Undoubtedly, Port Harcourt City is somehow safe. But for those visiting Rivers State for the first time, they could be victims of insecurity if their journey takes them far away from the capital city. PRECIOUS DIKEWOHA examines some of the danger-prone areas in the state despite the amnesty offered by Rivers State government to militants, cultists and other criminals.
Quite a few local government areas in Rivers State are susceptible to insecurity. But our correspondent’s analysis concentrated on those that are more volatile than others. In doing this, he examined situations in areas such as :
Ikwerre Local Government Area has the ancient city of Isiokpo as its headquarters and comprises 14 communities. Among these communities, about nine have been “colonised” by different cult groups. Due to supremacy battle among these groups, hundreds of young men have been killed while several others are still missing.
Members of the cult groups terrorising Ikwerre are members of the communities. They are mainly Degban and Icelander.
Among the communities that are leading in kidnapping, killing and cult-related activities are Ubima, Umuawa, Isiokpo, Elele, Omagwa, Aluu and Omademe, among others.
The roads leading to these areas are always lonely and fraught with bush parts which make them sanctuaries for kidnapping and robbery.
The boundaries between Ubima and Ozuhia Road, Isiokpo and Elele are regarded as dens of kidnappers. Motorists and passengers who pass through these areas said as soon as they are approaching the kidnapping zones, they begin to say prayers for God to protect them.
Before now, Omegwa, Ozuhia, Ubima and Omerelu roads were the shortest routes to Owerri. These days, motorists boycott the route while others still take the risk. However, even if the driver decided to boycott the route, he will have to pass through another dangerous route, which is Elele-Isiokpo Road in order to connect the road to Owerri.
Mr. Igwe Omengbeoji, a motorist who plies these roads on daily basis said: “The bloody area at the boundary between Ozuhia and Ubima is Wilbros Road. From there to Ubima community which is about 10-15 minutes’ drive is always bushy.
“Another area where we begin another set of prayers is the road between Ubima and Palm Estate Road leading to Omerelu community. As soon as you pass through this area and connect to Owerri Road, your family is sure of seeing you that day.
“Some of the kidnapping activities in the area are perpetrated by cultists. When Joint Military Taskforce (JTF) raided Ubima, Elele and Isiokpo forests, they discovered many dead bodies. Some of them have decomposed while others are skeletons, dried bones and skulls. These were human beings who were kidnapped on that road and who died in the hands of the kidnappers.”
Mr. Amadi Gift, one of the youth leaders in the area narrated to Niger Delta Report how Ubima community was turned to a ghost town on October 28, 2005 due to cult activities.
“Our community (Ubima) will never forget in a hurry how cult activities began here. On October 28, 2005 the residents of the community relocated to the neighbouring community as a result of clashes between cult groups. The battle for supremacy began in the morning. There was serious shooting in the morning and later in the night when members and families of the rival group were still asleep.
“They descended on them and set their houses ablaze. The next night, the other group whose houses were set on fire retaliated and demolished over 30 houses belonging to their rivals. Many members of the community were rendered homeless because some of the houses destroyed were family houses. Till today, some families could not afford to rebuild their houses. That was how the crisis began. Currently, the community has recorded more killings due to cult clashes. Isiokpo, Umuawa, Omademe and other communities have also experienced killings resulting from cult activities.
An Ikwerre man who pleaded anonymity for security reasons said after the killing that took place in Ubima community in 2005 and 2007, the cultists were remained calm. He said the cultists resurfaced again four years ago with sophisticated weapons when politicians discovered they could be veritable means to achieve their political goals.
He said: “For the past four years when the cultists resumed their activities in our various communities, hundreds of Ikwerre indigenes have been murdered and more than 50 people are still missing. Cult activities in Ubima community alone was were responsible for the death of over 20 people, even as 10 people are still missing. This is also happening in other communities. At present, the roads leading to these areas have become safe haven for kidnappers and robbers because of the weapons at their disposal. All the cultists are now into kidnapping business.”
Emohua is a sister local government area to Ikwerre. The two local government areas have many things in common. They have almost the same tradition, understand each other’s languages and have one supreme council called Ogbakor Ikwerre, which is the highest decision-making body in Ikwerre ethnic nationality.
Some of the residents who spoke to Niger Delta Report said youths of Ikwerre Local Government Area are greenhorn in terms of cult-related activities.
The source said: “The East-West Road that links Ndele and Rundele communities is one of the areas that kidnappers have taken over. Other areas are Ibaa, Rumuekeni and Ogbakiri communities. These communities linked one another through water. So, as soon as the victim has been captured, they will put the person inside speedboat and ferry him or her to the other side of the river linking another community.
“The residents also described the communities as the headquarters of cultists in Ikwerre ethnic nationality. Recall that residents of Ogbakiri were sacked from their community by cult groups eight years ago. Properties were destroyed and people were slaughtered like animals. The crisis kept them out of their ancestral homes for more than five years before they returned home to rebuild their community.”
On January 18, this year, members of Elibrada community in Emohua Clan woke up on that morning to discover that their community was on fire due to a clash between two rival cult groups. But a day after, the community reinforced and allegedly killed two cultists who were alleged to have set the community on fire. It was gathered that after unidentified gunmen laid siege to the community during one of the nights, one of the youth that have been terrorising the entire Emohua LGA was alleged to have been picked up. And later, the terror was found dead somewhere along one of the roads.
Elder Ohiakwe Amaechi, one of the community leaders in Emohua said cult activities have inflicted pains and agony on the residents.
“What happened in Rumuekpe, Ibaa and Ogbakiri should discourage people from patronising cultists. These three communities have more dreaded cultists than in other parts of the state. The insecurity in Ibaa, Ogbakiri and Rumuekpe communities which began seven years ago degenerated so much so that members of the community abandoned their homes and became refugees in another land for years.
“Ogbakiri, for instance, experienced a total breakdown of law and order that resulted in massacre and deadly chieftaincy tussle,” he said.
Recall that on February 3, 2014, some cultists suspected to be members of Icelanders and Degbamfraternity clashed at Ibaa community over territorial control. During the incident, nine people were killed and properties worth millions of Naira were destroyed. Joint Military taskforce took over the community for more than one month. The residents of the community were forced to relocate to the neighbouring community for safety.
Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni LGA (ONELGA)
ONELGA is one of the dangerous areas in terms of insecurity in Rivers State. Even as Rivers State government initiated amnesty programme to calm the situation, the area still remains high risk in security chat of Rivers State.
On the first week of October this year, gunmen attacked the Rivers State Amnesty Programme Committee led by Mr. Kenneth Chinda, at Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area.
It was gathered that the team had resumed duty in ONELGA before they were attacked by suspected cultists in the area.
Niger Delta Report learnt that when the incident happened, the leaders of the team had instructed other members not to reveal the development until investigations were completed. A source who was privy to the incident, Miss Sandra (surname withheld) told our correspondent that hoodlums intercepted the team around Akabuka community and opened fire on them.
On February 12, this year, some young men were beheaded in Omoku and their heads were taken away. A resident who pleaded anonymity for security reasons said: “In ONELGA, kidnapping and secret killing are major businesses. People are being kidnapped for ransom of between N100, 000 and N200, 000. Kidnapping is a common business in the area and security is very poor, many people, including the indigenes are relocating to other towns that are safe.
Etche Local Government Area is another of the areas with high level of insecurity and cult-related activities. Here, Degban and Icelander do not have much power. The area is controlled by a dreaded cult group called Umuoma Boys who originated from Obibi near Ozuzu Etche.
One of the communities in the area known as Obite was attacked by unknown gunmen and scores were injured. After the raid by the gunmen, one Chikodi Nwankwoala was found dead in front of her house.
Three months after, another community in the area, Akpokwu community was attacked. During the attack, four people were killed and about 20 houses were razed over the killing of one Mustapha.
A youth leader in the area who pleaded anonymity for security reasons said the Umuoma Boys and other killer groups in the area began as mere interest groups in support of political ambitions of some powerful politicians before they transformed into secret cult groups.
The source said: “We have many bushes where these young men perpetrate evil. What they do is that they get one’s phone number and call one. As soon as one approaches the area, one is kidnapped.
“During election periods, the young men received visitors from other local government areas who hired them for assassination, thuggery and other illicit businesses.”
Continuing, he said: “The Umuoma Boys are very powerful and deadly. Etche has become a place where residents of Rivers State find it difficult to travel to due to insecurity. Everybody knows that Umuoma Boys were responsible for most of the kidnap and robbery incidents in and around Etche.
“The system of incorporating hoodlums in the engines of political change made the Etche environment unsafe during election periods. This was perfected by old politicians within the Etche locality who were threatened by the rising profiles of younger men who they perceive as successful politicians.
Ahoada East/Ahoada West LGA
This is another dangerous zone where even residents of the various communities preferred to reside in Port Harcourt than living in their locality. The area is second to ONELGA in terms of insecurity.
Investigation revealed that the residents are contributing money on monthly basis for the cult groups to ensure their safety and avoid unnecessary harassment.
Ahoada is one of the target areas of Rivers State Amnesty Programme because of arms and ammunition that are in circulation in the area.
A community leader who spoke to our correspondent in confidence said: “Here, despite the amnesty being offered to these armed youths, we are living at the mercy of cultists. The cultists are unleashing maximum terror on the people. They are currently calling prominent indigenes on phone, asking them to send money to them or be kidnapped.
“Our women no longer go to farms for fear of being raped, molested or kidnapped. Our people have resigned to fate. They feel dejected and hopeless. We are praying that with the amnesty being offered to them, things would be better. But I don’t see any difference between what obtains now and what we used to experience.” The Nation