When Governor Alex Otti of Abia State assumed office on 29th May, 2023 as the 5th Civilian Governor of the state, he was confronted with a decayed system, ranging from over-bloated civil service to arrears of salaries and pensions ranging from four to over 36 months.
The worst of the problems was the hydra-headed insecurity ranging from kidnappings, armed robbery and other violent crimes and criminality.
Umunneochi Local Government Area of the state became dreaded as cases of kidnappings were reported on daily basis particularly the Umuchieze Cattle market along Enugu-Port Harcourt Express Way, the Okigwe axis of Imo state and Uturu area of the state along the road leading to Abia State University, Uturu.
Worried by the insecurity situation on ground and being an ardent advocate that businesses and investments can only thrive in conducive and secured environment, Governor Alex Otti swung into action to arrest the ugly situation in the state so that investors who had hitherto indicated interest to come and establish in Abia could indeed come in.
This development initially gave Otti sleepless nights and he started holding series of meetings with all the security Agencies to find ways of stemming the spate of kidnappings and other violent crimes in the state.
In a bid to tackle the problem of insecurity headlong, Otti came up with the launch of “Operation Crush” at Trademore Event Centre where he donated over 25 Hilux jeeps equipped with security gadgets to all the Security Agencies in the state to tackle the situation.
Since the launch of “Operation Crush,” the spate of kidnappings within, outside and other parts of the state has reduced drastically as combined security team made up of the Army, Navy, Police and Civil Defence, among others are stationed 24hours on the black spots where hitherto those heinous crimes thrived.
Otti, in company of combined security personnel, visited Umuchieze Cattle market, where a startling discovery of 60 decomposing and 20 headless bodies was made in a nearby bush.
After the discovery, Otti threatened to convert the market to all-purpose and daily market and nobody would any longer live inside the market after the fencing.
Otti noted that apart from the decomposing bodies, countless human skeletons were equally found in and within the Umuchieze Cattle market.
The Abia Chief Executive assured that his administration was committed to tackling insecurity headlong without minding whose ox was gored.
He disclosed that his administration would be deploying electronic gadgets to checkmate kidnappings and criminality in the area and other parts of the state.
He noted that prostitution, narcotic trade and other criminal vices around Umuchieze Cattle market necessitated the raid of the market as some brothels were brought down and now there is calmness in Umunneochi.
While briefing Journalists in October last year, the Abia governor, who insisted that the market would become a daily one which would open at 6.00am and close by 6.00pm, would now become a general market as sections have been allocated to cattle dealers and to other businesses including electronics. He made it clear that his administration was equally fencing the market, all aimed at ensuring adequate security.
According to the Governor, Lokpanta, Umuchieze area was notorious for kidnappings and armed robberies, hence the decision of his administration to convert the market to a daily one
He observed that though, the policy was misunderstood, but after meeting with the leadership of the market, everyone agreed with the government’s stand on making the market a daily one for the good of all.
“We are single-minded about rooting out insecurity in Abia state. Because we know that no Government can succeed in the face of insecurity, violence, armed robberies and kidnappings,” Otti said.
He hinted that some gadgets acquired by his administration would be deployed at strategic places to ensure the security of lives and properties in the state.
“This government will not get involved in supporting insecurity. Our devices will be installed in strategic places,” Otti disclosed.
In reaction to the discovery of 50 decomposing and 20 headless bodies in and around Umuchieze Cattle market, the leadership of the market absolved themselves of knowledge such crime.
At a press briefing by the leadership of the market, they pleaded with Governor Alex Otti to allow them live in the market because of the nature of their business.
The Northern community pleaded with the Abia Government not to chase them away from the land they have been occupying since 2005.
The Community in her address signed by Saleh Algore and Auwal Hamna, Chairman and Secretary General respectively alongside 13 others and read by Buba Abdullahi Kedemure said Governor Otti has the right to evict them from land should handle with due process.
They noted that government has the right to provide adequate security in and around Umuchieze Cattle market.
“We, Northerners are peace loving people and very accommodating as this explains why Southerners in the North are doing their businesses without any form of harassment and threat of eviction,” they noted.
Following the ensuing altercations, a group known as Northern Consensus Movement (NCM), an amalgamation of Community-based socio-cultural and economically-inclined Northern Organisation issued 14 day ultimatum for Igbos living in the North to vacate the area in October last year.
But following a meeting convened at the instance of Governor Otti with the leadership of the Umuchieze Cattle market, regarding the state government’s decision to make the market a daily one, the decision to withdraw the quit notice was announced by Anwal Abdullahi Aliyu, who led the leadership of the cattle dealers to the meeting at the residence of Otti in Isiala Ngwa South Local Government Area of the state.
Aliyu noted that after the meeting with the Governor, they have come to realise that there was no tribal sentiment attached to the Abia State Government’s decision.
He made it clear that Otti meant well and was interested in the security and safety at the market contrary to earlier circulated allegations that he had asked Northerners resident in Abia to leave.
He said: “This is how government and leadership should be. Communication is very important. Governor Otti is a leader who understands the importance of communication and also the feelings of the people. This talk has truly brought out peaceful atmosphere. I am using this medium to say that we have canceled that 14-day ultimatum that was given to Easterners.”
He commended the governor for agreeing to assist the vulnerable members of the Northern community in the market rent accommodation outside as well as hold periodic meetings with them on issues concerning their well being.
Aliyu then advised the Northern community resident in Abia to be law-abiding, respect constituted authorities and be good ambassadors of the Northern people, wherever they find themselves.
“Respect leaders, respect elders, do not break law. This is what our culture had taught us,” Aliyu admonished them.
Governor Otti, while receiving his guests re-emphasised, that his desire in making the Umuchieze Cattle market a daily one is to end the killings, kidnappings and other criminal activities going on there.
He informed them that he is a detribalised Nigerian, noting that he does not know about segregation and can never be associated with tribalism.
He made clear that Government’s earlier directive was misunderstood and pointed out that aim of making the market daily one is to secure the place in the overall interest of the traders and residents alike.
The Abia Chief Executive said that the meeting which was of course at his instance was to explain the true position of government, adding that without security, there would be no development.
“Any time you allow religion and ethnicity to play a role in what we are doing, we are missing the point. What I have come to do in governance is to give service to the people. We want everyone living in Abia State to live in peace and harmony,” he said.
The governor told his guests that the state government had decided to enforce the use of markets as markets and had devoted a lot of money to rebuild the Cattle market and make a proper one.
“Wherever you come from, you will agree with me, even in Kano, Kaduna, everywhere, markets are markets and homes are different from markets.
“We are going to divide the market into different sections, you have section, you’ll have the electronics section and everything that anybody wants to buy. We will upgrade it in such a way that those operating in the market will be happy. We are not going to tolerate any brothels or hotels or where people will be pretending that they are accommodating people while they are selling hard drugs such mkpurumiri (methamphetamine).
I am sure you have heard this.
“I have also said that we will secure the entire market and fence it round and there will be gate to enter and a gate to exit,” he further explained to them.
In his contribution, Macdonald Uba, a retired Navy Commander, Security Adviser to the Governor, said the incessant crimes in and around the cattle market necessitated the measures put in place by government.
He disclosed that in the past two months, the crime rate in the market had reduced.
He noted that the state governments in making the market a daily one and none residential was to ensure the safety of traders and residents of Umunneochi Local Government Area.
Recently, Onyemauche Nnamani, national commissioner representing South East in the Police Service Commission, commended the governor for an improved security in Abia when he paid him a working visit, during the recent screening exercise for recruitment of constables in Abia.
“As I came in here, I went around for the first time; I noticed considerable changes. Abia State has joined other states in the South-East in development. Keep it up, we are happy, we are satisfied. Thank God Abia has moved up. Abia slept for too long but thank God an Alex Otti has taken over.
“We commended those efforts. I also want to that coming here, nobody warned me, nobody panicked. If had said in the past, I was going to neighbouring States, a lot of warnings. I would have come to the Police to get extra Security. But I came here on my own without any, which means there is calm. It is not yet Uhuru, there is still room to improve,” said Nnamani.
Tony Isim, retired Assistant Director of State Security Services, operations and Intelligence, now in the office of the Security Adviser to the Governor told BD Sunday that fencing of the Umuchieze Cattle market is ongoing which is part of the security measures being implemented by the state government in the war against criminality within and around Umunneochi.
He said men of the Security outfit “Operation Crush” are ground within and around the cattle market 24 hours to checkmate crime and criminality.
Isim said the traders who initially exhibited belligerent postures have now seen reason with Government’s decision for them to live outside market after their businesses.
He disclosed that the area was now calm as no case of kidnapping has been reported for some time now.
With his recent verdict by the Supreme Court stamping his victory, Otti now seems emboldened to face the dragons.