Imo State, located in south eastern Nigeria, with Owerri as its capital and largest city, is one of the thirty – six states in Nigeria. It was created by the regime of Late General Murtala Mohammed, on February3, 1976 out of the old East Central state.
The state is named after Imo River, which course from the Okigwe/Awka upland. Imo state has “given birth” to Abia in 1991 and by extension Ebonyi states which was carved out of Abia state. The main cities in Imo State are Owerri, Orlu and Okigwe. The local language is Igbo and Christianity is the predominant religion while some people in the state still practice traditional religions. Although English is the Nigeria official language, almost 89% speak and hear English or a caricature of English which is called broken English.
Imo State covers an area of 5,530 square kilometers and shares boundaries with Enugu State to the north, Anambra State to the west, Rivers State to the south and Abia states to the east. The central location of Imo state, being landlocked by the four out of the five states in the southeast region earned the state “the heartland” of southeast region. It lies within latitudes 4°45’N and 7°15’N, and longitude 6°50’E and 7°25’E. Imo State has many rivers. The main rivers in the state are Imo, Otamiri and Njaba. The major lakes are in Oguta and Abadaba. The inhabitants of Imo State are Igbo ethnic group arts and crafts as well as economic activities.
According to Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics, Imo state has a projected population of 4.8 million persons with a projected growth rate of about 3.0%. According to National Population Commission, 2006, the population of Imo state is made up of 50.32% men and 48.68% female. The population density of the state varies from 230 persons per sq. km. in Oguta/Egbema area, to about 1,400 persons per sq. km. in Mbaise, Orlu, Mbano and Mbaitoli areas. This high population density has led to intensified pressure on land, forests and other natural resources, leading to increasing rural poverty which is characteristic of densely populated rural areas. There are cases of land dispute at both individual and community levels. Because of pressure on land, fallow period rarely exceeds one year and in some areas continuous cropping is the rule, leading to low crop yield (more poverty and lower income) while loss of land to erosion have combined to induce people to migrate to urban areas in search of jobs and more income.
In Imo state, there are six tertiary educational institutions in the State namely: the Federal University of Technology, Owerri; the Irno State University, Owerri; the Federal Polytechnic, Nekede; the Alvan Ikoku College of Education, Owerri and Micheal Okpara College of Agriculture, Umuagwo, and the Federal School of Soil Science, Egbeada. There are also over 301 secondary schools and over 1,230 primary schools that are state owned. Several other secondary and primary schools that are privately owned exist side by side with the state owned schools. There are 18 General Hospitals, 1,288 Primary Health Centres, 33 Private Hospitals, 12 Mission Hospitals, one Federal Medical Centre and one Teaching Hospital located in Orlu.
The population of Imo State is predominantly rural. Some of the most densely settled areas of Nigeria are found in Imo State, where a direct relationship exists between population density and the degree of dispersal of rural and semi-rural settlement.
According to Imo state website, the vegetation of Imo state is tropical rain forest. The rainy season begins in April and lasts until late October with annual rainfall varying from 1,500mm to 2,200mm (60 to 80 inches). An average annual temperature is above 20 °C (68.0 °F) which creates an annual relative humidity of 75%, with humidity reaching 90% in the rainy season. The state experiences two months of dry season and Harmattan commences from late December to late February. The hottest months in Imo state are between January and March.
Although Imo state in a homogenous state with igbo as a dominant tribe, there are many traditional festivals observed in the State. Each community has different festivals celebrated to mark an important event in the history of the area. Thus, there are different festivals to usher in the harvest season, the most popular being the Ahiajoku Festival, which is observed in all the farming communities. Traditional music and dances include Abiigbo, Ekpe, Ikoro, Okonko, Mmanwu (masqurades dance festival), etc are popular in Imo state. Imo state has two major prisons located at Owerri and Okigwe. Where convicted criminals and those awaiting trial are kept.
The economy of the state is agro based since majority of Ndimo are subsistent farmers. Imo state is blessed with abundant natural resources. These include crude oil, lead, zinc, white clay, fine sand, limestone and natural gas in commercial quantities. The state also produces agricultural produce such as palm produce, cocoa and rubber. The main staple crops are yam, cassava, cocoyam and maize. Learned professionals, entrepreneurs and seasoned artists also abound in the state. Works of art produced in the state include: carved doors, walking sticks of different designs, sculptures, flutes, wooden mortars and pestles, gongs, and the famous talking drums. Metal works and various types of fabrications are locally produced. Some art & cultural centers include: The Mbari Cultural Center at Owerri, Eke Nguru in Aboh Mbaise and lgwekala shrine in Umunoha are traditional art and craft centers that depict the culture and heritage of the Ndimo.
Imo state rank among the states in Nigeria with very few industries. The few Industries, which are even operating below capacity include Fuason Industries, Owerri, which produces galvanized iron sheets, the Afrik Enterprises, Awo-Omama, a pharmaceutical company, Imo Concord Hotel, Owerri. Industries that had been partially privatized include card packaged Industry, Orlu, Resin Paints Limited, Aboh Mbaise and Aluminium Extrusion Industry, Inyisi. Industries in the private sector include Sab Spare Parts and Allied Accessories, Okigwe, which make motor-spare parts, Oma Pharmaceutical Awomoma, which produces drugs and medicines, and Consolidated breweries, which produces beer and malt. Magil Industries Atta, which makes steel, sponge, bread, polythene and paper. Given the low number of industries, high population youths and large number of graduates that leave many higher institutions in Imo state, the level of unemployment has reached all-time high. About 70% of employable youths are unemployed with so many going into menial jobs like driving Keke (Tricycle) to earn a living. The government of Imo state, which used to be the highest employer of labour in the state, placed a ban on employment since 2003. The ban was lifted for the employment of 10,000 youths that were sacked in 2011 by the current regime. This situation has made unemployment choking and youths resorting to self-help including violent crime and cyber fraud.
As a republican society, most of the communities in the state practice “village democracy where traditional rulers are the Chief Security Officers and custodians of customs and traditions in their communities. In most cases, they liaise with leadership of their town unions for development projects and implementation of their security responsibilities. Due to successive experience of bad governance, most communities have resorted to self-help approach to development which has led to the provision of certain basic amenities by the communities. This noble effort has equally stressed the household income, leaving poorer and economically unstable. Imo State has huge deposit of natural resources/mineral that range from petroleum to clay and salt. It houses over 163 oil wells at 12 different locations in Orlu zone.
Context of Armed Violence
The heightened insecurity in Imo state, like in other parts of southeast, has been characterized by virtual collapse of governance. According to (CLEEN foundation) the outsourcing of power by political barons that turned government into their personal fiefs has led to steady increase in armed violence and other vices. This is referred as ‘crisis of leadership’ and ‘criminalization of politics and governance.
The ever increasing insecurity of live in Imo state started between 1995 and 1996 with sadness and shock disappearance of children in Owerri urban. The incomplete remains of some of these children were later found in parts of the capital without their heads or private parts. (Ubani, 2012) noted that the situation reached its peak when late master Ikechukwu Okoronkwo, an 11-year-old groundnut hawker, was beheaded by Innocent Ekeanyanwu, a staff of Otokoto Hotels, located in the outskirts of Owerri. When the police invaded the hotel, they exhumed other headless bodies which led to violent riots in Owerri from September 24 – 26, 1996, led to the destruction of properties belonging to the suspected leaders of the ritualists’. Some of them who fled the state to escape the wrath of members of the public are said to be occupying juicy public offices today. After a while, between 2002 to 2007, the type of crime Imo state experienced moved away from ritual killing to increased armed robbery and cultism.
According to (Jona, 2009), armed robbery cases were more pronounced in seven of the 36 states of Nigeria. The states are Oyo, Imo, Ogun, Kano, Cross River, Rivers and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Imo is the only southeast state that fell within this high robbery category. The crime figures, which are recorded in the 2008 Report of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), are only based on crimes reported to the police as at the end of 2007. If the ones that were not reported are added to this list, the picture of armed robbery in Imo state will be scary and justifies that alarmed on the high rate of criminality and armed violence in Imo state. Between 2007 till date, kidnapping has become the most popular crime.
(E. C Nwadiaro & *D I. Nkwocha., 2011) stated that the violent crime of kidnapping for money in Imo state has reached a pandemic level capable of engulfing the entire southeastern Nigeria which Imo state is a part. Today, citizens and residents move about in fear because knows the next victim. This situation, Ubani (2012) highlighted, led the Imo state House of Assembly, in 2009 to enact anti-kidnapping law, which provided for death penalty for anyone convicted for kidnapping, or whose premises is used to hold a victim hostage. But three years after the bill was passed and enacted into law, nobody has been convicted, though kidnapping and other heinous crimes have escalated in the state with no hope of abating anytime soon.
Imo State has undoubtedly recorded some of the most shocking incidents of violent crime in the country. These include kidnapping and hostage taking, ritual murders, political assassination and armed robbery. (Ubani, 2012) stated that kidnapping in Imo state is estimated at an average of ten people every week. He also stated that the activities of criminals in the state came to the limelight in 1993 when a group of young men with unexplained sources of wealth relocated to Owerri and started kidnapping people for rituals. A number of facilitating factors have been implicated for the upsurge of violent crime in the state, as in other parts of the country. (Ukiwo and Chukwuma, 2012) noted the following factors among as responsible for the proliferation of small arms and light weapons (SALW), use of thugs for political violence, rising rates of youth unemployment, economic hardship and inequality, exposure to criminal violence through the media and the prevalence of the culture of materialism.
(CLEEN Foundation, 2011) states that the high insecurity in Imo State could be interpreted as an outcome of the insensitive political and socio-economic policies of past governments that exacerbated sufferings through exposure of the youths to poverty, starvation and joblessness. Paradoxically, the necessity to prioritize security issues was least considered even though crime rates had risen to unprecedented levels. It is generally believed that a common factor of insecurity, especially armed robbery and kidnapping is joblessness. Elechi Amadi had once cautioned the government that the solution of kidnapping is to provide employment to the youths to make them not to have time to take people to the bush to extort money. Issues of poor control of arms, which easily get into the hands of youths, was also another factor. Recent survey report by Ukiwo and Chukwuma, 2012, in a CLEEN foundation report, shows that Ebonyi, Abia and Imo States have highest levels of kidnapping in Nigeria. They also Identified as counterproductive, the banning of commercial motor cycle operators (‘Okada’, ‘Inaga’) in major towns and cities in the state. These policies were considered regressive as they tended to throw more people into the job market and endanger livelihoods. The impact appeared to be greater on some of the cyclists and squatters who had returned ‘home’ after being sacked from their previous locations as a result of urban renewal programs in Abuja and religious conflicts in northern Nigeria. The programs contribute to insecurity by creating young idle minds.
Again, the vigilantes and neighborhood watch groups established with the expressed aim of combatting of crimes have had mixed results. (Amnesty International, 2002) report shows that While Vigilantes provide ancillary security service to reduce crime; they also create other forms of security challenges. Foremost, among these challenges is the privatization of some of the vigilantes by influential persons who use them to threaten, maim and kill their perceived opponents.
As at 2012, there is no day that passes by in Imo state without horrible tale of kidnappers snatching someone especially in Owerri and Orlu zones. The hinterland is worse, with little or no security and porous entry and exit points, these weird drugged boys are going about the ‘business’ as if it is now a legal way of making money. (Nwadiaro & Nkwocha, 2011) presented cases of kidnapping in Imo state between 2007 and 2010 in the table below.
Year Urban Rural Total
2007 3 – 3
2008 15 1 16
2009 39 1 40
Jan-July 2010 12 2 14
Total 69 4 73
Source: Imo State Police Command, State CID Crime Record.
Emmanuel Chidi Nwadiaro & *Daniel Ibe Nkwocha (2011) identified the causative factor of kidnapping in Imo state is presented in the table below:
Options Response Percentage
(a) Unemployment 30 33.3
(b) Poverty 15 16.7
©Leadership failure 20 22.2
(d)failure of security agency 10 11.1
(e) Inordinate ambition to get rich quick 5 5.6
(d) All of the above 10 11.1
Total 90 100
The perpetrators of armed violence in Imo state are majorly youths, political and some traditional power seekers. Imo State has problem when it comes to the aspect of security, because some bad characters are found in the traditional leaders who aid the unemployed youth to commit crime for their selfish interest and later shelter them from facing the wrath of the law. In some situations, the members of the vigilante security groups in the communities are cronies used by dubious traditional rulers and politicians to perpetrate crimes under the guise of vigilantism. This situation has made the insecurity challenges of the state a very disturbing one and difficult to address.
Kidnapping for money in Igbo land has become a multi-billion naira business venture with well-organized network. Kidnappers and killers have taken over Imo State and government seemed powerless to do anything about it. The upsurge in kidnapping of prominent indigenes in the 27 local councils that make up the state raises crucial questions which the Imo government is not answering. Questions like: who are the brains behind these abductions. (Ukiwo and Chukwuma, 2012) noted that the mere politicization of poverty alleviation and youth employment programmes by government or politicians increases the chances of an unemployed youths becoming a political thug in order to benefit from the program.
(Ukiwo and Chukwuma, 2012) further articulated the abrupt ban, in Imo State, on ‘inaga’ motorcycle riders (a huge source of employment for the youths) and the demolition of ‘illegal structures’ without alternative source of livelihood other factors that have pushed many youths to unacceptable behaviours and at worst, death. In coping with this kind of abnormal governance policy, people resort to conformity, innovation, ritualism, retreatism and rebellion whose direct effect is increase in crime level.
The prime victims of kidnapping in Imo state are mostly the rich and the relatives of the rich. Politicians and their relatives are also victims of kidnapping and robbery. In most cases female victims of rich relatives are reaped or sexually violated while few poor people are mistakenly kidnapped and killed for their inability to raise ransom within stipulated time. The major reasons for kidnapping can be summarized into the three factors – money, political power tussle and ritual. All of them have to do with money. kidnapping is turning to the easiest means of making money in Imo state. The same is applicable to robbery.
(UBANI, 2012) states that many prominent persons have fallen victims of kidnappers in Imo State this 2012 alone. But those that could easily recalled are top people like former speaker of Imo State House of Assembly, Chief Godfrey Dikeocha; the monarch-designate of Awo Mbieri Autonomous Community, Nze Ossy Nwaozuzu; Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Deputy Governor, Arc. Emenike Ihekwoaba; a building materials dealer, Chief Bethram Nwosu; immediate past Commissioner for Housing and Urban Development, Lady Chioma Ogoke; a journalist, Chief Ndubuizu Ugorji; and the Managing Director of Milan Pharmacy, Mr. Sylvanus Anozie Okere. So many cases have gone unreported. This indicates that the main reason for kidnapping is for ransom. This position was confirmed by Nwadiaro & Nkwocha, 2011) who stated that main reason for kidnapping is to obtain money from the victims. Because kidnapping is mostly for political and economic reasons, top people in the society and wealthy people are victims. According to UWUGIAREN , 2011) kidnappers in a bid to increase the ransom payable before release of victim, the kidnappers have now specialized in abducting monarchs, home video actors and actresses, traditional rulers of big towns, high profile business tycoons, politicians, children and relatives of wealthy politicians and public office holders.
Uwagiaren, 2011 reported that president Goodluck said that from the security report at his disposal, it was obvious that the crime of kidnapping is an organised one involving many persons or groups – the security agents, the judiciary, the banking sector and some lawyers. He asked: “I hope when we start arresting them, some professional bodies will not complain?”
In kidnapping and robbery as well as other violent crimes in Imo state, (Uzoechi, 2012) noted that there is no data base of criminals or residents of any state in Nigeria. This is also the same with data base on kind of weapons used in armed violence. However media commentary and some reports show that the main weapons used are gun of assorted types ranging from assault rifle, pump action, Kalashnikov, to Ak47, locally made guns, grenade launchers, ogbunigwe and others. Ogbunigwe is a locally assembled but highly effective bazzoka which was developed during the Nigeria Biafra war. The circulation of arms in the state is high. Arms are getting into the hands of wrong people on a daily basis. According to http://thenationonlineng.net, In 2000, firearm accident in five state of the southeast, which includes Imo state, is 353, which has increased by 2012. How could one explain it that criminals are today armed with more sophisticated weapons than our security personnel? The sources of these arms are multiple. According to Alimika and Chukwuma, 2005) The sources of small arms in Nigeira include, war thorn west African countries, smuggling, local manufacturing, defense industries, security agents who sell arms to criminals, multinational corporations and the loss of arms by security agents to the criminals. As reported by (Alemika and Chukwuma, 2005) between 1990 and 1999, police record show that 12,000 people were arrested in different parts of the country were arrested for illegal possession of prohibited firearms
Uwagiaren 2011, noted that the World Bank recently rated Imo State as one of the worst states in the country to do business, as increased armed violence is the order of the day. This increased armed violence can be traced to the heavy militarization of Igbo society by the act of Biafra war and past military regimes, the Nigeria Police Criminal Intelligence Bureau believes that there are as many as a million unregistered handgun owners in the country, with Imo state having a fair share. According to (Alemika & Chukwuma, 2005) A commission set up by federal Government in 2001, recovered 428 rifles, 494 imported pistols, 287 locally made pistols and 48 Dane guns valued around 50 million Naira. An interview with Local vigilante, the Bakassi Boy members reveal that they use handguns, assault rifles, locally made pistols and cutlasses for their vigilante activities and operations. Said one, “We use assault rifles and colt pistols for our vigilante operations because these criminals now use high calibre guns, we now use AK-47s made in the Ukraine.”
There is no data base of criminals or residents of any state in Nigeria anywhere. And for security to work in line with modern day policing such data bases must be generated for cross-referencing in crime investigations. But based on the number of rescues of kidnap victims and arrest of kidnappers and armed robbers, the Nigerian Police force appear to be the most effective in curbing kidnapping and armed robbery as well as other violent crimes in the state. Though they have their fair share of blames in nipping some crimes in the bud, they can be more effective if they collaborate with other civil forces and Civil Society Organisations in dealing with some complex situations. .
According to (Nwadiaro & Nkwocha, 2011) the table showing police effectiveness in handling kidnapping cases.
Police efforts on kidnapping in Imo state.
Options Response Percentage
(a) Highly effective 9 10.0
(b) Effective 20 22.2
© Ineffective 55 61.1
(d) Undecided 6 6.7
Total 90 100
Source: Field survey, 2011
Although 55% are of the opinion that Police effort on kidnapping is ineffective, there is no other institution that has performed better than the police effort on kidnapping.
There are other civil forces that have been effective despite the criticism against them, they include Local vigilante groups that have tried to secure lives and property in mostly rural Imo State.
Imo State, the Eastern Heartland, crime can be categorized into political motivated crime and economic type and the third type are those who indulge in it for the fun of it. The most dangerous types are the first and the last where kidnapping and robbery fall into. The Fun-Crimes type is those who appreciate the violence inherent in crime. This type of crime is perpetrated mostly by members of the secret cult groups in various communities and institutions of higher learning, located in and around Owerri, the state capital.
In recent times, Imo State citizens and law enforcement agents now live in fear following indiscriminate killings and kidnappings, for which the government has offered cash incentives for information.
For instance, about 22 kidnap suspects were paraded early in the year at an Owerri stadium. Some of them were said to have been arrested at a defunct nail factory belonging to an Mbaise traditional ruler irrespective of the fact that Imo State also has in its statute death penalty for kidnappers and owners of their place of operation.
The level of crime and armed violence in Imo state in among the highest in Nigeria. The combination of armed robbery and kidnapping for money makes it a complex and difficult situation to tackle alone by the conventional security outfits in Imo state. The no abating level of armed violence in Imo state, despite all security measures, testifies to this conclusion. It is therefore important that integrated approach, instead of only conventional force, is used to stem this tide of growing armed crimes and reckless kidnapping with sole aim extort ransom or settle political scores. The high crime level and use of arms is therefore related to the level of unemployment, poverty and militarization of politics and quest for power. It is therefore, man made.
There is no politicized response to the level of armed violence in Imo state that will yield positive result. There is also no single measure that will generate testimonial outcomes. Integrated but transparent measure will go a long way. For instance, guns are not mostly made in Imo state, but they are used in Imo on a high scale, leading to so many death and destructions. This means that it is easy to have access to gun in Imo state. Again, the secrecy in crime prevention, investigation and prosecution has not reduced the level of armed violence in Nigeria or the state, one therefore, wonders why there should not be an open national or statewide data base for interested stakeholders to rely on for strategic intervention to curb this societal evil. If developed countries, who have effective armed violence control mechanism, place their crime control records in the public domain, developing countries like Nigeria or states like Imo should take a cue from that so as to generate appropriate data to design appropriate response or interventions. For example, one cannot commence effective gun control advocacy when the records, showing the types of guns being used by armed robbers or crime committers is neither available nor accessible. With a non-politicized integrated approach or intervention the rate of armed violence in Imo state will be reduced to single digit.
Books and Reports
Valentine Uwakwe (2012). “Statistical Analysis of Factors Affecting Crime in Imo state pp 43 – 65.
Chukunenye Iheanacho Okereke (2012). “Governance and Security in Imo State” “Governance and Security in the South east”pp148 – 178
E. B. J. Iheriohanma (2010). “The Challenges of Youths’ Involvement in Violence, Conflicts and Crises Management in Igboland,” Nigeria Directorate of General Studies, Federal University of Technology, Owerri, pp 81.
Mohammed Ibrahim (2012). Children in organized Armed violence: “An empirical survey of children and youth in organized armed violence in Nigeria: Egbesu Boys, OPC and Bakassi boys as a Case study” Centre for Democracy and Development, Pp7 -26
Emmanuel Chidi Nwadiaro & *Daniel Ibe Nkwocha (2011). “Kidnapping for Ransom: a Prevalent Urban Pandemic in Nigeria”; Research Journal of Peace and Conflict Studies Vol. 1. Issue 1. November, Pp 4 – 9.
Vigilante violence in the south and south-east 2002, Amnesty International, pp.
1 Victor Ugborgu (2012). Mayhem in Imo state Communities communities, Newswatch magazines, June 15th.
2 SOC Okenwa 2012). “kidnapping for money in Igboland” Sahara Reporters, May 27
3 MIKE UBANI (2012). “Imo: A Relapse Into ‘Otokoto’ Days”, Nigeria News Network, July 7.
4 Steve Uzoechi (2012). “Imo’s daunting security challenges” Parrot News May 31st.
5 Yusuf Alli (2009). “Oyo, Imo, Ogun, others lead in armed robbery” Today News July 3rd
6 Ozioma Ubahukoh (2012). Punch September 16,
7 (According to Sahara Reporters By SOC Okenwa, May 27)
8 (2012)Combating kidnappers in the S/East (Nigeria Newspoint)
2 Crime Casualties of the Okorocha Rescue Mission – By Mba Ogbonnaya ADMIN Nov 17, 2011 –Imo state Blog