With a sudden spike in criminal activity, the once tranquil yet vibrant Ibom Plaza in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, is now trying to maintain its status.
According to the Gist House, increased incidences of phone and bag stealing, intimidation, molestation, prostitution by underage girls, and other types of social nuisances at the popular Ibom Plaza and its vicinity are causing widespread worry. Former governor Victor Attah created Ibom Plaza in the
center of the Uyo metropolis to fulfill the goals of relaxation, recreation, shopping, and tourism.
It features an arena where churches have crusades, artists hold events, and families, engaged couples, and others go for photoshoots due to the beautiful and cool atmosphere.
It used to have giant screen televisions where people could relax and watch football matches and other events to unwind after a long day of work.
For example, when one of Akwa Ibom’s illustrious sons, World Boxing Heavyweight Champion Samuel Peters, fought his first heavyweight bout during the administration of ex-governor Akpabio, many people flocked to Ibom Plaza to witness the championship, which Peters beat and won the delight of all.
Fast forward to 2023, and that extremely strategic and commercially viable environment that acts as a rallying point in the city center, gateway to the Akwa Ibom Government House, and other significant areas in Uyo has evolved into a den of thieves and a rendezvous for those constituting social nuisance has become a den of thieves and a rendezvous for those constituting a social nuisance.
People’s cell phones have been seized by hoodlums loitering around the neighborhood at night, mostly youths or young lads between the ages of 20 and 30.
Soldiers were drafted around the area to maintain security during the height of the EndSARS protest. They did, however, leave when normalcy returned to the neighborhood.
In addition, despite the presence of an emergency police station within the plaza, occurrences of crime and criminality continue.
A robbery victim, named Effiong, described how he was robbed of his phones and N8,500 in his wallet.
“I went there to drink and wait for a friend,” he says. I was astonished when a young lad approached me, raised his clothes to show me a weapon, and demanded that I hand over my phone and cash.
“I was terrified, so I handed him the items; before I could turn my head, the boy had vanished.”
When asked if he tried to contact the police, he said, “Police? I was attempting to figure out how to block my account because my ATM was inside the stolen wallet. I was so traumatized that I couldn’t bring myself to call the cops.”
Another victim, Nsikak, who had an experience with the hoodlums, said he was approached at 7:30 p.m. by a person who took his phone from his hand and vanished into the crowd, adding that no one wanted to chase the thief down.
The Gist House investigations revealed that the hoodlums had changed their identities and were now operating respectable enterprises in the area and its environs.
Dominica, a first-year University student who was seen crying while going along Barracks Road, told our correspondent about her ordeal.
“I went to the plaza to buy a pair of sandals for my lectures,” she explained. I paid N3,500 for it; there were two lads standing next to the person selling the footwear.
“They persuaded me to put pins in the sandals because otherwise, they would not last,” I instructed them to put the pins in, but when they were finished, they said I should pay N5,000.
“When I pleaded that I didn’t have that much money, they took my phone and told me that if I didn’t give them the money, they wouldn’t release the phone.”
“I started crying and begging them, and people were around, but nobody did anything as if something was happening, despite the fact that I was crying and shouting at the same time.”
Dominica claimed that none of her requests were heard since no one was willing to listen to her.
She claimed the boys took the ATM and withdrew N5000 forcibly.
Aside from allegations of molestation and theft, the environment’s prostitution of underage girls has left much to be desired.
It was discovered that between the hours of 7 p.m. and 10 p.m., several youngsters dressed in scant attire loiter around the area, particularly around drinking establishments, looking for patronage.
Most of the kids, who appear to be secondary school students, are seen using hard and illegal drugs to boost their energy in order to tolerate more males.
Meanwhile, the Chairman of the Ethical and Attitudinal Reorientation Commission, Dr Dorothy Thompson, denounced the narrative within Ibom Plaza and its environs in a press statement.
She stated that her panel was responding to complaints of a fresh wave of bag and phone snatching, robbery, and other anti-social vices that were claimed to be increasing in intensity within and around the plaza.
The EARCOM CEO stated that such activities in Ibom Plaza and other areas throughout the state were undesirable.
She stated that if such heinous acts are allowed to continue, they will misrepresent the state and send mixed signals to prospective investors and visitors, threatening the state’s economic growth, which Governor Umo Eno is currently working to strengthen.
She went on to say that criminal activity of any magnitude near the popular hangout would not only jeopardize the free passage of automobiles and people surrounding the Plaza and its axis but would also instill terror in the locals and cause the entire neighborhood to be deserted.
The EARCOM chief stated that as a body charged with reorienting public ethics and attitudes toward a peaceful, safe, and secure society, it would continue to condemn unethical behavior among those youths who had chosen the path of dishonor while increasing awareness of the consequences of such actions on the perpetrators, their families, and the state at large.
“As a commission charged with reorienting public ethics and good attitudes among citizens, we will continue to raise awareness about the negative impact of such acts on the state, its residents, and the economy that our dear Governor Umo Eno is working hard to improve,” the statement said in part.
She stated that the commission would collaborate with security authorities to deal decisively with anyone caught in such degrading activities as a measure to deter the nasty practice from resurfacing in the state.
“I want to warn those who are stealing bags, phones, and other personal items from members of the public within Ibom Plaza and its environs, starting from the MTN office along Ikot Ekpene Road, down to other axes, to stop immediately.”
“Security agencies are already on high alert to arrest and prosecute such individuals,” Thompson cautioned.
At a recent press conference, the Commissioner of Police, CP Olatoye Durosinmi, reiterated his commitment to fighting crime and criminality, saying that his officers would ensure that all of those issues were addressed, even as he urged residents to report such cases to the nearest police station for immediate action.