“We had to choose a shade of green that is not similar to the army’s colour,” Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi explained as he showed journalists some vehicles parked across the expansive ground of the Enugu State Government House, last Wednesday. The vehicles sporting leafy backgrounds were part of a large fleet procured to boost the operation of the soon-to-be-inaugurated Forest Guards, a vigilante style unit created by the governor to curb an unusual surge in kidnap seen lately. The sheer size of the operational vehicles (a total of 360, including 100 utility pickup vans purchased from Innoson Motors and another 260 comprising buses and wagon type saloon cars) underscores the importance the governor attaches to the task of retooling the state’s security framework. These will be distributed to the Nigerian Army, police, Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corps, Neighbourhood Watch and Forest Guards.
Ugwuanyi had, in the wake of an unusual spike in criminality, approved the immediate engagement of 1700 forest guards and 5200 vigilantes. This employment spread across the various wards of the 17 local government areas of the state is consistent with the community-based approach to crime-fighting the governor has adopted. The localized recruitment is aimed at securing the confidence and support of locals. Earning the locals’ support is crucial as it invariably galvanizes the entire community in the fight against crime, and renders surrounding forested areas an unsafe hideout for kidnap-for-ransom bandits. Such strategy had yielded the security information that led to the unmasking of various tunnels and caves through which criminals, particularly at the Awgu axis, once escaped with their kidnapped victims.
Besides, his engagement of locals to clear the long stretch of forested areas that border the busy Enugu – Port Harcourt highway also dealt a serious blow to the surprise element the thick vegetation once gave criminals along that axis, who can no longer emerge suddenly from its depth to terrorize commuters. The clear view is also an added security boost at they can now easily be patrolled by the forest guards.
In terrains where regular vehicles cannot be deployed, motorcycles and bicycles will be assigned to the guards. The use of bicycles is a strategic camouflage tool given that criminals hiding in forests may easily discountenance the presence of a local pedaling through, assuming him to be a harmless wine tapper. “So, it’s a holistic approach to securing Enugu State that we’re adopting,” the governor added, pointing out that local hunters will be incorporated into the setup plan. The all encompassing approach also includes sustained surveillance flights carried out by the Nigerian Air Force over suspected dark spots in the state, a fallout of an emergency security meeting Ugwuanyi had convened at the Government House, Enugu, in the wake of some abductions one of which ended fatally. He had also sent an executive bill to the Enugu State House of Assembly seeking a review of the anti-kidnap law to strengthen, expand its scope and make it an effective crime-fighting tool with commensurate sanctions for kidnap
Currently on its annual recess, the state’s assembly may be getting another executive bill on its resumption later this September. The envisaged bill would be seeking a legislative seal for a security trust fund the governor plans to launch. “We would be working closely with the House of Assembly for the necessary enabling laws,” he said. Once passed into law, funding for security will become institutionalized, attract corporate support and run as a trust, thus easing the financial burden borne by the state government which has long funded the logistical needs of security agencies that are, statutorily, the federal government’s responsibility.
Indeed, the cost implication of bearing a burden that is unambiguously federal is mind-blowing. But Ugwuanyi finds vindication in the outcome, which is the fact that Enugu is often acknowledged as one of the most secure and peaceful states in the country. By no means self-awarded, it is a view shared by no less a personality on security matters than the chairman of the Police Service Commission and former inspector-general of police, Mr. Musiliu Smith. That is the image he is keen on maintaining; not merely for the many adulation it draws, but driven rather by the knowledge that a well-secured state is a necessary precondition for the actualization of any developmental aspiration.
Of course, this has repeatedly been validated by many positive socio-economic indicators: from being adjudged the third best state to start a business in Nigeria by the World Bank (in its Doing Business in Nigeria 2018 report), to the National Bureau of Statistics’ report listing it among six states with Highest Net Gains in Employment, and its status as one of three Most Financially Stable States in Nigeria (as a study by Financial Derivatives reveal).
Another vindication for those measures is seen in the speedy arrests of the suspected killers of two Catholic priests and the abductors of a traditional ruler and his wife. It has not been mere pontification. Ugwuanyi constantly demonstrates a hands-on approach, which has been of immense help. He has amply demonstrated that commitment by visiting Awgu and Udi forests every other day since early August at the height of the criminality, and offering security agencies the requisite logistical support. This keeps everyone tasked with securing the state on their toes and also inspires locals to snitch on criminals holed up in their communities.
The strong reassurance which these measures offer in regard to public safety is further strengthened by the creation of a security affairs ministry and appointment of ex-IGP Ogbonnaya Onovo as a security consultant to the state government. The choice of a former police chief is strategic, particularly given that the forest guards will be carrying out tasks that are complementary to the traditional law enforcement duties of the police. His experience will help instill the needed discipline in the forest guards and eliminate the ugly trend of inter-agency rivalry which usually stifles collaboration and intelligence-sharing, thus creating a room for crime to thrive.Given that establishing forest guards was actually first mooted at a meeting of the South-East Governors Forum, its implementation in Enugu State will expectedly serve as template for other states in the region. This, in itself, is an enormous weight of expectation. It’s a subtle point not lost on Ugwuanyi. But the fact he is the first to walk beyond the rhetoric is a point too that highlights his courage. As the Enugu State forest guards assume duty in the coming days, the plaudits for the governor that heralded his formation of the outfit will become even louder. And why not? The calm that has gradually returned to the state security wise offers a strong reason for optimism.
Ani, former editor of ThisDay – The Saturday Newspaper and Saturday Telegraph, writes from Enugu.