Christmas is traditionally the season to rejoice and be merry, but panic best describes the situation in the South East as indigenes from near and far return home to celebrate. The situation is made worse by the recent rise in kidnapping across the five states in the zone.
No fewer than 18 persons have been kidnapped in Anambra, which has ultimately affected the number of returnees for the Christmas and New Year holiday.
To this end, town unions and traditional leaders have commenced neighborhood watch with local vigilante groups equipped to avert such ugly incidents in the days ahead.
Some expected returnees have also made arrangements with security operatives in Anambra before returning home, while others, who are not too sure of their safety, have resolved to send money home instead of coming physically.
One Chief Nwokike Ndaba lamented, "I have had the experience before. That was last year when I came home. They visited the compound of my younger brother and started shooting everywhere. The next thing, they ordered me to enter their car and I obeyed. I have to spend 29th, 30th, and 31st of December in their custody before the ransom of N2million could be paid".
The Awka Youth Congress (AYC) has embarked on intensive security patrol of their community while warning that any kindred found to be harboring criminals would be dealt with.
AYC Chairman, Onyebuchi Nwobu, disclosed the sad information:
"The rate of kidnapping in Awka town has become so alarming that nobody is safe anymore. This is Christmas and our brothers and sisters have refused to come back home. They are afraid of being kidnapped by these trigger-happy boys. We had to embark on this protest to tell the world that we are not happy at all and we are prepared to fight this to its logical conclusion."
Mr. Nwobu further revealed that "the bad eggs and miscreants in Awka do not stay at home, adding that such persons send spies to monitor when an important person is in town and in the next two days he would be kidnapped.
"To this end every kindred youth chairman would be held responsible for any act of armed robbery, kidnapping or cultism in his area and we have already discussed the modalities with the police."
The state government and police have promised to ensure a crime free celebration in the state.
Commissioner of Police, Mr. Bala Nassarawa said,
"The people of Anambra State have nothing to fear because we have put measures in place to ensure a crime free Christmas and New year celebrations. We can understand their apprehensions, but they may not be aware of what we have already put in place this season. You know that security issues or matters are not made public and cannot be discussed in the pages of the newspapers".
In the words of the Commissioner for Information Culture and Tourism, Barrister Jeo Martins Uzodike, "The state government has been pro-active towards security matters and we have been able to empower the vigilante services and also all security operatives in that regard and as I am speaking with you there would be no incidents of kidnapping and armed robbery."
The release of Nollywood actress and Special Assistant to Governor Okorocha on Public Affairs, Nkiru Sylvanus, by kidnappers in Owerri on Thursday has not doused tension in the Imo State capital.
Palpable fear has descended on most prominent residents especially in Areas G and H of New Owerri.
This is reportedly due to the activities of suspected kidnappers who regularly loiter about with covered vehicle number plates in search of preys.
A resident in the area is quoted as having said that no fewer than 10 people have been kidnapped within these areas and that faceless hoodlums had increased their activities since the beginning of the ember months.
One resident, Mrs. Ujunwa Ezioha, testified that her street had witnessed the worrisome development adding that a junior staff of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in their neighbourhood was recently abducted by gunmen. According to her, the sad incident had compelled some residents to abandon their homes.
Meanwhile, 16 suspects have been arrested by the Imo police command in connection with the kidnap last weekend of Nkiru Sylvanus in Owerri.
Obviously worried by the deteriorating security situation in the state, Governor Rochas Okorocha on Friday banned the use of tinted glasses and unauthorised use of sirens by motorists in the state. The ban takes effect from January.
The governor also directed operators of commercial tricycles to stop the use of black tarpaulin to cover the sides of their tricycles, which usually cover the identity of their passengers, saying that they should rather use transparent ones for easy identification of the passengers
Speaking at an expanded security council meeting which had all top security agencies and traditional rulers in attendances, Okorocha also warned policemen on road check points to desist from extorting money from motorists, saying that any of them caught and reported would henceforth be dealt with according to the law, advising victims of such ignoble acts to report to the appropriate authority for necessary action.
"Security is our biggest challenge even though it is a global problem and we are doing our best to tackle it," the governor said.
He commended security agencies for their bold steps in this direction and announced the donation of N325million for all of them, saying that each police officer should get at least N10,000 to enable them to celebrate the Christmas with their family.
In Ebonyi, the number of those living outside the country returning for the Christmas celebration would probably reduce by 50%.
An American-based engineer from the state, Jacob Oko, in a telephone interview explained that he had planned to come home for the Yuletide, but was discouraged by the spate of kidnap and sundry insecurity reports coming from Nigeria.
Mr. Oko explained that even when he wanted to risk the situation, his elder sister advised him to rather send to them whatever he could to avoid coming home to make people perceive that he had acquired money as that could mark him or the relatives as having "kidnap value".
Most of those living in other parts of Nigeria explained that the Christmas might be low-key for the reasons of biting economy and the insecurity situation in the country.
Mrs. Josephine Onwe said that the bad state of roads had increased the cost and risks of plying almost all the roads across the country, saying that it was their consideration that coming home for the Christmas could entail avoidable expenditure and risks.
The Ebonyi State government has nevertheless promised that this year’s Christmas is going to be peaceful unlike that of 2011 that witnessed the Ezza/Ezillo mayhem.