It is clear from my topic that I’ll attempt to address a hydra headed issue here, not as an insider with exhaustive knowledge of the facts at play, but as a researcher interested in the common good and the peaceful resolution of the escalating crisis.

Being a cleric, an Esan son, and a trained journalist, I dare say that matters relating to security in Esan Land continue to be my business. And now more than ever before, we must focus on the weightier matters, and not let the politicisation of the Vigilante groups in Esan Land be on the front burner.

For context, let’s begin with a few questions. Why have kidnappings been incessant in Esan Land with little or no interventions from those charged to do so? Though some Kings in Esan Land have been quite vocal about security matters and have gone ahead to do something in their communities, why have the majority of them been indifferent? Why are the Vigilante groups in Esan Land seemingly opposed to one another in their structure, leadership and operations? Why is security in Edo State in general so porous, especially in the rural communities, in spite of the presence of security agents?

I’ve always written on and about Kidnappings in Nigeria and I’ve also taken time to write on kidnappings in Esan Land. In each of my articles, I’ve always advocated that Traditional Rulers (Enijie) must liaise with community heads and at the same time cooperate with the government approved security agencies to fight insecurity in Esan Land. This is a task that must be done. To maintain the ‘Ostrich Stance’ in these trying times is tantamount to complicity.

In January 2023, reacting to the kidnapping incident at the train station in Igueben, Edo State, during his visit to the Police Cottage hospital in Benin City where the rescued victims were receiving treatment, Governor Godwin Obaseki said , “We have information that some traditional rulers in that area do not obey and respect government decision to discourage open grazing by herders in their forests. I have instructed that those traditional rulers should be investigated and anyone found to be harbouring the criminal herders will have questions to answer because that was what led to this incident. Communities that obeyed don’t have such incidents in their domain” Vanguard online news reported.

Ten months ago, the deputy speaker of Edo State House of Assembly, Hon Maria Edeko again raised the alarm over the increasing rate of kidnapping in Uromi and Uzea communities in Esan North-East local government area of Edo State. She urged the state government to procure drones for surveillance in the troubled areas in order to curb the kidnapping menace.

She went on to add that “the activities of kidnappers in Uromi and Uzea communities forced the United Uromi Youth Association to protest and cry out to the government and security agencies to protect the people from kidnapping”. But the matter only got worse.

I cannot catalog in this article, the entire list of kidnappings that have taken place in Esan Land in 2024 alone, in spite of the efforts of the Edo State Government to bring the matter under control. I’ll however mention a few in Esan North East Local Government Area for reasons of proper perspective and relevance to the subject matter.

Sometime in March 2024, one Mr Lucky Adodo was shot and killed while attempting to escape from kidnappers. Reports had it that the incident happened along Ohen road in Uromi, Esan North-East Local Government Area of the state.

In April 2024, the manager of the Union Bank, Igueben branch in Edo State, Mr. John Otobo was kidnapped along the Ugbegun/Uromi express way and later killed after they allegedly collected N8m ransom.

What about the report we got of kidnappers going on rampage at Uwalor Oke, Uromi some weeks ago, when they couldn’t capture the target they had for? There was a later report that they allegedly made other abductions that day.

Just last week Tuesday, two women were kidnapped on the Uromi – Agbor road, at gunpoint while returning from a business trip in Edo State. They were released by their abductors after collecting N3 million ransom.

Two days ago, June 8, 2024, a twitter account with the name “Uromi first son” made a post thus: “GOOD NEWS IN ESAN North East Edo state. Uromi vigilante group raided kidnappers hideout in NICT, between Amedokhian and Ugboha bush and gunned down one of the kidnappers terrorizing the area. The video was made available to me today by the vigilant team leader.”

The attached video to the post was widely circulated on social media platforms and many thanked the members of the Vigilante Group for raiding one of the hideouts of the kidnappers.

Yesterday, June 9th 2024, news filtered in that some Uromi youths were protesting over the ‘reassignment’ of some of the Vigilante members who had gone for the operation, by the Ojuromi of Uromi Kingdom. There were several audio and video clips shared on social media platforms to support these claims.

One must note here that the timing of the alleged action of the Onojie, coupled with the sentiments of the people over what they considered a great victory by the vigilante group was what directly led to the protests.

Nonetheless, from my interactions with some stake holders and interested parties, what has become clear is that the issue of whether or not some persons were asked to resign or handover power within the Uromi Vigilante unit(s) has some political undertones, which has directly or indirectly led to the matter being blown out of proportion.

However, because of antecedence, and the dwindling faith of the Esan people in their traditional rulers, the Press office of the Palace of Uromi Kingdom must as a matter of urgency make an official response, stating the facts of the case, to clear the air, and restore the faith of the people in their Enijie, if they’ve not already done so.

Beyond that, the Onojie should (if he has not already done so) consider initiating a meeting of stake holders and other interested parties, so that aggrieved parties within the Vigilante can be listened to, while practical solutions are proferred to forestall a recurrence of this or similar matters.

This is the time for all hands to be on deck so that we can focus on a common enemy. This is the time to revisit the anti open grazing law of the state and begin its implementation. This is the time to strengthen the relationship between all agents charged with the security of Esan Land, so that they can more effectively engender long term results.

Above all, this is the time to be more intentional about fishing out, arresting, and prosecuting all those who act as informants to kidnappers, whoever they may be, and whatever positions they may occupy, so that we can more effectively stand up to this menace that has now brought an entire nation to a standstill.

May God give us the grace to work together, Amen.

© Oselumhense Anetor, 2024