It was a Sunday morning at Idung Nneke Village and the time was 9:25 am. He is an Elder in the local Quo Iboe church, just across his compound. As he made his way across the road to the church, a Toyota Sienna vehicle that was parked a few meters at a primary school, near the church snaked near the church, towards the Elder. He counted 8 passengers, but made no issue of the unusual vehicle and its menacing occupants. As he approached the church gate, five of the passengers jumped out of the Seinna vehicle armed with AK47 riffles, all dangerously pointed at him. Fear, unbelief combined to freeze him on the spot. He was roughly shoved into the vehicle and driven off to a 31-day captivity in the hands of kidnappers. After 31 days, Elder Dr. Idongesit Udom, retired operations superintendent and start-up superintendent of ExxonMobil, both in Nigeria and Cameroon and proprietor of Sure Foundation Polytechnic in Ukanafun, was released with his right hand savagely cut off.
On August 5, 2017, a gang of 10 murderous cultists descended on the sleeping village of Abak Obong, in Etim Ekpo Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State. They went straight to the house of the Village Head, Chief Bassey Ikpaisong and rend the air with the cracking sounds of AK47 riffles. When the sound of gunfire quietened, the village head’s brother, Mr. Fred Ikpaisong, and a youth, Mr. Udotim Essien, lay dead in a pool of their own blood. The village head himself was mortally wounded and died two days later in a hospital from gunshot wounds sustained during the attack.
In March 2018, two peasant farmers in Ikot Akpa Idem, Ukanafun, received a note from cultists operating in Ukanafun Local Government Area. They were instructed in a hand written note to pay the cultists a million Naira each. The farmers, Samuel Ibekwe and Unyime Sunday Urom, did not know what to make of the deadly message. Where were they to raise such huge money? They informed their village head of the calamitous message and appealed for intervention. Six days earlier, Gov. Udom Emmanuel, governor of Akwa Ibom State had warned cultists in the area to lay down their arms or be thoroughly dealt with. At the expiration of the seven days given to the farmers to pay up, the cultists struck. They quietly went to the compounds of both farmers and shot them to death and disappeared into thin air.
Those are some of the gory tales of horror, tears and blood that came out of Etim Ekpo and Ukanafun Local Government Areas of Akwa Ibom State. The better part of three years, both LGAs and other adjoining villages, were virtually surrendered to marauding militants and cultists, who held sway and called the bluff of security agencies. The cultists visited death to the young, old, women and children. They sent death notes and on appointed days, they struck without let. They were the lords of the land.
Palaces were torched, worship places, markets, were not spared and personal houses were routinely vanquished. The courts relocated to safer locations in Abak, council offices were under lock and keys, economic and social lives were grounded. Schools were shut down, many relocated away from both local government areas. The place became desolate and countless houses burnt, destroyed and rendered uninhabitable while agrarian activities were completely left wasted for fear of abduction and heartless assassination by the militants.
By October 2018, the Udom Emmanuel administration, faced with pressure from Nigerians on his apparent helplessness in the face of complete breakdown of law and order in the affected local government areas, extended an olive branch, asking the militants to drop their weapons in exchange for freedom from prosecution and rehabilitation.
More than 420 militants, kidnappers and cultists heeded this call. Receiving the cultists, deputy governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Moses Ekpo said, “Government is proud that most of you have said you want to live a meaningful life. I am glad that some of you say you want to work in the security agencies and want to rise to the level of even a police commissioner. Government is happy with you and will give all of you start up skills and education to enable you realise your dreams in life.”
Many people had then doubted the sincerity of government on the amnesty programme. One of the arrowheads in Gov. Emmanuel’s search for peace in the area, retired DIG, Udom Ekpoudom, had described the programme as a scam. He said that all the ideas and suggestions put forward by his committee, which was set up by the government had not been followed and accused the state government of shielding those who were sponsoring the militants because they are in government.
So far, the Udom Emmanuel administration has not shown any sign that they intend the peace that came with the amnesty to last. The government has not fulfilled any of the promises made to the repentant cultists and militants. They were allowed back to their communities after government paid each of them a transport fair allowance of twenty thousand Naira (N20000).
Most of them cannot fit into the society they waged war against. They have no means of livelihood and are mostly now dependent on handouts from politicians, who in the first place recruited them for the 2015 elections and abandoned them after using them for the election.
For militant youths who had ensured that life became brutish and short in their communities to be sent back to the same communities without any form of debriefing; without resettling them back to the society with visible means of livelihood, is the greatest mistake the Udom Emmanuel government has made. In the communities, the story is that they are already being actively lured and courted by the same politicians who had used them in the last.
The then State Commissioner of Police, Mr Samuel Ogunjemilusi, while addressing the repentant militants had urged them to surrender remaining weapons still in their custody in order not to be tempted back into crime. Whether this has been achieved is still in serious doubt.
Mr. Unyime Ibanga, one of the leaders of the groups, who spoke for his colleagues, when they met with the deputy governor, identified unfulfilled promises from government as one of the reasons for their violent lives, calling on government to ensure they abide by their promise of rehabilitating them so that they would not be tempted back into the former way of life. Has the state government been able to abide by their own part of this deal? The answer is obvious.
The victims of the almost four years of violent criminal activities in Etim Ekpo and Ukanafun Local Government Areas, are still counting their loses. The relatives of those killed are still mourning; those whose houses were razed and those whose businesses were ruined are still waiting for succor. Total normalcy has not been achieved in schools and other public places. The call for the Akwa Ibom State government to assist victims of the violence, has been met by a deafening silence. The government has no succor to offer. Till date life remains uncertain at the affected local government areas, making the locals view the purported restoration of peace in the area, appear to the locals, as peace of the grave yard.
The Gov. Emmanuel’s government should, therefore, act to ensure that the tenuous peace in the area is sustained. The rumor making the round in the area is that agents of government are already courting the militants for use in the coming election. The governor owes it a duty to the people of the area to ensure they never experience the hell they went through in the hands of the tormenting cultists, kidnappers and militants.