By NBF News

It is true that crime rate is higher and more brazen in the southeastern part of the country, but the scourge is developing into a plague that is swiftly enveloping the entire country. If a state of emergency is to be declared, it should start from Louise Edet House which houses the Police Force headquarters in Abuja; and should include the Presidential Villa, state governments' houses, the National Assembly, mosques and churches across the country.

A more comprehensive perspective, however, was the one offered by Malam Nasir el-Rufai, the former FCT Minister who spoke on Channels TV a day after the Senate President's restrained condemnation of the police. In his characteristic manner, el-Rufai placed the blame squarely where it belonged: a reflection of the failure of governance in the country. We all saw it coming; between 1999 to date, there had been countless unsolved murders, assassinations, devil-may-care armed robbery attacks and only God knows how many burglaries and break-ins. Rampant kidnappings is only the latest phase in the way deadly criminals are gradually, but inexorably taking over the country.

In spite of these glaring indicators on where crime was heading all these years, no government, from 1999 to date has given crime the priority it deserved. Somehow one gets the strange feeling that government behaves as if it is a beneficiary of this deadly enterprise. Even now, the sudden revival of interest in what should have been a national emergency situation five years ago was sparked-off by the unfortunate kidnapping of three members of the Nigerian Union of Journalists and their driver last week. This may sound cynical, but one can't help wondering what the reaction of the police, the government and the media would have been if those kidnapped were members of the Textile Workers Union or the Nigerian Union of Teachers.

Which means, in effect, that what the police and government are doing now is only for the moment. In all probability, by the time you are reading this, the foursome of Lagos state NUJ council Chairman Mr. Wahab Alabi Oba, his Assistant Secretary Mr. Sylva Okereke, NUJ zone 'G' Secretary Mr. Adolphus Okwonkwo and their driver AbddulRauf would hopefully have regained their freedom. Then it would be back to business as usual for everybody: the government, the police, the media and the kidnappers! Even David Mark's Senate, in spite of his strong display of concern, is already discussing the 'more serious' issue of whether the nation's financial powerhouse, the NNPC, is broke or not. Did you hope that the Senate would write a strongly worded letter to the president demanding—not suggesting—that state of emergency be declared on crime? Keep hoping. The Senate President, don't forget, is full of surprises.

This we must not accept; the media must sustain the tempo generated by the kidnap of its members to force the government to accord the problem of crime the priority it deserves. To begin with, we must insist that President Goodluck Jonathan must, as a matter of urgency, take time off thinking and tinkering with 2011 and give the issue of crime wave in the country his full attention for at least two months. During his first and only media chat, the president had, when the issue of crime came up, described it tangentially as 'embarrassing'. Well, if the President must know the truth, what was embarrassing was his choice of adjective to describe such a matter of life and death. Sometime ago, in a tribute to the late President Umaru Musa Yar'adua, this column had candidly advised Mr. Jonathan not to be ambitious in what he hopes to accomplish within the time frame of the life of the mandate he is completing (which is less than 12 months); instead he should be realistic in how he prioritizes his objectives.

Specifically, this column had advised the new President not to allow himself to get bogged down by the problem of the power sector. Instead, he should concentrate on giving Nigeria a very clean, honest, free and fair election that would be acceptable to everyone.

Okay then, if the President feels he cannot wait until after the 2011 general elections before he can be a hero, the crime rate in the country offers him a golden opportunity to claim that status with immediate effect. To be fair to preceding governments, some kind of foundation had already been laid; the creation of a separate Ministry for Police Affairs; the review upward of the salary of the police personnel; the setting up of a high-powered committee made up of former inspector-generals of police and other top police officers are some of the efforts that were made by the administration of former President Obasanjo and to a lesser extent that of late Umaru Yar'adua.

What Dr. Jonathan now needs to do is to seize the opportunity that the current critical situation offers and build on these earlier efforts by his predecessors. Declaring a state of emergency is not a bad idea at all. He should also consider what el-Rufai said as a challenge made in good faith. Among the things the President must consider are that the problem of rising crime in Nigeria is both institutional and attitudinal. Incontrovertible evidence linking police personnel to crimes is clear evidence that nothing short of a radical overhaul of the police force would guarantee success in the effort to curb crime in the country.

In a (naïve) sort of way some of us actually thought when the government paved the way for former EFCC Chairman Malam Nuhu Ribadu to return to the country, the president was planning something radical and fundamental for the police force; more so since a non-partisan and professionally sound police force is a necessary ingredient for credible the elections the president is promising. I thought the President, in view of the gravity of the situation, would take the unprecedented step of decapitating the top echelon of the police force by retiring all officers from the rank of DIG down; make Ribadu the IG and give him the mandate of reforming the police force and upgrading its integrity and reliability to the level of, say, that of the neighboring Niger Republic. As it turned out I was the one who was ambitious.

But it is still not too late to consider such extreme options with or without

Nuhu Ribadu; the problem is that severe and that urgent. Given the disposition of the NASS to the problem, if the President needs an enabling legislation to carry out what needs to be done, he can be sure of the NASS' cooperation. Did the President notice one interesting outcome of the just-concluded World Cup in South Africa? Before the World Cup, the predominant concern of the whole world was the frightening crime rate in South Africa where official statistics say that 50 murders are committed daily. But by the end of the World Cup, nobody was speaking about the crime rate of South Africa; rather the country is adjudged as one of the top winners of the fiesta even though its national team did not advance beyond the Group of 16!

That is what commitment can produce. And that is what we expect of the president, not an irritating explosion of mushroom organizations willfully supported by government and telling us why he should contest for the presidency in 2011. Even if zoning were to be jettisoned by his party, let the President show that he deserves the ticket.

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