Awka — Anambra state with its long standing history of criminal activities ranging from armed robbery, car snatching to kidnapping of innocent people who are forced to pay ransoms before they are released, has now come under serious surveilance by the police and other security operatives that led to the arrests of suspects and recovery of sophisticated weapons and stolen vehicles.
Prior to 2012 Christmas celebrations, police in the state said they had arrested 123 suspected armed robbers, 49 kidnappers, recovered 117 sophisticated arms that include 42 AK47 rifles, one K2 rifle, 3 and 06 rifles.
Others are 20 locally made pistols, 6 cut-to-size guns, 3 English made pistols, 6 SBSG, 4 DBSG, 1 General Purposes Machine Gun (GPMG) and 8 rocket propellers. The rest are 14 rocket grenades, 9 rockets, 16, 069 assorted live ammunitions, 61 assorted magazines, 41 cartridges and 34 stolen vehicles.
But four weeks after Christmas, police in Anambra State again arrested 63 armed robbery suspects, 63 kidnappers and rescued 14 kidnap victims, recovered 37 assorted arms comprising 16 AK47 rifles, five pump action guns, 4 DBSG and 1 SBSG.
Other items the Anambra police caught with the suspect include 1,599 assorted live ammunitions, 304 cartridges, 19 stolen vehicles of different makes.
A retired High Court Judge, Justice Nnaji Okafor who commended the efforts of the police in the state also called on parents and elders to save the future of their wards by prevailing them to keep away from crime in order to have a serene society, adding, "The way things are going, the present leadership of the police force in the state is very able in flushing out criminals from Anambra.
"You know we have a long history of criminal activities in this state. The youths need proper orientation. When you look at the quantity of sophisticated arms the police have recovered from those boys you will be wondering how such a society will ever have peace. Not all the police divisions in the state have these types of arms. Are we at war?
"Yes, you are right. The society has a lot to do also. These criminals are living with us. They do not have their different world. Since we now have a serious police team in the state that is willing to do its job, people should volunteer information to the police about these criminals and their activities. The police should also ensure that all the arrested suspects are charged to court and properly prosecuted," he said.
Justice Okafor also called on both state and federal governments to ensure that there are proper legislations to properly tackle all criminal activities because; some of the crimes are alien to Nigeria hence they are not properly captured by existing laws in the country.
Briefing Sunday Trust in his office, the state Commissioner of Police, Mr Ballah Magaji Nasarawa said though criminals in the state are adopting different methods of committing crime in the state, the police are also adopting various skills to tackle and arrest them. He said though there are so many youths taking part in criminal activities, people of different ages and disciplines are also into crime.
He said Nigerians living abroad who returned home during Christmas and New Year celebrations were targeted by kidnappers who believed the returnees might have come with money, adding, "We had a case at Okija division where we got a distress call that some people suspected to be kidnappers were trailing one Pius Nwankwo of Umuohi Okija who returned from the United States of America.
"We sent a patrol team after them. On sighting the police the criminals escaped into the bush and abandoned their white Hyundai Sonata with registration number DB 644 MUS which was taken to the station. That same day at Onitsha, my men intercepted a five year old child by name, Uchenna Aniekete who was kidnapped from Lagos.
"We rescued the child and contacted the parents in Lagos who confirmed to us that the child was kidnapped at Amukoko in Lagos. We arrested one of the suspects who gave his name as Ifeanyi Obinna while the second suspect whose name was given as David escaped. That goes to tell you that some of the kidnappers in the state operate from outside the state.
"Also on the January 13 we got information from Abia state police command that one Chijoke Onwusaka had been kidnapped and might have been taken out of the state. We alerted our stop-and-search teams that swung into action and intercepted a Mitsubishi Jeep at Oraifite. As soon as the occupants of the vehicle approached, they abandoned the vehicle and ran into the bush only for the police to recover Onwusaka in the boot of the vehicle.
"You see, we have adopted stringent measures to ensure that we track down and arrest criminals committing crimes in the state or anywhere and ran here to hide. On January 19, we got a tip off about some criminals specialized in kidnapping people in the South East zone. We are suspecting them to be linked to the gang that killed one Lazarus Anyanwu, a protocol officer with Imo state government. They have made very useful statement to us," he said.
CP Ballah said in some cases, kidnappers engaged his men in exchange of gunfire as it happened recently at Okija where a Federal Highway patrol team was attacked by a gang of alleged kidnappers but the police over-powered the suspects and rescued a victim who later gave his name as Joseph Izuchukwu.
The victim said he was kidnapped along Oba old road and forced into a Toyota Camry with registration number SLK 210 AA that was later recovered by the police. A pump action gun was also found in the vehicle but the suspected kidnappers escaped arrest.
"One of the most notorious kidnapping gangs we arrested on January 20th was a four-man gang, namely Ilonge Obiora Bossa, Sunday Uche, Uche Umeh Akunne and Nnaemake Nnamdi. We got information linking them to several kidnaps and armed robberies. They have made statements to the police admitting responsibility for several kidnap and armed robbery cases.
"When we recovered their operational vehicle, an unregistered yellow Fiat bus, we discovered that the vehicle had an armory under it where they keep their arms and ammunitions. Just last week we also arrested another gang of kidnappers led by one Nnamdi Odunze alias Bishop and Osita Asuonye at Ohaji in Imo state for kidnapping people in Anambra state. The gang members along with some of their accomplices now at large have confessed to us that they were responsible for kidnapping a commissioner in Imo state, Dr Vincent Udokwu.
"We recovered one AK 47 rifle with serial number 14772, 99 rounds of 7.62mm live ammunitions, 289 rounds of 5.56mm live ammunitions of K2 rifle, 23 AK47 magazines and 23 live cartridges. There were instances that we would get information about the operational camps of kidnappers where they detain their victims, when we get such information we raid the place.
"Recently, detectives from Ojota division raided a kidnapper's camp at Oba/Oraifite axis. When the hoodlums sighted the police arriving the place from far, they ran away. But our men were able to rescue a kidnappped victim was detained at that camp. He gave us his name as Chibuzor Onyama. Just last week again, we arrested one Pastor Chidi Ugochukwu who was mentioned by some kidnappers in our custody that he was their boss. We recovered a stolen Toyota Camry from him and he made a confessional statement to us revealing several kidnap cases he directed," he said.
A check at the police detention facility in Awka revealed that not all kidnappers enjoy the privilege of being quietly arrested by the police; some suffer mob action where they are severely beaten before the arrival of the police. Under such circumstances, suspects who are of the habit of avoiding police, pray hard for police to arrive the scene and rescue them alive.
One of such victims of mob attack was Izuchukwu Ekwebelu who told this reporter that he suffered mob attack that left him with a swollen face, adding, "I am from Nnewichi village in Abia state. I and my friend, Samuel Ikechukwu also from Abia came to Obiofia Nnewichi to kidnap one man they call Edwin Obodoefuna but the man shouted and the villagers attacked us. We were seriously beaten. Yes, they collected a locally made pistol and dagger from us," he said.
CP Ballah said in addition to kidnapping, armed robbery is another crime that worries people of Anambra State, "We have devised fresh tactics of foiling robbery attacks in the state or getting the robbers arrested in most cases while in the act. We give preference to intelligence gathering on the criminals and their activities in the state.
"On January 15, upon intelligence report, we arrested two suspected armed robbers whose names were given as Christian Okoro and Bossa Okwunne when they were planning to go out for an operation. We recovered three Mercedes Benz cars, one Toyota Camry and a Honda Prelude car from them. They have since made statements to us on the various armed robbery operations they did.
"Yes, we do have female armed robbers also. On the 19th of January, about a week ago, we arrested one Paulina Ifeoma Chukwu along with her gang members that include a dismissed police constable, Omora Benjamin, Ernest Ilom and Dozie Chukwulobe. They robbed one Chike Anene the previous day. When we got the information we raided their hideout and got them arrested. They all confessed to several robbery operations and are leading us now to go and recover their operational arsenal.
"On January 23, we arrested two people with gunshot injuries. They gave their names as Kenneth Obeta and Samuel Nweke. They made statements to us that they were shot by the police during an armed robbery operation the previous day along Enugu/Onitsha expressway by Amawbia. They assisted the police to recover one locally made revolver, two other locally made pistols, nine live cartridges and a Mercedes Benz car with registration number AG 134 SNK.
"On January, 24 one of our kidnapping and armed robbery suspects, Emeka Nnamdi led detectives to Asaba in the neighbouring Delta state where his gang's operational arms were recovered. The arms include three AK47 rifles, one Baretta pistol, 9 AK47 magazines, 200 rounds of 7.62mm live ammunitions and five rounds of .9mm live ammunitions," he said.
Some victims of armed robbery in the state who spoke to this reporter commended the efforts of the police in the state for quick response to distress calls. Musa Yunusa and Tanko Mohammed are trailer drivers who were victims of armed robbery attacks along Onitsha/Owerri expressway on January 23.
Musa told Sunday Trust that he was driving along the expressway when he suddenly ran into a roadblock mounted by armed robbers, adding, "I don't know how many they were but some came to me and forcefully collected my money and handset. They also collected money and handset from Tanko whose trailer was also blocked by them.
"We were being robbed when a Federal Highway police patrol team arrived the scene. The armed robbers ran towards the Oba overhead Bridge but the police chased and arrested two of them. The police found some money on them and eight handsets that include mine and that of Tanko. Things have changed here within the past 3 months. Policemen seem to be everywhere now. Once armed robbers block road, you see police coming to rescue people in Anambra. We are enjoying good security here now.
"About one week before our own happened, a driver told me that some armed robbers also blocked them at that same spot they blocked us. He said they were also rescued by police and the armed robbers abandoned two military-like guns and ran into the bush," he added.