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South-South stakeholders clamour for regional security architecture

By Kelvin Ebiri (Port Harcourt), Chido Okafor (Warri), Inemesit Akpan-Nsoh (Uyo), Julius Osahon (Bayelsa)
17 February 2020   |   4:29 am
Just last week in Uwheru, a community in Ughelli North Local Government Area of Delta State, the notorious Fulani herdsmen killed 14 persons.

Governor of Edo State, Mr. Godwin Obaseki; his Delta State counterpart, Mr. Ifeanyi Okowa, and Police IG, Abubakar Adamu, who took his community policing crusade to South South Police Force Regional Security Summit 2019… in Asaba

Just last week in Uwheru, a community in Ughelli North Local Government Area of Delta State, the notorious Fulani herdsmen killed 14 persons. Uwheru is famous for its production of sweet potatoes, groundnuts and other farm produce. Over the years, Fulani herders, escorted by soldiers, arrive in large trailers and empty their cows in the community and graze on the farms. The herders’ activities have been a source of tension in the community.

A prominent son of Uwheru and Delta State Commissioner for Higher Education put the death toll at over 50 persons since Fulani herders started trooping into the community in the last few years. He also alleged that any time an arrest is made and the suspected herders handed over to the police, nothing comes out of the case, because those who head police stations in Delta State are mostly Fulani officers, who shield the murderous herders and allow them go free without being brought to book to pay for their crimes.

Delta State is not alone in this murderous rampage by Fulani herdsmen. Neighbouring Edo State has since become a killing field for herders. In Edo just as in Delta, kidnapping is also a favourite pastime of these killer herders. In all these indiscriminate killings and kidnappings, the federal policing system appears helpless. Sometimes, it has been accused of complicity in these crimes, as the majorly Fulani-dominated policing personnel shield these killers from being prosecuted. They actually aid their freedom.

Now with the federal policing system, which has proven to be grossly insufficient in tackling insecurity, some states in the South-South geopolitical zone are taking steps to fill the security vacuum. Concerned that crimes such kidnapping, armed robbery, cultism, arm proliferation, child theft, attacks by herdsmen, and sea piracy are now a shared insecurity challenge across the country, stakeholders in the region are calling for a regional security apparatus like the South-West’s ‘Operation Amotekun,’ as a bulwark against continued insecurity and domestic terrorism.

Without exception, all the states in the South-South are currently grappling with security challenges, though the dynamics are much more diverse. What is common is that the spate of insecurity is obstructing social and economic development of the region.

Though the North West and South East governors have indicated interest in South-West’s security option, their counterparts in the South-South region, who are fully aware that provision of security to citizens and communities is an essential function of government, are yet to meet and strategise on this crucial national issue. But worried that the upsurge in banditry, kidnapping, frightening herdsmen attack and fear of Boko Haram cells’ infiltration might affect the region’s economic potential, states like Rivers, Bayelsa, Edo and Delta have put in place security strategies to tackle the menace.

In 2018, Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, signed into law a bill for the establishment of Rivers State Neighbourhood Safety Corps, a community policing approach, and appointed a retired assistant Commissioner of Police, Dr. Uche Mike Chukwuma, with years of expertise in security operations as the Director General. The establishment of the agency was vehemently opposed by opposition politicians, who the state later blamed for inviting the Nigerian Army to disrupt the training exercise of 3,998 shortlisted members of Rivers State Neighbourhood Safety Corps in Nonwa, Tai Local Government Area of the state in November 2018.

The military had claimed its action was based on alleged intelligence report that the state was training a militia group. But a Rivers State High Court, had in December 2019, descried the incursion as illegal. Not deterred by the intriguing politics that had stunted the kick off of Rivers State Neighbourhood Safety Corps, Governor Wike had recently stated that the state would work with stakeholders to operationalize the Neighbourhood Security Watch Scheme to support security agencies.

A security expertise in the state government told The Guardian that Governor Wike had been watching unfolding events in the country and would launch the state’s Neighbourhood Watch, a community policing strategy, with focus primarily on intelligence gathering from local communities to the conventional security forces. The Neigbhourhood Watch would also serve as an early-warning system that allows the police to pinpoint emerging risks and tackle them swiftly.

In his determination to keep Rivers State safe and secure, the governor has prioritised funding for security services by budgeting the sum of N23 billion this year to provide vehicular, security gadgets, logistics and other operational support for all the security agencies, including the armed forces to enable them provide 24-hour security patrol, reconnaissance, intelligence gathering and operations throughout the state.

Similarly, in Bayelsa State, the government, worried by the spate of insecurity, established three security outfits to curb criminality. One of the outfits is mainly made up of men and officers of The Nigerian Police Force and the Nigeria Security and the Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), otherwise known as ‘Operation Doo Akpo.’ The other two outfits, Bayelsa State Volunteers and community-based ‘Community Safety and Vigilante Corp’, consist of civilian youths from the various communities in the state.

Bayelsa Volunteers would assist security agencies in stemming the tide of crude oil theft, illegal bunkering, cultism, armed robbery, among others and will operate as a community-based outfit in the eight council areas of the state.

Unlike the Volunteers, ‘Operation Doo Akpo’, a security code name for the coordination and maintenance of security in the state, comprises the Nigerian Police, the Nigerian Army, Navy, Air Force, NSCDC and Bayelsa Volunteers. The state government has used the operation to secure peace and security and it has become a household name in the state and even beyond, because of its services which even go beyond just meeting security distress calls but majorly any kinds of distress calls which has further given the people greater confidence in their abilities.

The outfit had a purpose-built command and control centre, which coordinates activities of security units and receives distress signals on a continuous basis from all over the state. The outfit enables the state government spread its security tentacles along the waterways in order to protect travellers and traders along the numerous creeks and rivers in the state from the activities of pirates, kidnappers and other criminally minded people.

As part of efforts to strengthen this vital aspect of security in the state, the government has provided Hilux vehicles and Gun Boats to ‘Operation Doo Akpo’ to effectively police the state and rid all neighborhoods of criminal elements. The government also provided vehicles and motorcycles for these various outfits, while monthly stipends are giving to both the security personnel and the volunteers to carry out their mandates effectively.

Despite all these, critics of the government believe that the outfit is not doing enough, as insecurity in the state is still high while others see the outfits as ‘government terrorist group’ set up to hound the opposition.

In Edo State, which has been plagued by activities of deadly kidnaping gangs and herdsmen’s attacks, the government has renewed its security architecture called ‘Public Work Volunteer’ that covers all the local government areas of the state and reports to the governors’ office. Afterwards, all information and intelligence reported to the central command in the governor’s office are shared with all the federal security services and agencies in the state.

Governor Godwin Obaseki had recently revealed that the state government intends to increase the number of Public Work Volunteer members, which is currently put at about 500 to 5,000 over the next few years and they are being trained by The Nigeria Police, adding that for now they would not handle arms.

Sometimes in 2016, Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State established a security outfit called Homeland Security Service to enhance crime control mechanism in the state. It started with 3,000 members that don’t bear arms. Its services mainly focus more on intelligence gathering in a digital nature, including satellite surveillance. The state government said it was convinced that it was the way to go in the face of challenging tensions in the Niger Delta.

Training session of Rivers State Neighbourhood Safety Corps before the military disbanded it, but given clean bill of health by a court order

Special Adviser, Media and Publicity to Governor Ayade, Mr. Christian Ita, said the state already has a security outfit to address issues that border on crime and other security challenges.

He said, “We have a Homeland security outfit which is a multiple force outfit comprising of the Army, Navy, Police, the Civil Defense; so, we have people from within the existing security outfits. So, as for another one, I’m not sure.”

Cross River State has for sometime now lost its glory as an oasis of tranquility in the South-South. Just two weeks ago, Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) had protested over the kidnapping of one of its members.

In his medium-term development plan for 2016-2019, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa had promised to establish Delta State Security Trust Fund and Delta Neighbourhood Watch Agency (NWA) to enhance community security at ward levels across the 25 local government areas in the state but to no avail. Delta State Commissioner for Information, Mr. Charles Aniagwu, said until the governors of the region meet to decide on whether a regional security outfit is needed, the states would have to put in place their own security measures to ensure their people are protected. He has no idea when the governors might meet.

Aniagwu said Delta State already has an existing security plan to protect the state from criminal elements. He said most communities already have neighborhood watch known simply as vigilantes, which assist the police to secure their communities.

“We are very much concerned about the security of our people, which is why we are putting in a lot, Aniagwu said. “On the national average, Delta is not doing badly, but we believe it can be improved so that our people are much more protected.”

In recent years, Delta vigilantes have been reorganised for effective performances. For instance, they now wear dark brown uniforms for proper identification. There is also a limit to the calibre of guns they are allowed to use. It was gathered that they are only allowed to use locally made riffles and pump action short guns. They are not allowed to use assault rifles like AK-47.

Aside the local vigilantes, there is another security outfit that is specifically established to monitor the creeks and riverine areas against sea piracy in state. It is known as Waterways Security. The outfit was established in 2007 by the former, Mr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, to address the then rising cases of sea robberies and attacks. Working closely with the Navy, the Waterways Security has managed to restore peace and security in the creeks and rivers and brought criminal activities to the barest minimum.

However, under the Okowa administration, the Waterways Security has been rebranded and more focused on advocacy. It is now known as Delta State Advocacy Committee Against Oil Facility Vandalism with the deputy governor, Deacon Kingsley Otuaro, as its Chairman. Otuaro said the Advocacy Committee halted prolonged spate of pipeline vandalism in 2017 through peace shuttles to communities, which has helped to improve oil production output till date.

But as more groups in the region lend their voices to setting up a regional security outfit similar to Amotekun, the governors are under pressure to assure the people that they care.
Recently, the Ijaw Elders’ Forum (IEF) through its secretary, Pastor Efiye Bribenawho, had advocated the creation of a security outfit for the oil Niger Delta area to be called ‘Operation Red Crab.’

“In response to the challenges of economy and insecurity in the country, the forum wants the governors of the South-South to form their own security outfit (Operation Red-Crab) and also revive the Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Edo, and Delta (BRACED) States Commission to foster economic integration of the region. Our rights to existence and protection as a geographically contiguous people of the same culture are seriously threatened in Nigeria.

“We shall work with purposeful and sincere allies to ensure that oil and gas exploitation activities are carried out in a responsible and equitable manner to the benefit of our communities. We shall also work to stem the continued destruction of our environment by oil and gas operations. We shall make it a priority to demand for an immediate remediation of the already damaged environment.”

In the same vein, stakeholders in Akwa Ibom State have spoken in unison in support of the setting up of a regional security outfit instead of each state in the region having its own outfit. A former Military Administrator of the state, Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga (rtd), said individual state in the South-South should collapse their respective security outfits into a regional body to effectively and efficiently control the activities of criminals within the zone.

“I can speak as a citizen of the state and as chairman of Pan-Niger Delta Forum [PANDEF]. So, our take is that as other regions have collective security, it is important the Niger Delta have its own; that does not stop states from the zone from structuring out how they can secure their people.

“There is no state that can say they have security apparatus because if the criminal comes together, they will overwhelm such state. So, the state can have something; nothing is wrong, but the collective one in the region is better. I think if a criminal sees that within that region, if something happened in Akwa Ibom, they will look at it if the same thing happens in Edo State. If that happened, I think they (criminals) would be more careful”.

The chairman of PANDEF further said that the issue of security, whether within a state or region, was not an issue for debate, adding,
“This issue of security should not bring about so much discussions if you are to secure lives and property of people. In other climes, you have federal, state and local government police.

“If you go back to 2014 National Conference, it was one of the recommendations, that contiguous states can come together and have something like a commission for the sake of culture, security, commerce and tourism. So, what is happening in the South West is not wrong. I’m happy South East is doing something like that; they are having their own arrangements. Middle Belt has done it; I even heard from what the Sultan said that they have even talked about collective security for the North. It is easier to coordinate six geo-political zones than to coordinate 36 states.”

While speaking in the same vein, a criminologist and Dean of Students Affairs, University of Uyo, Dr. Aniekan Brown, also threw his weight behind a regional security outfit for the Niger Delta.

According to him, “I rather support regional security (outfit) and if they form such, there should be a synergy rather than have state police or security outfit. It will not be wrong to come together and form that regional body, but it must be done in such a way that it is fused into the federal police system, so that we don’t have friction between the two”.

Convener, Ijaw Media Action Initiative and former spokesperson of Ijaw National Congress, Victor Burubo, said the report of arrest of Boko Haram agents in places like Abia and Imo States ought to warrant the Niger Delta governors to be a lot more proactive and be on their guard.

“The Rivers State Neighbourhood Watch can be duplicated,” he said. “Meanwhile, there is no law that says community policing must be on regional basis. Individual states, even local governments and communities can set up their own security outfit and then have a mechanism for cooperating with other people, so that criminals cannot just move from one territory to another territory. I think the governor of Rivers State should launch the state security outfit and ensure that Neigbourhood Watch is up and running.”

He stated that the security situation in the Niger Delta region was frightening, noting that in some part of Port Harcourt, street gangs go from house to house, from shop to shop collecting money and killing those who fail to cooperate with them.

President of Ijaw Youth Council, Eric Omare, said for a while civil society organisations and ethnic nationalities have also made demands for regional security architecture for the region but to no avail. Omare stated that irrespective of the governors’ political differences, they should work in unison to ensure the safety of life and property in the region, which has most of the country’s critical energy infrastructure.

Ben Ayade

“We are calling on them to wake up to their responsibilities,” Omare said. “What the South- West and South East governors are doing is a response to protecting the lives of their own people. The security situation here is not different from other part of the country. We have security challenges ranging from Fulani herdsmen to piracy and other challenges that are peculiar to the region. These challenges demand peculiar security apparatus that will address these peculiar challenges.

“For example, in places like Bonny channel to Nembe area of Bayelsa State, we have had consistent cases of pirate attacks. Such a challenge demands peculiar security arrangement because conventional Nigerian Navy cannot address them because they are not familiar with the environment. The circumstances in the Niger Delta region demands peculiar security arrangement, as it is happening in the South West and South East.”

A university don, Dr. Sofiri Peterside, said the quest by various geopolitical zones to set up their own security outfits like Amotekun clearly demonstrates the people’s loss of confidence in the ability and capacity of federal security forces to protect life and property. And so, the various regions are beginning to take proactive measures along the line of community policing.

“In the South-South region, we cannot be apathetic to what is happening across the country,” Peterside stressed. “It is also important that our governors close up ranks. You can see what is happening; it does not matter the political parties which the governors belong to. One thing that is paramount is that people have elected them and they owe their people the responsibility to ensure that their lives and property are protected. I think that the South-South governors should take the lead in packaging their own security apparatus and see how that can also help in addressing the nagging problem of security in the country.”

Peterside, who is a sociologist, said any plan to establish a security outfit for the South-South should be well thought out to avoid any confrontation between them and the federal security forces so it does not appear that they want to take over their responsibility. According to him, this could create its own internal problem, jealousy and all that by those who the constitution actually gives responsibility to protect life and property.

“I think there should be no a competition from this kind of arrangement,” he stated. “The South-South governors should learn from the contradictions and the kind of anger from the Nigerian state’s leadership over creation of such security forces, particularly the police, their own reaction, and the army. We should be able to learn from that and improve. We should get the support of government at the federal level. You get the support of state security forces, those who are leading them to show that there is no competition but complementarity. That is what is key. That will be very different from what is happening in other part of the country”.

Boss of Rivers State Neighbourhood Safety Corps, Chukwuma, said the take off of the outfit is solely the prerogative of Governor Wike. He acknowledged that the security situation across the Niger Delta states remains challenging and called for the need to overhaul the current security architecture of the country in all ramifications.

According to him, “The issue of command is key. The command structure is a problem for now. From my experience, the over centralisation of authority in Abuja is affecting our security in the entire federation. Until we decentralise security in this country we cannot get it right. Nobody should pretend in this country. We should not politicise security. We need to decentralise security where the control is no more centralised. Let’s decentralise and let the command structure be in the states. That does not stop us from having a federal police as it is in existence now. In the United States, they have this structure where power has been devolved for long and we are trying to learn from it. It is the authority vested in one place that is the problem.”