FIGHTING INSECURITY TACTICALLY
One of the intriguing discoveries I made in the eight years of my tenure as governor of Abia State was the importance of security to the socio-economic development of a nation. I also found out that insecurity breeds fear, unsettlement, brigandage and strife where it exists. Even in other climes security has posed the biggest challenge facing every government. Developing countries, especially those in Africa, present a peculiar dimension in security demands as a result of poverty, unemployment, hunger and increased belligerency among component entities that make up the Continent.
The activities of rebel groups, trans-border criminals, kidnappers, arms-smugglers, cultists, and other social misfits add up to the tension that has characterised life on the continent. The situation becomes more eerie when the issue of demented persons such as serial killers, rapists, drug-abusers, child-kidnappers, prostitutes, ritual killers and paedophiles are taken into consideration.
I have given this wide range of crimes that constitute social nuisance as a way of underscoring the vulnerability of the African Continent to the issue of insecurity.
It has to be stated at this juncture that there is hardly any nation in Africa that is free from this canker. Indeed, violence and corruption have suddenly formed a twin-crime that has held Africa hostage for quite some time now. Suffice it to add that the geometric rise in violent crimes in Africa has remained a sour point in development on the continent.
The most worrisome development in this connection in recent time is the audacity and foolhardiness of the criminals. In fact, they operate with such braggadocio that one begins to wonder what hope the future holds for the continent.
Trans-border crimes have presented about the most intractable problem. This is true because criminals that find their way into Nigeria, for instance, on a daily basis, contribute to the inability of government to contain the ugly development.
It has since been discovered that as criminals are routed by security agencies their number continues to grow as a result of the foregoing reason. I recall the situation got to a point that the Federal Government of Nigeria had to set up a committee to identify and suggest ways of security our nation. This was at a time when car-snatchers operated with such effrontery that our security agencies lacked any idea of how to deal with the menace. Regrettably, the report of the committee is yet to be fully implemented up to this day.
Whatever happened to the committee's report could be attributed to the Nigerian factor, where reports by panels of inquiry found solace in saves and file cabinets. For instance, the report of the Justice Muhammadu Uwais Electoral Reform Committee, in spite of its brilliance and detailed nature, still ended up not being implemented. All the public outcries for the government to revisit the report fell on deaf ears. We are talking about ears that have vowed never to hear anything that will add value to our nation's development.
I can state, without any fear of contradiction, that Nigeria would have experienced more rapid growth and development if the various reports set up since the war ended had been implemented. I do not subscribe to the argument that some of the reports did not meet government's expectation. Then why set up the panels, in the first place, when you know you would jettison their reports at the end of the day?
The truth has to be told that insecurity in Nigeria is being over-amplified. By this I do not mean there is no insecurity. Far from it! My prognosis about the issue of insecurity stems from a problem that dates back to the period after the Nigerian Civil War where guns found their way into wrong hands. We will agree that some of the weapons used during the war are either yet to be captured or detonated. Added to this angle is the issue of arms-smuggling through our porous borders. Those who engage in illegal possession of firearms know deep in their hearts that their action is an affront to the law. Equally, the security agencies that turn their eyes the other way when they encounter these criminals are to blame.
What reason can anybody give me for the ease with which criminals operate? The brazenness, brutality, and sophistication with which they operate task our collective psyche. And the police and other security agencies are handicapped. Often, they stand and watch as criminals carry out their dastardly operations, yet billions are earmarked annually to equip them. Where does the money go to, after all?
No serious government can fold its hands and watch its citizens molested, killed or maimed as is the case in various states in Nigeria today. The South East has unfortunately been adjudged as the most notorious in the areas of kidnapping and armed robbery. To me notoriety is an understatement. Frankly speaking, the zone is at siege by criminals that have operated with unfettered boldness and freedom. They choose when to strike and who their victim should be. What happened a month ago in Aba, when banks closed completely for fear of bank robbers, was quite instructive. How could security operatives have gone underground for fear of robbers whom they were paid to catch, leaving the people handicapped and in paranoia?
Psychologically, the development dampened the morale of the people to the point of being sceptical to depend on the police for protection. One of the top citizens in Aba phoned me the other day to express deep worry over what is happening in Aba.
The notoriety of Aba and its satellite towns has caused those of us from Abia State so much pain that we have continually prayed to God to redeem us. As things stand now, I think, it is only God that can remedy the situation. Forget the assurances by security forces of their capability to secure life and property because the situation in the South East transcends mere rhetoric and sophistry. What the security agencies tell us about their combat-readiness amounts to sheer bravado and grandstanding. The criminals know that police do not have the capacity to confront them and this has emboldened them to the point of taking crime to another level. If what I am saying is not correct, why have the police found it increasingly difficult to deal decisively with the situation once and for all?
I do not believe that criminal elements in the zone can be routed through brute force. What is being done globally is preventive crime-fighting through the collation of information and understudy of behavioural idiosyncrasies of those caught in the act. The United States, United Kingdom, and several European countries have adopted this strategy, which is cost effective, proactive, and result-oriented. By engaging in this form of crime-prevention the developed economies have succeeded in securing their countries and, at the same time, sustaining their crusade against corporal punishment.
The most critical mistake the police have made in crime-fighting in Nigeria is the inability to study and uncover the anatomy of crimes. Each crime has its peculiarities, so much as its prevention. The strategy used by the police over the years has not produced any serious result. This is because it is obsolete and tainted with undue brutality. Instead of killing and maiming criminals, the police should rather opt for interrogating them in order to unravel the reason behind their anti-social behaviour.
Without security, I am sorry to state, no meaningful progress can be attained. It was in recognition of this fact that our government at that time mustered every support it could garner to fight crime and other anti-social activities. For eight years we were able to keep the state and its people safe by deploying resources earmarked for security to grassroots policing, information-gathering, equipping the police and other security agencies, and strengthening the link between the communities and the government in the area of wealth creation and youth empowerment. The idea behind the establishment of the Association of Village Heads in our state stemmed from the need to build and fortify this synergy. The product of this relationship was a safer and more secure Abia State. It is on record that for the eight years we were in office, there was no single case of kidnapping or political killing and violent crime was almost non-existent.
We were also aware of the expectations of the people that elected us. This propelled us to devise strategies to keep the questionable characters in our midst at bay and create a congenial environment for socio-economic development.
The operations of vigilance groups were quite efficacious within the period under review. They worked conscientiously to complement the efforts of the State Police Command to combat crime. We achieved this great success by ensuring that those who operated the groups were properly screened and made to comply strictly with laid down rules and procedures. This curtailed the excesses and unbridled brutality usually associated with them in the past.
It is worrisome that despite the large number of security and paramilitary agencies in the country at present we are still prone to insecurity. Name them: the State Security Service (SSS), National Intelligence Agency (NIA), the Nigeria Police (NP), and the Nigeria Civil Defence & Security Corps. There has been, of recent, a joint effort on the part of the Police and the military to promote security across the country. But it is painful that despite the presence of this retinue of security agencies there has been a steady increase in the rate of crime. This is the puzzle facing the President of Nigeria at the moment. This situation, therefore, challenges the Goodluck Jonathan Government to look inwards to design a way out of the problem.
I must state at this juncture that insecurity in the country will continue to pose a huge obstacle to the advancement of our democracy so long as the following problems are not first tackled. Government must, as a matter of urgency, overhaul the police and other security groups in the country to strengthen their firing power and make them result-oriented. The overhauling will also enable the government to fish out unscrupulous and criminal elements that populate these security agencies. Interestingly, the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) recently acknowledged that there are many bad eggs in the police. Some may refer to the IGP's revelation as self-indictment. But I don't share that view. By acknowledging the inadequacies of his command, the IGP has only demonstrated his sincerity of purpose and readiness to welcome any useful suggestions on the way round the problem. Again, the IGP has through this revelation opened the channel for other interested Nigerians to join hands with the police to fight crime in the country.
Let me remind Nigerians that I was among the protagonists of state police. The current central command system in the police has only muddled up the process of crime-fighting and made it more cumbersome. The practice in developed countries is for each state to operate its own police and law, thereby making the states independent, as far as crime fighting is concerned. Those who oppose state police do not know much about the mechanisms of governance in the states. As federating units, the states are supposed to exist substantially autonomous while allowing the centre to control such institutions as foreign affairs, currency, and the Military. It has since been proved that devolving more powers to the states will strength them and make the centre less attractive.
Another solution to the heightening rate of crime in the country is the need to put in place wealth creation mechanism that will tackle the spiralling degree of unemployment, cultism, drug abuse, prostitution, and other anti-social behaviours. It has since been observed that the involvement of youth in crime is a product of the combination of the factors listed above. By providing employment to the teeming population of our unemployed youth government will have succeeded in plugging one vital supply route of manpower to criminal gangs. Take it or leave: unemployment accounts for about 50 per cent of crime in the country. Creating wealth will also minimise poverty - which lures previously unwilling persons into crime. In my thinking, a hungry person is a ready tool in Satan's workshop.
Again, the capacity of the states in the South East to handle cases of kidnapping and violent crime is suspect. This is because of the sophistication of the weapons the criminals use, which often call to question the denial by some security personnel about the role they play as accomplishes. What is happening in the South East requires the immediate intervention of the Federal Government and the training of an elite strike force to smash the various criminal gangs that perpetrate evil in the zone and other parts of the country. I was shocked when I read that Nigeria was trying to collaborate with Israel and Interpol to locate where the four journalists kidnapped in Abia State last week were holed up. What then will happen if a more serious crime is committed against Nigeria? Probably, it will seek the support of the United States and United Kingdom.
The telecommunication companies have a role to play in the fight against kidnapping. Since they have the ability to track stolen cars they can as well track kidnappers and their locations. This is where the Federal Government can key in to improve the communication capability of security agencies to fight crime.
I think the time has come for government to stop prevaricating and take urgent steps to secure the lives and properties of Nigerians. We have whatever it will take to fight violent crimes and other retrogressive tendencies in the country to a halt. My biggest worry is what will happen next year when elections will be held if the present frightening crime rate is not reasonably reduced. It will amount to playing to the gallery for anybody to expect free and fair elections next year with the high level of illegal weapons in circulation and the engaging of criminal elements by some politicians for the purposes of rigging elections. We should not forget too soon that the large number of criminals roaming the streets unchallenged was a product of the thugs used and dumped by politicians before and after the 2007 elections. Finding no other means of survival after their demobilization they resorted to crime. This is the genesis of kidnapping in the South East and surrounding states.
I must commend the Amnesty deal by the Federal Government in the Niger Delta region. It will definitely reduce the large army of militants and other criminal elements in the South-south region.
Finally, a wide network of informers is needed to supply information to the security agencies to fight crime more effectively. Much as I agree there is a large concentration of kidnappers in the South East Zone recent developments have also put a lie to this assumption, because there have reported cases of kidnapping in the northern and southern parts of the country.
Let me state unequivocally: insecurity in Nigeria can easily be minimally reduced if every Nigerian can put his hand to the plough and cooperate with security agencies to fight crime. By so doing, we will be securing the future of Nigerians, including those yet unborn.