Tension in Onitsha over military presence, crackdown on hoodlums
By Phil Okose, Onitsha
Residents of Onitsha, the commercial nerve centre of Anambra state and other areas reportedly living in fear following heavy military deployment in the metropolis as part of the moves to checkmate security crisis in the state.
Orient Weekend gathered that the troops deployed by the Nigerian military had given marching orders to arrest members of the Eastern Security Network (ESN), the militia outfit floated by the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) in November last year.
The deployment came barely a week after rampaging gunmen attacked some police stations, killing policemen and carting away heavy arms and ammunition in the state. Last week’s attack at a police checkpoint in Neni, Anaocha local government area led to the gruesome murder of some policemen while four policemen were shot three weeks earlier at Nkpologwu in Aguata local government area.
Armed hoodlums also launched surprise attack on Mgbakwu police outpost in Awka North local government area in the early hours of March 21, 2021. The hoodlums, armed with guns and dangerous weapons had attempted to burn down the station but were successfully repelled by police personnel on duty.
The military was not spared in the last week Thursday attack as the gunmen shot soldiers at an outpost in Awkuzu, Oyi local government area in Anambra. Gunmen also shot dead a Nigerian navy personnel, Faruk Yusuf at Onitsha.
Following the recent upsurge in attacks on its facilities and personnel, the Anambra state police command declared a manhunt for the killers. The police commissioner in Anambra state, CP Monday Bala Kuryas, said the command was not deterred by the criminal actions of some unscrupulous individuals and groups in the state who were hell-bent on fomenting and unleashing violence and mayhem in the state.
“I call on Ndi-Anambra to, in unity, speak out against the unwholesome and unwarranted criminal attack on security agencies and critical infrastructure in the state. I also call on them to avail the security agencies with information that will lead to the arrest and prosecution of these criminal elements,” the CP declared.
However, the planned crackdown on criminal elements announced by Governor Willie Obiano, earlier last Sunday, quickly manifested when military personnel began to set up road blocks in many parts of Onitsha metropolis on Monday evening.
This paper further gathered that part of proactive measure against the incessant attacks by unknown gunmen on police and military personnel in parts of the state was the barricading of access routes to their stations/duty posts and formations as well as search some people, especially at the military base, as they passed by and, in some cases, force passers-by to hang their hands in the air in submission to military checkpoint authority.
In some of the police stations in Onitsha and environs, including Nnewi, vehicular traffic through the access routes to the stations is prohibited, especially at night.
During the rush hour, after close of markets in Onitsha, a trader who identified himself simply as Okeke told this paper that, “I tried to pass through the CPS/Police Area Command axis because of the heavy traffic jam at Awka Road but the road was blocked by the police with used tyres, drums and police vehicles. I had to turn back and re-join the queue. On inquiry, the people around told me it was because of the gunmen attack currently rampant in the state.
“Serious effort should be made by the state government before our state turns to a banana republic. This is an ill wind that blows nobody any good. If you have a case now or you are robbed and you make a call to the police, they will not come for fear of attack. So, it is an ugly situation that affects everybody.
Mr James Okam, a trader at Nnewi, also told this paper that, “gates of every police station are no longer open to people as it was before. You have to knock and say your mission before you are allowed in. So, security has been beefed up to avoid this attack by gunmen.”
“Personally, I am not happy with the present situation, policemen have deserted the roads and, at the Onitsha 302 Regiment, I went to see a friend and at the entrance gate, we queued up and were questioned before passage.”
An indigene of Atani, Oka Onyema, told this reporter that, “if you want to pass through the naval base in Odekpe, you have to raise your hands above your head in solidarity and those on tricycle have to alight and the tricycle pushed across by the owner before you reboard.”
“The navy was most hit by the unknown gunmen and so, we don’t blame the naval officers; after all the police have more of the loss of personnel than the military officers.”
On how to avoid a reoccurrence, he stated that, “the military should be well equipped, especially the navy because they only assist the infantry to check-mate crimes on land. Without the navy assisting in crime prevention in Anambra state, this place would have turned to a crime state.”
“The Naval Commander, Captain Innocent Udoh Udoh, has been of immense assistance to those of us living in riverine communities. Since he assumed office as the Odekpe Naval Post Commander, crime in riverine areas is almost at zero level.”
“Before he came in, pirates took over the River Niger and its surroundings and there were cases of sand dealers, tipper drivers, among others, all over the place but since his arrival, peace has been restored and residents and others now sleep with their two eyes closed.”
In his reaction, the state chairman of Civil Liberties Organisation, CLO, Comrade Vincent Ezekwueme, condemned the brutal killing of security agents and called for respect to sanctity and sacredness of human person.
“It is most despicable and detestable to mindlessly kill security men who have patriotically dedicated and devoted their lives, time and talents towards protection of lives and properties of citizens.”