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Anambra: Soludo battles touting to redeem Onitsha image

Mr Ejike (not real name) last week told the story of his encounter at Upper Iweka, Onitsha, Anambra State. In a viral voice note which he made to his friends recounting his encounter, Ejike said: “My eyes saw pepper yesterday at Upper Iweka. I was just coming in from Asaba to Onitsha at around 8 pm.

“Immediately our bus parked at Upper Iweka, touts started dispossessing people of their belongings. They even had cutlasses, and if you delayed in handing your bag to them, they would machete you. It was such a traumatic experience.”

Ejike’s experience is not far away from what other people have witnessed in Onitsha. The city has become well known for touting and activities of armed robbers, who sometimes operate in broad daylight.

But Governor Chukwuma Soludo has made a resolve to ensure that the state, especially Onitsha, its commercial nerve centre, is rid of these unwanted elements. During the last Ofala festival of Onitsha people, Soludo told the people that his government is making plans to phase out touts in Onitsha, insisting that people must be able to conduct their businesses, without fear of being intimidated and molested.

The governor made good his words recently, when he launched what he called the Anambra Special Anti-Touting Squad, which was codenamed SASA.

Speaking during the launch which held in Onitsha, Soludo said: “The launch of this squad is an acceleration on the key promise we made to the people living in the greater Onitsha area which consists of Onitsha North, Onitsha South, Ogbaru, Oyi, and Idemili to restore Anambra State, known for law and order back to its full glory as the Light of the nation.

“When we assumed office, eight local governments were taken over. Thanks to the combined efforts of our security agencies and the vigilante service, those local government areas have been liberated and normalcy restored.

“We have told the youths to come out from their hideouts and the bush. We shall help to rehabilitate and integrate them into society to be useful to their families, communities, states, and nations.

“While dealing with hoodlums on a larger scale, we will be dealing with touts in the Onitsha greater area and Anambra State as a whole.

“We are fighting a war to bring back the soul of our society governed by law and order, not a society where anyone does what he or she likes arbitrarily without recourse to law and order.

“Touts disturb customers who come from every nook and cranny of the country. But this journey is to rescue Onitsha as a commercial hub and Anambra State in general,” the Governor said.

In what looked like a reward for the launch, less than 24 hours after, 64 persons were arrested by the newly formed anti-touting group, SASA.

The suspected touts and other criminals were arrested around Upper Iweka, Bridge Head and Chisco Motor Park, Onitsha. The SASA Director of Operations, Mr. Solomon Onwuemene, while parading the suspects at Onitsha, said the arrest would continue until the Onitsha metropolis is rid of criminals.

He said, “Following the inauguration of the Anambra State Special Anti-Touting Squad (SASA) at Onitsha by Governor Chukwuma Soludo, the squad has swung into action and arrested 64 suspected touts and a one-chance suspected robber in various parts of Onitsha. All those arrested would be tried according to the law to serve as a deterrent to others.”

Meanwhile, there are also concerns that some operatives of the state government’s agencies charged with the responsibility of ensuring orderliness are themselves constituting nuisance to residents of the state.

Mr Chibuike Uloka, a public policy analyst, said even though there are touts in Onitsha and other major cities of Anambra State, the bigger challenge facing Anambra people are what he referred to as official touts.

He said these able bodied men with various uniforms have been caught in viral videos bullying innocent road users, business people, to the extent of subjecting them to physical torture, either for traffic offences or revenue collection.

Chibuike Uloka reacting about the level of touting in Anambra said: “Recently, reports from Anambra State have highlighted the unruly behaviour of touts and Agbero acting as revenue agents in the state. They are engaging in blatant abuse of citizens, causing suffering to motorists, traders, motorcycle riders, and tricycle riders.

“Rather than condemning the rise of these touts and Agbero in the state’s commercial hubs and rural areas, Professor Charles Soludo’s deliberate silence is encouraging these rogue individuals to continue their offensive against those in need of protection from the state.

“The recent formation of the anti-touting squad has led to a sharp increase in the recruitment of touts in Anambra State, totaling over 53,000 in just 19 months.

“These individuals receive little to no compensation but are empowered to assault and abuse citizens. Professor Charles Soludo’s administration promised to create 100,000 jobs annually for the next four years and make 1,000,000 youth millionaires.

“Instead of fostering industries and supporting small and medium-sized enterprises and vocational training, many young people are being pushed into becoming touts and street urchins, causing further disruption to struggling businesses and economic activities.”

But SASA’s Director of Operations, Mr. Solomon Onwuemene, believes differently.

He said with the launch of SASA, touting and petty robbery will phase out in Anambra.

He said since the launch of the group, over 600 touts have been arrested.

“Most of the suspected touts were arrested in Onitsha North, Onitsha South, Ogbaru and Idemili North Local Government Areas.

“Some incriminating items, such as white cocaine, methamphetamine (popularly known as mkpụrụmmiri), among other illegal substances were recovered from the suspects,” he revealed.

He assured that the issue of tout would soon be a thing of the past in Anambra State and further commended Governor Soludo, the Commissioner for Homeland Affairs, Mr. Chikodili Anara and the people of Anambra at large for their unwavering support, which he said had contributed to the success of their work.

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