In front of me on my table as I am writing this short article is a widely published report in the media about the kidnap and subsequent murder of the immediate past Anambra State Commissioner for Science and Technology, Mr Chike Okoli, by an unknown gang which in the later part of May, 2014, abducted him in Agulu, Anaocha Local Government Area of the state. Mr Okoli succeeded my townsman, Chief Aloysius Egwuatu, about two years ago in the Peter Obi administration which ended last March 17.Chike was killed while his family was still negotiating the kidnappers’ demand for ransom. May his gentle soul rest in peace. The Okoli family of Nanka in Orumba South Local Government Area of Anambra State is somewhat better than that of Chief John Nzewi, a most lively entrepreneur from Nnewi and a leader of the Igbo community in Lagos, who two years ago died in the custody of the heartless kidnappers, yet the abductors went ahead to collect a hefty sum from the family. The family did not know that he had already given up the ghost.
I am a proud son of Anambra State, but this is not the time to live in denial about some security challenges confronting our dear state. We do have a considerable challenge. Dr Emma Nnamah, the second chief executive of the National Communication Commission (NCC) was last April assassinated in Nibo, Awka Local Government Area, while attending a meeting for the burial of his auntie, whose husband, Dr Phillip Ezekwe, was one of the first Eastern Nigerian medical doctors. This is why it is perplexing to see some Nigerians query the new Anambra State governor, Chief Willie Obianor, on his choice of security in the state as a priority. I hate to say it, but it is a known fact that some wealthy Anambra indigenes have not been home for years since kidnapping became a business in the state, a business accentuated by the fact that the state is essentially composed of successful business persons and worsened the tremendous use of raw cash in transaction. Many of those who still go home return with large retinues of security aides. It is a profound irony that some Anambrarians should feel safer outside their state. This development has profound development and investment implications for the state.
While watching the Channels Television 10pm news on May 16, 2014, I was struck by the report that the police had arrested 11 kidnappers in Governor Obianor’s hometown of Aguleri, with the governor personally leading the demolition of three houses built in a remote part of the town for the sole purpose of keeping their victims until ransom was paid. The demolitions were consistent with a law made during the Governor Obi administration authorizing the authorities to quickly bring down all structures used or owned by criminals. As the Aguleri-based kidnappers were to confess before the media, they built the bungalows overnight so that their own places of abode would not be destroyed if their preys were found in them. The abductors, who are mostly non-indigenes but attracted to Anambra State because of the huge cash flow, abandoned robbery for kidnapping for ransom because the latter has long demonstrated to be far more lucrative!
It is appropriate that Chief Obiano has taken the war against criminals to his own roots. The message is clear: there will be no sacred cows. This action may be called leadership by personal example. As the great Professor Chinua Achebe has noted in the slim but fantastic book, The Trouble With Nigeria, our greatest national tragedy is the gross failure of the political class “to lead by personal example which is the hallmark of great leadership” throughout history and all over the world.
Governor Obiano’s anti-crime war actually commenced in the historic and commercial city of Onitsha, precisely on the long and boisterous Upper Iweka Road where all manner of armed bandits operated for decades in broad daylight with, of course, impunity. They were operating even with well armed police teams just a few metres away! The general belief is that they were in cahoots with security men, a practice known as agbata eke, that is, an understanding that the police would be rewarded with their own share of the booty, which was obtained in many cases through spilling human blood. Today, Upper Iweka has become synonymous with peace, safety and security. What an irony!
Like all Anambrians, I was pleased to know from the media that at the 73rd birthday anniversary of the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Alfred Nnaemeka Achebe, on May 22, 2014, the governor promised to extend the fight to all 177 communities in the state. At the ceremony where a book on the revered traditional ruler was presented, Obianor warned traditional rulers against conferring titles on shady characters. Obianor is dead right. One of Nigeria’s greatest maladies is the ruination of values. We have seen all sorts of people bestowed with not just traditional titles but also national honours in recent times, with some holding high public offices. A person who was in 1999 disqualified at the last minute from obtaining an honorary doctoral degree of the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, Imo State, for security reasons is now a serving senator. Former Deputy Inspector General of Police Nuhu once stated on the floor of the Senate that he was shocked to see in the Senate certain persons whom he had arrested for serious crimes when he was in service. No wonder, a member of the National Assembly was successfully prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for heinous advance free fraud, popularly called 419 in Nigeria because the offence comes under section 419 of the country’s criminal code.
Sceptics wonder if Gov Obianor’s onslaught against violent crime in Anambra State will be sustained. They are justified to raise this fear. After all, his predecessor started a similar war at the inception of his administration but abandoned it midstream in the face of growing criticism by professional do-gooders who were undeservedly holding the banner of human rights. My honest response to the query of the campaign’s sustainability is in the affirmative. I do not think that Obianor’s crusade is a brainwave. Prior to the campaign, he held a high profile security summit in the state capital within two weeks of assuming office, which was personally attended by Inspector general Mohammed Abubakar and internationally renowned security experts from Israel. Also important to acknowledge is that he is working in conjunction with religious and community leaders. Every security successful security campaign must enjoy the support of the people. The Bakassi Boys campaign, primitive as it was, was exceedingly successful in routing out criminals from Anambra and Abia states because the people had confidence in the operations, unlike the Nigerian police believed by many to be untrustworthy with sensitive intelligence reports.
Gov Obiano has begun well with his “Operation Mkpochapu”, or Clean-up, which has dovetailed into a campaign to restore the environmental integrity and aesthetics of the state. The operation must succeed in our own individual and collective and interest. Other state governors should borrow a leaf from the Obiano initiative. If only the Northern governors had taken security as seriously as Obianor is doing, the Boko Haram would not have grown into a national and even transnational monster.
Ezeaka, lawyer, economist and ex banker, is president general of Ihiala Progress Union, Anambra State.