Abia State Governor, Dr. Alex Otti, on Thursday rose to the occasion as the chief security officer of the state, wading into the face-off between security agencies and traders at Ariaria International Market, Aba.
Ariaria had become deserted after two policemen were murdered by some yet to be identified gunmen on Tuesday on Faulks Road, leading into the market and their guns taken away by their assailants.
The tragic incident involved a senior government functionary, Commissioner for Trade, Commerce and Industry, Dr. Chimezie Ukaegbu, who was on official assignment to Ariaria Market and got caught up in the melee.
Even though Ukaegbu escaped unhurt, one of the policemen attached to him and another by the roadside were gunned down by the criminals, who promptly took away their guns and escaped.
A combined team of military, police and civil defence corps subsequently cordoned off the crime scene. But there were allegations of torture and molestation of innocent traders, passers-by and residents as the security agencies scout the area in search of the criminal gang.
The emergency situation, compounded by the security operation in the area, led to the traders staying away from their shops and residents locking up themselves in their compounds to avoid being molested.
It, however, took the intervention of Governor Otti, who visited the crime scene on Faulks Road to thaw the ice.
Traders and residents, who had been frightened away from the major road and the market by the presence of armed and fierce looking security men in the area, were emboldened and came out.
They cheered and sang the Governor’s praise as the state chief executive officer and some security chiefs, including the Commissioner of Police, Kene Onwuemelie and the Commander of the 14 Brigade Nigerian Army, Ohafia, Brig Gen NJ Edet took a tour of the deserted neighbourhood.
Addressing pockets of the traders, who thronged the market, Gov Otti reassured them that the presence of the security agencies was for their protection. He warned them to be of good behaviour and cooperate with the security men as they search for the criminals.
“It’s unfortunate that some criminals attacked policemen here two days ago, and in response, there was a reprisal attack. Unfortunately, reprisal attacks as I have often said always end up with the wrong people because the criminals would probably have run away.
“We must track down the criminals.
“Having noticed that you closed your shops in fear, I have come to reassure you that you shouldn’t fear. Please open your shops.
“Any security man you see, whether police, army, DSS or civil defence, they have come to give you protection not to attack you. So, we will continue in the search for the criminals because we will not allow criminals to distract us.
“We have a lot of work that we’re doing already and no criminal would be stronger than government, we will track them down. We will also use this opportunity to warn anyone that wants to get involved in criminal activities. We’re going to deal with them, we will flush them out.
“So, go about your lawful business, open your shops, you’ll be protected and no one will molest you,” Governor Otti assured.