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Southeast Governors and politics of common regional security outfit

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Umahi. Photo; TWITTER/REALDAVEUMAHI

Despite the growing spate of insecurity in the country, it seems waiting for the much talked about regional security outfit in the Southeast is as good as waiting for Gordot.
 
Emerging facts indicate that the governors who championed the cause as a way of securing the zone against incessant incursions of kidnappers, herdsmen, armed robbers among others may have surrendered to the federal government’s community policing project and have decided to keep the regional security outfit hope only on papers.
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Earlier in the month, Chairman of Southeast Governors’ Forum and Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi, had told Journalists in Abakaliki that they (governors) would soon roll out operational vehicles and uniforms for the region’s joint security outfit to tackle the rising insecurity in the zone.
   
Umahi noted that the governors had arranged for training and retraining of the zone’s security outfit to ensure adequate protection of lives and property. His words: “We are presently circulating samples of uniforms which are going to be common for the entire South East, and we are also on the display of vehicles which will also be common for the entire South East.
 
“We have arranged for the training and retraining of all the security outfits of the governors to ensure adequate protection of lives and property within the South East.

“And so, in the few weeks to come, we are going to roll out these uniforms and vehicles to further deepen our efforts in security architecture in the entire South East.

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“The security outfit for the South East is going to have one name and the name for the security outfit for the South East is not going to come from me alone. The governors and leaders of the South East will meet and they will come up with a name. The most critical is the vehicles, the uniforms. The name will not be a problem; it won’t be”.
   
Apparently re-echoing the views of his brother on February 12, 2021, Chairman, Southeast Security Committee, Major Gen. Obi Umahi (rtd), stated that all was set for the unveiling of a security outfit for the zone.

He added that whatever technicalities preventing the five state governments from setting up a regional security outfit in 2019 had been cleared.
 
But, a few days after the assurances from the Umahis’, Enugu state governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi inaugurated 272 personnel, whom he described as “Special Constables” for the Community Policing Project in Enugu state.

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Ugwuanyi had said that 16 of the special constables were recruited from each of the local councils of the state and drawn from the Neighbourhood Watch Associations and Forest Guards adding that they would be deployed to the wards and local councils to assist the extant security apparatus in gathering and sharing of intelligence with security agencies as well as maintain liaison between their communities and the police.
 
Could what Ugwuanyi inaugurated last week by the regional security outfit the governors agreed to set up in the southeast?  The people wanted an outfit wholly managed and funded by the governors. The people of the zone had called for a homegrown security outfit patterned in the likes of the Western Nigeria Security Network (WNSN) codenamed Operation Amotekun by the Southwest governors and not a security project that bore the trapping of the Police and the federal government.

A source told the Guardian; “It is unfortunate that we have spent all the time talking about security outfits in the zone to now end up with the Community Policing model. This is not what our people bargained for. I do not see how these people will not be subjected to the control of the police after they have been trained by them. It is the same police operations that we have deplored in the zone and which we have blamed for the rise in insecurity that has been brought back to us. It means the challenge is still there”.

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A cursory look at the development would readily convince one that the southeast was never ready for a joint regional security outfit.  The various governors appeared content with what they had individually put on the ground in the name of security in their states. This is because none of the resolutions reached in the various meetings held by the governors after the 2019 general elections on security in the zone had ever been implemented.

For instance, soon after the elections, the governors in their first meeting in Enugu that year had resolved that an integrated security network it would float to oversee the zone would involve setting up of forest guards in the states and a centre for South East Integrated Security Monitoring/ Intelligence gathering to be centrally located in Enugu. They had agreed on joint security patrol and daily air surveillance.

Umahi had said after the meeting that they resolved that forest guards would be established in each state and roads cleared up to 50 meters into the bush to have a clear view of roads ahead. He added that the security committee would also address the safety of the fuel pipeline route to Enugu depot to ensure that pumping of petroleum products in Enugu depot resumed in the shortest possible time.

Till date, none of these happened. It was only in Enugu that the governor set up Forest Guards to work with the local vigilante in the state to improve security.

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Vision Killers
It was gathered that after the meeting, each of the state governors returned home to subject the idea to further interrogation and agreed to improve on what was on the ground in line with the interests and needs of their various states. For instance,  Anambra state believed there was no need for forest guards when it had improved security with the services of the local Vigilante. The state was said to have believed that whatever was being adopted by governors of the zone, had been tried in the state.

The State Commissioner of Information, C.Don Adinuba told the Guardian during one of the interviews on the matter that should the rest of the zone adopt the arrangement on the ground in the state, there would be improved security in the zone.

“I don’t think it is necessary to establish forest guards when the local vigilante in the state is providing the services. Our security network is effective and we are working with other security outfits to ensure the protection of lives and property. There is constant air surveillance which started in the state long ago. That is why you hardly hear about herders and farmers clashes or other forms of crime in the state”, he stated.

Abia State government also did not think that Forest Guards would serve the security needs of the state. Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, after his second term election set up a full-fledged Ministry, tagged the Ministry of Homeland Security in the state to tie up all loose ends in the security of the state.

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He had said that the Ministry would have as its main focus, mainstreaming the activities of Fulani herdsmen and other violent crimes with a view to safeguarding the people, adding that it would ensure that “no inch of Abia territory will remain unpoliced”.

In Ebonyi State, the government continued with strengthening what was on ground and ensuring the presence of local vigilantes in all communities of the state, even as it scaled up the information network on crimes. Imo the state government also did the same.

Aside from their individual perceptions, there was the challenge of how to fund an integrated security network in the zone from their lean resources. A source stated each of the state governors was expected to contribute monthly to fund the activities of the group. It was said that none of the governors was willing to contribute to it, making it difficult to set up an operational office and procure other facilities that could aid their operations.

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Again was the challenge of going into a venture that was fund consuming without the backing of the federal government, adding that doing otherwise may squaring up against the government at the centre.

Regional Challenge
As insecurity increased in the zone last year, the southeast governors had banned open grazing and ordered that cows be brought into the zone by trucks. The ban became ineffective as there was no legislation from any quarters to back it up. Presently, cows roam the villages, communities and farmlands unperturbed and cause some dislocations to families.

Some forests in the zone can no longer be accessed following their occupation by killer herdsmen; farmlands and other agricultural products are daily destroyed by marauding herdsmen while grazing in the area. It is no longer new that women are easily raped on their farms, while some lucky ones have survived and borne the shame, others ended up being killed.

Places like Isikwuato and Aba axis have become the dean of kidnappers, rapists and robbers. Only on Sunday, February 14, a day regarded as Valentine’s Day, Onyekachi Ogo and his driver, Innocent Anabata, who were travelling through the Isikwuato –ABSU road were saved from the grip of kidnappers by a combined team of soldiers and mobile policemen working in the area. The vehicle they were travelling in had stopped following several gunshots fired by the kidnappers. But while attempting to make away with their target, interventions came from the security officials.

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Moving the motion on Tuesday, February 16, titled, “Need to Address the Worsening Security Situation in Isuikwuato/Umunneochi Federal Constituency, Abia State”, Deputy Chief Whip of the House of Reps; Mrs Nkiru Onyejiocha who also represents Isuikwuato/Umunneochi federal constituency informed the House that a former transition Chairman was attacked in the area.

Onyejiocha had said: “There is an increasingly disturbing security situation in and around Isuikwuato and Umunneochi Local Government Areas of Abia State which, unless urgent steps are taken, may degenerate to chaos and lawlessness.

Some parts of Uzo-Uwani council in Enugu state are experiencing excruciating security challenges that have left the natives with no alternatives other than to avoid farm works; the situation is the same in parts of Anambra, Imo and Ebonyi states.

Last month, immediate past Commissioner for Arts, Culture and Tourism in Anambra state, Dr Christian Madubuko was kidnapped in Awka, Anambra state. He was later rescued in Aba, Abia State, two weeks after. Madubuko, after his rescue, left the country back apparently to where he was before being asked by Governor Willie Obiano to come and serve in his government.

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A few weeks ago, a man, his wife and their 32-year-old daughter were killed in a church in Abam, Azia, in the Ihiala council area of Anambra state. The development had sparked a protest in the community.

In May last year, a non-governmental group The Intersociety released a detailed report on how 282 communities and villages in Igboland have been permanently occupied by herdsmen. Lamenting the danger in the development, the group had stated that the figure rose from 139 in August 2019 to 282 in May last year following the actions of the federal government and security agencies.

A breakdown of the figure showed that Enugu State has the largest number of communities occupied by herdsmen with 72 communities, followed by Anambra with 70, Imo 61,  Abia 43 and Ebonyi 36.

IPOB Angle
Apparently reeling on the politicization and insincerity of the governors over the security of the zone, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) last month rolled out its security network, called the Eastern Security Network (ESN) for southeast and south-south regions.

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IPOB’s leader, Nnamdi Kanu said the outfit was formed following the failure of the governors to secure lives and property in the regions from terrorism and extra-judicial killings Kanu said that all ethnic groups in Igboland are well represented in the security outfit and expressed confidence that every city, town and village would be protected from terrorism, kidnapping and destruction of farmlands, rape, killings, armed robbery, illegal occupation of forests and river banks by marauding killers.

Clash OF Interests
No sooner had the outfit than southeast governors raised opposition against it. Umahi had told Nigerians to ignore the

IPOB and their pranks, stressing that the governors had already concluded arrangements on the regional security outfit for the zone and would soon take off.

IPOB on the other hand cautioned the governors against compromising the security of the region through what it described as “the mischievous advice of certain elements.”

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“We, therefore, advise all Biafran fathers and mothers to caution their children against joining Umahi’s vigilante group as such an outfit is an enemy of the people. Their agenda is sinister and anti-Biafra.
“We are happy to state that the grand conspiracy by our oppressors to take over the South with the help of compromised leaders is dead on arrival”, it’s Media Director, Emma Powerful said in a statement.
Reactions

The security arrangement of the IPOB appears to have delighted the people. Those who spoke insisted that the politics the governors in the region had played over increasing insecurity were disappointing.

Ikechukwu Onah, a Public Affairs Analyst said: “What we need is security and if the IPOB can offer it, what are we doing with the governors? It is proven that they  (governors) cannot be trusted going by their track records. What have they done jointly in the zone since they were elected? So their security should remain with them, while they should allow the people to follow the IPOB”

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Mrs Uchechi Ugwu,  who is the leader of Women In Action, also expressed the same sentiments. She stated that she was fully in support of the IPOB, stressing that instead of “vilifying them, the governors should give them support to succeed”.

According to her, “when our people cried out over insecurity, what they wanted was like what the governors of the southwest did. But disappointingly, what we have today is community policing, which I am sure is controlled by the federal government. That project cannot secure our people and the earlier they realize that, the better for all of us”
 
All eyes are now on the governors and the IPOB. What matters however to the people is their security. They will also support any arrangement that could afford that.

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