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Southeast governors and Forest Guards’ experiment

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Anambra State Deputy Gov, Nkem Okeke (left); Okezie Ikpeazu, Dave Umahi; Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and Imo Deputy Gov, Gerald Ironna, shortly after Southeast governors’ meeting in Enugu, recently


The growing insecurity, which leads to daily loss of lives and property, remains one big issue agitating many Nigerians. And the worry has been compounded by the fact that despite huge budgetary allocation and measures to curtail the ugly trend, it has grown to assume new dimensions and threatening the continued existence of the country.

It was perhaps in the bid to check the violent trend that Southeast governors met last Sunday in Enugu. The meeting at Enugu Government House, which was their first since the conclusion of the 2019 general elections, was practically meant to review developments in the country. The growing insecurity in the land topped their agenda as they chewed on ways to achieve enduring solutions for the menace.

At the meeting, which was chaired by Ebonyi State governor, David Umahi were his Abia State counterpart, Okezie Ikpeazu and that of Enugu Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, Anambra State Deputy Governor, Nkem Okeke and his Imo State counterpart, Gerald Ironna.

Some religious leaders in Enugu State and several others were also in attendance. But although the talks were on how to avert insecurity in the zone and held behind closed doors for about four hours, Umahi later told reporters that the zone would key into the Federal Government’s Community Policing programme being planned. He disclosed that the governors had resolved to establish forest guards in each state. He noted that as part of the process, roads would be cleared up to 50 metres into the bush so as to have a clear view ahead.

Other measures, according to the Ebonyi chief executive, include setting up both a committee and centre for Southeast’s Integrated Security Monitoring/Intelligence Gathering to be centrally located in Enugu.

The governors had earlier maintained their stand that the contentious RUGA settlement programme would not be allowed in the zone no matter the pressure, as according to them, “there is no land in Southeast for the programme.”

They also resolved to put together funds to support those interested in farming rice, cassava, cow rearing, piggery, goat rearing, poultry, fishery and other cash crops that the soil favours in the southeast and advised people interested in going into these areas to contact their states for further engagement. He said the idea is to encourage farmers who have abandoned their farm work for fear of being attacked by herdsmen.

The Guardian gathered that the meeting became inevitable following rumours being spread in the zone that the governors had allocated land in various areas for the RUGA settlement programme, adding that they had been silent in the face of growing tension surrounding the development.

Another source stated that the governors were pressured to undertake the meeting by some religious leaders, who had expressed worry about their “silent postures” and reports that they were being manipulated to fulfill their part of the bargain for their re-election.

While the governors who gathered in Enugu went home to celebrate their elaborate decisions, the snag, however, is how to convince people in the zone to buy into the governor’s decisions following the widely held belief that none of their resolutions in the past had been carried through to a logical conclusion. Many have continued to blame them for the precarious situation the zone is facing with their alleged indolence and lip-service on issues concerning the people and their overall interests.

For instance, since 1999 when the current democratic dispensation kicked off in the country, all the governors were produced by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and later All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) took control of one state. In another instance, to add force and ensure full participation of the governors, they resorted to rotating their meetings within the five states of the zone; yet nothing tangible was recorded from such efforts.

Currently, excerpt Imo State Governor, Emeka Ihedioha, who is new on the block, other governors of the zone have been around since 2015 and are now enjoying their second term in office. One of them, Chief Willie Obiano of Anambra state became governor in 2013.

But one of the laudable decisions they reached that elicited joy from residents was last year when they agreed to jointly pull resources to construct a ring road linking states in the zone. It was projected to cover 430 kilometres to boost the economy and enable ease of transportation of goods and services.

The decision was in realization that the generality of the people are into commercial activities and the many arable lands used for agricultural purposes could better be utilized should there be motorable roads that cut into the hinterlands. Aside the ring road, there was the pledge to build an ultra modern specialist hospital in Enugu to carter for the health needs of the people. They also promised to intervene in the gas pipeline project and Aba Independent Power Project to boost the energy needs of the zone.

The governors had said then that when these projects are implemented, they would help entrepreneurs to invests in the zone as well as provide employment to the teeming youths, with a majority of them likely to remain in the zone in search of paid employment. Sources said the governors had taken the decisions then to check alleged rising agitation from the youths, with a majority of them joining pro-Biafra agitators due to lack of meaningful engagement in productive venture.
 
These decisions tally with those taken in the past as there is nothing on ground at the moment to indicate the seriousness. A year has passed since these decisions were taken.Director General of the governor’s forum, Prof Uchenna Ortuanya, told The Guardian recently that the projects were on course, stressing that a feasibility study had been commissioned to ascertain cost and tracks that could house the venture.

Rising cases of insecurity is fast eroding development plans of the zone. Residents have continued to live in fear and move with caution even within Southeast. Peasant farmers are not spared as their farmlands have been invaded and crops destroyed.

That Southeast is in dire of need of protection cannot be over-emphasized. The residents, majority of who are struggling to eke out a living due to the absence of paid employment, are prepared to do all within their means to ensure maximum protection for the little they do within their available resources.

Violence beyond doubt
One ugly thing that has happened to the enterprising spirit of the people of the zone is the constant attacks they have suffered in the hands of marauding herdsmen. The farmers are kidnapped, raped and their farmlands destroyed at will by herders. Major highways in the zone are no longer safe as suspected herdsmen had severally jumped from the bushes to open fire on motorists and in the process dispossess them of their belongings.

Recently at Nkerefi in Enugu State, a commuter bus was shattered with bullets fired by men suspected to be herdsmen, who also whisked away two female occupants into the bush after dispossessing the others. The stories are numerous.This is why there is a growing feeling that the meeting held last Sunday was needed in the zone and that the outcomes, if implemented, could restore confidence of the people that their leaders are beginning to work to protect them.

Immediate past Secretary General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Dr. Joe Nworgu, stated that the meeting was apt and that the resolution to establish Forest Guards should be implemented immediately because “the environment is tense. There is a need to bring this guard across the boundaries of the states in the zone to calm frayed nerves,” adding that the people are almost losing confidence in the security architecture provided by the Federal Government.

“There used to be Forest Guards even before the war. They will overseer what is happening in the forest. Its duty is to prevent poaching, fire and to protect endangered animals. We won’t have people killing elephants for their tusks and endangering other animals. The aim is to make sure that there is law and order. The situation of the country calls for it and with what is happening now it is a very welcomed thing and it should be done immediately.”

Nworgu said the initiative had nothing to do with the police, stressing that with the precarious position Ndigbo now finds itself and the manner of attacks by herdsmen, anything should be done within the law to give the people maximum protection.

“I have said and will always say that the environment is tensed and it has to be doused immediately, Nworgu said. “There is hatred; there is fear and any little thing can spread danger through rumours and gossips. So it is better we take actions that can douse the tensed situation.

“The Federal Government appears helpless as Nigerians are being pushed to the wall by armed men. A few days ago, Boko Haram killed so many persons in Bornu State. This is the same group that government claims it has technically defeated. The import of the killing is that no defeat was handed down to the group and that is where we are.”But Igbo Renaissance Assembly (IRA) has, however, charged the governors not to allow the establishment of Forest Guards go the way of other proposals they had in the past.

Coordinator of the group, Dr. Philemon Obiajulu, in a statement said, “Until our governors and leaders stopped playing politics with issues concerning Ndigbo, we will continue to throttle. What is currently lacking within the leadership of Alaigbo is that the enterprising spirit of those who began our development is no longer there.

“Imagine that whatever we are enjoying now in the name of institutions was attracted in the 1960s. yet resources have been coming into this zone without anybody thinking of how to establish industries that can employ our people. This is an expectation that the current governors and those who served before now are not able to accomplish. So, we think that the Forest Guards should not end up like many others before it.”As it is, all eyes are indeed on the governors to deliver in their promise to secure the people in the shortest possible time.


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