Violence in and around the Benue Polytechnic town of Ugbokolo has further escalated with the shooting to death last night of Mister Ambrose Aba, a prominent local politician. He was killed by suspected gangsters earlier this morning. Intervention confirmed that he has been deposited at Alfa Clinic at Ugbokolo although Abah was killed at Okonobo-Aakor in Eboya Village at the boundary with Ollo, another village which has been nicknamed ‘Sambisa Forest’. It is an ever widening and frightening development. Last week, May 11th, 2017, the peace of the graveyard which had prevailed in and around the Polytechnic town had been shattered with the shooting to death of the Secretary of a local co-operative group, Mr Ameh Ochigbo popularly known as ‘Radical’ after the gangsters got to know that he collected a contribution of One Hundred Thousand Naira from a local cooperative arrangement otherwise known as ‘Adasu’,
Well connected sources within the security agencies hinted Intervention how a special IG Unit is also in Ugbokolo in addition to SARS which many people have observed. Yet, the criminality has not abated. Very few contacts now even muster the courage to pick telephone calls. Many are so overwhelmed by fear that speaking on the issue is out of question and this includes some of the most powerful players in the area.
Neighborhood vigilantes have been reported to be asserting a counter to the violent authority of gangsters who subdued Ugbokolo town and other villages in Edumoga District in Benue State since the beginning of April. Over twenty persons have been killed in nightly raids since then, a phenomenon which the several raids by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, (SARS) has neither reduced nor halted. In the past two weeks, the suspected gangsters have been reported to have expanded activities to the outskirts and suburbs of Ugbokolo and into the interior of the vast Edumoga District in Okpokwu Local Government Area. The killing of Abah last night corroborates this.
The most noted theatres outside Ugbokolo have been Akpodo Village where a daylight rape took place on May 12th, 2017 and Ajide Village where an all night operation took place on May 6th, 2017. While one of the gangsters in the rape case in Akpodo has now been arrested and handed over to the police at Ojapo in the lower part of the District, casualties from the all night operation at Ajide on May 6th, 2017 remain unclear. An eye witness account confirmed the killing of at least one person in the early morning encounter between the gangsters and youths in the village. Intervention is still unable to establish which side even though the Police in Ugbokolo has the pictures of the victim. The Ajide operation carried out in the middle of a heavy rainfall targeted ‘wealthy’ shopkeepers, most of whom are Igbo traders. It enraged the youths who came out enmasse towards the end of the raid for a test of strength between them and the gangsters. The outcome was predictable.
Still, bed time in the villages is now 6 pm when women and children must retire indoors, leaving only youths in each community watching out for the approach of gangsters. In most cases where they are most functional, members of the community are donating whatever they can afford to sustain them as vigilantes. The vigilante system which arose earlier at the onset of the criminality evaporated in the face of superior fire power of the gangsters. Now, necessity appears to have informed resurgence.
Unique to the ravaging violence is the total silence in the area, whether by the elite, political leaders or community elders. The basis for the silence is not clear. The only visible reaction so far has been the tendency by those who can afford it to move out of Ugbokolo to live at Otukpo, less than 30 minutes from Ugbokolo. Only a Reverend Father, (name withheld) has boldly predicted blood flowing in the area and enjoined worshipers to pray and that God would have mercy on them. He was preaching in the Church two months ago after the initial skirmishes between the gangsters and police in which a Police Inspector on duty was killed on January 28th, 2017. It is not clear if a theological interpretation of his prediction is what accounts for the silence across the board even with local hospitals filled with people who sustained knife cuts and injuries from encounters with the gangsters. And even with farming already suffering because of the fear of encountering the diffuse violence, more so now that rape is entering the scene. Things could go out of hand because the vigilante groups operate in a diffuse manner and no one can predict their own transformation.
Apart from the silence, the overwhelming of the police all this time has shocked many. A very senior Police Officer in Makurdi who confirmed awareness of the Ugbokolo crisis told Intervention that there is little the police can do if the local people have made no move and did not supply information. But the same police are seen by some of the local people to have complicated the matter. On May 8th, 2017, a leader in the Church spoke of how the police arrest people indiscriminately without investigation and take them to Otukpo or Makurdi. The Police in Makurdi confirmed this, indicating there are about 50 of such arrested suspects. If these 50 or so suspects have been arrested since early February and the criminality trend is rising rather than falling, then it stands to reason that the police might be holding the wrong people. This is one source of suspicion between the populace and the police, especially those who cannot muster 30 – 40,000 Naira to bail their wards or son or brother.
Secondly, why were they sent to prison by a Magistrate Court and not a High Court Judge when the charges against them includes attempted arson and robbery, a Makurdi lawyer has raised this question. Thirdly, what explains the continuous postponement of the bail argument for the suspects from the 22nd of every month since February? An otherwise straightforward law and order case has become convoluted with all the frightening plausible consequences for peace and stability even as there are voices that are full of praises for the police, saying the police have been fully engaged with the unfolding drama. The argument here is that the gangs are too well spread out for the police to have done any better. In all cases, this is where time is more than of essence.