• Wednesday, February 21, 2024
businessday logo


Insecurity: Inside Bayelsa, South-South’s ‘safest state’

Governor of Bayelsa State, Seriake Dickson

Ifeanyi was discussing with a female neighbour at Ovom, about two kilometers from Government House, Yenagoa, when some suspected cultists accosted him and despite his plea that he was not a rival cultist, shot him in the stomach; as he ran with blood dripping from the wound, he fell and he was shot again.

The female neighbour looked on in horror at the gory spectacle and was only jolted to reality when the assailants asked her if she would not get away from the scene; she eventually did, but by that time, Ifeanyi lay dead in a pool of his own blood.

In the case of a young man in his late 20s, LoveGod, he was shot along Obele Street during a robbery operation by an armed gang; his case mirrors those of many others, some who were shot and killed simply for the fact that they had no valuables on them.

At the popular Ekeki newsstand, a man recounted the ordeal of a lady who was dispossessed of her handbag and other valuables including cell phone in broad daylight close to Swali Ultra Modern Market.

According to him, some concerned bystanders noticed a police stop-and-search point a short distance away and though they remonstrated with the officers to arrest the situation, they were ignored while “collecting N100 from Keke drivers.”

Perhaps, it would not be out of line to recount my own experience here since I also live and work in Yenagoa and share in the security challenges that have become a recurring issue on a daily basis across all the axes of the state capital.

On Sunday, June 16, 2019, three men left a night vigil somewhere behind the famous Bishop Dimieari Grammar School (BDGS) at about 6.30am and went through a winding shortcut to access the roundabout close to the famous Swali Ultra Modern Market on their way home.

A few meters from the roundabout, they saw residents and shop owners hurriedly packing their wares inside and shutting their doors, and realising that something was amiss, the three men turned back and were lucky to see a woman who opened her door to welcome them inside to safety.

Just about two minutes later, some 10 to 15 able-bodied men came walking menacingly, daring anyone to come out and after some minutes, the three men continued on their way, but this time, sound of gunfire erupted some ten meters from where they were and everyone scampered for safety.

Fortunately, I was one of the three men who undertook that hazardous shortcut, but God was gracious that nothing ill befell us and we remained alive to tell the story, as according to residents of the area, so many others did not live to recount their ordeal.

For the past few weeks, the slum between Obele Street and Gwegwe Street in downtown Yenagoa has been a theatre of bloodshed and violence due to a cult war between hoodlums in both streets.

On Sunday, June 23, a pastor and a couple were sitting on the verandah of their church when gunfire erupted some distance away and they were forced indoors when stray bullets began falling on the church roof.

It was later learnt that the hoodlums had engaged some security personnel in a shootout in the slum which is only traversed by two roads confirming the United Kingdom’s fears over insecurity, which prompted the warning to her citizens to avoid Bayelsa, among other 23 states.

Two weeks earlier, somewhere along Yenagoa-Anyama Road, Obogoro, a suburb of the capital, some hoodlums had perfected a plot to steal all the small transformers mounted on electric poles during the hours of darkness.

When a woman in the area raised the alarm one night as the thieves had successfully lowered a transformer close to her residence to the ground, concerned neighbours grouped and tried to dissuade the thieves from taking away the transformer.

They later called the police who only arrived sometime later after they had repelled the thieves, but as no one was readily available to take the item into custody and having been warned by the police to be careful not to engage the thieves, they woke the next morning to discover that the transformer was gone.

In all, the thieves were able to remove some 10 transformers before luck ran out on them when they attempted to attack a resident who said he recognised two of them; he reported the matter to the police and that put an end to the spate of stealing of transformers in the area.

At a public secondary school in a community close to Yenagoa, a teacher punished a student for misdemeanor and the student later came back into the school premises with his gang of cultists to mercilessly beat up the teacher, a National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) member.

The lady who recounted the story, a teacher in the school, said since the incident, no teacher has punished any other student for any offence thereby resulting in an increase in lawless acts and indiscipline among students in the school.

The above are only a small fraction of the cases of stealing, banditry, armed robbery, cult-related killings, kidnappings, rape and other such violent crimes in Yenagoa where bloodletting has become the order of the day.

Surprisingly, some of the more daring criminals openly display their weapons in order to strike fear into their victims to easily part with valuables, a trend that has become commonplace in Yenagoa.

A few years ago, Yenagoa, capital of Bayelsa State was said to be the safest state capital in the entire South-South region and even with the daily worsening insecurity that has resulted in deaths running into two or more figures, some government officials and even security agencies still believe that line.

With the inauguration of the Operation Puff Adder in the state, there was hope that the tide of crime and criminality would be stemmed, but that has further heightened criminal acts in the state, particularly Yenagoa, the capital.

Bayelsa State has all the complements of security apparatuses including the Nigerian Army, Air Mobility Command of the Nigerian Air Force, Nigeria Police as well as Mobile Police formation, Nigerian Navy, Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, Department of State Security in addition to Bayelsa Volunteers and other vigilantes.

The silence and inability by all the above security apparatuses and government to address the worsening situation is putting the people at risk even as some residents of downtown Yenagoa are packing out to relatively peaceful areas.

It is not clear if top government officials and citizens who mostly move about with police escorts and are relatively secure and comfortable are bothered by the plight of the ordinary man and woman on the street, who is a target for the hoodlums on a daily basis.

As the authorities fail to respond appropriately, jungle justice is now creeping in and is actually on the increase as aggrieved residents are now taking the law into their hands by unleashing mob action on any suspected criminal, which, of course, has negative implications.

BDSUNDAY reliably gathered that in some communities, residents and community leaders are afraid to report hoodlums to the police, as some unscrupulous police officers reveal their identity to the hoodlums which jeopardises their lives and those of their families.

Despite the concerted efforts of some Police Community Relations Committees and other stakeholders, some criminals that are apprehended by the police still easily secure their bail and return to the streets to continue their dastardly acts.

A journalist who did not want his name in print expressed deep apprehension over the spate of insecurity as the state prepares for both the local government council elections in July and the governorship election later in November this year.

Bayelsa State has known violent flash points and with the growing insecurity coupled with abundance of small arms in the hands of hoodlums, only God knows what will happen when politicians who desire to win elections at all costs add to the number of small arms and automatic weapons like AK47 in the streets.

As one man puts it, it is not only those who are outside at odd hours that are at risk, even those who are indoors are also at risk and that is the true state of Yenagoa today, where, if nothing is done, lives would no longer mean much.

Samuel Ese, Yenagoa