Much Ado about Rivers’ Neighbourhood Watch

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Opeyemi Bamidele

The bickering between the Peoples Democratic Party and the All Progressives Congress over the enactment of the Neighbourhood Safety Corps Law in Rivers State is unnecessary, writes Davidson Iriekpen

Virtually everything in Rivers State is viewed with cynicism no matter how well conceived. This is perhaps the situation with the new Neighbourhood Safety Corps Law in the state. The law, which was recently enacted by the state’s house of assembly and signed by Governor Nyesom Wike, is patterned after the Lagos State Neighbourhood Safety Corps Law.

The main objective of the law, according to its framers, is to enhance security, foster community policing and crime control and ensure security of lives and property. Despite the good intention, the law is currently causing disaffection between the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state.

The law created the Neighbourhood Safety Corps Agency with responsibility to “gather of information about crime, crime in progress, every suspicious activity and crime suspect” and “make available any relevant information on crime, crime in progress, every suspicious activity and crime suspect to the police or any other security agency that requires it”.

Officials of the agency are to make timely report of any suspicious activity or crime in progress to the police; provide the police with relevant information that will enhance their understanding of how to effectively police the disparate communities in the state; improve the relationship between the police and the disparate communities in Rivers State as it concerns law enforcement; and contribute to maintaining community peace.

The law provides that the agency will totally and completely be subservient to the Nigeria Police Force in that no person can be employed by the agency without clearance by the police. The agency is also duty bound to assist, compliment and collaborate with the Nigerian Police Force and every other security agency to ensure law and order.

Apart from Lagos which recently enacted a similar law, other states have equally established laws to tackle their peculiar security concerns. For instance, last year, Cross River State set up Forest Guard to tackle illegal logging in the state. In the north, most states have Hisba whose duty is to enforce Sharia laws and tackle petty crimes. In Benue and Taraba states, there are laws establishing vigilantes to assist the police to stop herdsmen attacks.

However, since the enactment of the law in Rivers State members of the APC have been raising the alarm and calling on the federal government and its agencies to ensure that the agency is not allowed to operate. They fear that the state government will use the agency to oppress them. For instance, the senator representing Rivers East senatorial district, Magnus Abe, Director General of the Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMSA), Dakuku Peterside and other members of the party have at various times, called on the federal government and the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, to ensure that the neighbourhood corps is not allowed to take off.

In his reaction to the law, APC Publicity Secretary in the state, Mr. Chris Finebone, said: “The APC is against the Neighbourhood Safety Corps because of several reasons. Principally, the Neighbourhood Safety Corps bill, which the governor recently signed into law, is fraught with several noxious, obnoxious and toxic clauses that will turn Rivers State into a killing field. For example, the law empowers the members of the corps to carry arms and this is in conflict with the powers given to the police and other federal security agencies. In other words, the Neighbourhood Safety Corps is a state police established through the backdoor without the necessary safeguards. There are other provisions of the law which make it a time bomb that will incinerate the state. The control of the agency is totally in the hands of the PDP, making it an armed wing of the party.”

Before the state passed the new law, the governor had been assisting security agencies in Rivers with logistics. So far, the governor has provided over 250 Hilux pick up vehicles fitted with communication equipment and eight armoured personnel carriers at the cost of N200,000,000 each. He gave financial support to the army, the navy, the air force and Department of State Security (DSS), on monthly basis. Despite efforts by the state to assist security agencies, crimes remained high in Rivers. The new law is therefore aimed at complementing efforts being made by security agencies.
Despite the opposition to the law, Governor Wike has said it has come to stay, noting that opponents of the corps should approach the courts for redress. He added that he would not be moved by the negative propaganda, blackmail and politicisation of security by the APC.

The governor said the state went to Lagos to understudy the neighbourhood safety corps and then replicated it in the state. He added that when Lagos State enacted the law and set up the Neighbourhood Safety Corps, the federal government did not say anything against the move. The governor contended that under the presidential system, the legislature passes a law, while it is the constitutional responsibility of the governor to assent.

He said: “I assented to a law constitutionally passed by the Rivers State House of Assembly and they say I must be punished for carrying out my constitutional responsibility. I prefer that I have done my work, so I can die than not doing it and still die. What are they afraid of that they are telling people that they will carry arms? Look at what the law says. If you are giving out information, criminals will come after you. They will not carry arms without the approval of the security agencies. They are now trying to politicise the whole outfit.

He said: “When criminal activities became so much in the state, everyone focused on prayers and did everything humanly possible to support security agencies. When I took over in 2015, they repeatedly changed Commissioners of Police. I bemoaned the incessant changes that disorganised the security architecture of the state. That was how they planned to declare state of emergency in Rivers State. They claimed there was so much crime. I cried for help, but they refused to help. I told them that God sees their refusal to help and it will lead to national crisis.

“What is happening today? We are no longer talking of kidnapping, we are confronted with killings everyday in different parts of the country. Whether you call it Fulani versus farmers, community versus community, whether you call it terrorists or whatever colouration you want to give it, killings everywhere. They thought they want to paint Rivers State black, now Nigeria is black. If they had come to our rescue to support us then, if they had not played politics with the security of Rivers State, maybe God may have forgiven. But because they thought we have nobody, they shot their eyes.

“Today, security has gone beyond carrying of guns. We have to get intelligence. We must be proactive. We don’t have the number of security men that can cover all the communities. We adopted what Lagos State. We are employing men and women who are committed to make sure that this state is safe. These young men and women will give intelligence to security agencies and work in synergy with them.”

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The governor said the state went to Lagos to understudy the neighbourhood safety corps and then replicated it in the state