Many are wondering why kidnapping appears to have heightened in Enugu State in the last 6 months. Those who wonder actually think that the kidnappings just started or got widespread in the last six months.
Kidnapping had been in the particular spots for months, in some cases, 10 years now.
Less than 50 metres north of Ojienyi or Egede junction lying between Awhum and Okpatu, all in Udi Local govt area, has been a hot spot for kidnappers, in the last seven years.
There is this NNPC pipeline – now turned into a temporary cattle route – crossing through from Kogi State, through communities in Enugu, Ebonyi, Imo and Abia States. It passed through former farmlands – now deep forests – of these communities, from the old road in the west, to the Enugu-Ugwogo-Opi-Nsukka road, in the East. These are swats of territories long abandobed since herdsmen drove natives out of their farmlands.
Once, in 2007, a hunter who opwrated in the area had approached and narrated to me how he was assaulted and dispossessed of his hunting tools in those forests. With the help of a DPO, i secured audience with the then Commissioner of Police, who quickly set up a team to he led by one Supol Abu, to follow up.
Of course, Abu messed it up. He demanded that i must provide a car and some cash for his team to follow the hunter into the camp where he witnessed the existence of a strange camp.
I asked him if that was the CP’s instruction. He gave an anwser, and that killed the idea and project. To cut a long story short, the villagers faced severer punishments in each encounter with the strange settlers. Their crops were harvested, the hunters dispossessed of their catches and women were raped. They just quit the space since no assitance was coming from the government.
Several times, these kidnappers invaded the praying ground of the nearby monastry and took away pilgrims. They were herded through the same routes deep into the forests and into their camps in the now hideous territories between the communities. Same were the cases of victims seized at the junction, on the old road or another spot called the Umulumgbe-Okpatu boundary. Ransom and eventual freedom were either at far away Ekwegbe or Opi farmlands, south of Nsukka.
The existence of these places could not have been, and was not strange, to security. Indeed, efforts have been made to draw the attention of security, just as I did. But with so little a land space, as it were in the South East, you would ask, why should there be such ungoverned spaces?
Ungorverned spaces or regions are territories where the influence and authority of a civilised government is absent, even as it is a necessity. The concept is a pervading theory of territorial and sovereignity power situationnbeing considerably fingered by European Strategic experts as the real pre-condition for sprouting of terrorism in Africa and Asia.
In the past, there was never any part of Igbo land where you would walk for 30 minutes or drive for 15 minutes without contact with present habitation, which was in touch with a civilised communal, local and state government.
Unfortunately, it is no longer so, for three major reasons:
1. Herdsmen menace which drove people away from their farmlands.
2. Blunt refusal of the authorities to intervene on behalf of the citizens and compel the herders to commence immediate settled life.
3. Death of the local government system, whose duty it is to provide necessary amenities for the perpetuation of human acrivities in the rural areas.
Although many decided to live in denial of the facts, evidences abound of the prime contribution of the herders in destroying farming activities in the South East and elsewhere. Villages had been sacked, women raped and men and women had their limbs hacked off by so called reprisal gangs on the employ of the herders.
Naturally, mortal fear was driven into the minds of the people and they fled the farms.
Who wouldn’t flee?
For reasons yet to be understood by Nigerians, the Federal government has refused to back the citizens in the call for cattle herding to embrace modernity so that their cattle would be settled in ranches and reserves, and Nigerians get back their breathe.
The refusal of government has rightly sustained the fear that perhaps, it was never about herding of cattle but land grabbing, by the advaning troops of a once ambutious pre-colonial empire.
Yes, the herders had screamed themselves hoarse, professing their innocence, but people have wondered about the correlation between the presence of herders’ settlements and prevalence of kidnapping in each region. In the cases of the criminal spots under review, there are three known herder camps, all utilising the same improvised pipe line as cattle routes.
On another hand, it is not even clear whether persons in authority actually understand what was the original concept of the local government administration in Nigeria, as introduced by the administration of General Olusegun Obasanjo.
The then federal govetnment said that the objective eas to take government to the inner recesses of the rural areas. However, the practice since the birth of democracy in Nigeria appears to he to he directed to an entirely different aim.
For reasons yet to be understood, an emerging, but suffocating, centrality of governance perpetuated by the States – all across Nigeria – has held greater attraction. So, it has become difficult to tell if the Local Government is still in existence.
Often, there is this lame argument that the States needed the federal allocated funds due to the local governments, to be able to govern. And i ask, isn’t it a wonder that such argument seeks to succeed against the spirit of the Constitution of the Federal Republic, which policy objective clearly states, to deliver governance to every nook and cranny of Nigeria.
Another was that allowing a free run for the local governments had led n to excess government, excess taxation and burdening of the people. Then, I ask, aren’t we supposed to operate by rule of law? Whoever feels the pinches in the wrong way can.get redress in the courts.
I was privileged to interview about four victims of kidnap in that region. They told me that they never imagined that there could be such expanse of territories as they traversed, days and nights, without a hint of human habitation in those areas.
More scary was the revelation that they, individually, observed no less than 17 camps filled with human activities – men, women, children, youths, etc. As they crossed streams, rivers and jungles, the only hint of civilisation were faint electricity lights piercing thick bushes as supplied by the generators in use by the criminal camps.
As captives marched West from the Ugwogo axis to Okpatu/Umulumgbe farmlands (now forests), they met throngs of other captives seized along the old 9th Mile- Nsukka Road on the west and headed as herds of cattle into camps in the dense bushes at Ekwegbe/Umunko farmlands.
The captors were always lanky, youthful Fulanis, who, to their shock were hostile to passing Fulani herdsmen.
In one instance, they seized a lamb from a passing Fulani herder group and threated to kill them if they ever said a word. Both parties were exchanging ferocious curses verbal threats of fury.
No kidnap-captive dared utter a word or even waved to a victim in the hands of a different captor-party. You just trudge on as directed – the typical way of the mumu cattle.
One of the kidnappers told one of the victims that they had over 350 of such camps or settlements across the South East and South-south. “There is money to be made here…we try not to kill but unfortunately, people die when they resist or try to run away. Some get sick and die and we bury them.”
This victim is not trained to ask organised questions. Otherwise, he would have tried to find out if they were there before or after the introduction of Eastern Security Network, ESN, and how they reacted or operated in the early and good days of ESN. He would have asked so many other questions, not pointedly though, but in the pattern of a trained interviewer who applies observations, cunning and carrots.
Ordinarily, the upsurge in kidnapping in Enugu State and indeed the South of Nigeria ought to worry security operatives. I am not one, but when this heightened, a lot crossed my mind. One of this is the possibility of an ideology-driven group using it to raise operational funds. But why the South East?
Another was the possibility of the operatives/kidnappers being the forward troops of a larger advancing army from somewhere else. But why headed here? Could these be the forerunners of a forced faith agenda?
Remember, in most Igbo communities, brothers and other kinsmen are at the points of suffocating, killing one another over land spaces in the inhabited areas. They yell, ‘my ancestral land…my great grandfather’s land,’ as they make for the throat of one another. Everywhere, and every person is choking. Yet, swats of lands are lying there unoccupied, impregnable and never to be used, just because most of the persons in the local government system do not even understand that it is their job to create motorable access roads. They do not have to tare every road yet. Just passable earth roads. They do not also know, or remember that the last time it was checked, it was their duty to organise communities, provide basic security and report first line possibilities of threats.
For reasons still difficult to ascertain, road development in Nigeria rides only on the wings of current housing programmes of government. Government hardly consider carving roads where none existed, if only to create better access, and which would have, in the instant cases, removed or reduced the presence of these hideous bushes lying behind and in between communities. If there had been a road as previously planned by the government to run from the Ojienyi spot to Abakpa (Enugu), such would.have kept the kidnappers some ten kilometres further away. If there is one from Umoka to Umulumgbe to Eko/Ugwogo, there would not have been any such camp. The road commenced from Okpatu, and which would have emerged at the same Abakpa was halted after two kilometres. So, a situation where road development is still narrowed to the old colonial produce evacuation roads will certainly leave a good size of the territories in the hands of outlaws.
Frankly, i understand that the concept and dangers of “ungoverned spaces or regions” cannot be accessed or understoodby all. However, it is not difficult to appreciate that the towns and villages ought to expand and cause development to gradually shrink the outskirts in a progressional trend or trajectory leading into the forests. But the dawning fear of marauders in the bushes is the reason for the reverse now becoming the case.
So, the towns, villages and communities are shrinking. People are even fleeing the already occupied village areas. Officials of government, including the local government staff are all living in the protected big cities, and the reapers of the gap are the marauders.
Somehow, Nigerians have this habit of thinking or believing that a present threat to any particular area would remain localto that particular area, never to expand beyond that region.
News have it that hundreds of communities in Katsina, Zamfara, Sokoto, Niger and more now live by paying both protection taxes and produce taxes to bandits. You either pay or die, or if you are of the means, flee.
Many can swear that it will never happen in their Regions or States. Somebody even swore, a few years back that there were no forests or isolated bushes in the South East, in which bandits could seize and settle.
Yet, many are even sadly so naive to hope that resue would quickly come from government or government security forces. They never bothered to ask why the same government has been unable to resue the people now trapped and robbed and raped and killed in Katsina (Mr. President’s State of origin), Sokoto, Kaduna, Niger, etc.
The Eastern Security Network, which appeared as a suggestion of rescue has been a victim of its internal contradictions and combined actions of establishment, to wane.
Actions of establishment ought to be expected. But in resting on its initial laurels of halting the criminal herders, it soon allowed a gap in which every charlatan got involved in enforcement of their sit-at-home orders. This, in turn, bred strange characters who now took to the bush to commit all kinds of atrocities in the dubious claim of being liberation fighters.
An end in sight?
Yes, if government develops the foresight to open up many needy areas.