I eased my car into Mmahu-Egbema last week Sunday as fierce looking police officers of the Operation Rescue team in the middle of the road signalled me to pull over. I rolled down my window, greeting one of the officers with a “morning.” “Do you live here? Where are you coming from? Who is the owner of the car” the officer asked.”I live here” I replied. For me, I have nothing to hide. The officer circled the vehicle. A long assault rifle dangled at his side. After a few more questions and checking of my particulars, he let me drive on. Such checkpoints are not part of daily activities in Mmahu, the Headquarter of Ohaji/Egbema Local Government Area of Imo state.
Ohaji /Egbema LGA has a population of more than 200,000 persons. The brief anxiety that I encountered with the policemen was as a result of a kidnap incident. Gunmen the night before, kidnapped Dr John Udogu , a prominent Medical Doctor in Mmahu-Egbema . Udogu was reportedly forced into a vehicle near his house. With the help of the community Vigilante group in Mmahu and the Operation Rescue patrol team two of the kidnappers were caught and Dr Udogu was freed. Efforts are on to get the rest of the kidnap gang.
Criminals practice kidnapping to demand for a ransom to make money. Economic kidnapping is one of the fastest growing criminal industries. Kidnappers primarily target wealthy businesspersons. However, occasionally these gangs target Western and other foreign citizens. The kidnappers sometimes abduct their victims from urban areas and transport them to rural areas while they conduct negotiations. They use more violence to frighten those negotiating to pay up quickly. Some of the victims are murdered after ransom negotiations.
As the Christmas trees are being lit, fools who are driven by animalistic instincts will take to crimes such as kidnapping and armed robbery so as to keep up with the Joneses. Yes, the red and green garlands are beginning to appear at the entrance of buildings. Phones are now blaring Christmas carol when they ring. We are indeed winding up activities for that all important Christmas. One big question in the mind of Imo people abroad remains whether the Imo State government is winning the war against kidnapping. True, So many Ndi-Imo abroad have asked me this question.
As a man who have severally criticised Owelle Rochas Okorocha the executive governor of Imo State over kidnapping in the state, I can now say comfortably YES. Imo state government is stopping criminals in their tracks. Imo has chalked up major victories and from the look of things will continue to do so. I say this because of the initiated strategies aimed at reducing the level of crime. Among the initiated strategies are the strengthening of vigilante policing structures all over our communities and putting up stronger law against kidnapping and crimes. Imo has put a law which empower the state to acquire and destroy properties belonging to kidnappers.
I must confess that this new tactics, this new measures of Governor Okorocha are measures in the right direction. These measures are welcome development in the state. I must commend him in this robust and determined war on kidnapping that has great prospect of success. This new law on kidnapping and crimes in Imo state has seen significant achievements. The houses of a notorious criminal in Mgbidi, Oru West and another accomplice from Otulu, also in Oru West were demolished recently. The house of a prominent traditional ruler Eze Cosmas Onyeneke the Ekwueme IV of Lagwa Okwuato in Aboh Mbaise local government area of Imo State was destroyed. The house of a notorious kidnapper said to be a relation of a Traditional Ruler from Orlu Local Government was also demolished. Onyeneke’s factory premises was a safe haven for kidnappers.Another family in Orlu got their house demolished because their son was involved in kidnapping.
Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the violent hand of kidnapping to say, “Wait, this new law is too harsh.” But when you have seen kidnappers kill your loved ones because you can’t afford the ransom ; when you have seen hate filled criminals beat , kick and even rape your sister; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t see her mummy again because she was kidnapped and killed, and see tears welling up in her eyes then you will understand why harsh action on kidnappings and crime are necessary.
While I express my satisfaction with the government’s performance in this war against kidnapping , I must admit that there are still a lot of work ahead in making sure that the vigilante police system function effectively. We still need to provide more facilities to our Vigilante groups such as batons, handcuffs, uniforms, walkie-talkie radios, crowd dispersers, licensed riffles and vehicles to enable them to respond to calls in time. Their salary should be stepped up a little. They need to be equipped properly and remunerated very well. You will discover that it has become extremely difficult for robbers to invade communities at night in any part of Imo state. It is as a result of community effort at policing. We should make them to assist the police during the day. If adequate incentives are provided for Vigilante personnel, they would discharge their responsibilities effectively.
Community policing is very important. Community Policing remains the best security tool to stamp out all shades of criminal practices that has been existing at the grassroots of the state. The people perpetrating the various shades of crimes are resident of the various communities. This system of community policing would usher in a healthier, peaceful co-existence amongst the communities guaranteeing people to sleep with two eyes closed. Law enforcement agencies and communities are in this together. Time-tested relationships and informed understanding of communities and police will reinforce this. Experienced officers recognize that engagement and partnerships between police and the communities consistently bring about success in the fight against crimes. The people are watching.
-Kenneth Uwadi, Mmahu-Egbema, Imo State, Nigeria