In recent times, the tranquility of the Owerri-Okigwe road, which stretches through the heart of Imo state, has been shattered by the ominous presence of gunmen. The residents of three local government areas – Okigwe, Ihitte-Uboma, and Onuimo – find themselves living in constant fear as these unidentified assailants operate with impunity, particularly during the unsettling hours between 8 pm and 11 pm. The situation has escalated to a point where the safety and security of the affected communities are at stake.
A Reign of Terror
The crescendo of concern reached its peak following a horrifying attack last Tuesday in Umuezeala Owerre, within the bounds of Ehime Mbano Council area in Imo state. The assailants left a trail of devastation in their wake, resulting in the tragic loss of five security operatives who were part of the State’s Joint Task Force (JTF). This team included two NDLEA personnel, one Civil Defense officer, one Police officer, and an Air Force Officer. Eyewitnesses from the beleaguered community, however, contend that the actual count of slain officers may be as high as eight.
Cry for Help
The residents of the three local government areas affected by this surge in violence are now urgently calling upon the authorities, particularly the police, to fortify security measures, especially in the stretch between Onuimo and Okigwe. Their plea stems from the profound anxiety that has gripped their communities.
A traditional title holder and a farmer residing in Onuimo, who preferred to remain anonymous, lamented, “We can no longer speak freely. These gunmen infiltrate our communities under the cover of night, unleashing mayhem indiscriminately. Our people have been forced to abandon their homes, leaving behind houses that now shelter strangers armed with weapons.”
He continued, “Some of our traditional rulers have even deserted their palaces and taken refuge in Owerri. Several houses have fallen victim to attacks and arson. We desperately need security forces to visit Onuimo, engage with the villagers, and gather vital information. We believe this approach can help identify those responsible for this wave of destruction.”
The Desperate Search for Solutions
The situation has left the residents feeling utterly helpless, as this resident further elaborated, “There is nothing more we can do. We are living in fear for our lives and our future. If action is not taken soon, it is only a matter of time before these criminals completely overrun us. We implore the government to come to our aid.”
Another resident, this one from Ihitte Uboma and a bus driver who frequently traverses the Owerri-Okigwe road, had a grave observation, “How can they talk about security when some of the police stations previously attacked by these gunmen remain in ruins? Travel through Ihitte-Uboma, Onuimo, and even parts of Mbaise, and you’ll witness the sorry state of these police stations.”
He continued, “Our government must address these critical areas. Rural police stations must be fortified to ensure the safety of our communities. The government should equip our officers with advanced weaponry to confront these criminals head-on.”
The Masked Threat
Along the Owerri-Okigwe road, residents frequently encounter these unknown gunmen who, deceptively, dress in uniforms that resemble those of genuine security officers. This guise allows them to steal weapons and uniforms from security personnel they target. Speaking cautiously, a resident noted, “If you dare to speak out, you risk becoming their next victim. All we ask is for the government to engage with these individuals, understand their grievances, and resolve this crisis. The government possesses the means to end this insecurity.”
Even in Okigwe town, where safety is somewhat more assured, the fear still lingers. However, the surrounding villages, especially those bordering Anambra, are under a constant state of siege by these gunmen. It’s a dire situation that leaves many praying for an end to the bloodshed.
A Call for Action
Former Imo state governor Ikedi Ohakim weighed in on the issue of insecurity in the state, stating, “It needs no exaggeration to say that the security situation in Imo state is worrisome.” He acknowledged the challenges faced by the youth, primarily stemming from the near-collapse of the national economy and the scarcity of job opportunities.
He added, “Having said that, it is high time we, especially those in authority, changed our tactics and strategy to find lasting solutions to youth problems, especially unemployment. The situation is dire, and so our approach must be decisive. We cannot afford to play politics with the plight of our youth.”
In response to these escalating security concerns, the Imo state police command, through its Police Public Relations Officer, Henry Okoye, has announced the deployment of a special tactical team equipped to address the ongoing insecurity along the Owerri-Okigwe road. The goal is to bring an end to the reign of terror that has gripped this region.
In conclusion, the residents of Okigwe, Ihitte-Uboma, and Onuimo are living in fear and uncertainty, their lives disrupted by the activities of these unknown gunmen. The situation demands immediate attention, and it is our hope that the government and security forces will swiftly restore peace and security to this troubled region.