South-East and its planned security outfit

Pick up any mainstream of the Nigerian tabloids, the shocking stories you read are killing, kidnapping and robbery of people. It is prevalent in the North where insurgency and banditry have taken the centre stage, creating fear, hopelessness and agony in homes of many families.”

These were the words of Mazi Jackson Nwanosike, a retired teacher in Enugu, while reflecting on the state of the nation.

Apparently moved by the growing security challenge, the governors of the South-West zone recently set up their own security outfit called Operation Amotekun to handle the internal and local security of the zone.

Like many Nigerians, the governors  felt that the security agencies alone could no longer protect their people, hence the decision to float their own security outfit, in spite of the hues and cries from a section of the Northern part of the country.

Perhaps, it is against the backdrop that the leaders of the South-East geopolitical zone seem to have woken up from their slumber to review the security architecture of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo states, the five states making up the zone.

On January 28, 2019, the Igbo governors had, under the auspices of “South-East Governors’ Forum,” met in Enugu, where they inaugurated the regional security, but apparently to play safe, did not go beyond rhetorics, thus creating room for their colleagues in the South-West zone who took the bull by the horns with Amotekun.

The emergence of the “South West Security Network” might have spurred the South-East governors to re-converge in Enugu on February 9, where they recalled that they were the first to blaze the trail on zonal security programme.

Rising from their meeting at Government House, Enugu, the chairman of the South-East Governors’ Forum, Chief David Umahi of Ebonyi State, who read the communiqué, noted that they had formed their South-East Joint Security on July 28, 2019 and inaugurated its committee on the August 31, 2019.

Umahi said the next step would be for the State Houses of Assembly to enact a law to back up the South-East Security with a name to the outfit, adding that the Forum had written the Federal Government and at an appropriate time will invite the Federal Government to know the details of the Joint Security arrangement.

“We wish to assure our people that we have our State Vigilante and the Forest Guards in all the South-East states, who work with security agencies daily in our various communities for protection of lives and property. We, again, assure our people that the protection of their lives and property is paramount to us and we are committed to just doing that,” Umuahi told reporters.

One of the striking features of the February 9, Governors’ meeting was the presence of notable Igbo clerics and leaders of thought which included former parliamentarian, Chief Amechi Mbazulike; Governor of old Anambra State, Senator Jim Nwobodo; Chief John Nwodo (Ohanaeze Ndigbo President-General); Professor Barth Nnaji; Archbishop Emmanuel Chukwuma; ex-governors Peter Obi, Achike Udenwa. Others were the Chief host, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State and his counterparts Dr Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State and Chief Umahi of Ebonyi State.

Prior to the governors’ meeting in Enugu, a coalition of civil society organisations in the South-East had embarked on a protest rally in support of Senator Enyinanya Abaribe’s call for the resignation of President Muhammadu Buhari over security lapses in the country.

The leader of the coalition, who is also the convener of Voice from the East, (VEAST) Comrade Kindness Jonah, who addressed journalists in Enugu after the rally, reeled off examples of insecurity threats such as the Fulani herdsmen menace and the Boko Haram that have continued to plague the nation without any commensurate action by the Federal Government to solve the situation.

Critics of the Umahi-led Forum are quick to recall that the planned joint security is no longer news as Governor Umahi had at different forums disclosed their readiness to commence the zonal security project.

They recalled that early this year when the General Officer Commanding, GOC of the 82 Division of Nigerian Army, General Lasisi Adegboye, visited Umahi at Government House, Abakaliki, the governor said they would birth a joint security outfit for the entire states in the zone. The announcement was not new as Umahi had earlier disclosed during a meeting of the governors and Igbo leaders in Enugu in July last year that they were setting up a joint security outfit.

Already, the pan-Igbo group, Ohanaeze Ndigbo is kicking, warning that they will not stand by and watch while their people are being slaughtered in their zone.

The “Imeobi” meeting tagged “Security in Ala Igbo,” held at Nike Lake, Enugu on February 9, the highest decision making organ of Ohanaeze Ndigbo deliberated exhaustively on security situation in Igbo land.

President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nwodo, said having extensively considered and deliberated the lone agenda of the meeting, which is “Security in Ala Igbo,” and having discussed exhaustively and with deep trepidation, the deteriorating security condition in the South East and nationwide, the assembly resolved that Ndigbo would not stand by and watch their people slaughtered

“That Ohanaeze will defend every soul in Igbo land. Ohanaeze hereby nominate, activate and direct the council of elders made up of reputable Igbo personalities and leaders to engage Ohaneze state governors immediately on prevailing security challenges.

“Finally, Ohaneze reminds Ndigbo that there has been difficulty in security in our history in Nigeria: In all these our determination to protect our home lands and families against aggressors has never wavered and we have always relied on our ingenuity and vigilance to ensure our survival. Let nobody take us for granted.”

In Igbo land, the planned community policing is perceived in some quarters as a ploy to hijack the joint zonal security architecture.

For instance, Chief Nwodo while pushing the views of Ndigbo on Wednesday, February 12, at the one day security summit organised by the police for the South-East geopolitical zone, he remarked people of the zone have little or no confidence in the police, saying the introduction of community policing is good but would be dead on arrival if the state governors are not allowed to control the security architecture of their states, especially having a say in the recruitment of commanders and heads of the community police.

“I think you are planning to do thing good, but your assumption may not work. In this zone our people have little or no confidence in police. Because I once travelled from Enugu to Onitsha and saw 17 checkpoints with soldiers and police and there was no disguise that they were told to do it. The former GOC dismantled one at Oji River axis. In all these checkpoints, they are using children of ages 14, 16 and 17,” he said.

Nwodo whose remarks were loudly applauded by the audience wondered why heads of security operatives, particularly the police in Igboland, are non-indigenes, stressing that Ndigbo have qualified men and women to head strategic positions in police and the military.

“Except in one state in South-East zone where you have a DSS Director, others have non-Igbo stock as Police Commissioners. It is against the background of this perceived marginalisation that many of us tend to say that we are a conquered territory,” he added.

Nwodo was not alone in the lamentation cycle, as the Archbishop of Enugu Ecclesiastical Province, Most Reverend (Dr) Emmanuel Chukwuma, described the state of the nation today as frightening and devastating.

“We are religious leaders and we are saying that what is happening in our country today is very much devastating.  Before now internal security was in the hands of police and external for the soldiers. Before, you won’t see soldiers in the street but because security has gone out of hands and police are becoming inefficient and inadequate, soldiers are coming in to help,” he said.

According to him, “The worst of it now is that today, Reverend Fathers are being kidnapped; religious leaders are in danger and church premises are now in trouble. We begin to ask ourselves: why is it so? If this should continue this way and we pray and God sends his angels down, Nigeria will be in confusion. So, we want to appeal to you to help us in this strategy for peace to reign in our community.”

He noted,  “We religious leaders don’t want trouble; all we want is peace. We want to support our governors to maintain peace. Their hands are tied, when they are supposed to take security measure, because they have to take permission from Abuja.”

For the Eastern governors, they told the audience at the regional security summit that they are ready to partner with the Federal Government on community policing even as  they took cognizance of various grassroots security outfits such as Operation “Kpochapu,” forests guard, vigilance group and neighbourhood watch which operate close to the modal of community policing.

The chairman of the South-East Governors’ Forum, David Umahi of Ebonyi State, while speaking on behalf of his colleagues, stated, “The state governors have accepted and adopted community policing in bringing policing closer to the grassroots.”

According to him, “each state will mandate and ensure that community policing committee made up of traditional rulers, religious leaders etc will be established in each community to be in-charge of the recruitment of personnel and monitor security developments in the various communities where they exist.’’

He further disclosed that they also resolved to improve the capacity of their various community policing security outfits and the governors in synergy with the Nigeria police undertake periodic security raids.

“We have agreed to share intelligence and information on security as well as provide adequate job and skill engagement for their teeming youths. There will be quarterly meeting among the governors to review the entire security situation and smooth workability of the initiative and the zone will continue to partner the police to achieve all these,” he stated.

Despite the reservation in some quarters over the political will to commence the joint zonal security network as announced by Governor Umahi, some are optimistic that the project will see the light of the day, citing example of the success story of Enugu State Forest Guards which they affirmed is in conformity with community policing agenda of the Federal Government.

Further checks show that shortly the idea of the Forest Guards was mooted, the Enugu State governor  braved the odds to set machinery in motion by recruiting able-bodied youths to scout the forests with the aim of checking security challenges.

To beef up security, the Enugu State government purchased 260 security vehicles and 260 motorcycles were purchased for the 260 electoral wards in the state, one for each ward, including procurement of communication gadgets to facilitate optimal community policing.

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