We in the South-West need security urgently

IN this column in recent months, I have repeatedly urged the governors and traditional rulers of our six states in the Yoruba Southwest to wake up and do something immediately about security in our states. My reason is that various serious threats have arisen to our security.

First, the Boko Haram threat, though considerably reduced since the coming of the Buhari presidency, is still alive. Only a few days ago, terrorists belonging to Boko Haram were found and arrested in Lagos State.

In 2014, the former governor of Kaduna State warned Nigeria about a coming threat to security countrywide. That threat has now materialized. Especially in the Middle Belt, and in the states of the Southeast, South-south and our Southwest, Fulani herdsmen, obviously recruited by some people for political purposes, and trained and armed with sophisticate weapons, are destroying farms, killing farmers,raping women, and maiming men, women and children. They have carried out these rampages in every one of our six states in the Southwest. It is known that they are reinforced by many Libyan militia men – from late President Ghadafi’s private armies. What the powerful men who recruited, armed and trained these terrorists are trying to achieve is not yet clear to the world, but we have good reasons to fear that their intentions are not good for us and for many other Nigerian peoples. In spite of the outcry from all over our land, we see increasing numbers of these murderous herdsmenin our farmlands, and we hear that our governors are being pressurized by federal authorities to grant land for“grazing reserves” for them. Many of us tremble at the spreading rumour that some of our governors are even being bribed or blackmailed with threats of EFCC investigation in order to get them to grant grazing reserves in our farmlands.

In more recent weeks, a threat to our security has arisen from yet another direction – from Ijaw sourcesfrom the South-south.This new threat to our peace and security is very puzzling indeed. We Yoruba and Ijaw have lived together as brothers throughout our history; large numbers of Ijaw communities have long resided in the south-eastern provinces of our Yoruba homeland (side by side with our Ilaje people); and in our Ondo state, Ijaw folks have been allowed into very high political positions – the first speaker of the Ondo State House of Assembly was an Ijaw man. In the light of all these, Yoruba and Ijaw civic leaders did the right thing by arranging to meet together as soon as these attacks on Yoruba coastal communities began.

What has been fairly establishedthrough those meetings is that the Ijaw attacks on Yoruba coastal communities are not part of the Ijaw movement in the Ijaw homeland in which various Ijaw militant groups have been fighting against Nigeriaand destroying very important assets of the Nigerian petroleum industry. What is now widely believed is that the Ijaw attackers on Yoruba coastal communities are criminal elements – thieves who have long been puncturing oil pipes and stealing oil for sale for themselves(a practice called bunkering), and who seem to be now finding it harder to practice their oil robbery.These have attacked coastal communities in the areas of Ikorodu, Igando, and Ipaja-Ayobo. It is estimated that they have killed as many as 89 Yoruba villagers in these communities and displaced thousands of people from their homes. Apparently under pressure of deprivation and hunger, they are reported to be now invading any homes that still stand, and to be violently grabbing food and other valuables – and raping women. Their chief strength is that they have somehow got possession of some of the sophisticated weapons with which the Ijaw militants have been fighting against Nigeria in the Ijaw homeland.

Moreover, we must look beyond the present and think of other future possibilities too.  Very many large centres of religious worship are sitting targets for the kind of horror which have occurred in some other parts of Nigeria. As millions of our people gather in our mosques on Fridays or in our churches on Sundays, or in our marketplaces, motor parks, shopping centres, and sports centres, how much thought does anybody give to the possibility of planted bombs or suicide bombers?

Furthermore, a very major economic crisis is now looming over Nigeria. Observers watching the Nigerian economic scene fear imminent popular reactions to the escalating poverty. We Yoruba, with the largest population of highly educated and unemployed youths in Nigeria, have been lucky so far that our youths have borne their hardships peacefully. But, if these hardships further escalate soon, are we likely to continue to be that lucky?

In the background to all these serious attacks, and other possible attacks, on the peace and security of our Southwest, there is the horrible constitutional arrangement which veststhe control of police duties in the whole of Nigeria in the Federal Government only. Exactly what happened in the Northeast is now happening in our Southwest – the state governments, having no police of their own, cannot meet any emerging danger and nip it in the bud.The well-armed bunker criminals of the Ikorodu villages easily prevented the security forces, and even the high representative of the Ogun State Government who was coming with them, from reaching the crime scenes, and they have continued to impose a reign a terror there since then. The 2014 National Conference resolved that police functions should be devolved to the state governments, but there is no assurance that this will ever happen.

So, we must find our own solutions right now. What then are our options? Some weeks ago, the new Emir of Kano offered the wise advice that the peoples of the North who are now immediately under Boko Haram menace should take steps to protect their communities. As the Emir of Kano counselled, we should start learning and establishing community protection behaviour and practices now. Such practices may soon be the barrier between life and death for a lot of our people. Each institution (church, mosque, marketplace, motor park, sports centre, etc) should start.

In addition, fortunately, we have powerful traditional institutions that are supremely suitable for this need.  In times of threat to security in our Yoruba towns and cities from ancient times, our rulers commonly called out certain groups in the community. This is still part of our nation’s cultural heritage; on occasions, hunters groups still watch the streets in many Yoruba towns today. Each Oba or Baale should alert his community to the dangers that appear to be coming, and then revive the traditional community security practices.

And why can’t our state governments use the services of OPC in this situation, cover their operations with states’ legal authority, and ensure their high quality service by providing government oversight? Even the Federal Government recently employed the services of OPC to fight certain crimes; why can’t our state governments do the same? No matter what opponents of OPC may now say, the truth remains that OPC once tackled and curbed crime creditably in our Southwest.

Finally, isn’t it time that our state governments should banokadaand riotous street vending from all our towns – practices that hold a lot of danger to our public? Thanks to Governor Ambode for banningstreet vending from Lagos. It is known that okada has been banned from towns in the Southeast and South-south. We demand that our state governments should follow suit.

Our state and local governments and all elected politicians mustall be involved in this fight. They should inform our people intensively. They should encourage and assist our traditional rulers, leaders of our churches, mosques, marketplaces, motor parks, sports centres, rural communities, to begin to evolve their various modes of security.

These actions must be handled with all seriousness. All who live on our land, including non-indigene residents, must live in confident assurance of safety. This is not a matter for partisan politics, or a matter allowing for any dragging. We need and demand action immediately