Abia State Government says, it has converted the cattle market at Lokpanta in Umunneochi LGA to a daily non-residential market to stem the tide of insecurity along the Lokpanta-Umunneochi-Uturu axis of the state.
Briefing newsmen in Umuahia Monday evening, the Security Adviser to the state governor, Navy Commander MacDonald Uba, disclosed that the state government also destroyed a total of 160 brothel rooms in the market suspected to harbour kidnappers and other criminals in the area.
Uba spoke on the heels of allegations that the state government had asked the traders, many of whom are not from the southeast, to leave the state, stating, “There is no truth in asking the community in Lokpanta to leave”.
According to him, “Unfortunately, we see rumour mills making the rounds that Abia State Government has asked the Hausa community to leave Lokpanta. This is untrue.
“Lokpanta-Umunnochi-Uturu axis has been under siege for over a year, even before this administration came in. Government has taken steps to contain the spate of kidnapping in that area”.
Recalling that the state governor had earlier launched ‘Operation Crush’ to stem the tide of kidnapping in the state, he said, “All Intel points to the cattle market at Lokpanta”, recalling also that the market started from the Garki area in Umuahia to Ubakala, and later to Okigwe before a former governor of Abia State provided Lokpanta about more than 15 years ago.
Kidnappers, he said, have been operating from that place, stating, “Unfortunately market dealers did not carry themselves very well and they allowed kidnappers to use the area as where ransom is paid.”
According to him, the traders extended the market into the median lane of the Okigwe-Enugu expressway “as tactics of monitoring (commercial) buses.”
“They use one of their buses to block the road, cause traffic grid, and allow the passage of a lone bus, and they will send information to others to rob the bus. We dismantled the supposed market in the (expressway) median”.
Three weeks ago, he said, “We carried out a deliberate, measured action there, and brothels numbering over 160 rooms were brought down, arrests were made and millions of naira were recovered.”
The state government, he said, “Has the intention of penciling the market into a daily market because they (cattle dealers) allowed that level of criminality to be out of their hands.
“Cattle dealers will henceforth have that place as a daily market as obtained elsewhere in the country and will be non-residential”, disclosing that the state governor, Alex Otti gave an instruction that within seven days, all residents should move out.
Uba further explained, “We went there on the 8th, and on the 10th, they (cattle dealers) came pleading that the time limit was short. Surprisingly and embarrassingly, they turned around to say they were driven out and sent packing.
“The state government is aware that most cattle dealers are 2nd and 3rd generation Igbos, and are Hausas born here. So, where are we sending them to? Gov. Otti doesn’t believe in the state of origin. Where is he sending them to?”
The position of the state government, he said “Is that the market will no longer be residential because our key performance indicator shows that for the past six weeks, and since we took all the measures we have taken, there has not been any kidnapping in that axis.
“Gov. Otti wants to ensure that the state is safe and make Abia the number one state. You cannot have any investment and development where insecurity thrives.”
In the past, the high insecurity level in the area has been traced to the Lokpanta cattle market from where road users have been kidnapped and taken to for ransom payment.
The cattle traders had complained and instead of waiting for the state government to give them time, allegedly threatened to petition President Bola Ahmed Tinubu that the state government is asking them to leave the state.
By this action, the state government now wants the market to operate from 6 am to 5 pm. daily.