Akwa Ibom State is now witnessing relative peace following the decision of the government to reorganize its security outfit to make it more effective
| By Pita Ochai | Dec. 17, 2012 @ 01:00 GMT
ANDREW Abe, spare parts dealer based in Uyo, the capital city of Akwa Ibom State, is happy to return to his business after several months of forced break. He had relocated to Ozi-Uloko, his home town in Abia State, after 15 years as a trader in Uyo. His reason for leaving was the fear of his safety in the state. In the first quarter of 2011, just a few weeks to the general elections, kidnapping, armed robbery and other social vices became rampant in the state. Abe felt the security situation could degenerate after the election and so he relocated to his village for safety. He is now back to Uyo to continue his business after nine months of absence.
Felix Iniobong, a 400-level student of the University of Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, would, for a long time, leave with the nasty experience he had in the hands of a six-man gang of kidnappers. He was kidnapped at about 7.30 pm on July 8, this year on his way home from school. After his car was forced to stop along the Uyo – Ikot Ekpene road, Iniobong was forced out, blind-folded and taken to an unknown place. He was released after three weeks by the kidnappers after they discovered that his family cannot raise the N10 million ransom placed on him.
That had been the situation faced by residents of Akwa Ibom state in the last few years. Kidnapping, armed robbery, and other social vices conspired to gradually paralyse economic and social lives in the state. Mike Etuk, director of information, ministry of information, Akwa Ibom state, agreed that the state had serious security challenges especially prior to the 2011 general elections. To him, insecurity is a normal challenge during periods of elections and Akwa Ibom state is not an exception.
According to Etuk, the establishment of ‘Operation Thunder’, a combined force of personnel drawn from different security agents in the state, by the state government has curbed the menace. He said since the established of the security outfit after the 2011 general election, many of the criminals have been arrested.
Before now, hardly a week passed without an incidence of armed robbery, kidnaping or assassination. On August 8, this year, there were two kidnap incidents in the state within 24 hours in Oron, located in the southern part of the state. In one incident, the criminals abducted Agnes Uwe, a resident of the town, at about 2 a.m. from her home at 23, Eyoakan street, Oron. Her kidnappers used sledgehammers and other tools to forcefully gain access into the building that was just a few meters away from the Nigeria police divisional headquarters. Despite the nearness of the police station to the house, the men of the Nigeria police failed to provide help after several distress calls made to them when the incident was taking place. The kidnappers demanded a ransom of N15 million to free their hostage. She was later freed after an undisclosed amount of ransom was paid.
The second kidnap incident took place at about 10 p.m. the same day. The kidnappers seized Mary Abia, the proprietor of Bekons Hotel and the women leader of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, Urueoffong/Oruku community in Oron. Abia was abducted from her residence at 13 Etienam Street in Oron, and taken to an undisclosed location. There was no demand for ransom like in the case of Abia. This raised the suspicion that the act was connected with power play within the ruling party for the control of the local government in Oron communities.
Oron has been a flashpoint of kidnap cases. In June, assailants assassinated a local government council chairman, just before council polls took place. In October last year, the police in Eket Division shot and killed seven kidnap suspects. It was later learnt that the suspected kidnappers were executed by the police in cold blood. This raised concerns about the legal powers of the police to act as investigators, prosecutors, judges and executioners of judgments.
Onyeka Orji, police spokesman in Akwa Ibom, agreed that the state had experienced some security challenges and that they were being overcome. To him, in the last six months, several kidnappers and armed robbers had been arrest and that they are facing trial through the effort of the state police. A total of 48 suspected kidnappers and armed robbers are presently facing trial in court. Among some of the suspected kidnappers arraigned in court were two men of the Nigeria police. The two policemen were accused of abating crimes in the state. The suspects are Saturday Okorie and Friday Udoh, both corporals in the Nigeria police, and Walter Udo, Udo Etim, Etido Nyong, Edem Okon, Udo Akpaetuk and Umoh Ukpong.
The seven accused persons were alleged to have masterminded the kidnapping of one Mohammed Umaru, also known as Umaru Barkindo at a village in Ibesikpo Asutan local government area of the state on November 25, 2011. Augustine Etefia, a chieftain of Akwa Ibom state Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, insisted that the government of Godswill Obot Akpabio, used violence to intimidate his opponents during the 2011 general elections. To him, the violence and criminal activities were initiated in the state by the ruling PDP to intimidate its opponents. He said that most of those attacked by the criminals were mostly members of the opposition in the state. “If it is true, according to the government that criminal activities have reduced in the state then it is because the ruling party feels that there is no election at stake for now,” he said.
To Archibong Peter, a psychologist, the creation of employment opportunities for the youths is the best and permanent way to check crimes and other social vices in the society. He said that the use of force as the Akwa Ibom state government is doing now would only bring a temporary solution to the problem. But when the youths are gainfully employed, crimes and other social vices would automatically reduce because they would have been able to put their brains into positive productive use.