By BC Aroh
Ugwuogo/Agu-Ekwegbe/Opi/Nsukka road in Enugu State has recently become a nightmare, courtesy of recurring kidnap cases along the route. The cases were at their peak in the twilight of the administration of former governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi.
He tackled it headlong, giving hope that there would be light at the end of the tunnel. Particularly, after the kidnap of a former secretary to Enugu State government, Dr Dan Shere, former governor Ugwuanyi visited the scene, cleared bushes along road paths, and hastened the completion of a Mobile Police base along the road. More security checkpoints were also established.
However, the ugly trend has gradually resurfaced. Last week, copious cases of kidnapping were reported, with the state police command even parading some criminals arrested in connection with abduction cases along the road.
It is not an overstatement that the forests used by the hoodlums in carrying out their nefarious activities along Enugu-Ugwuogo-Opi-Nsukka road, namely Agu-Ugwuogo, Agu-Ekwegbe, Agu-Ukehe and Agu-Opi, are comparable with the Sambisa Forest, which is the home of terrorists in Borno State down the Lake Chad Basin. These forests and their lands could be made goldmines through political will.
The northern part of the country boasts of its agricultural potentials because of its rich arable landmass. The aforementioned forests in the now threatened Ugwuogo-Opi-Nsukka road are seated on fertile lands with arteries of water with abundance of aquatic animals. In contrast, South-East is branded as a ‘dot’ by the past administration on the basis that it is small. Metaphorically, the ‘dot’ can’t even feed its people, hence the continuous migration of Ndigbo to other parts of the country with its ugly consequences.
Enugu State, under former governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, did direct local government chairmen of its 17 LGAs to embark on commercial agriculture. The state government then also directed its officials to engage in farming aimed at diversifying the economy of the state as well as job creation. Some council chairmen and government officials failed to implement the order because of paucity of land.
In the North, lands where Agu-Ekwegbe, Agu-Ukehe and Agu-Opi are situated are less than farmlands owned by some individuals. I task researchers to investigate the landmass that farms owned by Senator Abdullahi Adamu, Senator David Mark, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Gen Burutai and Nura Kangiwa have individually! They are more than (cumulatively) the aforementioned forest areas.
With the promise of Gov Peter Mbah to ‘agriculturise’ the state, he should initiate ways of utilising Ugwuowo, Ukehe, Ekwegbe and Opi lands for economic development. My suggestion does not include land acquisition, but superintending the proper utilisation of the endangered areas. Local governments of Enugu East, Nsukka and Igbo-Etiti should be ‘schooled’ to embark on commercial agriculture in their respective areas which are gradually becoming kidnappers’ dens.
The best approach to this is by partnering the host communities in revolutionising the affected areas. At best, individuals and group investors could be screened and eligible ones leased some of the affected areas for tenured commercial agriculture similar to what Zimbabwean farmers did in Kwara State. The role expected of the government in this arrangement is to provide security. Every community in Enugu State has a neighbourhood watch group, as well as Forest Guards. Because they are more conversant with the terrains, they will definitely be able to destroy the kidnappers from within, with the support of conventional security operatives. This security arrangement will be in the forests and not the current highway checkpoints that leaves the hinterlands porous.
The ball has started rolling positively with the establishment of Maduka University, a world-class innovative university, at Ekwegbe-Nsukka. The university has exclusive security arrangements, making it have zero-tolerance for insecurity. Enugu State government and the affected LGAs in conjunction with the host communities should borrow a leaf from Maduka University by embarking on commercial agriculture in the affected areas not only to rout the kidnappers that currently find the place conducive, but turning the dreaded zone into a robust hub for agricultural advancement of the state.
Research shows that Agu-Ukehe in Igbo-Etiti LGA is carved out by the community for farming by the natives. The large expanse of land has some thriving individual farm settlements despite threats by Fulani herdsmen and kidnappers. Governments at all levels can therefore adopt/encourage the existing farm settlement schemes and turn the entire threatened territories into goldmines.
The time to act is now.
BC Aroh writes from Alaigbo