Anambra State, Southeast Nigeria, used to be relatively peaceful because of the near absence of communal conflicts which characterised the 1990s and early 2000s. However, the situation is changing with increased cases of murder, kidnapping and other violent attacks.
Citizens are calling for a review of the state’s security system, previously regarded as one of the safest in the country.
For instance, in the early hours of Feb. 3, a masked gunman stormed a church in Azia, Ihiala Local Government Area of the state, killed three family members, and wounded a fourth person. The incident occurred during the midweek service of the Seventh Day Adventist Church.
The fatality victims were Kenneth Emekwasianya, 70, his wife, Grace Emekwasianya, 56, and their daughter, Chioma Emekwasianya, 36.
The fourth victim, 42 years old Emeka Ntukokwu, a secondary school teacher, was wounded.
A local source said the late Kenneth was a retired principal and later a businessman based in the community, while his wife was a primary school head at Ubom community.
Their daughter, Chioma, was a postgraduate student at Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University, the source added.
The source also said that Kenneth was the only surviving founding member of the church before his death.
The police confirmed the incident, but neither announced any arrest nor investigation result on the matter.
Meanwhile, Azia denizens described the attack as strange and called on the police to ensure that the perpetrators were arrested and brought to book.
The community staged a protest march led by 100-year-old Boniface Onyejekwe. The protesters said they had not seen that type of killing on a church altar and demanded justice for the dead.
“This sacrilege committed against three of them in a swoop of madness must not go unpunished. We know that no amount of crying or anything can bring them back to life, but we demand justice for them,” one protester said.
Similarly, three young men were confirmed dead on Feb. 10 during a community meeting at the Civic Centre, Eke Nkpor, in Idemili North Local Government Area of the state.
The dead persons were Izuchukwu Idemili, 32, Chidi Oforma, 31, both from Nkpor and Bongo Muoghalu, 45, from the neighbouring Umouji community.
The shooters were said to have arrived in a Mercedes Benz car and opened fire on the crowd shortly after the Nkpor Community Task Force’s inauguration.
CSP Haruna Mohammed, the Police Public Relations Officer, who confirmed the incident, said an investigation had commenced to unravel the mystery behind the killing.
Mohammed said those who sustained injuries were taken to the hospital for treatment while the dead bodies were deposited at a morgue.
“Police detectives attached to Ogidi Division visited the scene and rushed three victims who sustained gunshot injuries to a hospital along Nkpor-Umuoji road for medical attention where all the three victims were certified dead by the medical doctor.”
“Corpses [have been] deposited at the hospital mortuary for autopsy. Two expended ammunition of 7.62mm were recovered at the scene as exhibits.”
“Case is under investigation to unravel the circumstances surrounding the incident, and efforts are being intensified to apprehend perpetrators of the heinous act in order to bring them to justice,” Mohammed reported.
Asides from the violent killings, residents of Anambra state also face kidnapping, phone snatching, bag snatching, carjacking and touting.
Earlier in the month, Igwe Afam Obi, the traditional ruler of Uruagu village in Nnewi Town, Nnewi North Local Government Area, was allegedly kidnapped at Oraifite in the neighbouring Ekwusigo Local Government Area while he was returning from a burial ceremony.
The traditional ruler spent about a week in captivity before regaining freedom, but it was unsure whether he was rescued by security agencies or released after the ransom was paid.
Obi held a Thanksgiving event for his survival on Sunday.
These categories of crime are predominant in the commercial city of Onitsha and its environs as well as Nkpor, Obosi, Okpoko and Awka, the state capital.
Many citizens have expressed concern over the deteriorating security situation, saying a vast difference exists between the media impression and the situation’s reality. They called on the government to rise to the challenge to save the population.
Mr Jude Obiora, a social commentator, said while the state government has invested in equipment such as smart cars and Closed Circuit Television Cameras (CCTV), not much has been achieved on the security situation.
Obiora said the investment on the equipment acquisition had not been justified as there is no evidence that criminals have been arrested using CCTV recordings.
“The fact is that crime had reduced to a large extent in the Southeast but has now come up again. That is what we are witnessing now.”
“Yes, the government has tried, but it is nowhere near the noise being made. There’s been crime in many places in the state like Upper Iweka, Obosi, Nkpor and parts of Awka.”
“The CCTVs seem to be a hoax; no positive results. The government should pay serious attention to security beyond politics,” he said.
Anambra house of assembly calls for action
The insecurity in Anambra has also attracted the attention of the state House of Assembly members. They have called on Gov. Willie Obiano to declare a state of emergency to address the situation.
During a plenary session on Friday, the lawmakers took turns to narrate constituents’ experiences in the hands of criminal elements.
They accused Obiano and the security agencies of not doing enough to protect lives and property.
Mr Somtochukwu Udeze, the member representing Ogbaru II Constituency, said four persons were killed and many houses razed by hoodlums at Ogwu-Ikpele, an oil-bearing community in Ogbaru Local Government Area.
Udeze said the growing attack on the people of Ogwu-Ikpele demanded urgent attention to prevent a breakdown of law and order and the death of innocent citizens.
According to him, some people of Ogwu-Ikpele have deserted the community and are taking refuge in neighbouring Obagwe village and other communities.
Also, Mr Noble Igwe, representing Ogbaru I Constituency, said that any responsible government’s primary duty was to protect life and property.
Igwe, who represents the densely populated Idemili, Iyiowa, and Okpoko areas of Ogbaru, near Onitsha, said insecurity was on the rise and accused the security agencies of not doing enough to protect the people.
He said, “on a daily basis, we hear stories of insecurity in the area. Lives are being taken, property destroyed, and children molested.”
Pascal Agbodike, representing Ihiala l state constituency, decried the church killings, saying the people had been in anguish since the attack.
The Speaker of the assembly, Mr Uche Okafor, put a motion —asking the governor to urgently direct security agencies to intervene in the crisis at Ogwu-Ikpele and Azia; to restore peace and order— to voice vote, and majority legislators supported it.
We are doing our best – Police
Meanwhile, the police have acknowledged that there were security challenges in the state but explained that they were doing their best to checkmate criminals.
The police spokesperson, Mohammed, said arrests had been made, guns and stolen properties recovered from criminals.
According to him, crime is inevitable in human society, especially in a populated and economically active place like Onitsha.
He, however, said the police had continued to record achievements daily by arresting “one-chance” (opportunistic) robbery syndicates, handbag/phone snatching syndicates, tricycle/car snatching syndicates and illegal revenue collectors.
“Available statistics at the disposal of the command revealed that between January 2021 to date, the command has fatally injured five armed robbery suspects at Fegge and DMS area of Onitsha following a gun duel(s) and recovered three locally made guns.”
“The command also arrested over 10 armed robbers and one chance suspects at Upper Iweka, Head bridge, Nkpor Junction, Nkpor Roundabout, Awada, Owerri Road, Aba Park and Inland Town, all in Onitsha and environs where more than five guns were recovered as well as three tricycles which they used to perpetrate the crime.”
“All the above suspects were paraded with exhibits and subsequently charged to court for prosecution,” Mohammed said.