Home Opinion The kidnap Of Justice Joy Isaiah Unwana

The kidnap Of Justice Joy Isaiah Unwana

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OPINION

By Etim Etim

In the late afternoon of Monday, December 18, a High Court judge in Akwa Ibom State, Hon. Justice Joy Isaiah Unwana, was kidnapped on her way from work. Her chauffer was also seized, but the police orderly was shot and killed during the operation. Expectedly, the incident has shocked Akwa Ibom people, who had endured waves of high-profile kidnappings and assassinations over ten years ago. The local branch of NBA has issued a statement condemning the attack and urging the state government and security services to do all in the power to rescue the judge. Other judges and the entire judiciary workers are staying away from work in sympathy with Justice Unwana. The courts in the state have not sit since the news broke late Monday. It is the second serious abduction in the administration of Gov. Umo Eno. In early October, Dr. Clement Obinna, a medical doctor who works at the University of Uyo Teaching Hospital was kidnapped. He was released after spending over a week in captivity. The management of the hospital and the leadership of the local NMA worked frantically with the police to free him. I am certain that lawyers, judges and judiciary workers in the state will not rest until Justice Unwana is freed.

Every administration in the state since 1999 had always confronted one form of violence or the other, with kidnapping as the main staple. One evening in August 2021, a former senator who served in the 8th senate, and was before then, the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Senator Nelson Efiong, was abducted at his business premises along Oron Road, in Uyo. He spent two months in captivity and was only released after a hefty ransom was paid. For two years between 2019 and 2020, three LGAs in the state (Ika, Ukanafun and Etim Ekpo) were taken over by rival cult groups fighting for supremacy. They kidnapped, killed and sacked communities. Schools, homes and churches were burnt and people fled to safer places. The government prevailed eventually and exterminated the vagabonds. Gov. Godswill Akpabio faced a long spell of insecurity that claimed many lives, but there was a frighteningly dangerous political dimension to the problem as some politicians also fell victims to the attacks and the governor was accused of instigating the violence to scare away his opponents.

Now, it would seem that the abduction of Justice Unwana is the first major security test to Gov. Eno, and his response would signpost an important character of his administration. I should however emphasize that, compared to most other states, Akwa Ibom remains very safe with very low crime rate. The government has been touting the relative peace, cleanliness and fine road network in the state as incentives for investors. I spent two weeks this December in Uyo enjoying festive celebrations and bustling night activities. A monthlong ceremonies and pageantry organized by the government are ongoing at the Christmas Village without any ugly incident. To further improve security, the government launched a security outfit known as Ibom Community Watch (ICW) just a couple of days before the judge was seized. ICW is supervised by the Commissioner for Internal Security, a retired army general. It is essentially a vigilante service meant to augment the work of the police in combating crime in the state. Part of its functions is to provide intelligence to the police and guard some government assets. This explains, in part, why the government is embarrassed, and perhaps, puzzled by the abduction of the judge.

So far, the administration has not spoken on the incident, but lawyers and other stakeholders have been talking, with some wondering why important citizens like judges are not well protected. Justice Unwana was returning to Uyo from a court in Oron where she sits. That means she commutes a total distance of over 60 kilometers daily. Parts of the road are lonely and broken. A few other judges in the state also make similar journeys in and out of Uyo to far flung communities to hold court sessions. The security implication of these daily commutes is now being discussed openly by lawyers and jurists in the wake of the Unwana abduction. In a video message he posted online, Barr. Eyibio Okon, an outspoken activist, wonders why members of the State House of Assembly whom he claims have less tedious and sensitive work to do than judges are provided with SUVs and a coterie of policemen as escort, but a judge has only one police orderly. ‘’If our judges had been provided with bullet-proof SUVs, the police orderly attached to Justice Unwana might not have been killed and the kidnap could have been thwarted’’, he said. Clearly, there is a stronger need now to beef up security around our judges.

This incident also reminds me of the eight young Akwa Ibom persons who are still languishing in the forests of Zamfara State four months after they were kidnapped on their way to Sokoto State to participate in the NYSC scheme. I wrote a piece on this three weeks ago asking Gov. Umo Eno to do everything to bring these kids home. I have not heard anything on that since then, and with this latest incident, Mr. Eno will have to do more. The fact that the kidnappers are yet to contact Justice Unwana’s family has added additional anxiety and unease to the mix. Are there other reasons for her abduction or the kidnappers are only bidding their time in order to extract maximum payment? Even with all these headaches, Gov. Umo Eno is far luckier than Chief Godswill Akpabio was when he was governor between 2007 and 2015. For two of those eight years, the state was wracked by serious cases of kidnappings and assassinations. Some persons claimed that Akpabio was actually the sponsor of those attacks in order to weaken opposition politicians and discourage them from challenging his reelection. Despite repeated denials by the governor, the rumour grew stronger and stronger. Eight years after Akpabio left office, Gov. Umo Eno is confronting a different kind of high-profile abductions. He should stay strong and meet these challenges with determination and renewed energy. Fortunately, Capt. Iniobong Ekong, who was Akpabio’s assistant on security and the chief driver of the war against kidnappers in that era is a commissioner in Umo Eno’s cabinet. His wealth of experience should come in handy.

Etim is a Journalist and Political Analyst, based in Abuja .

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