Onitsha Head Bridge: the stretch of road between the Head Bridge and Upper Iweka has become a danger zone
To walk successfully from Bridge Head, Onitsha, to Upper Iweka, in the same Onitsha, any time in the night is to achieve a feat. This is especially so if the person is carrying personal belongings or money. Not many are able to achieve that these days, no thanks to the marauding gangs of criminals, both petty and big time, who have rendered the once safe axis very unsafe for everybody.
Two weeks ago, a business man and his apprentice had just come down from a vehicle around 10 pm at the Bridge Head area. There were four young men huddled together a little distance from where the business man got down from the bus. Ordinarily, the scenario would not have raised eyebrows as the young men might just have been cooling off and savouring the cool night air. But no sooner than the business man and his boy got down from the bus than the four young men surrounded them with guns. The man's boy took off with a bag containing money and was promptly shot by one of the young men. His boss could not run but tried to fight them. He was beaten black and blue and all his possessions, including money, were taken. He was left with a dislocated jaw.
The incident I just related is just one of many that have become the lot of those residing or doing business in Anambra State's biggest commercial enclave. Crime has simply overtaken the city, while the police and other security agencies keep quiet, either as a result of incapability to deal with the situation, or because of complicity (who knows?)
Besides the incident, the entire city of Onitsha has been ravaged by crime. From Bridge Head to Okpoko and to Fegge, men of the underworld appear to have overwhelmed the security agencies. This has resulted in the killing of five police men in the city within the past one year. There was even this story of a police men whose gun was snatched from him as he got down to eat.
The general trend of the crimes before now had been the snatching of people's possessions like mobile phones and handbags. Even those sitting in vehicles have been robbed of their phones and bags. This usually occurs in traffic jams. The robbers usually snatch what they want through the open windows of vehicles.
There are also the cases of robbers on motorbikes snatching infants from mothers and speeding away. This is just as same robbers on bikes accost people at gun point in isolated areas and robbing them.
To use the pedestrian bridges at night is equally dangerous as the bad boys are usually on the prowl there.
Uche Amunike of Fides has lost her phone thrice in Onitsha to these hoodlums. The third occasion was in front of her house when two men on a bike pulled up in front of her and her daughter in broad day light and brandished a gun before taking their phones.
There are notorious areas in the Onitsha metropolis. They include Okpoko, Fegge and Obosi. Obosi's case beats imagination as this has been a known dangerous area for many years now, yet the police have allowed things to continue to degenerate there. It was in that place that popular presenter with the Anambra Broadcasting Service, ABS, and deejay, Magic Fingers, was shot late one evening. He managed to escape with his life and ran straight to the Borromeo Hospital where he was promptly admitted.
While these crimes have been on, there appeared no reasonable response from security agencies and this has seemingly emboldened the criminals.
And then last Monday, the circulation manager of the Sun Newspapers, Fabian Obi, was murdered in cold blood after a gunman entered his office at Old Market Road and pumped him with bullets three times before taking his money. The killer then got down and entered a waiting tricycle or okada.
Reacting to this, the leadership of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, Southeast Zone, led by Comrade Chris Isiguzo, Vice President, and Ken Ofoma, Secretary, had this to say: 'We received with shock the news of the killing of a Sun Newspaper agent in Onitsha, Fabian Obi, by unknown gunmen. This is indeed very tragic. For such to happen at a time the military operation code-named "Python Dance 11", aimed at checking the rising wave of armed robberies, kidnapping and other forms of crimes, is still on, with soldiers virtually at every nook and cranny of the five Southeast states, made it more troubling.
'We therefore call on the security agencies to immediately swing into action and fish out those behind this dastardly act as we are not ready to allow this to go the way of other similar unresolved cases in the past.
'We also want to remind the Anambra State Government that the primary responsibility of a responsible government is the protection of life and property. Abandoning this responsibility, especially at this critical time when the state is preparing for a major election, resulting in the rising wave of insecurity in the state, indeed speaks volumes of the government's commitment to security of life. Let the needful be done as quickly as possible because a stitch in time saves nine.'
Indeed, we join the NUJ in calling on the appropriate authorities, including the security agencies and the Anambra State Government, to sit up and tackle the security situation, not just in Onitsha, but in other places, including Awka.
In Awka, the state capital, criminality in the Okpuno area is well documented. One dares not walk the streets in the night with personal effects. To do that is to invite a slashed arm or a broken head as one of my members of staff experienced. She was returning home around after seven in the evening with her camera when she was attacked on a lonely stretch near her house. Her camera was taken while she was hit on the head with a bottle and one of her wrists slashed with a bottle.
A shop owner returning home around 10pm was accosted at gun point by two young men and her day's proceeds from her business taken.
Their nefarious activities are not restricted to the nights. Recently a female member of staff of Anambra Broadcasting Service, ABS, was nearly robbed in the Roban area, Okpuno, around 2pm. She was only spared because she had nothing on her.
I recall that when I had a session with the immediate past police commissioner in Anambra State on the menace of criminals in these areas, he had taken offence at the question. But this is not an issue to be parried by feigned annoyance. The danger to citizens of the state in these areas is real and needs to be tackled.
Onitsha is the business hub of the Southeast patronised by traders from across Nigeria and beyond. It is natural that such places will attract criminals because of the large flow of money. But it is the duty of the security agencies and the government to come out with measures to stem the tide of crime.
Onitsha is central to Anambra's economy and allowing hoodlums to overrun the place will hurt the state economically. The failure of government and the security agencies to check the spate of crimes in Onitsha may be counter-productive and this is why everything should be done to check the trend.
The Anambra State Government has done well by investing heavily in security. The police and other agencies should reciprocate by living up to their responsibilities.
The state government recently distributed high-powered motorbikes to the police to be used in patrolling the state, including those danger spots. That these hoodlums have continued to hold sway means that those police officials on bikes are merely showing off. They should go beyond that to really do the business for which they were formed. It beats the imagination why the police should fail to adequately patrol areas everybody knows that crime is rampant.
This often makes people suspect complicity in crimes by officers of the force. But giving the police the benefit of the doubt, it is hoped that the sordid tales coming from Onitsha and other parts of the state are stopped.
Anambra may be among the safest states in the country, but Onitsha is turning out to be the unsafest city. And if the crime indices in this city continues to rise unabated, the safest state may not be very safe after all.