The situation was so bad that the November 2021 governorship election in Anambra State was threatened such that the electoral umpire, INEC, almost muted the idea of suspending the election. It was at the height of the unknown gunmen saga in the state that Dr. Chike Akunyili, the husband of the late Professor Dora Akunyili,, was killed. Akunyili was felled at Nkpor in Idemili by gunmen after attending a programme in Onitsha where he picked a posthumous award for his late wife. Other killings by the unknown gunmen were to follow, including those of the lawmaker representing Governor Chukwuma Soludo in the state House of Assembly, Dr. Okechukwu Okoye, a former member of the state House of Assembly, Hon Nelson Achukwu, a woman and her four children who were killed at UGA and an Onitsha based man, Sir Paulinus Mbanugo.
When Governor Chukwuma Soludo assumed office, he could not settle down properly for work immediately because no day passed without stories of gunmen burning police stations and attacking local government headquarters, or killing people. Many communities had to inform their relations residing outside the state not to come home until the situation improves.
Realizing that no meaningful achievement could be recorded under such a situation, Soludo swore to recover the state first before going into the execution of his promised programmes for the people. And so, the battle began. First, he revived the Anambra Vigilante Group and empowered them to be able to face the usually heavily armed gunmen. From all indications, results of the governor’s action are positively showing.
Recently, eight persons suspected to be connected with the murder and beheading of the late Hon Okechukwu Okoye, the lawmaker representing Governor Soludo’s Aguata Constituency 11 and his aide, were arrested by security operatives. Few others have also been picked and they are assisting security operatives in locating the camps in the forests. In these forests, such items, including coffins, charms, dangerous drugs, women, cars of all makes and large sums of money were common features.
Following the routing and smoking out of these gunmen from their camps in the forests, normalcy is gradually returning to the various communities. The routing started with the destruction of one of the most dreaded camps located in the thick forest along the bank of Oseakwa River bordering Ihiala and Ogwuaniocha in Ogbaru local government area where the supposed king of the gunmen, popularly known as Double Lion, held sway. On the day he and four of his members were killed, Double Lion didn’t see it coming as they were easily gunned down by their breakaway colleagues who have since repented and are now working for the state. It was gathered that they had to eliminate Double Lion and his gang because they jettisoned the original plan by extorting and harassing people during weddings, burials and other ceremonies.
Double Lion, who hailed from Awoidemili in Orsu local government area of Imo State began his gun activities along the now abandoned Awka Etiti – Utuh- Ukpor- Orsumoghu- Lilu- Mbosi- Isekke axis, which used to be the connecting route between Anambra and other states of Imo, Abia, Akwa Ibom and Cross River states because of the traffic gridlock along the Onitsha-Owerri road.
The armed gang also created a new operational camp in the Unubi bush, a town located in Nnewi South local government area of Anambra State. However, when the gunmen made that axis their haven and set up similar camps inside Orsumoghu and Lulu forests, motorists abandoned the route after many people had either been kidnapped or killed.
Happenings on that road made Governor Chukwuma Soludo to impose curfew on the entire Anambra South senatorial zone and banned the use of motorcycles at certain times in the zone.
The governor, who was seriously challenged by the gunmen, swore never to surrender the state to them, insisting that his administration must reclaim and make Anambra a livable state.
In the words of the governor, majority of the unknown gunmen are Igbo. “Let us be very clear: These criminals causing mayhem in Anambra are Igbos (dominantly from other South East states) whose real objective is lucrative criminality and foisting their idolatrous religion on the region. Why is it that everywhere they gather and in every camp they operate, there is a deity/idol to which they routinely offer blood in sacrifice? Igbo are known for their enterprise but these criminals are bent on killing Ndigbo businesses.
“The people of the South East, especially Anambra, are predominantly Christians. But with this gang, idolatry is back with vengeance. They forcefully try to convert people, especially the young ones to idolatry by initiating them into cults, swearing oaths to their deities, with the promise of invincibility. Consequently, these youths join them as members and informants.
“Spilling of the blood of the innocent is considered an abomination by our culture and by our Christian religion. We understand that they kill and harvest human organs for rituals and human sacrifice in their so called camps.
“With their new religion of idolatry and deadly weapons which they use to kill at random, they have tried to create a culture of fear and silence. More recently, the people have begun to question their propaganda, motive and means and they know that they have lost the sympathy of the people. That explains why they desperately tried to ignite a national inter-ethnic crisis by killing some innocent northerners who have lived peacefully in our state for decades to divert attention from their criminality and then seek to re-brand themselves as “defenders of the people.” They have failed, and would continue to fail.”
Five months gone in his administration, Soludo is winning the battle, such that the so-called unknown gunmen have become known.
Those of them who have succumbed to the superior power of the state security apparatus have been ranting and confessing their escapades in the state.
Take the case of Chukwudi, alias 50, for example. The hoodlum, who said he has been part of the unknown gunmen in Anambra State for the past one year, confessed that he had so far killed four persons, including two policemen and two civilians.
‘50’ was caught inside a forest at Ukpor, his home town, in Nnewi South local government area of the state along with other members of his gang by security operatives.
The security operatives had last week stormed the camp and arrested some of the unknown gunmen and destroyed the camp. Items recovered during the raid include arms and ammunition, police and military uniforms, a coffin containing charms and various kinds of drugs.
He said that although many people had been killed inside the camp, including those whose relations already paid ransom, he had not killed more than four people, adding that the last person he killed before their camp was destroyed was at the instance of their leader who ordered him to kill the man because he was a saboteur.
He said that their leader, Ezemuo, (King of spirits) now at large, was doing most of the killings, along with the late Double Lion who was killed at Ihiala.
Chukwudi said: “We killed some people because they were accused of monitoring us and acting as informants to the police and government. The two policemen I killed were at Ozubulu and I did it because the commander ordered me to do so.
“Our commander, Ezemuo, is from Imo State and he has run away, while Virus, who is the second in command, has also escaped to Lagos and his house at Ozubulu burnt down”.
Most communities in Nnewi South local government area, including Utuh, Ezinifite, Ukpor and Unubi have been abandoned by their prominent sons and daughters because they have been under attack in recent times. Same goes for towns in Ihiala local government area namely Lilu, Azia, Okija, Orsumoghu, Ubuluisizo, Isekke, Amorka and Uli However, the good thing is that security operatives have been invading the forests and have been destroying the camps of the gunmen.
The President General of Ogidi community, Idemili North local government area, Chief Chuka Onubogu traced the issue of gunmen to the increasing menace of cultism among the youths, saying it is disturbing that about 70 percent of the youths aged between 18 and 35 years were neck deep into cultism which is a precursor to their participation in the activities of gunmen.
He said: “Insecurity is taking its toll in Southeast and that is because we have failed in the upbringing of our children. Many parents concentrate more in acquiring wealth than on bringing up their children. If you train your children very well they will refrain from crime. All hands should be on desk towards curtailing the situation.
“What we are doing is managing it because drug is involved. What of the rich men that engage them? So it is a complex situation. That is why we talk of unknown gunmen in Igbo land. I think there is no more value for life. We get scared when we see unknown gunmen.
“These unknown gunmen have given themselves license to kill, not knowing that he who lives by the gun shall die by the gun. I usually hide my PG identity when I see those unknown gunmen because they don’t value life”.
While calling on the various communities in the state to intensify support for government in its fight against criminality to flush out the bad eggs among them, Governor Chukwuma Soludo said: “These people are not unknown gunmen. They live among our people, some of them have families and operate from various communities. We need people to help us identify them so that they can face justice.
“The gunmen came with their strange religion, but there is no relationship between light and darkness.
“Their gods drink blood, but ours doesn’t and that is why we need to fight them together. There is the need for the various communities to adopt ‘operation know your tenants,’ which he promised, would commence with his town, Isuofia in Aguata as a way of identifying the criminal elements within the communities.
The governor said his government would not rest on its oars until all those involved in the gruesome murder of people were brought to face justice and expressed his solidarity with all the victims of criminality in the state, even as he reassured that they would surely get justice.
On the same issue, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, LP, and former governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi lamented that many Nigerian youths were taking to drugs as escape route from the harsh economic and political realities in the nation.
To him, if adequate measures were not put in place to arrest the ugly trend and combat the menace, the “leaders of tomorrow” would remain chained to substance abuse while the future of the country continues to dim.
He said: “Nigeria today has the highest drug abuse prevalence in the world. While the global average is 5.5%, Nigeria battles with 14.4% drug abuse prevalence. In 2021, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) found out that 40 percent of our youths, aged between 18 and 35, were deeply involved in drug abuse. What is more painful is that substance abuse is higher among youths in their productive age.
“Accumulated leadership failure over the years in the country has continued to rob our youths of their bright future, thus deepening their addiction to substance abuse.”
As the controversy over unknown gunmen rages, rural schools in Anambra State are also pleading with Governor Soludo to deploy security operatives to the schools as a protective measure against the menacing gunmen in parts of the state.
Their argument is that because of the security situation, many parents were withdrawing their children from schools, adding that the governor’s action in that regard would encourage them to return their wards to schools.
The proprietor of Friend of Friends Schools, Nnewi, Mr. Festus Okeke- Enyobi said with the reintroduction of the Anambra Vigilante Group, there would be enough security personnel to go round the schools.
He said: “We think the major thing these rural schools need now is security personnel, especially in the most affected gunmen -targeted local government areas. The state of insecurity in the state, especially, in and around Nnewi, Ihiala and Ekwusigo local government areas, requires security presence in all the public/private schools to boost the students confidence while in their classrooms”.
According to Okeke-Enyobi, restoration of security in schools would also ensure improvement in the standard of education in the state.
He also appealed to politicians and philanthropists in the state to assist government in its efforts to address security situation in the state.
Another stakeholder in the state, Mr. Ignatius Maduka observed that population of many schools in the rural areas had dropped since the activities of the gunmen increased and suggested that communities should also fortify their vigilante outfits to complement the one established by Governor Soludo.
Maduka said that only schools in the urban centers have full compliment of pupils and students as many parents in the rural areas have withdrawn their children from schools. He however believed that with the intensified efforts of government, the issue of unknown gunmen would soon become a thing of the past.
Even the Indigenous People of Biafra( IPOB) is also against the gunmen. Following the recent killing of 14 wedding guests in Awo-Omamma, Oru East local government area of Imo State, IPOB fingered the Ebubeagu security outfit set up by the state government, whose operations are similar to those of the unknown gunmen. IPOB has indeed, declared the commander of Ebubeagu security outfit, Izuchukwu Akuegbulanwa, wanted and placed N20m bounty on his head over his alleged involvement in the killing of the 14 young man.