Residents of Umuahia, the capital of Abia State, and Aba, the commercial hub of the state, have expressed mixed feelings over the continued presence of soldiers in the state. While some residents of the two major cities believe that the presence of the soldiers is worthwhile because the state has witnessed relative peace since they were deployed in the state for an operation code named Python Dance II, others believe there has been nothing to show for their continued presence as criminal activities are still being recorded in the state almost on a daily basis.
A release by the spokesman of the 82 Division of the Nigerian Army, Col. Musa Sagir, had hinted that soldiers of Sector 1 of the ongoing Operation Python Dance in the state had raided a kidnappers’ den at Ohanze in Obingwa Local Government Area. The soldiers, according to the release, also arrested three suspected members of the gang, namely Okezie Nwaobilor, Arinze Ugiri and Michael Sunday, while Mr. Monday Benson, an abduction victim, was said to have been rescued by the soldiers during the raid.
But some Abia residents, who spoke with our correspondent in Aba, said apart from successfully stopping the activities of the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB), the secessionist group led by Nnamdi Kanu, the impact of soldiers in the commercial city was yet to be felt as crime rate remains unabated in the business-oriented city.
Mr. Silas Offor, a resident of Umuahia, said: “Umuahia, like you and I know, had been relatively peaceful before the Egwueke (Python Dance) operation. And as we speak, I don’t think there is anything different from what we have here. I think the concentration is on Aba, especially as soldiers have successfully dislodged Kanu and his supporters from the state capital.
“As you can see, people are going about their normal business without any intimidation or harassment. The curfew imposed by the governor was in Aba and not Umuahia. So, for us, we have been living our normal lives and the streets are free of soldiers.”
Mr. Akuchie Gideon, a resident of Obohia in Aba South Local Government Area of the state, said that residents of the area were yet to feel the positive impact of Python Dance II in terms of security because, according to him, there had been numerous attacks by bandits on the area. The bandits in the area, he said, had been operating unchallenged by security agents. He reckoned though that the bad nature of the roads might make it almost impossible for security agents to respond to distress calls. This was even as he appealed to the state and federal governments to come to their aid.
But Mr. Franklin Chukwunazaekpere, who lives along Uratta by Aba-Port Harcourt Expressway, attributed the ability of the residents of the area to sleep with two eyes closed in the last two weeks to the presence of the soldiers.
An Aba resident, who pleaded anonymity, narrated his ordeal in the hands of kidnappers in spite of the presence of soldiers, saying: “Usually, around 6pm, you would notice the presence of policemen and even soldiers along major roads in Aba. At about 8pm, they all disappear from the road. So, on Tuesday, while I was going home, I did not know that some people were following me. When I got to the gate of my compound to open it, some gunmen alighted from a car and ordered me to lie down in the back seat.
“They then covered me with a clothing material I had wanted to take to the tailor the next day. They then drove off without anyone in the neighbourhood knowing what was going on. By the time we got to Okigwe Road at about 8:10 pm, the policemen that usually collected money from motorists there had all disappeared. So, with all the drama at Okigwe Road in front of First Bank, there was no single policeman on sight.
“Before we got to the railway at Okigwe Road, the policemen I thought would be on duty had already left the area. They drove through Waterside and we later came to a place at Ogbor Hill where they dropped me. By divine intervention, I was set free without paying any ransom.
“The funniest thing was that in spite of the long hours it took me to get back to Okigwe Road, I still met my car with the four doors open and my car key in my ignition. It was a clear indication that no security agent, be it police or army, had passed Okigwe Road that night. So, I must say that the presence of the soldiers in Aba and Umuahia, the state capital, is for the IPOB group and nothing else.”
An Aba-based legal practitioner, Friday Chibuike Ohajuru, said: “As at the moment, the soldiers’ presence has not had any impact on the security situation in Aba. The reports are still there that they are yet to douse incidents of crime in Aba. What I think they should do is engage in intensive patrol in the rural areas. There is no point concentrating on the Aba metropolis alone. They should spread their tentacles outside the suburbs so that criminals can feel their impact and perhaps move away from Aba and its environs.
“Often times, you see them staying at a place. How many Aba residents have their contacts? Assuming there is a security breach or challenge, how do you get to them? I think that they should try and make available short codes that people will always dial and call in difficult situations. It must be less than 11 digits.
“They should also engage in mass mobilization. Operation Python Dance should not be directed at innocent members of the public”.
A military source who spoke on condition of anonymity, however, described the allegations that the military was not doing anything to tackle crime with Operation Python Dance as unfounded, saying that troops of Sector 1 have made Abia State relatively calm.
He said: “Mr. Ugochukwu Igwilo, a native of Ezinachi community in Obowo Local Government Area, Imo State was arrested on September as he was robbing some residents of Osisioma Local Government Area of Abia State. Two armed robbers, Mr. Elemchi Christian and Mr. Ukouma Elendu, were arrested near the old toll gate with weapons such as machetes, mobile phones and other items recovered from them.
“So, for anyone to say that soldiers on Operation Python Dance II are not doing anything, the person must be saying that out of bias.”
The source, who said he was not in the position to talk to the public, advised our reporter to get across to the commander of the operation in the state, 14 Brigade APRO or Col. Musa Sagir, who he said had been issuing releases to the media on the activities of soldiers on Egwueke operation in Abia and other parts of the South East, for more information.
At press time, however, Sagir was yet to respond to the text our reporter sent to his phone.