Following the abduction of unspecified number of Abia State University students (later said to be one) and others (still unspecified) on Wednesday, May 5, 2021 by yet-to-be identified armed hoodlums within the hours of 7pm to 8 pm along Okigwe-Uturu express road (bend).
Foundation for Environmental Rights Advocacy and Development, FENRAD, a pro-democracy and human rights advocacy group, having obtained, seen and studied various positions both those of Abia State government and others as seen in available releases and reportorial press and text contents, wishes to lend its voice to the issue at hand at such ideal time as now.
The Foundation wishes to remind governments at all levels that their core and fundamental duties and primary objectives are still the ”protection of lives and properties” and ensuring ”security and welfare” of not only their citizens but aliens lawfully living within their territorial spaces.
FENRAD is worried that up till now, the said student and others taken along with him/her have yet to be released even as nothing has been heard about them or their whereabouts.
This should not linger, FENRAD tells both federal and state governments of Abia and Imo.
Colloquially known by varsity students as “the ring road”, the Okigwe-Uturu road (bend) poses serious threat with gullies and hills on both sides and was at a time in a very bad condition.
This road, FENRAD says, is a road connecting Abia State to Imo State and therefore one that requires a federal presence! With Nigerian Correctional Services facility, a military checkpoint and police station along that bend, FENRAD worries how a student and other passengers could be taken into custody within the coordinates of the area and yet no lead or trace has been established after two to three days.
The fact that federal and state governments all share revenues monthly as national and subnational governments to perform their duties – chiefest of which is to safeguard lives and properties of citizens and aliens – means that the same governments should also share the blame in same way and proportion, FENRAD says.
While it is not time to heap blames on governments and their (security) agencies, FENRAD believes that a road or bend – as it were – that falls within the sphere of the three governments mentioned should never be kidnappers’ playing field, let alone when such road leads to a university at a time when universities have become themselves a leading soft target for bandits, Boko Haram, kidnappers and their like.
Recent happenings across the length and breadth of the nation, especially in her northern part, should have served a notice on all subnational governments to up the security situation on campuses within states.
This should have been preemptive action unlike what Abia and Imo State are doing now – reactive action. From Kankara to Nasarawa and thence Greenfield University to College of Forestry and Mechanisation Afaka both in Kaduna State, kidnapping of students is now a “handsome” industry in the nation; an ugly trend.
Abia State University, it should be noted, is located within 15-20 minutes drive from Akara-Isuikwuato road which only last year was in the news with cases of kidnapping allegedly by armed herdsmen and those the state government through its release stated where not from Abia.
With the recent surge in kidnapping of varsity students by armed men, it requires that a school like ABSU is secure at all times given its proximity to this axis.
Having seen the release by the Igbo apex cultural group, Ohaneze Ndigbo, FENRAD agrees that the issue poses serious threat to the Southeast but does not think it is wise to conclude that the abductors (whose style Ohaneze’s release named ”Northern-Nigeria styled”) must have come from the North. This does not however establish that the abductors are otherwise as stated by Ohaneze.
The point that there is a Fulani community at Lokpanta also raises concern because it is easy for the ranks of these Fulanis to be infiltrated by bad elements of the same tribe; the security lull where police and other security agencies have become targets could also be the reason why the said kidnapping went without detection from the point of operation up till now; the bushy and hilly nature of the Okigwe-Uturu bend also does not make things any lighter.
Again, Okigwe is a town peopled by all manner of persons from diverse backgrounds with motorcycle operators mostly from the North and sometimes from outside Nigeria, and given also that the town is one of the four places – together with school hostels, Upgate and Uturu – where university students live with lots of activities, both good and ugly, high, one cannot establish whether the abductors themselves are students or what.
Though chances of students being the abductors, are slim, FENRAD is of the view that no area be spared of intelligence focus as Imo and Abia State combinedly work towards ensuring the “safe return” of the student and others.
The reasonably logical thing is to debrief the two female students who were lucky enough to escape from the lion’s mouth and get reasonable clues that help tracing and tracking of these criminal elements, whoever they are.
This should also spur the five regional governors to action. Heretofore, the governors of the region have not tagged along other regions in localising or regionalising security outfit to help the law enforcement agencies with intelligence as is happening in other regions.
While the five governors flagged off the Ebube Agu outfit, not much has been heard of the group and the governors, as it were, seem to be resting on their oars.
Like Ohanaeze Ndigbo opined, there need to be harmony worked out between the Ebube Agu and Eastern Security Network, ESN towards ensuring there is regional peace, relatively.
When in 2019/20 His Excellency Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, PhD came up with the novel initiative of Ministry of Homeland Security, FENRAD joined other well-meaning Abians and Nigerians to congratulate His Excellency on that feat.
The men of the ministry were able, FENRAD recalls, to intercept truckload of Almajirai being shipped to Abia from the North in the heat and first wave of the pandemic.
But today, after recruitment of some personnel, not much has been heard about such a strategic ministry and its activities, as it were, seem to have tailed off.
FENRAD urges the Abia State government to see to boosting the activities of the ministry it created for the purpose of forest and border guard operations and as well urge the regional governors to do the needful leveraging the Police Act 2020 which allows for community policing since security is a collective responsibility.
This becomes more logical following the fact that entry and exit points of the region, just as those of the nation, are bare flanks lying fallowed, unmanned and are as such prone to invasion, incursion and infiltration.
Lastly, FENRAD urges Abia State Government to, in the interest of peace, summon a statewide security dialogue and summit involving all and major critical stakeholders from security heads stationed in the state to traditional, religious leaders.
Security deserves a bottom-up approach in which case it starts first from the locals than the current down-top arrangement where vertically, its foundation is standing on its head (the federal government) than on its feet (the state and local governments). A pyramid does not stand on its tip or top but its base and so should security too.
The time to act is now and so the affected governments must live up to the challenge before it gets late. If this ugly situation sees light of further days, FENRAD fears, it could become a regional norm for Southeast.
As our elders said, evil if condoned becomes tradition. Let those in whose custody entrustment of security has been see that this evil captivity does not linger.
Comrade Nelson Nnanna Nwafor
FENRAD Executive Director