Regional Securities

Macabre Discoveries in Lokpanta Cattle Market, by Ochereome Nnanna

SO, it was not only cattle and other livestock that they were slaughtering at the Lokpanta Cattle Market? This cattle market is located at the Enugu – Port Harcourt Expressway in Umunneochi Local Government Area of Abia State.

The Abia State Government under the command of Governor Alex Otti, sent its Operation Crush outfit into the market following persistent reports that the area, which had been illegally turned into a small town by “Hausa-Fulani” settlers, had become a great security threat to the host community and other communities in that axis of Abia State.

The spine-chilling reports from that investigation disclosed that 20 decomposing bodies, headless bodies and skeletons were recovered from the forests surrounding the market, while another 50 bodies were found within the immediate vicinity of the market. It was also discovered that the Lokpanta Cattle Market had become the headquarters of kidnappers, where they negotiate and share ransoms.

This criminality has been going on for over ten years, but the corrupt and cowardly previous administrations in the state failed to act to protect lives and property. These findings should not come as a surprise to those who are familiar with the kidnapping of Methodist Prelate, Samuel Kanu-Uche. In an interview with Arise Television on June 4, 2022, the Prelate disclosed that his captors identified themselves as Fulani from Nigeria and other far-flung places like Mali, Songhai and Sudan.

According to the prelate: “It was a full kidnapping by herdsmen. Their cattle were very close there”. He said that those who failed to pay had their head cut off and their bodies dumped in nearby valleys. Kanu-Uche narrated his encounter with one of the kidnappers who told him that he was born in Umuahia where his grandparents had settled long before the Civil War. He spoke Igbo fluently. When the armed herdsmen started setting up camps around the Lokpanta axis, he joined them in their kidnapping “business” to become a security threat to a people that accommodated him and his ancestors.

It was this same spirit of biting the finger that feeds you or repaying magnanimity with cruelty and wickedness that is reflected in the story of the Lokpanta Cattle Market. About 25 years ago, the site of the market was an uninhabited forest. It all started when the first elected Governor of Zamfara State, Ahmed Sani Yerima, declared full Sharia law in his state on October 25, 1999, barely five months after being sworn in.

Other Muslim majority states in the far North followed suit. This sparked off the Sharia riots in Kaduna State, with a spill over to other nearby Muslim majority states. The riots, which lasted from March to May 2000, claimed between 1,000 and 5,000 lives. As usual, majority of victims were Southerners, particularly Igbo who are usually targeted when such tragic events take place in the deep North. A lot of Igbo residents of the North relocated to the South-East and other parts of the South with their tales of woe. For the first time since the Civil War, there were venomous reprisal killings of Northerners in the South-East.

This was made possible because of the presence of the Bakasi Boys, a daredevil vigilante outfit born in Aba, and used to “purify” a society over-infested by criminals. The Bakasi Boys were very strong in Abia and Anambra states. Governor Orji Uzor Kalu elevated it into a state vigilante outfit, while Governor Chinwoke Mbadinuju of Anambra State did the same.

The killing of Northern elements became so pervasive that the leaders of that community in Abia State begged Governor Kalu to find a safe place for them. Kalu gave them a temporary place along the highway at Lokpanta. He later transferred the Umuahia Cattle Market, which was developed around the railway line in Ibeku over 100 years ago, to Lokpanta.

The status of that settlement was not made clear to the settlers and the Lokpanta community which was not even consulted. It was not even properly gazetted. Kalu has been on record boasting that he established “Ruga” for Northerners. He knew this would please Muhammadu Buhari who was seeking support for his unpopular Ruga policy for the settlement of Fulani nomadic herdsmen. Kalu obviously made that boast to shore up his political profile in the run-up to 2023.

But when the crimes that were being committed in that enclave were exposed, Kalu made a post on the media clarifying that he moved the Cattle Market from Umuahia to Lokpanta to promote sanitation in the state capital. The Lokpanta Cattle Market has played very important roles in promoting commerce in Abia State. It is a place that people from surrounding states buy cows and foodstuff. It also serves as a stopover place for Northern traders who come to Aba to buys goods.

But unfortunately, the settlers started illegal and indiscriminate expansion of the settlement without the permission or consent of the landowners or the state government. Lokpanta had become hijacked and turned into an illegal “Ruga” settlement, human slaughter slab and ungoverned space. The settlement also attracted bandits from the North who relocate to the South-East to continue their kidnapping for ransom. The criminal herdsmen also joined them.

During the Buhari regime, nobody could touch them. Rogue military elements in that area had integrated themselves into their criminal syndicates, and provided them with protection for a share of their proceeds of crime. The Alex Otti government’s decision to assert its authority is an action that I treasure from the deepest part of my heart. Abia State is now blest with a good leader. The demolition of brothels and illegal structures and the closure of the market after every trading day will surely promote commerce and end criminality. Otti should go ahead and dismantle all illegal encampments in the forests operated by criminal elements. Other governors should also emulate him.

Culled from Vangaurdngr

IMAGE: afp/ getty

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