At first, they were welcomed by the people who were fed up with the high rate of incompetence by the Police, who were supposed to fight it. But people later turned against them, when the Bakassi boys spread their role into areas of social and political control: they enforce debt payment; they chastise women who stray in marriage etc.
In the 1990’s, the popular Aba Market was always besieged by armed robbers, kidnappers and killers. The traders in the market were always being intimidated by hoodlums.
The worst crime syndicates in Aba were the Maffs, who unleashed abominable crimes on the people, in addition to the kidnapping, robbery and acts like raping wives in front of their husbands or forcing children to make love with their parents as their siblings watched. While all these were happening, the law enforcement agencies were pretending to be helpless and in most cases, if anyone goes to report, the criminals would return the following day to relate to you how you had gone to report to the Police and what you had said, with exactitude.
Under such a scenario, the victims bore their fate with painful equanimity. Issues got to a head when the criminals started to kidnap and even kill the foreign traders who usually came to evacuate the finished leather goods and clothing.
The Aba businessmen knew that it was between their livelihood and the criminals in Aba. This led to an uprising of the artisans at the Ariaria market as they mobilized other traders in Aba and the Bakassi boys were founded.
The traders, mostly indigenes of Abriba, a tribe noted for its dexterity in the use of cutlass an machetes among the Igbo nation, went to their shrines to gather enough “spiritual and diabolical powers”.
Backed by this and financial support from among the top traders in Aba, the Bakassi boys went in to action and they took the fight to the robbers den and secret hideouts. The result of the onslaught was an instant success, as Aba was totally cleansed of all sorts of crimes.
They used very horrendous methods. Suspects were subjected to ghoulish tests. One of such is to hold a pair of machetes in the form of a cross in front of the face of the alleged evil-doer.
If his face reflects on the machetes, he is deemed guilty, and put to savage death.
From what most people know, the Bakassi boys had mystical powers drawn principally from Ngwa and Ogoni deities, but in consultation with most deities in Igboland, they were able to clean up Aba of criminals, most of whom escaped to other states of the South East.
Criminals moved from Aba to other nearby town, cities and villages which include Onitsha etc. Anambra became so deadly and many people started sleeping in religious places like churches, mosques etc, praying to their gods to save them.
The traders also came together and decided to invite the Bakassi boys because they saw what they did in Aba so they were sure they would save them. The Bakassi boys came to help them and after 2 weeks of their actions, Anambra was freed from crime, they were liberated and the city was sanitized.
The sanitation operations of the Bakassi Boys became so welcome that the elected Governor then supported them and made them official fighting apparatus of the state and they were getting g paid by the government.
Despite the so-called unorthodox and brutal methods of the Bakassi boys, they were welcomed and condoned by an overwhelming percentage of the population that felt relieved. Life returned to the land, and business started to boom again.
Because the mystical powers of the Bakassi Boys which made it possible for them to locate criminals, those who were very nostalgic of home, like returnees from South Africa and other crime infested places, always stop over in hotels in Enugu or Imo State for the fear of Bakassi Boys.
The story is that if you have ever committed a big crime or ever shed human blood, the Bakassi Boys could locate you and finish you off. By this, a lot of innocent people were presumably killed in error or vendetta.
Bakassi Boys soon ran into trouble with the federal authorities. Some criminals who had the thugs whom they used against political opponents, were dealt with by the Bakassi Boys, they started to pull some strings to ban the Bakassi Boys. In reaction, Governor, Mbadinuju quickly moved to legalize the activities of the Bakassi Boys by getting the Anambra State House of Assembly to pass a law legalizing them as the Anambra State Vigilante Services (AVS). However, so determined were the opponents of the Bakassi Boys and the state government use of them that the powerful politicians pursued with their influence-laden campaigns against the AVS.
Suddenly, people that had no reasons to fall under the Bakassi Boys machete were brutally murdered.
One of them was a musician De Doga who was generally adjudged blameless.
Then there was popular religious leader, Edward Okeke, alias Eddie Nawgu, and the murder of Barrister Igwe and his wife by Bakassi Boys.
Perhaps, the most abominable was the death of Barrister Igwe and his wife with an unborn baby, who were murdered in cold blood in Onitsha, by people suspected to be connected to the Bakassi Boys.
Governor Mbadinuju did not also help matters either, by the way he allowed the control of Bakassi Boys to slip out of his hands into the clutches of individuals who used them to settle personal, political and social scores, whose operations had then become bastardized.
Obasanjo vowed to uproot the outfit by all means and in fact did so eventually. The Bakassi Boys were disbanded in 2002, but their activities did not stop completely. What they rather did was go underground with the identities of their leaders difficult to know.
In December 2005, fourteen suspected members of the Bakasssi Boys were brought before a federal high court on charges of “unlawful killing” and “illegal possession of firearms” (Vanguard 3 Dec. 2005). The men allegedly killed a trader in Abia State in November 2005.
In February 2006, four members of the Bakassi Boys were sentenced to death by hanging by the Umuahia High Court for the 1999 murder of two persons suspected of being armed robbers. (ThisDay 3 Feb, 2006). The two victims, including a police officer, were dismembered and burnt.
Sources: ThisDay Newspapers, Uche Ezechukwu, Punch Newspaper, Vanguard Newspaper, Wikipedia, Nzekwe Gerald Uchenna (NGU), Ourpage9ja