Undoubtedly, Calabar, the Cross River State capital, had, over the years, carved a niche for itself as a crime-free city. In fact, it was described with the phrase ‘Come and live and be at rest’. This was so because you could hardly hear of any criminal incident.
The peaceful nature of the city assuredly made Calabar the safest destination for businesses and leisure. It, therefore, became a home for people with diverse cultures. This placed the state on a high pedestal and made it a preferred tourism hub in Nigeria. In fact, it became an epicentre for national and international events.
Unfortunately today, the city has cut another image for itself. It has become a safe haven for criminals. Kidnapping, armed robbery, car snatching and other nefarious crimes which were hitherto alien to the city, have escalated. Residents of the city now sleep with one eye open as they do not know when these dare devil criminals would strike.
In fact, the once peaceful city had been turned into a crime resort as criminals now operate in broad daylight without being challenged by security operatives. This development has, however, slowed down business activities in the city as scared investors and businessmen now close shops early as some are planning to relocate.
Penultimate Friday, dare devil armed robbers invaded eateries and shops along Ndidem Usang Iso Road, leaving many people scampering for safety. The invasion came few hours after the governor had met with security chiefs to strategise on how to tackle the menace of crime in the state.
Also, a third Republic Senator, Mr Patrick Ani, was last Wednesday kidnapped. Ani, who represented Cross River South Senatorial district on the platform of the defunct National Republican Convention (NRC), between 1992 and 1994, was kidnapped in his farm in Akpabuyo, near Calabar.
Ani, who is the younger brother of the former finance minister, Chief Anthony Ani, was allegedly picked up without any resistance in his farm by gunmen suspected to be militants that had been terrorising the Southern part of the state,
Similarly, Mr Ededem Ita, former Special Adviser, Labour Matters, to Senator Liyel Imoke of Cross River State, was allegedly kidnapped last Thursday.
This is came exactly 16 days after five foreign expatriates and two Nigerian staff of Macmahon, a contracting firm with the United Cement Company of Nigeria (UNICEM), now larfarge Holcim, was kidnapped at the Idundu axis of the Calabar-Oban road by suspected militants. They were, however, released with injuries after a staggering sum of money was said to have been paid as ransom.
Before these last two kidnappings, about 15 top Igbo businessmen had been kidnapped in the early part of the year and were forced to pay staggering sums of money as ransoms before their release.
The Ibom Layout axis of Ndidem Iso Road in the state capital was also under attack on Tuesday and Wednesday last week, as robbers invaded shops and went away huge sums of money and other valuables.
In the same vein, car theft has also astronomically increased in the once peaceful city. On a daily basis, cars are snatched from residents at different locations in the city.
Also within the period under review, about 15 young men were gruesomely murdered in what could be described as a renewed cult clash between rival cult groups.
Commenting on the upsurge of crime in the state, a Calabar-based legal practitioner and member of the Cross River State law reform, Ndoma Egodo, said: “You will agree with me that since the advent of the Buhari administration, things have been very difficult and people who lived their lives in a particular way find it difficult to adjust.
“Due to the generosity of the previous administration, people had illegal means of livelihood, fake contracts as it was being revealed of recent from the Dasukigate. But because of the change and some people who had been benefitting from these illegal proceeds are the ones who are now stranded, they are hungry. This is in addition to the huge unemployment of the very active age. When you are hungry, you can do anything to survive. That is the cause of the problem”
In view of this, Cross River State governor, Professor Ben Ayade, has warned criminals to look elsewhere for their nefarious activities as he would stop at nothing to flush them out of the state.
To achieve this, the governor and Service Commanders in the state, last Saturday, embarked on “operation show of force” across Calabar.
Ayade explained that the exercise was a deliberate measure to let the miscreants know that his team was in absolute control of the entire situation.
His words: “We are out here as a show of force to demonstrate that we are in absolute control and we are going to keep Calabar totally safe,” adding that “we have done a complete surveillance of all the possible routes, all the water areas through which these criminals escape.”
Continuing, he said: “We know who they are, the security and intelligence report has shown clearly the people who are behind all these activities and I can assure the people of Cross River State that Calabar is indeed peaceful and they should go about their legitimate businesses peacefully.”
The governor, who affirmed that all specific locations had been marked, even as access to water fronts would be cut off, hinted further: “We are also embarking on a door to door search, and cordoning off Calabar to ensure that nobody exits without a thorough search.”
Ayade further added: “I am sure that with the number of combat vehicles, with the armory they (criminals) saw on display today, including military officers, combined team, Operation Skolombo, all on duty, you are told that Cross River State is an action state and we can’t afford the agony of having any tension anymore.”
On measures to sustain the exercise, the governor explained: “As a fallout of our security meeting yesterday (Friday) and today, we will make adequate budgetary provision, reduce some of our spending while transferring some of the overheads to guarantee sufficient ammunition as well as other security and logistics support.”
He also appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to extend the operation ‘Delta Safe’ to the state in order to tackle the escalating rate of crime in the state.
Commenting, Cross River Commissioner of Police, Jimoh Ozi-Obeh, assured that his men would continue to protect the lives and property of the citizenry.
“Those who have legal businesses should go about them peacefully, but those who have illegal businesses should run away,” the police commissioner warned.
The State Security Adviser, Mr Jude Ngaji, expressed government’s readiness to tackle the menace, pointing out that “in a couple of days, the security challenge being experienced in the state will be a thing of the past.”