Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Ogwashi-Uku: A Nigerian Community Under Siege By Kidnappers, Rival Cult Groups

Perpetual fear and apprehension may have become the lot of the people of Ogwashi-Uku, headquarters of Aniocha South local government area of Delta state, following the evil winds of kidnapping and cultism that have enveloped the community in recent times.
DAILY POST investigations revealed that over the past six months, kidnappings and secret cult violence have claimed no fewer than twenty lives in the community, leaving the residents to scratch for answers to many of the puzzles that have remained unresolved.

Although, Ogwashi-Uku have recorded countless cases of cult killings and kidnappings for ransom over the past three years, events of the past two months have seen a major resurgence in the wave of criminality in the ancient community.

Only last Monday, October 26, 2015, a gang of five kidnappers abducted Mrs. Ifeoma Anwuzia, wife of the chairman of Aniocha South Local Government Area. Hon. Isaac Anwuzia and her 3 year-old daughter, Miss Goodness Anwuzia at their family home along Agidiasei road in Ogwashi-Uku.

DAILY POST gathered that the kidnapping of the chairman’s wife and daughter caused apprehension when the news filtered into the community, marking the high point of the tension and fear that had gripped residents of the community over the past two years.

Community sources said the kidnappers stormed the chairman’s home Sunday night, held the guards hostage till Monday morning before they swooped on their target, as she made to drop her daughter in school.

The kidnappers reportedly forced the woman and her daughter into the victim’s car, and drove away, before information filtered into the community, prompting a quick intervention from the police and community vigilante group, who gave the hoodlums a hot chase.

A police source in the community, said police patrol teams and local vigilante pursued the kidnappers along the bushy Edo road, forcing the kidnappers to abandon their victims mid-way and fled into the forest.

“However, the police and vigilante youths mobilized and comb the forest and arrested two suspects, one Pascal Kure and Chinedu Obiazu, while three other suspects managed to escape,” the source said.

During interrogation, the suspects told the police that a former driver and aide of the chairman, known as Aniekan, organized the kidnapping in order to obtain a ransom of ten million naira from the chairman.

Also, last August, a 90 year-old grandmother, Madam Helen Ojeogwu was kidnapped in her family home at Azungwu village, in Ogwashi-Uku by hoodlums and held in captivity for five days, before the family secured the release of the old woman.

Just like many other cases of kidnapping, the police said no ransom was paid for the release of the old woman, but many close observers of the happenings in the community, believed many families pay ransoms in millions to secure freedom for their relatives.

As kidnappings boom, so also secret cult killings have continued to intensify in the community, with bloodletting and chaos, amid violent attacks and executions among members of warring cult groups.

During the peak of the crises, many youths of the community suspected to be involved in cultism and kidnapping, were killed, some by warring cult groups, and others, by the police and other security agents.

Notable among those killed during the crises, which rocked the community between June and October, 2015, were over seven prominent cultists in the community, many of whom have been on the wanted list of the State Police Command.

One of the kingpins, known as Odita, a final year HND student of the Delta State Polytechnic, Ogwashi-Uku, who many people in the community feared, was executed alongside his close ally, one Chidi by the police in the heat of the unwarranted cult killings.

The event that compelled the police to declare Odita wanted and his subsequent capture, followed a deadly shooting at a late night burial wake-keep in Azungwu village, which left three persons seriously injured.

Community sources said the target of the shooting was a rival kingpin, popularly known as ‘Atuma’ who was seriously injured in the attack. After the attack, Atuma was reportedly taken to a nearby Ubulu-Uku community for orthodox medical attention, but his assailants traced him there and shot him dead.

Following the killing of Atuma, the hitherto silent war degenerated into a full blown warfare between the rival cult groups, as reprisal killings enveloped the community and darkness descended upon the community, leaving in its trail, sorrows and blood.

In response to the killings, the Commissioner of Police in Delta, Mr.Usman Baba Alkali gave a marching order to the police in the community to hunt down the cultists disturbing the peace of the community and bring them to book.

With the support from military patrol teams and Police Dragon Squads from the state capital, the police nabbed Odita, who have been on the run, along with his ally, Chidi and executed them before displaying their corpses for the public to view.

After the killing of Odita, more killings followed as the rival groups refused to sheath their swords, forcing many residents to stay indoors, just as many youths, suspected to be cultists, fled the community to avoid the consuming heat.

A community leader, Chief Uche Okolie told DAILY POST in an interview that the deplorable security situation in the community has become worrisome and a source of concern to many indigenes of the community, both at home and in the diaspora.

He argued that the wave of crime and criminality in the community if not checked, may force many sons and daughters of Ogwashi-Uku to stay away from the community, most especially as the Christmas and New Year festivals draw closer.

“The wave of criminality in Ogwashi-Uku is becoming alarming. As it is now, no one is safe because both the community leadership and the police are not doing enough to arrest the situation.

“Without mincing words, not less than ten persons have been killed in the community in the past two monthS, majority of them, youths who are supposed to channel their energy into productive ventures.

“It is so sad that many of our people are now afraid to visit the community, and with the Christmas and New Year approaching, the community may be a ghost town, because many sons and daughters will stay away for fear of falling victims.

Also, a youth leader in the community, Mr. Jossy Uzoechina, who expressed dismay at the deplorable security situation in Ogwashi-Uku, attributed the prevailing challenges facing the community to the age-long communal disharmony in the community.

Although, Uzoechine, also blamed the police in the community for not doing enough to curtail criminality in the community, the youth leader however maintained that communal divisions among the natives have left the community helpless.

He said: “The situation we find ourselves today is quite regrettable, because Ogwashi-Uku had never been so unsafe in the past. This present happenings in the community is as a result of failure of our community to stand as one.

“With what is happening these days, I want to believe that we have all failed as a community. This is what you get when there is no unity, because we have factionalized our communal life to the detriment of our future.”

Since the coming of kidnapping in the community, kidnappers have over the past five years taken prominent and wealthy members of the community hostage, causing daily apprehension for politicians and businessmen in the community.

Some indigenes of the community who have tasted captivity in the hands of kidnappers include, Mrs. Mary Oduah, a proprietress of a private hospital in the community and Prof.(Mrs.) Kanene Okonjo, wife of the community monarch, and mother of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former federal minister and World Bank Vice-President.

Others are Mr. Chiedu Mekoma, an oil tycoon, Mr. Afam Nduka, a past vice-chairman of the caretaker committee of the local government council, Pa Ranger Okafor, a prominent community leader, and Mrs. Regina Dainty, who was killed by her abductors for identifying one them.

The list which seems endless, also include Mr. Osita Ukwandu, an electronics merchant, Mr. Philip Okeleke, a Lagos-based businessman, Engr. Uzor Obi, a building contractor and a female school principal, whose name could not be ascertained.

Though the police authorities in the state have insisted that the situation in Ogwashi-Uku is ‘under-control’, many of the community folks have cast doubt on the preparedness of the police in the community to arrest the situation.

Recently, the State Police Command organized an interactive meeting of security stakeholders and community youth leaders and groups to dialogue together for a way forward in tackling challenges of criminalities in the communities.

At the meeting, which had in attendance the Assistant Inspector-General of Police, Zone 5, Benin-City, Mr. Musa Daura, the Commissioner of Police in the state, Mr. Alkali Usman, Divisional Police Officers(DPOs) and youth leaders from across the state, Mr. Emmanuel Nwani, the President-General of the Ogwashi-Uku Youths Association(OYA) called for a shake up in police formations in the community to strengthen the force in the discharge of its obligation to the people.

He argued that many policemen in the community have become lenient due to their long-stay in a particular place, saying that those who have stayed over ten years and above in a place, have become counterproductive in the fight against criminality.

The youth leader called on the Inspector-General of Police(IGP), Mr. Solomon Arase to as a matter of urgency, redeploy any officer or rank and file who have stayed over ten years in a place in the course of his police service.

“We have come to discover that when a policeman stays too long in a community, he is no longer active in the performance of his official duties, and he tends to be too lenient in the discharge of his duties.

“We want the police authorities to look into this issue because many of them who have stayed up to ten years or more in a place are not helping matters in the communities they are policing.

Nwani argued that transferring such policemen would help to strengthen the operations of the police and improve the relationship between the police and the communities for the security and well-being of the people.

The police commissioner, Mr. Alkali Usman, who acknowledged the challenges of manpower facing the command, however called for support and cooperation from community youths, which he said was key to efficiency in police intelligence work and execution.

The police boss lauded the existing working relationship between the police and youths in the state, noting that the partnership have helped to achieve results.

“Here in Delta state, there is community policing, the communities, youths and vigilante groups are supporting and complementing the efforts of the police in crime fighting and prevention.

“Because the police cannot do it alone, I urged you to continue to support and assist the police with useful information, just like many of the vigilante groups are doing at the moment,” Usman said.

As a major step towards a better working relationship, Usman called on the Divisional Police Officers(DPOs) to hold regular interactive meetings with youths and community leaders in their domains to build confidence in them and in the people.

The police boss said such working relationship, when properly harmonized would be of immense benefit in the collective efforts towards checkmating the activities of criminal elements in communities.


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