Bloody Clash Between Rival Armed Revenue Touts At Onitsha Bridgehead Over Pit Control And Recent Suspension Of All Kangaroo Elections Into Anambra Markets: Is Soludo Still In The House Watching?
On 24th January 2022, we wrote an open letter to Anambra Governor-Elect, Prof Charles Soludo cataloguing sundry misconducts by the Anambra State Ministry of Trade, Commerce and Investment headed by Commissioner Uchenna Okafor, regarding to Anambra Markets and Internally Generated Revenue managements. Issues of corruption, fraudulent market elections and raging menace of revenue touts, etc were elaborately highlighted. On 28th January, we issued another statement, highlighting eight major things Soludo must formatively do to stabilize, survive and govern Anambra State well.
The eight major areas had included: flushing out hired ‘internet warriors’ (in their thousands), forming a sizeable cabinet and reducing costs, using savings from governance cuts on civil servants, ors, sanitizing and reorganizing markets and parks, reorganizing state revenues and eliminating roadside/street touting, fixing failed state and urban street roads and drainages, evacuating mountains of refuse dumps and merging and upgrading public nursery and primary schools.
Critics say we did not and should have included security and we responded and still respond knowledgeably that ‘Security’ is no longer narrowed to ‘security from guns and bullets’ but has long been expanded since 1994 and transformed into “Human Security” with its seven categories of economic security, environmental security, food security, health security, community security, personal security and political security. Therefore, for Prof Charles Soludo to govern well, the above must be factored and judiciously ensured.
As expected, the position of Intersociety, as highlighted above, did not go down well with some principal actors in the outgoing Government of Anambra State especially those at the center of accusation. However, on 28th January 2022, one of our demands was heeded to when the embattled Anambra State Commissioner for Trade, Commerce and Investment, Mr. Uchenna Okafor was forced to issue a Government letter, suspending the planned kangaroo market election slated to take place on 2nd Feb 2022 at Onitsha Ogbogwu Int’l Market. That was after the State Government had on 25th Jan 2022 organized an “unopposed market executives’ election” at Ogbaru Int’l Relief Market during which armed thugs were freely used by the Government of Anambra State to return all members of its appointed caretaker committee in the Market as “unopposed elected executives”. Intersociety had immediately after the kangaroo election, obtained first hand information of how it all happened.
Again on 7th Feb 2022, another of our key demands was heeded to when Commissioner Uchenna Okafor was forced to issue another letter, suspending all “outstanding market executives’ elections into Anambra Markets till beyond March 2022”. Intersociety had also in its several statements accused the outgoing Government of Anambra State of undue interference into market affairs across the State especially by imposing unpopular persons as their leaders through “caretaker committees” or “unopposed elections”. It was also deliberately designed for purpose of nepotism and favoritism. A clear case in point was the imposition of the current “ASMATA President”, a stranger in Anambra Market Community, on account of his blood relationship with the wife of the outgoing Governor of Anambra State.
Today, he is a “specialist”, in conspiracy with other imposed and unpopular market leaders in flooding the remaining open spaces in Anambra Markets with illegal structures including at Bridgehead, Main, Eke Awka, Ose, Ochanja and Ogbaru Relief Markets, etc . By suspending “all outstanding market executives’ elections in Anambra State”, it is not only seen by Intersociety as a welcome development but also all market executives produced through “unopposed elections” since June 2021-starting from Ogidi Int’l Market down to Bridgehead Central Market, Tools and Allied Market, Akpakara (1 and 2) Markets and Ogbaru Int’l Relief Market, etc shall be deemed as “caretaker committees” and liable for dissolution pending when proper and credible elections are conducted in all their elective positions.
Further, on 15th Feb 2022, few hours to market closing, a bloody clash ensued between two warring groups of armed revenue touts-leading to a yet-to-be identified defenseless citizen being shot and killed by personnel of the Nigerian Navy who opened fire, shooting indiscriminately out of panic and in murderous self defense. Scores were also injured. The dead victim was shot by bullets fired by Navy personnel at Uga Junction. He had panicked and made an escape run out of his car to escape the riotous scene and was hit and felled by a bullet. In the ensuing bloody clash between the two rival armed revenue collection squads, the nearby Bridgehead Central Market and its sub Timber, Foam and Akpakara or Old Iron Dealers Markets were invaded by dozens of armed touts who attacked and robbed scores of innocent traders with some losing their expensive smart phones and others being disposed of huge sums of money.
Most parts of the Bridgehead Central Market were also forced to close hurriedly. The violent clash was between two Government of Anambra State hired violent revenue collectors. The other, from Obosi, had stormed the pits/beats manned by another in a bid to take over his pits and revenue windows which the latter vehemently resisted leading to free for all by their dangerously armed supporters. The former was said to have been newly awarded the revenue “contact” by some principal actors in the outgoing Government of Anambra State.
It must be noted that Onitsha and Ogbaru parts of the Niger Bridgehead have become a home to armed revenue touts dotted with several pits or beats and structured in cartel-like leadership including “beat/pit commanders” and “general commander (Oga Ndi Oga)”. Rival clashes periodically occur for purpose of ‘beat/pit’ control. The cartel-like run revenue tout squads have also grown out of control, to the extent that they now bear arms and other dangerous weapons and brandish and operate openly with them. Apart from collecting sundry revenues or tolls belonging to Government of Anambra State or raising and manning their own revenue windows, they are also hired by troublesome individuals, market leaders and key Government appointees for purpose of doing shoddy jobs for them including being used to impose unpopular market leaders during kangaroo market elections.
Among their foot soldiers are those recruited by soldiers and personnel of the Nigerian Navy to collect tolls for them especially from long lorry drivers and other commercial motorists and whereas soldiers of the Nigerian Army from 302 Onitsha Artillery Regiment are stationed at Onitsha Niger Bridgehead, personnel of the Nigerian Navy from Ogbaru/Atani Naval Base are manning a major checkpoint at Uga Junction/Atani Road Junction. Apart from using those recruited militant revenue touts as “military toll collectors”, their cartel leaders also routinely offer ‘returns’ to ‘beat leaders’ of the stationed soldiers and navy personnel as well as top officials of the outgoing Government of Anambra State who also use them to violently collect tolls and extort other road users. This explains why the soldiers and navy personnel in the area watch and allow the armed touts to operate freely including causing mayhem to residents of Onitsha and environs and other road users. Militant revenue and roadside tout menace are one of monstrous legacies of the outgoing Government of Anambra State and a major challenge to the incoming Government of Prof Charles Soludo.
Finally, in all these, our question is: Governor-Elect, Prof Charles Chukwuma Soludo, are you still in the House watching?
For: International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law
Emeka Umeagbalasi, Board Chair
Chinwe Umeche Esquire, Head, Democracy and Good Governance
Chidimma Eva Udegbunam Esquire, Head, Campaign and Publicity