Whenever President Muhammadu Buhari speaks on security challenges these days, one sees a picture of a helpless man who wishes that things were in order but who cannot guarantee this. The President had, on many occasions, ordered Service Chiefs and security agencies to end banditry, kidnapping, killings and other sundry crimes forthwith. He, at a time, vowed that the abduction of schoolchildren had ended with a particular one. As they say, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride. All the orders, hopes and promises of President Buhari have come to nothing.
It has become apparent that government has no solution to the pervading insecurity in the country, at least now. Criminals are running riot across the country. They are attacking security personnel and their facilities at ease. They are kidnapping schoolchildren, priests and others at will. In fact, whenever government says that criminals would be tamed, these undesirable elements operate with more fury and impunity. The criminals strike, succeed and get away with it.
In the northern part of the country, bandits and Boko Haram insurgents are prowling, looking for whom and what to destroy. Schoolchildren have become soft targets, as they are kidnapped with relentless ease. Niger, Zamfara, Kaduna, Borno and other states in the North have suffered much in this criminal propensity. Cities and villages are being attacked and destroyed. Military personnel are being attacked and killed, with their facilities destroyed. Village heads are being abducted, including one in President Buhari’s home state, Katsina, at one time. In the South East, gunmen are operating in a commando style, killing policemen and destroying police facilities and prisons. Herdsmen are also on rampage in the South East, attacking villages and wreaking havoc. In North Central geopolitical zone, herdsmen are raiding villages, killing and maiming people. In the South West, herdsmen are also in an orgy of bloodletting, attacking and killing people as well as destroying their property. In the South-South, the military is battling gunmen, with militants threatening to resume hostilities.
The way things are, no place is safe in the country, whether it is the North, in general, South East, South-South or South West. Nobody is safe either. Security agencies and personnel have tried their best, in a bad situation, but it is obvious that they have been overstretched beyond their capacity. The fact that the Nigerian Army has started recalling retirees to help in the fight against insecurity shows how bad the situation has become. The country has become a theatre of insecurity, with death and kidnapping being the order of the day.
With the Federal Government, whose duty it is to ensure security of life and property, not living up to expectations, many suggestions have been made as solutions to the security challenges the country is facing. Many Nigerians have suggested, and rightly too, that, in the face of the daunting security challenges, now is the right time for the country to decentralise the police as a first step towards increasing capacity in the police force for optimum performance. With increased population and spike in insecurity, a centralised police force is no longer workable. A centralised police arrangement is anachronistic to the reality on the ground at present. The police as currently constituted are not well funded. The force does not have adequate personnel. It does not have the prerequisite equipment. The police have failed to ensure internal security. Therefore, state police system is an arrangement whose time has come.
The fact that geopolitical zones across the country are setting up vigilance organisations is an indication that they do not have much confidence in the police. In the face of threatening insecurity, states are left with no option than to come together and engage in self-help to secure themselves. The six states of the South West geopolitical zone could not fathom the audacity of herdsmen and other criminals terrorising their people. They had to set up the Amotekun joint security outfit for the South West. Inasmuch as it is early to give a verdict on the gains of this regional militia, its mere presence would certainly serve as deterrent, to a large extent.
This is why it is commendable that the South East governors eventually had the courage to announce the setting up of a joint security outfit, Ebube Agu, for the zone. With initial volte-face and plan-shifting from the earlier idea of forming a joint security outfit for the zone to a programme of community policing, the South East governors eventually saw the necessity to do what their South West counterparts did toward securing their place. For whatever it is worth, Ebube Agu is desirable, auspicious and acceptable.
South East people should not fold their arms while things go wrong, in a bid to be politically correct. History would not forgive South East governors if they fail to do anything, like their counterparts in other zones, to ensure the security of their people. South East people are the ones to solve their problems. They are the ones to tackle the systematic attacks on security facilities in the zone, as I believe that the crime is perpetrated by external forces trying to give the South East a bad name in order to hang it. The allegation that members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) is responsible for the attacks is cheap and unfounded when there is no proof whatsoever. Such an accusation is what those perpetrating the act want to achieve.
However, the formation of Ebube Agu goes beyond announcement. There are fundamental things the South East governors and state governments must do to give this joint security outfit impetus. The five South East states must give Ebube Agu legal teeth for the job it is meant to do. Therefore, the Houses of Assembly in Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo have to pass the enabling laws backing Ebube Agu. One expects that, in the next two months at most, the legislature of the five states would pass laws legalising and empowering Ebube Agu. With legal instrument establishing Ebube Agu and defining its modus operandi, the security outfit would not be an ad hoc arrangement.
Added to this, South East governors should also give the ban on open grazing in the zone legal backing. It is not enough to say that open grazing is banned in the South East. There should be a legislation on this. The Houses of Assembly in the five South East states should enact laws banning open grazing. It is on the basis of such law that anybody arrested for open grazing could be punished. This is why the call by the South East governors for law enforcement agencies to enforce the ban on open grazing has no basis. On which law would they do this? On which law would anybody be arrested or prosecuted for open grazing? Therefore, the South East governors should stop the rhetoric and do the needful, if they want to be taken seriously in their mouthed open grazing ban.
Aside from giving Ebube Agu legal backing, the South East governors should have a well-defined means of funding the outfit. There must be an agreed sum of money each state of the South East must contribute towards the maintenance of the joint security outfit monthly. A way to make this easier and formal is to launch and establish a joint security trust fund. Government needs help in funding security. Launching a security trust fund, therefore, will give the South East governments the opportunity to have all sons and daughters as well as corporate organisations in the South East contribute to a trust fund for security matters. The South East is endowed with legions of rich individuals who would be willing and able to contribute to such a trust fund, knowing that a secure South East would be good for their businesses and families.
Ebube Agu should not be an organisation just in name. The wherewithal to make it a real security outfit, within the bounds of the law establishing it, must be provided. The South East state governments must, therefore, provide vehicles, communication gadgets, offices and the limited arms the law permits for such a security outfit, as a matter of priority. Funds for daily logistics must also be provided. However, in doing this, the governors should not stop helping the regular police as they have always done. Collaboration of the police and Ebube Agu is a necessity in the task of securing the South East.
One must say that what would destroy such a security outfit as Ebube Agu is allowing it to be hijacked by anybody whosoever. The day governors start or attempt to use Ebube Agu for their political gains is the day the security outfit will lose its relevance. Ebube Agu must be independent. It should be free of any external control. The outfit must not be a tool in the hands of some powerful people. It should not be used, for instance, in debt recovery or such other ridiculous engagements. This type of engagement is what destroyed such earlier local security networks like Bakassi Boys, in the South East. Most especially, Ebube Agu must be above board, devoid of excesses and corruption. It must employ intelligence in its job.
All said, it is what the South East governors do in the coming days that will determine whether they are serious about security in the zone or not. What is obvious is that there is a serious security challenge in the South East, like in other parts of the country. Such attacks as in Ebonyi, Anambra, Imo, Enugu and Abia by the proverbial ‘unknown gunmen’ shows that the zone is not safe and something must be done. It is the duty of those who are calling the shots at executive political levels to do something. As they say in local parlance, “if you don’t do something, something will do you.”