Contrary to general assumption, the smashing of kidnappers’ hideouts in parts of Anambra State is far from bringing an end to the criminal enterprise in the South East, as more of such dens have been discovered in the region.
Saturday Sun investigations showed that the Umunneochi/Lokpanata axis of Abia State, Mbano/Mbaise and Isi-Uzo areas of Imo and Enugu States, respectively, harbour notorious camps of kidnappers.
It was also gathered that bandits operating in the Umunneochi and Isi-Uzo are majorly herders.
Accounts of survivors of their dastardly attacks revealed that these criminals work hand in gloves with natives of such communities.
One of their latest escapades was the abduction of seven indigenes of Isiugwu Ohafia, in Ohafia Local Government Area of Abia State on Saturday, June 25, 2022, along the notorious Umunneochi section of the Enugu-Port Harcourt expressway.
Though four of the abductees were initially freed by their abductors to go home and quickly mobilise ransom for the release of their remaining kinsmen, it was learnt that the captives regained their freedom within the week after some ransom was delivered.
The foregoing incident occurred at the same area where the Prelate of the Methodist Church of Nigeria, Dr Samuel Kanu-Uche and some of his clerics and assistants were abducted few weeks ago with N100million ransom paid. Indigenes of the area insist that a web consisting of security operatives including soldiers and Fulani herders was responsible for the nefarious acts. It was also discovered that their methods and tactics were almost similar notwithstanding the gang and where they operated.
In Enugu State, at least four indigenes of Ikem community in Isi-Uzo local government area have been abducted in the past two weeks with different sums of ransom paid for their release.
The victims were the Catechist of Saint James Catholic Church, Ishioroto-Ikem Lawrence Ndu; an Italy-based evangelist, Emeka Odo, his brother Ikechukwu Odo; and the most recent victim, Ejike Agbodo, a commercial bus driver who was abducted while on duty along Ikem-Benue State road.
Narrating his experience, the Italy-based evangelist, Emeka Odo disclosed that the over 10 kidnappers who abducted them along Ikem- Obollo Afor road were all Fulani that wielded AK-47 rifles. Odo who quickly went back to his base shortly after he regained freedom, narrated that they were flagged down in their car, commandeered into the bush and were taken through bush tracks to Eha-Amufu and Benue State border, adding that they paid ransom before they were freed.
Odo said that his abductors spoke Hausa and Fulfulde languages, claiming that most of them came from Niger Republic. Evangelist Odo told Saturday Sun that the criminals claimed that the have run a ring around the Eastern parts of the country. “They told us that they own all bush paths from Delta to all parts of South East and that they do anything they want to do,” he said.
He also revealed that even people from Benue State who were kidnapped were brought to their bush camp in Eha-Amufu, Enugu State, where he said the kidnappers had sacked the indigenes. The spate of insecurity in the Eha-Amufu area of Isi-Uzo, Enugu State has continued to be a source of concern as several farmers have lost their lives with many others chased out of their farm settlements by marauding herders.
In January this year, an attack at Abor Community in Eha-Amufu, claimed one life with three others critically wounded. About two weeks earlier, Saturday Sun gathered that armed herders attacked Mgbuji farm settlements, also in the local government, resulting in the death of at least three farmers while the herders relocated to another farm settlement in Abor.
Precisely on January 27, at least six persons were feared dead following an attack by suspected herdsmen at a farm settlement in Mgbuji and Ebo, Eha-Amufu. It was further gathered that the particular attack lasted about eight hours.
A community leader in Mgbuji, Eric Ebeh had confirmed the attack at the period. Then on March 26, 2022, six persons, including pregnant women, were again killed in another attack by suspected herdsmen in Mgbuji and Ebo autonomous communities in Eha-Amufu.
Many residents of the communities were also said to be missing while houses and motorcycles were burnt during the attack on seven farm settlements. Trouble started when youths of the area chased some herders out of their farms for allegedly allowing their cows to destroy hectares of cassava plantation. In the ensuing struggle between the youth and the herders, some cows were reportedly killed, causing the herdsmen to launch a reprisal.
They were said to have invaded the settlements with AK-47 rifles and shot indiscriminately. Expressing his frustration, a community source had said: “After soldiers left the community for about four days, the Fulani herdsmen launched the attack on Thursday. When we heard rumours that they were preparing to invade our communities, we promptly alerted the police and the military.
“What we don’t know is why all the soldiers deployed to the settlements were withdrawn. I must tell you that except one soldier from the South-South, all the soldiers deployed to the community were northern Muslims. On one of the occasions, they even opened fire on our local vigilantes who were patrolling the settlements to repel attacks by the invaders.
“So, the herders came in full force and killed many people and burnt houses and property. There is high tension here. As we speak, we have recovered bodies of six people that were killed and so many are missing.”
Between January and March, no fewer than seven brutal attacks had been launched on the agrarian community. It was learnt that one of the victims, Ejike Odo, got a report that his sister who went to the farm was attacked by herdsmen while she was returning from farm, and he rushed to the farm to rescue her.
“Unfortunately, the herdsmen who were about four overpowered him, stabbed him several times before slitting his throat,” a community leader who gave his name as Justus Nwonye said. Also in May, 2022, suspected herdsmen reportedly killed a young man in Okpulugwu Agu-Amede community in Eha-Amufu.
Also, no fewer than six pilgrims were on Sunday, June 19, abducted near a Monastery at Ibite Awhum community in Udi Local Government Area of Enugu State, when some gunmen suspected to be Fulani invaded the town. However, sources from the community said that help came the way of the victims following a joint operation of forest guards from Udi and Enugu East Local Government Councils.
While the skirmishes involving the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) sponsored Eastern Security Network (ESN) continued in the Orlu Senatorial District of Imo State and extending to Ihiala in Anambra State, kidnapping has upped in the Mbano/Mbaise areas of the state. Some of their camps and gangs had been identified and destroyed by security forces.
Meanwhile, the whereabouts of the traditional ruler of Isuokoma community, in Onicha LGA of Ebonyi State, Eze Ambrose Ogbu and the woman leader of the area, Mrs Juliana Uzor, who were abducted in separate incidents about two weeks ago were still unknown. The woman leader was abducted at her farm while the monarch’s incident happened in his palace.
Saturday Sun learnt that the abductors of the royal father were demanding N200million ransom for his release. Indigenes said the two incidents have caused serious fear and panic in the hitherto peaceful settlement.
The apex Igbo socio-cultural and political body, Ohanaeze Ndigbo has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to address the precarious security situation instead of dissipating energy and resources trampling on members of IPOB. Its spokesman, Alex Ogbonnia said: “Ohanaeze contends that if Mr President confronts the menace of the Fulani herdsmen who have been terrorizing several states, communities and individuals for over seven years now with similar obsession and commitment deployed to IPOB, Nigeria will be a better place.”