Unknown Gunmen Operate Freely Along Owerri-Okigwe Road – Imo Residents Lament

Residents of three local government areas, including Okigwe, Ihitte-Uboma, and Onuimo, have expressed concern about the activities of gunmen who operate freely in their areas, especially between 8 pm to 11 pm. The gunmen are reported to operate along the Owerri-Okigwe road in Imo State, connecting the three local government areas. Some residents, who spoke about the issue in Owerri, requested that they remain anonymous for safety purpose.

This concern arises following a recent attack by gunmen in Umuezeala Owerre, Ehime Mbano Council area of Imo State, resulting in the deaths of five security operatives from the State’s Joint Task Force (JTF), including two NDLEA personnel, one Civil Defense officer, one Police officer, and an Air Force Officer. Eyewitnesses from the affected community initially reported that eight officers were killed.

Residents of the three local government areas are calling on the police to enhance security, particularly along the Onuimo and Okigwe axis, as they have been living in fear and tension. According to a traditional title holder and farmer in Onuimo, many people have abandoned their homes due to the frequent nighttime attacks by these gunmen, and some houses are now occupied by strangers who carry weapons.

“Some of our traditional rulers have abandoned their palaces. They now live in Owerri, the capital of Imo state. Some of the houses were attacked and burnt. We need security to come to Onuimo, they should go around, meet villagers, and ask them questions. I think they will get some of these boys doing all this damage. “There is nothing we can do. We are helpless. We are trying to survive the situation. Very soon they will overrun all of us. We are begging the government to come to our aid.”

Another, resident from Ihitte Uboma and a bus driver, plying Owerri-Okigwe road claimed saying; “How can they talk of security while some of the police stations burnt by these gunmen have not been rebuilt? Go around Ihitte-Uboma, Onuimo, and even some parts of Mbaise areas you will see how those police stations are looking.

“Our government should look into these areas. So that police stations in the rural areas can be active. The government should give these officers sophisticated guns to face these guys. Along this Owerri-Okigwe road, we see these unknown gunmen but we pretend. If you see them they wear uniforms as if they are genuine security officers. That is why when they kill security officers, they take their guns and uniforms.

“So, if you talk they will kill you. All we are saying is that the government should meet these guys and ask them what they want and settle this matter. The government knows what to do to end insecurity.”

Also, a trader in Okigwe, who wishes to be called Nne, narrated that; “Inside Okigwe town is somehow safe. But if you go to the villages we are in fear. Sometimes, we can’t go home. We move to the next village to run away from attacks. We need protection here. Villages that have border with Anambra are under serious siege by gunmen. Let’s pray that these killings will end one day.”

Speaking on insecurity in Imo state under Governor Hope Uzodimma, a former governor of the state, Ikedi Ohakim, said; “It needs no exaggeration to say that the security situation in Imo state is worrisome.” He went further to say; “Anybody who calls himself a leader must sympathize with our young men and women for the situation they are in, arising principally from the near collapse of our national economy and the acute shortage of job opportunities.

“Having said that, let me state that it is also high time, we the elders especially those in authority, changed our tactics and strategy for finding a lasting solution to the problems of the youths, particularly that of unemployment. The situation has become quite drastic and as such, the approach has to be drastic. We must stop playing politics with the problems of the youths.”

Reacting,  the Imo state police command, through the state Police Public Relations Officer, Henry Okoye, disclosed that since last Tuesday’s attacks, the command had sent a special tactical team, well equipped to address the issue of insecurity in the area.

Meanwhile, some unknown gunmen have abducted a popular supermarket owner in Imo state. There was stampede last weekend in Ikenegbu axis of Owerri, Imo State capital as unknown gunmen abducted a popular proprietor of a famous supermarket called Johnny Supermarket and Pharmacy, Chief John Ugorji.

An eyewitness, Mrs. Hellen Onyenze told The Authority that the incident occurred at about 11:00 pm as Chief Ugorji boarded his Jeep to drive home after his close of business at the pharmacy and supermarket located in Ikenegbu Layout, Owerri in Imo state.

Onyenze pointed out that Chief Ugorji had resisted the abduction leading to his captors shooting sporadically into the air probably to drum it into his ears that they meant business as well as scare away people.

She said that the kidnappers accosted him as he emerged from his pharmacy and boarded his Jeep to drive home, but he tried to flee, unfortunately one tyre of his vehicle ran into ditch and got stuck in the gutter.

According to her, “It was at this point they pulled him out of the vehicle and bundled him into their own vehicle and zoomed off. They came in two vehicles and did not take along his vehicle.” However, a source close to the family told The Authority that as at Sunday the kidnappers were yet to make contact with his family.

The source prayed that the abductors spare his life and allow him to return home and reunite with his relations. Ugorji, who hails from Umueshi Community in Ideato South Local Government Area of Imo State is one of the earliest and foremost operators of supermarkets in Owerri.

His shop started out as a provision store before growing into a supermarket and later expanded into pharmaceutical business. When contacted, the Police Public Relations Officer, Henry Okoye said he was yet to receive an official report on the abduction. Henry Okoye promised to link up with the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) in charge of the area before making an official statement.

Austine Ikeru
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