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Date Published: 05/18/10

AMNESTY AT LAST? By PASCAL JOSEPH

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    At last the Abia State Government has granted kidnappers and perpetrators of other violent crime in the state amnesty. This was contained in last weekend’s state-wide broadcast by Governor; Chief Theodore Ahamefula Orji.Three centres have been designated in the state for the collection of the arms returned by those who are to repent from the sins of kidnap and other violent crimes. They are: Ukpakiri Primary School in Obingwa Local Government Area; Mbutu Ukwu Central School in Isiala Ngwa South Local Government Area; and Asa High School in Ukwa West Local Government Area.

    In the broadcast the Governor noted that why the Government has toed that line of action is because of the resolve of the federal government to deal decisively with the issue of insecurity in the Southeast, especially kidnap. According to him, the federal government has plans to monitor crime locations with aircrafts and helicopters. He also expressed concern that the collateral effects of these operations would be devastating on the innocent citizens, who might in the process lose their lives and properties. To avoid the incident, according to him, the state government has in its wisdom taken the decision of granting amnesty to kidnappers and perpetrators of other violent crimes in the state.

     The Governor in the broadcast also noted that kidnapping in Abia State is a spill over of Niger-Delta experience where militants kidnapped expatriates for ransom. According to him, the action is not lawful and was condemned. In his opinion, the kidnapping in Abia has no basis because it is fired by greed, unemployment and life of ostentation among the youths. And because of kidnapping the youths have abandoned their legitimate means of livelihood to join in the illegitimate business.

       He also decried federal government’s action of not involving Abia youths in the amnesty program hence there are overwhelming pieces of evidence that Abia youths were involved in militancy. He also noted that the Abia amnesty program is line with the federal government amnesty program which was started last year. According to the Governor; the State is discussing with some federal government relevant agencies on the Abia amnesty program.

      The amnesty solution as a means of curbing the crime wave in Abia State has generated negative controversy. Comrade Emeka Umeagbalasi, former Chairman Civil Liberties Organization, Anambra State and Chairman Board of Trustees of International Society for the Rule of Law and Civil Liberty (INTERSOCIETY) a pro-human rights group in the Southeast, in his reaction that the Governor is tactless and careless by using the word “amnesty” without considering its core meaning and conditions for its use. According to him, the situation would create opportunities for kidnapping and other violent crimes to thrive.

     “If that is correct, then the Governor goofed unpardonably. He is also tactless and careless by using the word amnesty without core meaning and conditions for its use. The conduct of the Governor creates room for crimes; including kidnapping to thrive. Here is a man that arbitrarily collects allegedly the sum of N700million every month as security vote,” Comrade Umeagbalasi noted.

      He continued: “Amnesty project is a big project that goes into phases with numerous conditions. Blanket amnesty is never an amnesty project. If the Governor is an illiterate as per what amnesty stands for, he should approach scholars in conflict management and transformation for scholarly advice .Amnesty is not granted through the microphone.

      According to Barrister Uche Awa, the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Aba branch Chairman, the Abia amnesty program would be meaningful if those granted amnesty could be identified. According to him, those people are criminals and there is no way you can identify them.Also,Comrade Chidi Nwosu,the President Human Rights,Jutice and Peace Foundation (HJJPF),is of the opinion that the Governor faulted by granting amnesty to faceless criminals.

        Dr.Jude Ohanaele, the Director of Development Dynamics, a Non-Governmental Organization based in the Southeast, in his opinion noted that these are dividends of electoral fraud and illegitimacy. “These are dividends of electoral fraud and illegitimacy. As long as we accept an exotic crime like electoral fraud, we may have no option but to decriminalize kidnapping, armed robbery and other exotic crimes. We cannot eat our cake and have it. May God help Abia State and Nigeria at large,” he declared.

      It could be noted that the decision of the Abia State government has been in the pipe line since last year in a public ceremony last year; the Governor is alleged to have declared his readiness to offer amnesty to repentant kidnappers.

      Writing under the title “Abia offline amnesty offer” in his November 5, 2009 edition of Politics column in Vanguard Newspaper, veteran Journalist Ochereome Nnanna questions whether the setting and logic of the federal government amnesty offer fits into that of Abia.According to him, three key elements in which the federal government’s amnesty to militants were based are absent in the Abia experiment.

      The factors are i) the oil factor, ii) the moral muscle behind the Niger-Delta militancy and iii) the military strategy that helped persuade the militants to surrender.Mr.Nnanna argued further “In the Abia setting, the kidnappers are not militants are not protesting over oil. They are simply criminals, many of whom took to the crime as a result of unemployment and dwindling economic fortunes. Being criminals, they have no moral plea to offer for their crime.”

      According to him, even if some people take up the governor’s amnesty offer, which he considers unlikely, many more will hang back, and still many new gangs will sprout to take the place of the “repentant” kidnappers. Mr.Nnanna also questioned what will happen to the capital punishment attached to kidnapping in Abia State.

       “If you offer kidnappers amnesty, “rehabilitate” them and give them employment opportunities as the Governor promised what about the millions of other law-abiding youths who chose to stay on the narrow path? Are you going to reward the criminals while they stand and watch? If there is any job and rehabilitation (or better put, capacity building) available, let it be given to law-abiding citizens while the criminals and their accomplices must be visited with full wrath of the law,” Mr.Nnanna posited.

      He continued “How would those whose relations have been taken and some killed and buried in shallow graves (as in the case of Chief Dike Udensi’s mother and her grand daughter in Abiriba) feel when they see these criminals shaking hands with Governor Orji in the Government House Umuahia? This offer is completely off-line. The Governor’s political enemies might misinterpret it. It is unacceptable. The state must not be seen as surrendering to criminals. The State must assert its authority. It starts with Governor Theodore Orji.”

     In the past, the State Government has made some efforts to address the security situation in the state. One of the efforts is the importation of heavy presence of security agents. But unfortunately this effort has been counter-productive. Instead of providing security for the lives and property of Abians, the security agents invade communities in which neighbourhood a crime has taken place rape women; destroy people’s lives and property.

       In a recent petition to the Inspector-General of Police and made available to this publication by Barr.Chinenye Emelogu, Counsel to the people of Umuokpo Amairinabuo Autonomous Community in Obingwa Local Government Area of Abia State who are represented by some victims of Police assault in the persons of Mr. Samuel Adina, Mr. Alozie Mark, Nze Sunday Awazieama, Mrs.Florence Enyeazu, Mr.Iwejua Imeuka, Mr.Emmanuel Onwudi and Elder Umunna Erondu, the Counsel drew the attention of the IG to the burning down of the buildings and personal house hold properties of the people mentioned above; the stripping naked and rape of the wives of some of the victims and daughters by the combined team of Army, Police and Bakassi Outfits on Saturday 1-5-2010 by 1am on the orders of the Commissioner of Police and carried out by the Area commander Aba and the Divisional police Officer (DPO) Eastern Ngwa Division Umuobiakwa in Obingwa L.G.A.

       The petition further demands the payment of N5million to the victims by the Police. It also requests for high-powered investigation in to the matter; and notice of intention to sue the Police.

        According to the petition, the community which is situated along the Aba-Ikot Ekpene Highway came under heavy attack by lawless team of Police men, Army and Bakassi Vigilante Outfit at about 1am in the morning. These men, according to the petition, burnt down the houses of some of the members of the community and also raped their wives and daughters.

       The petition explained “That while the house was burning, these lawless officers would strip the women naked by asking them to remove their pants and brassier which they collect from them and throw them in to the fire and any of the women they felt met their eyes was taken away and raped in the dark and the woman’s wailing will come to the hearing of the husband and children and to the parents of the young girls.”

      The cause of the unholy conduct of these lawless officers were explained in the following lines: “Before this incident on 1-5-2010, our clients got information that on Friday 30-4-2010, a day before the date of this incident, men of the Eastern Ngwa Division of the Nigeria Police Umuobiakwa, mounted their usual Road block along the Aba-Ikot Ekpene federal high way at a village called Umuibe, about six kilometers from our clients’ village and while they were receiving their usual “Egunje”(bribe),armed robbers swooped on them and engaged them in a shoot out ,and in the process, one police man was shot dead by the armed robbers by the information available to our clients after the incident.Barr.Emelogu wondered why innocent people should suffer for the offence they did not commit.

      Also in a similar fate, people doing business and living around the popular Osisioma Junction suffered for what they are innocent of when men of the Anti Terrorism Squad mounting road block at the junction invaded shops, motor parks destroying, burning shops and vehicles.

      According to eye witnesses’ accounts, the unwarranted anger of the men was provoked when hoodlums took them on a gun shot and shot dead one of their men. Though official police source through the Police Public Relations Officer, Abia State, Mr.Alli Okechukwu, put the casualty to one, a contradicting source noted that outside the one shot dead, two were taking away by the hoodlums alive.

     In reaction to the incident, the Commissioner of Police through the PPRO condemned the action of the Police men and described it as baseless. According to the statement, the policemen who carried the dastard act would be brought to book.

      The situation in Aba is has proven these security agents to be Army of occupation. In Ukpakiri along Aba Ikot Ekpene Federal high way, Men of the Police Mobile Force mounting road block there subject people to inhuman and barbaric treatments. People are forced to frog jump, kneel on hard objects, beaten with gun butts and raise up their hands when passing by the check points.

      A social commentator in the state captures the situation thus “the mentality in these security agents is that Aba people are now captives in their hands. That is why they subject to all manner of barbaric and inhuman treatment.Infact police should be acquainted with trainings in human psychology and the Constitution as it affects the fundamental human rights of the citizens.”

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