It is unusually calm this Wednesday afternoon in Oraifite, the second largest town in Ekwusigo Local Government Area of Anambra State. The journey through Oraifite, which branches off the Onitsha–Owerri Expressway, becomes more exciting as you go deeper into its different quarters.
Like many other towns in the Southern and Central Senatorial districts of Anambra State, Oraifite’s landmass is limited, but it has compensated for this with a population density of almost a 1000 people per square kilometre, which should be one of the highest in Africa.
Divided in two by the Onitsha–Owerri Expressway, most of the population lives northeast of the community, while the flood plains of the south-western part are sparsely populated. Gully erosion has been a major challenge to the community, which has spent a lot of resources covering up the gullies that open up widely every rainy season.
In every quarter of the town, modern buildings, mainly duplexes with the latest roofing designs, are fighting very hard to replace the older architecture that ruled the region in 1980s and 1990s when the town witnessed a wave of prosperity among its people after they took to merchandising, moving to Lagos and overseas in search of financial success.
It would appear that every family here has one person or the other that could showcase the latest trend in building architecture, a clear departure from the days when only a few people like the Igwe Oraifite, the Mokelus and the Offors boasted the best houses in town.
With its materially successful and highly religious population, Oraifite is one community that is the envy of other towns around it. On the surface, it appeared that all was going on well until the early morning of Sept. 3, 2012 when a combined team of the Anambra State Anti-Robbery Squad and Mobile Police Ssquad stormed the Ifite area of the town in a commando style.
Within two hours, the operation had become successful with the recovery of the largest cache of arms anywhere in Nigeria in peacetime from the home of one Olisa Ifedika, alleged to be the mastermind of many recent high profile kidnappings, armed robbery and attacks on police formations.
The Anambra State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Ballah Nasarawa, describes the feat as “a tremendous achievement in curbing crime and criminalities in Anambra State.”
Taking a second look at the cache of arms recovered the police chief says, “With this, any group can defeat a small army.”
Among the arms recovered in an underground armoury at the home of Ifedika were 27 AK-47 rifles, one K2 rifle, two 06 rifles, one general purpose machine gun, one rocket launcher, 17 rockets, 13 rocket grenades, six pump action guns, three locally-manufactured guns and one Berretta pistol. A total of 14,425 rounds of live ammunition were also recovered.
The wild jubilations among the residents of the town that followed the arrest of Ifedika and his father and the recovery of the large cache of arms was an unambiguous indication of the silent pain the people had been going through while Ifedika reigned unchallenged.
The President-General of the Oraifite Improvement Union, Raphael Nweke, says Ifedika’s fall came through divine intervention.
“It was only when God decided that he should be arrested that he was arrested,” Nweke tells Saturday PUNCH. “We can now feel very free to move about.”
In a rare case of sincerity, the Anambra police commissioner acknowledges that it “was a good spirited citizen” that gave the police the tip off that led to the arrest and recovery of the arms.
“It shows that a positive development is brewing between the police and the people and that the crisis of confidence that hitherto separated the police from the civil populace is dying out,” says Nasarawa.
Many residents and natives of the community could not hide their joy after the capture of Ifejika, who, though, was well known for his nefarious activities, could not be confronted for the fear that he would unleash his men on anyone that dared give his secrets out to the authorities.
The PG of the community says that though everyone knew about the activities of Ifejika, the man had remained evasive, most of the time staying away from the community.
“We don’t harbour criminals in Oraifite,” he offers. “We’re praying that no other youth from the community gets involved in this. The town is now calm and everybody is happy after this great relief.”
Of course, everywhere is calm now in Oraifite, but the area around the Ifedika property is like a security zone: security men still keep watch over the ruins of the house the suspect’s father built.
Governor Peter Obi, who led a team of security chiefs to Ifedika’s home to demolish the houses of the suspect and that of his father, said he could not imagine that a young citizen of the state and his father would “be involved in this level of criminality, living their lives by causing pain to other citizens.”
“We can no longer continue this kind of life. People must live purposeful lives; we’re going to start looking for his business associates,” says the governor, who appears to have taken a vow to run kidnappers not only out of town but out of business.
Obi hinges his confiscation and destruction of the property of suspected kidnappers on a law passed three years by the Anambra State House of Assembly, which only did not prescribe the death sentence for kidnapping, but also authorised the government to confiscate or destroy property used by kidnappers as their operational base.
“This is part of my administration’s effort in making sure that criminal activities are eradicated in Anambra State. We will not stop until Anambra becomes safe,” Obi says.
He quickly adds that he has initiated the due process needed to prosecute the suspect, while efforts would be stepped up to trace the location of his property elsewhere for confiscation, saying no criminal will be allowed to enjoy the proceeds of their crime.
The governor had ordered the sealing up of property of two other citizens, which were used as operational bases of kidnappers at Nkpor and Nri.
The governor’s action has however generated a heated debate in legal circles about the legality or otherwise of his decision to destroy the property of Ifedika and his father when they had not been found guilty by a competent court of law.
“What the governor did was simply jungle justice,”says Mr. Ken Okonkwo, a lawyer. “The law presumes everybody innocent until he has been found guilty. Where was Ifedika tried? Let us not rubbish good intentions with false steps.”
The Oraifite PG, while commending the approach adopted by government, urges that the punishment should not be selective. He says it should also be extended to everyone indicted for kidnapping and armed robbery.
The Anambra State Commissioner of Police, Nasarawa, who sees the Oraifite breakthrough as a personal triumph, has gone ahead to recover more arms and ammunition based on information he says Ifedika gave the police.
The latest recoveries were done in Uli, where the police recovered two AK-47 rifles, one Type 06 rifle, one rocket grenade, 27 AK-47 magazines, three rocker propellers, 770 rounds of 7.62mm live ammunition and nine chains used to lock kidnap victims.
Nasarawa was welcomed to the state earlier in the year by armed robbers, who just a few days after he assumed office, attacked two police stations at Ukpor and Amichi and killed three policemen at Ozubulu and five policemen at Okija.
The commissioner says part of the arms and ammunition recovered from the kidnap suspects were actually the ones carted away when the police stations were attacked.
“This suspect has been a most wanted armed robbery/kidnapping kingpin responsible for series of high profile kidnappings, armed robberies and murder, including the kidnap of Jerome Okolie, Igwe of Ihembosi in EkwusigoLGA in 2010 and the recent kidnap of the traditional ruler of Ukpo in DunukofiaLGA, Igwe Robbert Eze.
“His gang is also responsible for the killing of five policemen at Okija on 22nd June, 2012, as well as murder of three policemen at Ozubulu on 2nd April, 2012 and the violent attack on Amichi and Ukpor police divisions in Nnewi South LGA on 4th April, 2012.”
Who says Oraifite wouldn’t enjoy peace again?