A common expression used by Ndigbo when describing challenging situations, usually of a life threatening nature is "Awusa abata go nu Awka". Translated, this means; "The Hausas have entered Awka" in reference to the Federal Army’s incursion into Awka and the hinterlands during the Nigeria/Biafra war.
In today’s Awka and Anambra state, the same expression is being severally repeated by both Awka indigenes and non-indigene settlers. Their angst has nothing to do with the bitter experiences of the civil war but rather with a siege of another kind – Kidnapping. It is no longer news that the activities of kidnappers is spreading like wild fire across the whole of the South East covering Abia, Imo, Ebonyi, Enugu and Anambra states, perhaps at faster paces than in the South - South states, areas where the act, art and business of kidnapping originated and was first used to draw the attention of the federal government and South – South state governments to the neglect and deprivation being suffered by the oil producing communities.
It is frightening that what may have started as genuine acts of protest have since been hijacked and elevated into a multi-million naira money spinner by those who are directly and indirectly involved in the business of kidnapping either as operatives, negotiators, informants, sponsors, government and law enforcement officials. It is the families of the kidnapped and the victims themselves who suffer the most from the physical and emotional anguish and trauma and are left wondering where their help will come from.
Particularly worrying is the current spate of kidnappings which has hit Awka, the capital of Anambra state recently. Awka indigenes are now wondering what the government of Peter Obi as the Chief Security Officer of the state is doing to stem the evil tide, and where his government channels the security vote accruing to the state and governor. Fear and panic have gripped the whole town such that some people are now packing their bags and leaving until hope is restored and there is at least a genuine effort on the part of the state government to curb the menace.
It is also the same with some Awka indigenes who live in other towns including the diaspora; they have vowed that they won’t be coming home anymore; neither will they encourage any member of their family and associates to travel to Awka in the nearest future.
Their fears are based on two recent high profile kidnappings that took place in Awka recently. The first victim is the younger brother of Chief Austin Ndigwe, a respected philanthropist and businessman popularly known by his traditional titles – Uzu Awka and Ozo Gidi Gbam Gidi Gbam. Chief Ndigwe is the traditional prime minister of Awka Kingdom and has lots of political connections. He is believed to be one of the rallying points for Awka people in terms of respect and influence and a champion of Awka people’s quest to see an Awka man become the governor of Anambra state someday. He is very close to Senator (Chief) Ben Obi, (Ojelu Igbo Ozi), the Action Congress (AC) Vice Presidential aspirant in the 2007 presidential election. However, when the kidnappers came calling, Chief Ndigwe’s status in Awka, Anambra and Nigerian politics didn’t matter to them, rather it became rather an attraction to the kidnappers who took his brother and only recently released him unharmed after the Ndigwe family had parted with an undisclosed sum of money.
While Awka indigenes were still trying to come to terms with the ordeal suffered by the Ndigwe family following the kidnap of their brother, the town was hit by the shocking news of another high profile kidnapping. This time, they took Chukwuemeke Nwogbo, the newly elected President - General (PG) of Awka Town Union. Mr. Nwogbo who runs an estate and real estate firm in Abuja is said to be an unassuming man who has lots of ideas about moving Awka town forward. He was taken from his family compound in Awka.
A member of the family who will not give his name likened the kidnappers’ modus operandi to the biblical saying that "I will strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter". According to him: "If you look at the way they took Uzu Awka’s brother, and also the PG, you will see that the message they are actually passing to others is that – see, we can take Awka’s top people and their family members and nothing will happen". Echoing similar views, Obi Nwankwo, an indigene of Nibo – Awka, and close family friend to the Nwogbos said that the fear in Awka town is now deep. "The day they took Emeke, the kidnappers were not in a hurry, they still drove leisurely and had time to pick –up, or rather kidnap Anayo Ajator (Ichie) an Awka indigene based in South Africa . This says a lot about the security situation in the town, and in Anambra state in general".
As at the time of writing this, the Nwogbo family are currently in discussions with the kidnappers to secure the release of their son and brother Chukwuemeke even as his wife and children pray that the kidnappers release their father and that he will return to them unharmed.
Already, some Awka indigenes who spoke anonymously to this writer said that they are planning a mass rally and protest in Awka to register their displeasure against the Anambra state Commissioner of Police and the state government for their lack- lustre and indifferent approach to curbing crime, particularly kidnapping in the state.
While friends and associates of Mr. Nwogbo continue to pray for his immediate and safe return against the worrying news that the kidnappers have already shot Anayo Ajator in the leg as a warning sign that they mean business if their ransom demands are not met, perhaps it is about time that Governors of the South Eastern states held a special security summit on kidnapping and other crimes with the aim of curbing the crime wave that is fast turning the zone into no-go areas.