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The Ugwuoba Cattle Market in Enugu State has emerged as a pressing security challenge that requires urgent attention from the administration of Governor Peter Mbah, as highlighted by Chidubem Okolie.

When the Ugwuoba Cattle Market was opened many years ago, the altruistic purpose was never in doubt – to provide a platform for citizens in and around Enugu and Anambra States and livestock dealers to meet their food and business needs.

Unfortunately, indigenes of Amansi, Awka, in Anambra State and Ugwuoba, who spoke to our correspondent, now see the place as a modern Sodom and Gomora, given the criminality, illicit drugs, prostitution, and other vices that now thrive at the market and its environs.

Surprisingly, whereas the holy book, in John 3:20, says, “everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed,” the evildoers of Ugwuoba are not afraid of the light. Go to those shanties in the suburbs of the market at any time of the day and you are sure to buy illicit drugs such as methamphetamine (‘Mkpuru mmiri’) and cannabis also find other like minds consuming their illicit stocks with reckless abandon; and for as little as a few wads of hundred naira notes, you could buy sex at every corner of the market’s vicinity.

But Ugwuoba Cattle Market, also known as Garki, and its environ have not always been like that. Vice Chairman of the market and an indigene, who represents the Amachala family, owners of the land on which the market was sited, Mr. Shedrach Ezeani, highlighted some of the factors fanning the embers of criminality in the area.

His words: “I represent the Amachala family, owners of this place, in the Gariki executives. We are here working together with the executives and the market authorities.

“The issues we have in terms of security is that there are too many hoodlums around this Gariki. Our chairman tried many times, through the local government, to at least reduce them. But people from outside Ugwuoba come in and reside by the side of this market. That is the problem we are facing here.

“From 2004 we used to collect rent around Gariki suburb, not the main Gariki. We didn’t have problems then. But some years later, some boys said they don’t want family owners of the land to collect the rent and they said let every individual manage his own portion of land. So, many started giving portions of land to unknown persons. From then, hoodlums gathered around there.

“Government should come in because the Gariki Market does not have the capacity to do this. If you ask anybody, he will tell you that this is my father’s portion of land. Those shanties and unregulated lodges are not doing good for this place. People hide there in the name of Gariki and do all sorts of things. They invite lodgers from unknown destinations. Criminals will join them to lodge. That is the problem we are having. The government has to take action and control them.”

His perspective is not any different from that of the Chairman of the market, Abubakar Yusuf Sadiq, who also traced the criminality in the area to illicit drugs and prostitution. The other is caused by locals, who indiscriminately sell or lease lands to unknown person to build lodges and shanties where these criminals hibernate.

”Actually, in the last two months alone, we have had issues of people fighting and stabbing each other to death under the influence of drugs. Most of these people are taking ‘Mkpuru mmuri’. After taking the substance, they ended up fighting. Unfortunately one of them died.

“On 20th November, Umar Garba Yakubu, under the influence of drugs, stabbed Safiu Mohammed from Taraba State to death. Safiu’s people wanted to retaliate, but with the intervention of the executives and the police, we arrested the situation and Umar was arrested and handed over to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Police. He is in jail now.

“Another one happened on 4th December when one Yusuf Adamu from Gombe State was stabbed by one person that I don’t know his name. But with the help of security, we arrested him and handed him over to the security operatives. That one was also under the influence of drugs too.

”The major problem causing insecurity here is drugs. They transact in and take drugs here. So that is the cause of insecurity in this place.

“Aside that, we have some areas that accommodate criminals. This is at the extensions of the market. The market is too large. There are places where they sell alcohol and prostitutes are there too. These attract criminals. I could remember the last time there were people who kidnapped someone in Anambra State, but they came and hid here. Those places are under Gariki, but we (the executive) don’t have control over them because the land was given to them by the indigenes.

“Each time we complain to them, they tell us that it is their land and that we cannot tell them what to do with their land. But in the eye of the government, everywhere here is Gariki,” he narrated.

Findings show that some criminals who escaped from the onslaught by the current administration in Enugu State find the Ugwuoba Garki as safe havens. It was also informed that the area serves as the first bus stop of cross-boundary criminals recruited for the kidnap enterprise before they now link up with those who ordered them for deployment.

A security operative said: “If you cannot credit the present Enugu State governor with any other thing, you must give him credit for the way he has waged war against crime and criminality. I can authoritatively say that a whole lot has been done in ridding the state of criminals and kidnappers.

If you were privileged to see the security advisory by Total Energies to its workers earlier this February, you would notice that Enugu State is the only South East state that is not highlighted in red on that map. This goes to confirm what the National Security Adviser, Nuhu Ribadu, recently said about improved security in Enugu State.

“But I must admit that this is work in progress and I agree that places like this Garki, which serve as their rendezvous deserve our attention. We have made the necessary recommendation to the government and I believe the government is working things out. And on our part, we have our eyes on the place.”

Regina Madu, an indigene of Ugwuoba, described the market as Sodom and Gomora.

“The cattle market and its environ have become a kind of modern Sodom and Gomora. Is it the sell and use of drugs? Is it the prostitution? Is this place meant to be launch pads and hideout by criminals? Or is it the prostitution? Many mothers like me are praying for the government to come and clear this place and build it into a modern market and also regulate it better. It cannot be allowed to continue in its present form,” she stated.Like Mrs. Madu, other residents believe that the market cannot continue to exist in its present form. They argue that Governor Peter Mbah cannot comprehensively tackle crime in the state without restoring sanity in the market and its environ. But will government take action? Only time will tell.

About Dons Eze

DONS EZE, PhD, Political Philosopher and Journalist of over four decades standing, worked in several newspaper houses across the country, and rose to the positions of Editor and General Manager. A UNESCO Fellow in Journalism, Dr. Dons Eze, a prolific writer and author of many books, attended several courses on Journalism and Communication in both Nigeria and overseas, including a Postgraduate Course on Journalism at Warsaw, Poland; Strategic Communication and Practical Communication Approach at RIPA International, London, the United Kingdom, among others.

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