Bishop Nwala Raises Alarm Over Rising Spate Of Kidnapping, Land Grabbing In Etche

...Says Church Spent Over N50m On Ransoms

Rising against the backdrop of a continuing rise in the rate of kidnapping and land grabbing in Etche land, North East of Rivers State, the Bishop of the Diocese of Etche, Anglican Communion, Rt. Revd. Okechukwu Precious Nwala, has raised alarm over “acts of wickedness” capable of truncating human, social and economic development in Etche and Omuma local government areas.

Addressing a press briefing on Wednesday December 27, 2023, at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Port Harcourt, while flanked by the president, Council of Knights, Sir Machy Nwodim, Dame N.C. Iroegbu (Chancellor) and Ven Gaius Odum (Clerical Synod Secretary), Bishop Nwala drew the attention of the media to what he termed ‘Pertinent Issues Affecting the Security and Economy of the Etche Nation.’

He lamented that despite being blessed with large oil and gas deposits which contribute significantly to the economy of Nigeria, Etche has remained largely underdeveloped, adding that “This is why any activities that have the potential of worsening the already poor condition of the people is of great concern to us.

“It has therefore become necessary to share our thoughts over some prevailing situations in Etche nation we consider inimical to the security, spiritual and economic wellbeing of all those who live and/or do business in Etche land,” while itemizing these to focus mainly on ‘land grabbing’ and ‘kidnapping.’

Bishop Nwala noted that the abduction of persons for ransom, though not peculiar or new to Etche nation, has remained unabated in the area, with the church in his diocese spending as much as N50 million in the payment of ransom to free its abducted members.

He added that the perpetrators “have graduated from using fellow locals to now engaging some Fulani herdsmen with heavy rifles and charms to keep the victims in their hideouts.”

Land grabbing, however, appears to bear the crown in the twin evil presenting bedevilling Etche land.

While fielding questions from newsmen, Bishop Nwala suggested that a cartel, possibly having a high-ranking traditional chief in Igbo-Etche (name withheld) as member, might be behind the operations of land grabbers in Etche.

He said “From our interactions and investigations with leading numbers of the affected communities, land grabbing was initially known as land recovering.

The origin is traceable to a situation where a member or members of the family whose land had been on protracted litigation approach the land grabbers to take over the land on a 50:50 sharing ratio.

In which case the land grabbers will make logistics arrangements by procuring interim injunction from the court, get the Police to execute the order, mobilize caterpillars and bulldozers to site, in addition to cult boys who act as foot soldiers.”

The situation the Anglican bishop lamented has grown to point where the land grabbers now “have connection with law enforcement agents and courts, such that once any person(s) from the opposite party is sighted on the land, such person(s) would be arrested and arraigned on emergency before a magistrate’s court of their choice. Following spurious charges made against such person(s), the magistrate if convinced may remand the suspect to prison custody wherein he may be subjected to endorse an undertaking never to get close to the parcel of land indefinitely.”

He said the grabbers have launched into undeveloped land bought over time by government, companies or even individuals, and has spread from Igbo-Etche to other areas. “As we speak, they have gotten to Chokocho and Urmuechem and if nothing is done, it won’t be long all parts of Etche will have their share of this unfortunate incidence.

“Already, several individuals and corporate bodies are victims of the nefarious act and some have lost their lives as a result. For instance; Scripture Union, Nigeria has about 9.5 hectares of land in Igboh Etche. Apart from the small area that has been built up, the rest of the land not less than 9 hectares have been sold by the so-called land grabbers,” he said.

Bishop Nwala stressed the negative impact of “these acts of wickedness on the people and ethnic nation. “As a result of the above and other criminal activities in Etche land many businesses are relocating from Etche and genuine persons are losing interest in coming to buy or develop properties in the area. A case in point is a recent development where the biggest poultry in lgboh Etche was closed down and the property put for sale because the director was kidnapped. After he regained freedom, he decided to close down the business to relocate to safer environment.

“These activities have tarnished the image of Etche nation a great deal as many innocent Etche persons suffer humiliation and insults particularly from people whose relatives or themselves were victims of these evil acts,” he said.

As part of efforts to provide solution to the situation, Bishop Nwala said that since his assumption of office more than seventeen years ago as Bishop of the Diocese of Etche, “we have made frantic efforts to ensure that we appeal to the conscience of our youths to desist from acts capable of jeopardizing our collective interest. These include, holding meetings with Etche supreme council of traditional rulers and chiefs, Nigeria Bar Association, now Okehi branch, Etche American foundation and so on. We have met with prominent Etche politicians and contacted the Onye ishi Agwuru Igboh clan. These engagements did not yield much result.

“It is on the strength of the above that we are using this medium to call the traditional head and custodian of Etche culture and values, His Eminence, Eze E.N.B. Opurum, OFR, DSSRS, JP, the Onye Ishi Etche and Ocie of Etche land to use his revered stool to intervene to save our land from this worrisome situation.

“We also call on HRM, Eze Dr. S. N. Amaechi, the Onye Ishi Agwuru of Igboh kingdom, whose domain is the worst affected by these incidences to rise to the occasion. Some of the chiefs are suspected to be complicit; such persons when found guilty should be suspended from the council as a show of disapproval of their unholy attitudes. The leadership of Ogbakor Etche, Etche American foundation and other groups representing Etche at different levels should please do something in this direction.

“The attentions of Senator Allwell Onyeso representing Rivers East at the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and Honorable Kelechi Nwogu representing Etche/Ormuma federal constituency are hereby drawn to this for necessary action. All members of Rivers State House of Assembly from Etche and the two local government chairmen are requested to collaborate to save our land from this embarrassing situation.”

He noted that during the 2nd session of the synod of Diocese of Etche Anglican Communion), which held between Wednesday 29th June and Sunday 2 July 2023 at St. Mark’s Church Mba Etche, “the synod painfully examined these issues and resolved to call the attention of the governor of Rivers State, and the commissioner of Police Rivers State command to take necessary action. This therefore serves to formerly call on His Excellency Sir Siminalayi Fubara, the governor of Rivers State for his urgent intervention to save the situation that is capable of degenerating to chaos if not checked.

“Security agencies have been greatly accused of conniving with the criminal minded individuals who carry out these acts. We therefore draw the attention of the commissioner of Police Rivers State to the matter.

“Let us all arise and condemn evil as a local proverb in Etche says, ‘If wrong behavior is allowed to persist for so long, it could turn to a culture.’ All Etche leaders at all levels must rise up to the occasion before we all are branded criminals. Be it known to all that those who are members of the Anglican Church found guilty of these crimes will be disciplined. We are already investigating some of them.

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