A growing gang of terrorists is now on the rampage in some communities of Etim Ekpo Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State. The gang is said to be headed by one of those who escaped from the Ikot Ekpene prison a few weeks ago.
The gang has its base in Obon Ebot. On Sunday evening, when some members of the Joint Security Task Force went to the area on a regular patrol, the terrorists were said to have laid ambush on the operatives and even engaged them in a gun battle.
None of the security men was hurt during the gun duel. It was learnt that the operatives replied the boys with superior shots, forcing them to flee. One of the operatives told TNN over the telephone that one of their camps was overran on Sunday.
Sources said the main gang leader, whose nickname was given as Aboy Kpo, was responsible for the killing of the former secretary of Ukanafun Local Government Area, Mr Ime Atakpa, who was buried last month.
“We went to that area around 4pm today(Sunday) and they opened fire for us. They laid ambush and wait for us. But we thank God for everything. They say Aboy Kpo, that one that killed the former secretary is the one in charge of that gang now. Na him kill that secretary.
“We have been able to dislodge their camp in Obon Ebot. We are still carrying investigations about them.” The source said they were going the extra mile to ensure that the boys were permanently chased out of the area.
Last month, the same gang was said to have kidnapped a former councillor in Etim Ekpo Local Government, while on a visit to the girl friend. And last week, the same gang kidnapped a kinsman of Iso Akpafid, the slain Ukanafun terrorist, from the Akpan Enang family.
The victim who teaches at the Obong Secondary School, Etim Ekpo, was said to have been kidnapped on his way to school. On Sunday, TNN learnt that the Enang was released and has returned to his Ikot Akpa Nkuk residence, from where he goes to teach at Obong Ntak.
However, constant security patrol in Ikot Ibekwe by men of the security task force may have prevented further harassment of the natives.
But the peace and serenity associated with Calabar are being eroded gradually, as gangsters such as kidnappers and armed robbers have been having a field day in the Cross River State capital.
Acclaimed as one of the most peaceful and crime-free states in the country, that toga is changing with the speed of light. Things are no longer at ease as robbers now operate in broad daylight.
For several weeks, they have been operating freely and sometimes some of them would run out of luck and get lynched by mobs that resort to self-help when security personnel are not readily available.
Curiously, this is happening at a time there is a semblance of heavy security presence, with dozens of Homeland Security vehicles with security personnel manning strategic spots across the city. The criminals operate so brazenly that residents are wondering what may have gone wrong.
Those mostly targeted for kidnapping in recent weeks are auto spare parts dealers and shop owners. It is not clear why they are now bearing the brunt of this resurgence of crime in the city. In the past, doctors and lecturers at the University of Calabar were frequently abducted and only released after they had paid hefty ransom.
The kidnappers now go after Igbo businessmen and at least five of them have so far been abducted within three weeks in Calabar metropolis. Two of the victims were simply identified as Ifeanyi and Lazarus. They are auto spare parts dealers kidnapped two weeks ago.
Days later, an electrical parts dealer and contractor known as 'But Why' was also abducted. They were all seized while they were in their shops at Victor Akan Street, off Bedwell in Calabar South.
Bedwell is a popular street in Calabar where there is a large concentration of auto spare parts shops almost entirely owned by Igbos. Sources said Ifeanyi and Lazarus paid N20 million ransom before the kidnappers let them off the hook.
Not long after that, Mr Paulinus Obi, a popular Japanese auto spare parts dealer also known as Matata, and Emmanuel Ozokwu, a contractor, were kidnapped. Obi was said to have been kidnapped around 7pm at Bedwell Street, while Ozokwu was seized at Target Street both in Calabar South.
A certain Emeka Ofoegbu, in describing what happened in one of the cases said “we were sitting out in front of Matata's shop about 7:00pm having a drink and two young men wearing black walked up to Matata and excused him. As soon as he stood up another stern looking masked man came out from a parked old blue Audi 80 car with AK 47 rifle and lifted Matata up and threw him into the car.
“Immediately the Audi 80 sped off with the three other persons, another Toyota Camry car parked down Bedwell by White House Street followed them and they zoomed off to unknown destination. Since then they have not called, neither have they sent any message as to the next thing we can do. Honestly, this is one kidnap too many and the traders would not take this matter lying low any longer.”
Barely two days after the two Igbo spare parts dealers were kidnapped, another businessman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Akito Rentals, Mr. Sunday Ekanem, was seized by unidentified men from his residence at Atu Street, off Academy in Calabar South local government area of Cross River State by 8.30p.m.
That was the second time Akito would be kidnapped. In November 2014, he was taken captive by gunmen. Those who know him say he is a generous, peace-loving man and collaborates with the police and the local vigilante group to maintain peace in his neighbourhood.
He was said to be recuperating from health challenge that resulted from his earlier ordeal in the hands of the kidnappers when the kidnappers struck again.
Mrs Glory Sunday, Akito's wife said she was distraught when she was informed on the phone about the kidnap of her husband.
She said “I got a phone call about the kidnap of my husband. That's all I can say for now. I have nothing further to say.”
The president of Igbo community in Calabar, Chief Albert Enya, said the spate of kidnappings was very unfortunate and appealed to security operatives to stem it.
He advised his kinsmen to be security conscious at all times and promised that the Igbo community would collaborate with the security operatives to stop the attacks.
What is happening is similar to the situation between April and June 2016 when criminals held residents of the state, especially Calabar, to ransom for over three months. Just as is the case today, almost two years ago, Igbo traders were also the target of kidnappers.
Armed robbers also attacked victims in broad daylight back then. The situation was so bad then that the Vice President of the Igbo community in the state, Mr. Rufus Eze, led fellow Igbo traders to meet with the Obong of Calabar, Edidem Ekpo Abasi Otu to seek his intervention after the menace lasted three months.
The state governor, Ben Ayade was so disturbed about the situation then that he warned that the criminals were well known and advised them to desist from their nefarious acts or else security operatives would go after them.
And now, daylight robbery attacks are so frequent in Calabar that it is becoming very alarming. The robbers are so daring and brazen in their operations that they even invade the busy and popular Watt Market in Calabar.
In the last one week, the robbers who operate in broad daylight have struck four times. One of the attacks, according to sources, took place Friday, 10 February, when a 20-man gang invaded the Watt market.
The robbers, who were said to be armed with pistols and some wearing masks, had a field day as they robbed from shop to shop. In the ensuing commotion, traders, including women fled in all directions for their lives.
One of the traders said the robbers beat up some youths who did not immediately know that they were armed robbers and carted away their wares, shooting in the air to scare the people. Eye witnesses said policemen at the nearby Atakpa police station hurriedly locked their gates to prevent fleeing traders from taking refuge at the station.
A leader in the market, Mrs Felicia Adams, revealed that "the armed robbers have entered this market not less than three times this week. They would always come into the market in the day time in their numbers, armed with knives, machetes and pistols, wearing masks. They would beat up traders, steal their money and goods and escape."
Four days later, on 13 February, three armed robbers operated on Old Calabar Road in broad daylight where they robbed shops freely. However, sources said luck ran out on one of the masked members of the gang as they were attacked by a mob before members of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad shot and killed one of them, while the other two members of the gang narrowly escaped. Some said the gang is part of the 20-man gang that robbed shops at Watt market recently.
Now there are widespread cases of jungle justice being meted out to some of the unlucky underworld men. They are usually lynched by mobs whenever they are caught. Last week, a robber was burnt to death at Atimbo by a mob, while another was killed at Edim Otop. Early in January this year, two suspected kidnappers were burnt to ashes at Ikot Ansa, off Old Odukpani Road.
They had tried to kidnap a woman when nemesis caught up with them. Two of them were beaten to death and later burnt, while some members of the kidnap gang narrowly escaped.
Policemen are also at the receiving end of this upsurge in crime in the state. About two weeks ago, two policemen were killed at Ugep by unidentified gunmen. Abani Eteng, a sergeant and Christopher Uket, a corporal met their untimely death while on duty.
The slain cops served at the Ugep Division in Yakurr Local Government Area of Cross River state. They were posted to the Institute of Technology and Management (ITM) Ugep to provide security on the fateful day when they were gunned down.
Their killers even went away with the AK47 rifle of one of the fallen policemen. Before this incident, an inspector was beheaded by youths and his head recovered from a community shrine, while his body could not be found.
Last year, there was a near break down of law and order in the state when members of rival cult groups attacked one another in broad daylight during an orgy of violence that lasted several days. They killed and maimed one another with reckless abandon in Calabar, Ogoja and other parts of the state.
One of the prime victims of the cult war in March last year was a lecturer at the University of Calabar. He had just bagged his Ph.D the previous week when cultists killed him. Military and paramilitary personnel had to be deployed to the streets of Calabar to curb the cult madness mostly worsened by reprisal attacks. In December last year, cultists invaded a community in Boki and left death and destruction in their trail.
Reacting to the latest precarious security situation, Irene Ugbo, the state police command image maker, confirmed some of the crimes and told TNN that “we are doing our best to prevent crimes and criminality in Calabar and the state as a whole. We are gathering intelligence on the kidnappers and also trailing them. But the police cannot do it alone. Members of the public should also join hands with the police to curb crime.
“Other sister security agencies and vigilante groups have been assisting the police to fight crimes. The situation in the country is pushing youths into crime but we are doing everything to protect life and property in the state.”
With the fast approaching election year, there is usually an upsurge in crime rate as politicians arm thugs to attack their opponents. Misguided youths are also co-opted into such murderous squads in the heat of political campaigns.