists and school children. The last two kidnap cases involving four journalists and their driver as well as 15 children of Abayi International School, Aba, were the most celebrated across the globe. It appeared kidnapping had reached its zenith in Abia.

In reaction, the Abia State Government deployed all in her arsenal to fight the menace but achieved little or no positive result in her onslaught against the criminal elements. For about three years, the state battled to dislodge the recalcitrant kidnappers who had a stranglehold on Abia and laid the state bare of any form of security.

The result of the insecurity perpetuated by the criminals was the collapse of several businesses while many others relocated from the state just as it remained a pariah to potential investors.

Political activities were held under tight security but still in a low-keyed fashion. Abia’s economy became paralysed.

The state government, having found itself in a tight corner, unable to provide security for life and property, tried a few tricks. First, it began to invest heavily in security through provision of logistics for security agencies. Second, it encouraged and instituted a cash reward of N1 million for any patriotic citizen who volunteered information leading to the arrest of kidnappers. Also, two times the government offered amnesty to kidnappers and two times, the amnesty process was aborted. Traditional leaders were enlisted.

When these steps appeared not to be yielding any positive results, the government had to ban commercial motorcyclists from operating in cities identified as flash points.

All these happened while the governor was still in the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA). As the 2011 general elections approached and many feared for the worst bloody polls in Abia, the governor swallowed the shame of being a member of three different political parties within one month (PPA, the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA) and then the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on which platform he ran for re-election and coasted home to a landslide victory. As it turned out, 21 petitions filed against Orji by his opponents and were tried by various tribunals, including Appeal and Supreme courts, but they could not upturn his victory.

At this point, Orji was able to attract the sympathy of the federal government which agreed to bring its might upon kidnappers in Abia. In came the military. A Forward Operational Base was established at Aba. This was followed with the launch of “Operation Ihe,” by the military to rout the criminals. The criminals could not withstand the superior fire power and tactics of the combined security agencies that were unleashed on them. The major breakthrough came when the kidnap kingpin, Osisikankwu, was captured and killed by the military on Sunday, December 10, 2010.

This feat came on the heels of the call by the incumbent Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, for a quick action to uproot the criminals who have made Abia a dark spot in the map of the world. The woman of substance, then Managing Director of the World Bank, was blunt with her comments on the evil effects of kidnapping. As the guest Speaker of Abia’s first ever economic summit held from December 6-7, 2010, she said investors dreaded Abia like a plague and would not near ‘God’s Own State’ unless efforts were galvanised to preen the state of the criminality of kidnapping and other violent crimes.

The hunting down of Osisikankwu paved the way for the military to ransack identified operational bases of the kidnappers and the flushing out of the outlaws from the state. Abia gradually returned to the path of peace. Those who fled began to return; people, once more, began to return home for festivities like Christmas and New Year while commercial activities and night life in Aba and Umuahia gradually picked up.

In his lecture recently in Accra, Ghana, Governor Orji gave an insight into how security was restored in Abia through multi-sectoral and multi-dimensional approach. He said: “My own State of Abia was for several years locked in violent crisis and criminal kidnapping, which almost crippled our state, our economy and our governance institutions. But through an integrated approach of security framework that focused on maximum policing, military force, improvement of the welfare of citizens, application of judicial and correctional measures, application of the rule of law and collective participation of the stakeholders in issues of conflicts, we have been able to restore peace and sustainable security in our state.”

Today, investors throng Abia with heavy portfolios, searching for areas of interest.

For decisively combating the pangs of kidnapping and insecurity in Abia, Governor TA Orji is now seen as the Solomon who has enormous wisdom in tackling security issues. There is no overcomer without experience, though. If those who derided the governor on account of his perceived failings to curb insecurity in Abia knew that their actions were akin to the hatred of the Joseph Brothers, they would have thought twice.

Today, Orji is cruising around the world as “Professor of Security.” First, Africa Independent Television invited the governor to its annual lecture series and he was asked to give an insight into how he was able to overcome the security challenge in Abia. This was followed by another invitation to the governor to come and speak on Security Issues at the prestigious Business Hallmark Policy Forum in Lagos.

In quick succession, the governor was honoured in Ghana as the Best Governor on Security Matters in Nigeria while Champion newspapers followed up with the Icon of Democracy award on the governor.

These are testimonies which confirm that from the ashes of every adversity emerges the crown of glory, provided the afflicted conquered or overcame the adversity.

Joseph was hated by his brothers to the point that they conspired and sold him into slavery where they had hoped he would perish. But that turned to be his stepping stone to stardom. He rose to the rank of governor in the foreign land and became the saviour of his people.

Today, Governor Orji is like the Biblical Joseph who emerged a champion from an adversity that was expected to consume him. And the applause is deafening, which to Mr. Ugochukwu  Emezue, Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, is an eloquent testimony that the governor is performing.

Abia is peaceful and secure, says Eddy Onuzulike, because the governor’s cross over to PDP was a political master stroke. Onuzulike, Special Assistant to the Governor on Print Media, noted that by joining PDP, Governor Orji, brought Abia into mainstream national politics and welded all hitherto opposing political tendencies in the state together, thereby galvanising Abia into one political family.

PDP stalwarts in Abia, including the state party chairman, Senator Emma Nwaka, believe that peace in Abia has been enhanced by the governor’s political wizardry in uniting politicians of note and heavy investments in security. Today in Abia, the phenomenon of Abuja-based politicians versus home-based politicians is history.

Today, Abia boasts a military barracks in Ohafia, rebuilt after decades of abandonment, and officers and men of the 14 Brigade are domiciled there. Their presence alone has a salutary effect and serves as great mitigating factor in sustaining security in Abia.

The Orji administration has procured and donated hundreds of fully equipped patrol vans to all security agencies in the state: the Army, Navy, Police, State Security Service and the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps.

At every forum, the governor has always made it known that he would continue to strive to sustain the existing peace in Abia. Said the governor in his Accra, Ghana, lecture: “We may not have achieved a completely free and non-violent environment in Abia State, but it is our dream that our children will inherit the same free, safe and prosperous state, that we have tried to create in Abia State.

“This will only be possible, if we continue to make policies that ensure ‘human security,’ that is, the welfare, safety and prosperity of our people, especially the youths, vulnerable women and children. This will not only restore the care value of our society, but also deal with those issues that sometimes make kidnapping and other violent crimes, preferred options.”

To achieve this and sustain the current security and peace in Abia, all hands must be on deck.

Photo: Abia Governor TA Orji.

Source: News Express

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