Abia State Government has been urged to overhaul the security architecture in Umuneochi Local Government Area of the State, to curb incessant kidnapping and other heinous crimes that occur daily on that part of the Enugu -Port Harcourt expressway.
Some residents of the locality, who made the call in separate interviews with journalists, accused security operatives, especially soldiers of aiding and abating kidnapping in their community.
The residents argued that incidences showed that soldiers stationed in their area have been compromised by kidnappers.
According to them, a pastor was recently kidnapped on that section of the Enugu-Port Harcourt expressway, after soldiers forced policemen on duty to leave the spot, where the victim was kidnapped.
A resident in the town, who identified himself as Ekwerike, alleged that some soldiers are supporting kidnappers raiding the area.
The residents called on the Abia State Governor, Alex Otti, to withdraw all Police and Military men in the area and send in the state’s newly formed “Operation Crush” to stop the menace.
They alleged that kidnapping activities in their community are carried out by herdsmen, who disguise as cow merchants in Gariki Market, at Umuneochi with support from soldiers.
They said that sending Special Police Team from either the Abia Commissioner of Police or the Assistant Inspector General (AIG) in charge of Zone-9 cannot solve the situation.
They also said that they witnessed the same police officers ordered to vacate their mission while approaching the crime spot, by soldiers, who claim the area was assigned to them.
“We know the security risks involved in this, but we just needed this to be out. Our people are suffering, because these herdsmen and whoever they are working for have turned Isuochi, Lekwesi, and Leru communities into no-go areas for visitors and indigenes.
“What we see now is that they kidnap people along Ndiawa Road in Isuochi and other Umunneochi roads, then under heavy arms, move the victims at night towards our neighbouring towns in Ebonyi State, from where they continue their negotiations.
“These people are building networks in the bushes in Umunneochi Local Government Area of Abia State, Ivo Local Government Area of Ebonyi State and Awgu Local Government Area of Enugu State. It’s a serious kidnapping cartel,” Ekwerike said.
Another source, who pleaded anonymity, said: “We, as local people have reported to soldiers with accurate information, but we’ve noticed that such information is against them because they are involved. Our brothers have had bitter experiences reporting to them. The police team aren’t the best either.
“I’ve seen where we gave them information and they gave us hope. However, on their way to the place, we learnt an order from above and asked them to withdraw. We’ve equally heard and seen where soldiers ordered police to leave a certain area, where they suspected kidnapping to be taking place.
“The soldiers claimed they were stationed there as well. When the police left, the same soldiers instead of staying there left as well and somebody was kidnapped that same day, right at that spot. We’ve seen many dramas to cry out and shout as inhabitants of Umunneochi Local Government Area that soldiers here are not for us.
“They should be redeployed. The police team here should be removed as well. They’re just wasting time here. Let the Operation Crush Team and probably with the help of the Nigerian Air Force try an airstrike in the majority of the bushes on our land. Kidnappers and criminals are laying siege in our bushes, and that is why we can’t go to the farm or even travel on our roads.”
The natives said that the insecurity in Umunneochi Local Government Area and her neighbouring Isuikwuato Local Government Area is no longer what one can fight by bush combing due to the topography of the area.
They urged the Federal and State Governments to apply a technological approach and a more encompassing, massive result-oriented approach to end the menace.
“Why is the army silent about insecurity in Umunneochi? Why can’t they call for airstrikes to destroy the camp of those kidnappers in Isuochi, Umunneochi and Isuikwuato forests?
“Viral videos of some kidnap victims have emerged yet nobody wants to do something about the activities of Fulani herdsmen in our land.
“People are using us to learn how to play diplomatic games. We’re now objects of ‘political correctness’ because our lives do not matter. Little boys are brought down here to kidnapping and buy cows.
“We plead with the State and Federal Governments for the transfer of all the soldiers attached to Umunneochi and Isiukwuato camp, especially those of one ethnic extraction and others, who have stayed above three months. They should help us because some of them aren’t security men anymore.
“They’re here to make money. How can we have the presence of all these soldiers yet, they can’t catch these people?
“Someone needs to take charge and prove that we’re part of Abia State. For us, Operation Crush should come to Umunneochi, for there’s a lot of things to crush in our land,” the source said.
Maureen Chinaka, Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) when contacted, said that the Police had found no evidence to support the allegations of the collaboration of security agencies with kidnappers.
She urged the public to forward for further action any evidence that could assist in arresting the culprits.
“In recent times, several kidnapping suspects have been apprehended. The police are actively conducting operations in the area, and the public needs to be aware that the police are diligently fulfilling their responsibilities.
“The police, being responsible for internal security, are collaborating closely with other sister security agencies to enhance safety.
“Our track record demonstrates significant achievements in this regard,” she said.
Chinaka also said that security was a collective effort where the public must play a crucial role and urged citizens to report any suspicious activities with useful information needed to solve a crime.