Tackling impediments to South-South security outfit

DAPO FALADE writes on the possible impediments to take off of the proposed South-South regional security outfit, even as the governors of the zone remain undeterred in their resolve to set up the outfit.

 

IT started out like a wild dream when the governors of the South-West region conceptualised the idea of a security outfit codenamed Operation Amotekun to address and combat the increasing insecurity in the region, occasioned by incessant attacks on the people by killer herdsmen, bandits and kidnappers. While the other zones were still expressing doubts about the workability of the security initiative, the six south-western states and their legislative houses took the bull by the horn and individually passed into law the bills initiated to put the initiative on a legal footing.

The idea is, however, spreading all over as the leaders of each region seemed to have caught the bug of a regional security outfit. Governors of the South-South and South-East have announced their resolve to have regional security outfits, while their counterparts from the North-East have held similar discussions on how to address the incessant issue of insecurity in the region.

Just last Thursday, the six governors of the South-South states, including Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Edo and Delta (with the acronym BRACED), took a bold step towards achieving security integration in the zone as they unanimously resolved to come together to form a security outfit in the zone.

Announcing their resolution, the Niger Delta governors, at a meeting held in Asaba, the Delta State capital, also made it known their determination to see to the full implementation of the 13 per cent oil derivation and other critical issues affecting the zone. Apart from Okowa, other governors present at the meeting were Nyesom Wike (Rivers), Godwin Obaseki (Edo), Emmanuel Udom (Akwa Ibom) and Douye Diri (Bayelsa), while Ben Ayade of Cross River State was represented.

Addressing newsmen after the meeting, the chairman of the South-South Governors’ Forum and governor of Delta State, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, said the BRACED Commission, the socio-economic think-tank of the region, had been saddled with working out the details of the workability of the proposed outfit. He also disclosed that the commission would brief the governors on the details of its findings at their next meeting in May in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.

Indeed, the desirability for an effectively coordinated security outfit for the region has been long overdue. Many of the leaders from the zone described the initiative as a welcome development, since such collaboration among the six governments in the region would go a long way to reduce the pervading security challenges in the region, including kidnapping, herdsmen menace, cultism, militancy, proliferation of arms and light weapons, sea piracy, pipeline vandalism and oil theft.

However, just like what initially happened to the South-West initiative, there are some contending issues that may militate against an effective take-off of such a regional arrangement in the South-South. The thorny factors are, but not limited to, the issue of ethnic heterogeneity in the region; political affiliation and configuration, politics of godfathers, organisational and operational principles of the security outfit.

In an interview published by a national newspaper, chairman of the Warri Consultative Forum, Emmanuel Okotie-Eboh, attributed the increasing agitations for regional and state security outfits to the alarming spate of insecurity across the country, Emmanuel, who is a son of Nigeria’s first Minister of Finance, the late Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh, said such security outfits in the six geopolitical zones are in order, and especially imperative in the Niger Delta region.

However, the fact and potency of the identified aforementioned factors were not lost on Okotie-Eboh as he said: “But again, Delta being a mini-Nigeria with all its complexities of distrust, insecurity, the question of who becomes the driver of the project; who are to be its foot soldiers and how it would be organised to give each ethnic group a sense of equity and justice becomes a puzzle that will set the outfits on collision course from the outset.”

Also situating the inherent problems beyond the South-South, in the face of the preponderant threat of the majorityethnic groups lording it over the minority groups, he asked: “The question again is: would it not become a tool in the hands of the majority tribes to oppress the minorities and what would the command structure look like?”

Looking beyond the formation of a security outfit for the South-South, Okotie-Eboh put the governors and other stakeholders to task. He said: “There must be a very serious brainstorming to make it work. Regional agitations would never end in this country because for every new region created there would emerge a new majority and minority tribes who will be bent on getting their region created. They would further agitate until every family or household becomes a region.”

Similarly, the Secretary-General of the Ijaw Youths Council (IYC) Worldwide, Alfred Kemepado, was of the view that a regional security outfit in the mould of the Operation Amotekun in the South-West is desirable and overdue in the South-South to help to provide maritime security and also stop the criminal activities of pipeline vandals and oil thieves.

“The governors of the South-South should have come up with this type of security measures long ago to protect our water territory, especially against pipeline vandalism and other oil theft activities. This [the proposed regional security outfit] goes back to emphasise our long cry for the restructuring of the Nigerian State, not to the advantage of any particular region, but to make Nigeria a more viable project. The Fedral Government from Abuja is too small to police the large Nigeria that it controls. It can only effectively do that by decentralising most of its powers,” he said.

Kemepado however, counseled the South-South governors to put in place measures to protect the proposed security outfit against abuse and insisted that the outfit must focus mainly on the purpose of its creation.

“The South-South governors should not just stop at the formation and the funding of the regional security outfit. They should also task the oil multinationals operating in this environment who will be the major beneficiaries of this initiative to also contribute to a security trust fund as it is [done] in Lagos to ensure that the security outfit is productive,” he advised.

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The Ijaw youth leader also emphasised that a deliberate policy must be formulated, through the BRACED Commission, for the economic empowerment of the people of the region. “They [the governors] should also think about developing the BRACED Commission because you cannot talk about security without talking about economic development of the people. Without economic development, there will be no security anywhere,” he declared.

Annkio Briggs, a vocal voice in the Niger Delta and founder of the Niger Delta Self-Determination Movement (NDSDM), reportedly claimed that her letter, in February, to the South-South governors, particularly addressed to Governor Okowa, actually triggered the decision to put in place a regional security outfit in the zone.

The human and environmental rights activist, in the letter, said her group watched with trepidation the deteriorating security situation across the country and herdsmen menace especially in the Niger Delta. “Only recently, some communities in Delta Stat were attacked by killer herdsmen who continued to be emboldened to commit more atrocities as the security agencies look the other way or sometimes overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the attacks.

“The NDSDM, in all sincerity, can no lonegr trust the established security agencies to protect our people as they have shown a high level of complicity and sometimes outright connivance with the killer herdsmen to attack, kill, kidnap, rape, molest and terrorise our people. What is true of Delta is true of all the South-South states. There is absolutely no state in the South-South that is immune from the rampaging and ravaging killer herdsmen and the security breach they bring with them,” she wrote.

The leader of the Niger Delta Youth Coalition for Peace and Progress (NDYCPP), Kennedy Tonjo-West, also supported the proposed regional security outfit as he described it as a step in the right direction.

“It is a welcome development that security be regionally domesticated because presently we are facing a very harsh situation in terms of security and the economy. What is happening in our region shows that security has been breached. If the governors of the South-South are coming together to tailor a single security outfit for the safety of lives and property of the people of the region, it is a step in the right direction and the various states Assemblies should look into it. But in doing that, they should discuss with the Ijaws as a whole because the Ijaws cover the littoral aspects of the states,” he said.

However, a lone dissenting voice against the proposed South-South security outfit, the Coalition of Niger Delta Agitators (CNDA), has warned against establishing such an outfit. The coalition, in a statement issued in Port Harcourt, accused the South-South governors of having an ulterior political motive in seeking to establish the outfit.

CNDA, in the statement signed by its convener, John Duke and Ekpo Ekpo of the Niger Delta Volunteers and 14 others, said such outfit may heighten insecurity in the region as they alleged that the governors would deploy it to settle political scores and deal with the perceived enemies in their various states.

However, the governors appeared to have made up their mind on the security outfit as their spokesman, Governor Okowa, restated the commitment to going ahead to create the outfit, the criticisms and fears expressed notwithstanding. The governor said he and his colleagues remain undeterred by the negative comments, adding that they decided to create the outfit to address the challenges of insecurity facing the region and for the overall good of its people.

“The fact is that whatever you do, even when you mean the best for our state and the best for this nation, you always have a statement of people turning it into politics and some people will want to criticise you. But as governors, ours is to do things in the best interests of the states and in the best interest in the larger majority of the people. We cannot stop people from playing politics out of whatever we do.

“We are not going to be deterred by the criticisms of some group of people. We are elected as governors to do the best we can to secure our people and to bring development to our people,” he said, adding that the governors did not need the permission of anybody before carrying out their constitutional responsibilities. He however spoke on the “need to share a security approach. There is a need to support the security agencies– the police, military with the civilian outfit so that collaboratively, we can truly become more efficient.”

 

NIGERIAN TRIBUNE

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