UNKNOWN GUNMEN SAGA; ANAMBRA GOVERNMENT TO FIGHT BACK.
Insecurity in the Anambra State of Nigeria has reached a worrisome point, especially with seven local government areas of the Anambra South Zone under siege. The incessant tales of killings, abductions and even beheading have turned the once vibrant state into a shadow of itself, while it seems security agencies are overwhelmed despite measures by the state government.
In March 2021, when gunmen attacked Isuofia, Aguata Local Government Area during an event by the then governorship aspirant of All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, Prof Chukwuma Soludo, killing three of his security aides, it was obvious that the governorship election which was coming in November of that year would be a hard battle. Many attributed the attack to politics, especially by opposition politicians.
But after the primary election, rather than a decrease the tempo of attack increased, further fueling speculations that the attacks had political connotations. Gun-totting young men and women ceased to operate only in the border areas of the state but entered right in the heart of major towns like Nnewi, Onitsha, Ekwulobia and Ihiala.
They operated freely, killing at will, abducting many, and snatching vehicles for their operations. Though no one was sure of their identity, there were indications that the attackers were members of the separatist group, Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
The accusation came out almost true as most of those attacked, who came out alive said the attackers always harped on the incarceration of the leader of IPOB, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu.
Incidences of attack continued to the level where the hoodlums warned that their attacks will now be targeted at politicians. They warned that people should remove political parties’ insignia from their cars to avoid attacks. True to their words, during the campaign period for the governorship, many politicians were attacked, including a member of the House of Representatives, Hon Chris Azubogu, and the candidate of the Labour Party, Mr. Obiora Agbasimelo, who was kidnapped, and up till date, no mention of him has been heard.
Husband of late former Minister of Information, Prof Dora Akunyili, Dr. Chike Akunyili also fell victim to the mindless attacks by the gunmen. Akunyili was killed in Onitsha, shortly after he had picked a posthumous award for his late wife. Driving in a black Prado jeep with a security aide, Akunyili was mistaken for a politician according to eyewitnesses, and a hail of bullets was pumped into his face. His police orderly and one other person who was travelling in the car with him were also killed. All these made everyone believe truly that the killings may have to do with politics.
MONDAY SIT-AT-HOME AND PERSISTENT KILLING.
The activities of the gunmen however continued after the election held in November of 2021. Though there was a little reduction in the tempo of killing, news of the activities of gunmen continued, even though it was reduced to only Mondays, which despite the call off of the Monday sit at home has continued to be enforced by urchins.
To ensure that the Monday sit at home continued to be observed, the gunmen usually instill fear in the people either through Sunday attacks or early Monday morning attacks on unsuspecting people going to their businesses. The attacks usually circulate widely and instill fear in residents of the state, who inadvertently sit back at home, leaving the streets empty.
AN ATTEMPT FOR PEACE BY GOVERNOR SOLUDO.
The coming of Prof Chukwuma Soludo as governor of Anambra State on March 17, 2022, seemed like one that stirred the hornet's nest. Despite devoting a sizeable part of his inaugural address to appeal to criminals to dump their nefarious operations and also offering them an olive branch, the activities of gunmen in the state shot up astronomically.
First, Soludo abolished the Monday sit at home after declaring a day’s prayers and fasting, which was marked with a Catholic mass. As if to announce that they were stronger, the level of killing rose, with attacks coming in various parts of the state on a daily basis. While some were killed, others were taken hostage and ransom demanded, while the “lucky” victims had their vehicles seized to be used for their heinous operations, and others were dispossessed of various valuables.
EXTENSION OF CRIMINAL NETWORK IN SEVEN LGAs
Many say the seven local government areas that makeup Anambra South Senatorial District are now the strong base of the criminals. Sources said that in some communities in Nnewi South Local government, indigenes have to pay fees to criminals if they want to hold any social activities. Communities like Ukpor, Ezinifite, Azia, Lilu and others also harbour camps for the gunmen, from where they come out to conduct operations.
In some of the communities, the criminals have in coordinated operations mopped up guns in the communities, which were purchased for vigilante operatives which have put the villages in danger as they can no longer defend themselves and many communities in the local government area were affected by the development, which explains why the various communities can no longer resist the invasion of the gunmen in the area.
A TYPICAL DAY IN ANAMBRA
At the moment, a typical day in Anambra is seemingly not complete without news of killings, attacks, abductions and dispossession of properties. Last two weeks, bad news flowed in torrents in Anambra. At about 7 am on Friday two weeks ago citizens of the state who were going to their places of work reported that a headless corpse was sighted at Nnobi-Alor-Nkpor road. While security operatives moved and retrieved the corpse, which was discovered to be that of the kidnapped Anambra lawmaker, Hon Okechukwu Okoye, the news of the discovery of three fresh heads broke again at about 6pm. The heads were discovered at Chisco Park in Amichi, Nnewi South LGA. The heads were said to be those of the slain lawmaker, his aide, Cyril Chiegboka and one other person.
On the same day, news of attacks at Onitsha Tollgate, Ogbunike/Nkwelle Junction, Eke Adazi Nnukwu, Ogidi, Aforigwe, Umunnachi, Oraukwu, Agulu and Nanka were heard. In all the attacks mentioned above, people also lost their lives.
MYSTERY OVER GUNMEN IDENTITY
Repeatedly, the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB has denied that its members are responsible for the attacks in the state. Though there are many pointers to the fact that those perpetrating the attacks were also involved in separatist struggle or used it as a smokescreen, both the Anambra State Governor, Prof Soludo and the state police command have insisted that the attackers are common criminals, to whom their operations is purely a money-making venture.
While the State Police Commissioner, CP Echeng Echeng believes that the men are indigenous members of communities in Anambra, the governor believes that the men are not Indigenes, even though they are Igbo.
CP Echeng in an interview said there was nothing unknown about the gunmen terrorizing the state to warrant the tag of ‘unknown gunmen’ as the criminals have come to be known. He decried what he called a conspiracy of silence by residents of various communities, who he said have not provided enough information for the dislodging of criminals in their various hideouts.
He said: “We have been saying unknown gunmen is not the right name for these criminals. We are trying to mystify something that is not just there. It is time we go into demystifying those people. These people are not spirits, they live with us, they are our nephews, our cousins, our brothers, and they live in communities. We know who they are. The problem of security is that of total silence, nobody sees something, nobody hears something and nobody says something.
“Security is collective and everyone has a part to play. Crimes are localized, and they happen in our communities. We should be able to come up with information about what is happening in our communities, not glorifying them and tagging them as unknown gunmen, otherwise, we will end up not making headways. We know them, we have arrested some of them and they are human beings. I want us to also shift the narrative that these criminals are Fulani. We have arrested some and taken out some during gun duels.
“So, when the community who should help to contribute to security decide to stay quiet, that is not a good sign. Last week, a person I didn’t know told me that a team of gunmen was operating at Umunze in a Hummer Jeep, I sent a team after them, and we were told they have moved to Umuchu and we pursued them and were able to take out four of them. I don’t know the man who gave me the information, but we used the information to fight the criminals. That black Hummer Jeep you see there (pointing to it) was recovered from the criminals. You can see what information can do. That is how powerful information is, and we expect people to give information,” Echeng said.
Also in Awka, cult activities have reached an alarming height, with several killings already registered. Recently in Ifite area of Awka, a clash between cultists and vigilante operatives left four vigilante operatives dead. It was gathered that vigilante operatives had weeks back killed and set ablaze a cultist in the area, which is close to the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, and fellow cultists had mobilized to avenge the death of their member, leading to a massive shootout that lasted for hours, sending residents of the area to early sleep, even before bedtime.
In Ekwulobia, a gang of four boys who were said to be residents in Oko, Orumba North are said to have devised a way of eating free food every day. Knowing already the fear-soaked atmosphere in the state, the boys walk into any restaurant to eat food without paying, after which they threaten the restaurant owner for coming out on a day that has been declared sit at home. They were however recently apprehended by some residents of Ekwulobia, where they confessed that they were just taking advantage of the fear already instilled in the people by the daily killings.
EFFORTS OF THE STATE GOVERNMENT
As part of efforts to stem the tide of insecurity in the state, the state governor, Prof Soludo has moved to restore calm in the state. Though many argue that it took the killing and beheading of the lawmaker representing him in the Anambra State House of Assembly, Hon Okechukwu Okoye, his aide, Cyril Chiegboka and a huge outcry over the killing of a pregnant woman and her four children to move him.
Soludo in a state-wide broadcast made on Wednesday evening declared curfew in eight local government areas of the state with effect from Thursday, 26th May 2022. He said: “A 6pm to 6am curfew is hereby placed on motorcycles (okada), tricycles (Keke), and shuttle buses in Aguata, Ihiala, Ekwusigo, Nnewi North, Nnewi South, Ogbaru, Orumba North and Orumba South Local Governments until further notice. Until further notice also, motorcycles, Keke and shuttle buses are banned from operating in these local governments on Mondays until the Sit-at-Home completely stops.
“The youths of every community in the zone are hereby enjoined to assist the security agencies in the implementation of this policy and are mandated to seize any such motorcycle or tricycle on the spot.
“Local Vigilantes should report such motorcycles or tricycles (Keke) immediately, and they will be confiscated by the government and the owner prosecuted. The Okada, Keke, and shuttle bus union leaders must take responsibility to report their members who are involved in criminal activities. We shall review this after two weeks, and if members of these unions continue to be involved in criminal activities, the government will have no choice but to either disband the Unions and/or ban them out rightly in the state.”
Referring to criminal gangs in the state, Soludo said: “The tiny but vicious gangs that have invaded our state and terrorising us are mostly in eight local governments in Anambra and three neighboring local governments in Imo State. They are in our forests, communities, and houses owned by individuals. They don’t come from the air and hence are not “unknown” gunmen. They are known. You know them, but are either too scared to speak up or out of indifference. But for how long will you be silent while our people continue to be killed in the cruelest and most barbaric manner?
“The security agencies will continue to do their part, but we the people, must proclaim that Enough is Enough and demonstrate full ownership.”
As part of ways to curb the menace, Soludo unveiled more phone numbers to be used by citizens of the state to report suspected cases of crime. He also added no part of Anambra State shall be used as camps for criminals, and anyone with a gun in a camp will be considered a criminal in Anambra State, and the government and people will work with security agencies to flush them out.
He said that the state government would also revoke and acquire any land found to be harboring criminals, while every community is required to provide information on any part of their land occupied by these criminals as camps, and if the community fails to do so, the government will take over such land.
He said the same applies to any buildings found to be harboring kidnappers and murderers who have laid siege on the state, while hotels are to find a way to get the identity of lodgers seeking their accommodation, fuels stations are to install CCTV cameras and keep their recordings, which will be demanded by security agencies, during investigation.
“Security is collective and everyone has a part to play. Crimes are localized, and they happen in our communities. We should be able to come up with information about what is happening in our communities, not glorifying them and tagging them as unknown gunmen otherwise we will end up not making headways. We know them, we have actually arrested some of them and they are human beings”. he said.