Forget that the initially uncompromising rhetoric may have softened, there is no gainsaying that the launch of “Operation Amotekun” in the South West might just prove to be the prelude to the actualization of the long subdued calls for state police. No matter how subtle the hint may be, politicians are still able to recognize a fait accompli when they see one, and know too well the political consequences of failing to grab an opportunity in a country riven by sectional interests as ours.
This explains the announcement by governors of North Central states that they were considering a similar security plan for their region. And this, too, is the reason behind the clamour for governors of the South East to establish a regional security outfit and, indeed, the criticism that they did not create one before anyone else. How the federal government would have reacted had the South East been so brazen in setting up one can only be a matter of conjecture. But the truth is that governors of the South East zone had in July 2019 expressly stated their willingness to collaborate with the federal government on its community police initiative and, also, resolved to establish Forest Guards in all the region’s five states.
The meeting held at the Enugu State Government House had, also, in response to the region’s “emerging security challenges, decided to set up both a committee and a centre for South East Integrated Security Monitoring/Intelligence Gathering to be centrally located in Enugu”.
The enthusiasm may have petered out, possibly stifled by the knowledge that such a regional cooperation will generate layers of bureaucracy. It apparently took the creation of Amotekun by governors of the South West, and intense public outcry to revive the South East governors’ commitment to a regional security outfit. But the region’s governors bristle at insinuations that they are simply playing catch-up with the South West. “We’re the first in the entire country to form a joint security outfit. We needed to say this because of a lot of our people who said we should adopt the same programme as South West’s,” said the governor of Ebonyi State and spokesman of the South East Governors Forum, Engr. Dave Umahi.
To circumvent the sort of legal hurdle that threatened the emergence of Operation Amotekun, Gov. Umahi noted during the forum’s recent meeting in Enugu that the process for South East State Houses of Assembly’s enactment of laws backing the region’s joint security initiative had begun. “Forum had written the federal government in this respect and at an appropriate time we shall be inviting the federal government to note the details of our Joint Security Programme,” he added.
However, the apparent inaction which many in the South East had railed against was not across board as the Forest Guard programme had experienced a swift launch in Enugu State after the idea was first mooted at the South East Governors Forum. So its emergence in Enugu State, where the recruitment of personnel was a painstaking process that included training by officials of the Department of State Services, may well serve as operational template.
This painstaking process was important as it helped imbue the personnel with the necessary discipline and smoothened the path for a seamless collaboration with the police, such that it has drawn praise from the state’s police commissioner, Mr. Ahmad Abdur Rahman. “They (Neighbourhood Watch and Forest Guard) are both excellent ideas, and I have found them very useful,” he said in a recent interview.
The Enugu State police commissioner’s excitement will be understood better if placed in context. 1,700 Forest Guard personnel and another 5,200 for Neighbourhood Watch have been engaged. The employment spread across the various wards of the 17 local government areas of the state is driven by the governor’s grassroots approach to crime-fighting. So, the combined strength will be a huge boost for the police, further enhancing their capacity to enforce laws, fight and prevent crime and, ultimately, secure the entire state. This is the primary goal of community policing, an idea for which the police authorities is seeking collaboration from states, and to which the South East governors have pledged strong commitment.
The successes of the Enugu State Forest Guard and Neighbourhood Watch indeed lend optimism to the prospects of community police. Their operations both helped curb a sudden surge in abductions that had occurred last August and restored Enugu’s familiar profile as a largely secure and peaceful state. The 260 security vehicles (one for every ward in the state) and 260 motorcycles procured by the Enugu State government were also a huge boost.
The use of bicycles has further given the operations of the Forest Guards a grassroots sheen. Its use will aid the guards’ (some of whom are local hunters) intelligence gathering as it enables them to gain access into difficult terrains where regular vehicles cannot ordinarily be deployed, thus making deeper forest recesses usually favoured as hiding spots by kidnap-for-ransom criminals an unviable option. As Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi had explained late last year during the vehicles’ unveiling, “it’s a holistic approach to securing Enugu State that we’re adopting”.
At the recent South-East Geo-Political Zone Security Summit held in Enugu, on February 12, governors of the region had restated their support for community police and its strategies for collaboration as outlined by the inspector-general, Mr. Mohammed Adamu, who attended the summit. The pledge had drawn the ire of many across the zone who preferred a security outfit with a regional spread. But the governors’ support for community police does not in any foreclose a region-based security model. If anything, it offers the concept a veritable sub-structure, as a regional force is only as strong as its component units.
In his submission on Operation Amotekun’s launch by the South West governors, former Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, had raised some vital questions about the outfit’s operational structure. This important point was easily obscured by the mass enthusiasm that has trailed the prospect of a regional force which, in the light of the many failings of the national police, is an understandable sentiment. Yet, it’s important not to recreate the kind of bureaucracy that made the police largely ineffectual.
The clamour for regional police should not be made to look like a public whim driven by regional solidarity. Policing is, after all, an essentially pragmatic endeavour.
Nwuzo, a security consultant, writes from Enugu