Armed militias have taken control of two local government areas in Cross River State and displaced virtually every civil authority in the area. The militia, generally believed to be members of Bakassi Strike Force, had been operating in the area for some time. But they recently seized control of Bakassi and Akpabuyo local government areas, displacing both civil and traditional authorities in the councils.
It was reliably gathered by THISDAY Newspapers that the elected chairmen of the two local governments had fled the area for several month now, while the councillors hold their legislative sittings in Calabar. The secretariats of both local councils have also been deserted by civil servants for fear of being kidnapped or attacked by the militants.
To try to stem the slide into anarchy, the state governor, Professor Ben Ayade, has appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to extend the activities of “Operation Delta Safe”, a security taskforce protecting oil installations in the Niger Delta, to Cross River State. Ayade said his state should not to be isolated in the battle to keep the Niger Delta safe. He also promised to increase the firepower of the state’s security taskforce, “Operation Skolombo.”
Militancy has gripped Cross River State for the past few months. And militants are being blamed for an increasing wave of kidnapping, armed robbery, and other criminal activities, especially, in Calabar, the state capital.
But Bakassi and Akpabuyo local government areas, which share maritime boundary with Cameroon, recently became a lawless, anarchic zone in which militants rule. It was discovered that the militants collected rents and levies from people doing business in the council areas, which they termed “protection money”, a situation that has made many people to flee.
The militants are said to have also rendered the state judicial organs and the traditional institutions in Akpabuyo and Bakassi local governments impotent, as the militias now handle matters that should otherwise be handled by the conventional courts, village heads, clan chiefs, and paramount rulers.
A source conversant with the situation, but pleaded not to be named, said, “There is total anarchy there now, and people are actually running to Cameroon now for help. First of all, the local government chairmen in both places don’t go to office, and they have not gone to office over the past one and a half years. They have written, complained, begged, and appealed, to no avail.
“The legislatures in those places don’t meet at the local government headquarters. They hold their meetings in Calabar so as to fulfil the statutory requirements that they hold a certain number of meetings in a session.
“So, effectively, there is no governance in those areas.”
The source said the locals had made a failed bid to contain the armed men.
“The traditional institutions have tried to fight, but they can no longer sustain the fight. They don’t have guns, they don’t have money,” the source stated. “What we have now is that militants have set up a parallel government. They are the ones that resolve land disputes, they are the ones that resolve family disputes, and if husband and wife quarrel they go to militants. Of course, their methods are crude but effective.
“They rely on jungle justice, they cane people. Culprits pay fines of goats, drinks, and money.”
Though, as gathered, there are police posts and soldiers stationed in the areas, the security agents appear to be overwhelmed by the militants.
Meanwhile, the Cross River State Governor, Ben Ayade has said his administration is ready to flush out criminals trying to dent the peaceful image of the state.
The governor was speaking in Calabar, the state capital shortly after embarking on Operation Show Force across Calabar.
As a concerned government, Governor Ben Ayade and Service Commanders in the State embarked on the Operation Show Force exercise around major streets of Calabar to demonstrate that his government will no longer condone their activities.
The Governor affirmed that all specific locations have been marked, even as access to water fronts will be cut off.
He hinted that his administration is also embarking on a door to door search to ensure that nobody exits without a thorough search.
The Cross River Commissioner of Police, Jimoh Ozi-Obeh and the State Security Adviser Jude Ngaji urged residents to go about their lawful activities without fear.
Residents who spoke to Channels Television are optimistic that, with the Operation Show Force exercise embarked upon by these personalities, the state will gradually return to the once peaceful and highly placed tourist state in the country.
Calabar, the Cross River State Capital has since its history been reckoned with peace with no records of criminal activities as witnessed lately.
This menace and the advent of other new crimes in the state has left residents pondering over where the security operatives got it wrong.
The concern has been on the lips of many residing and doing business in the state as they condemn the act in totality.
To this end, series of security meetings and patrols have over the past days being on the increase to let the miscreants know that, their days are numbered and will be brought to book in no distant time.