What could have been the official birth of the Neighbourhood Safety Corps Agency in Rivers State was scuttled by the Nigerian Army, when it invaded the camp, brutalising and chasing away everybody in sight, claiming it was a militia camp. Davidson Iriekpen writes
Rivers State Government and the Nigerian Army are at daggers-drawn followings the disruption of the further selection, screening and training of applicants for the state Neighbourhood Safety Corps Agency at the State NYSC Orientation Camp, Nonwa in Tai Local Government Area of the state last Thursday by the officers and men of the army.
From nowhere, soldiers from the 6 Division of the Nigerian Army, suddenly invaded the camp, beating, brutalising and chasing away everybody in sight, particularly the newly recruited Neighbourhood Safety Corps personnel who were undergoing training at the camp, describing the outfit as “an illegal militia training camp” and subsequently shut it down for preliminary investigations.
Trouble started when the state House of Assembly, recently enacted the Neighbourhood Safety Corps Agency Law No. 8 of 2018, which empowers it to set up the Neighbourhood Safety Corps, aimed at complementing the efforts of the security agencies in tackling the security challenges in the state.
According to the framers of the law setting up the agency, its main objective is to enhance security all over the state and foster community policing and crime control at the municipal level and ensure that the security of lives and property is guaranteed. It is also to “gather information about crime, crime in progress, every suspicious activity and crime suspect” to the police or any other security agency that requires it.”
In order words, officials of the agency are to timely report 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 further 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 security clearance of that person by it. This is to ensure that no hoodlum or criminal can be a member of the agency. It also enjoins it to assist, complement and collaborate with the Nigerian Police Force and every other security agency to ensure peace, law and order. It is also to regulate all vigilante groups to ensure that they are not cult groups or criminal gangs in disguise.
In view of the cynicism that usually trail virtually everything in the state no matter how well conceived and intentioned, no sooner was the law enacted, than it elicited criticisms by member of the opposition who felt that it was illegal and usurpation of the functions of the police. They petitioned the police, Army, DSS and other security agencies, arguing that ignoring the law would amount to allowing the government to set up a secret army with the toga of legitimacy and use them to intimidate opponents in the state.
No doubt insecurity has been one of the challenges facing the country. Besides the deadly Boko Haram insurgency, banditry, kidnapping, armed robbery and herdsmen attacks have been giving the security agencies serious concerns. This is why in recent times the clamour for state police has heightened. It is for this reason that state governments despite the billions of naira they have committed to security with no substantial results, decided to fashion a way of keeping their people safe.
Blueprint from Other States
It was for this purpose that the Rivers State government patterned its Neighbourhood Safety Corps after the Lagos State Neighbourhood Safety Corps Law, which is currently in operation in the state. Apart from Lagos, states such as Cross River State, Kano, Zamfara, Kogi, Taraba, Benue, Imo, Enugu, Edo and others have since copied the model to complement the efforts of the security agencies in tackling their peculiar security concerns.
For instance, last year, Cross River State set up Forest Guard to checkmate the activities of illegal loggers in the state. In the North, most states have Hisba, which is Sharia Police, whose duty is to enforce Sharia laws and tackle petty crimes. Others have various enforcers of traffic laws and rules. In Benue and Taraba States for instance, they have laws establishing vigilante groups to assist the police in tackling herdsmen attacks.
In Borno State, there is the Civilian Joint Task Force, otherwise called the Civilian JTF, which is helping the military to battle the Boko Haram insurgency in the state. In all of these states, the opposition did not raise any eyebrow as they are doing in Rivers State, despite the fact that they are also the ones complaining of rising insecurity in the state.
Many analysts have argued that because of the peculiar nature of the Niger Delta in general and Rivers State in particular where cultism, kidnapping and armed robbery have persistently been on the increase, setting up an agency to assist an over-burdened and overwhelmed police force in crime control and prevention was inevitable.
Observers believe that insincerity of opposition was further exposed when it failed to talk about the efforts the state government had made in assisting security agencies in the state to tackle insecurity.
Moreover, at a time when President Muhammadu Buhari has clamoured for community policing methods to support over-stretched conventional security agencies as canvassed by him through the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo during the two-day summit on national security organised by the Senate of Nigeria last February, many analysts are wondering why the army would turn around to invade a camp of an agency recognised by law?
For instance, since Governor Nyesom Wike assumed office in 2015, he has provided every logistics needed to enhance the capacity and efficiency of the police and other security agencies in the state despite the fact that security is the responsibility of the federal government.
So far, the governor has provided over 400 Hilux vehicles fitted with communication equipment and 10 armoured personnel carriers at the cost of N200,000,000 each. He also gives diesel and financial support to the army, the navy, the air force and Department of State Service (DSS), on monthly basis. Yet, the crime rate is not abating, hence the need to seek an alternative in order to have peace in the state.
River’s Government React
Reacting to the invasion, the state government called on the army to stay away from the state’s affairs. In a statement by the state Commissioner for Information and Communications, Mr. Emma Okah, it wondered why the army would prefer an ambush given that before embarking on the screening exercise, the agency had written to it (army) and other relevant agencies asking for security, drill and physical training instructors. He noted that the army ignored the request and never advised against it, but preferred an ambush.
“We have every reason to believe that the action of the soldiers is politically-motivated. By the illegal actions of the army, the Rivers State Government is constrained to believe that the federal government of Nigeria does not mean well for the state. It shows that there are different laws for different states in Nigeria,” Okah said
The statement further accused the federal government of double standard on the issue of neighbourhood security outfits in Nigeria, reminding it that Lagos, Zamfara, Borno, Kano, Cross River and other states have security outfits that are currently helping the police and the military in tackling one form of security or the other.
“On November 13, 2018, Zamfara State Government inaugurated the Civilian Joint Task Force who are armed. Their photograph was reported in the front page of Guardian Newspaper of November 14, 2018. Lagos State has the Lagos State Neighbourhood Safety Corps; Kwara State has Operation Harmony and Kano State has Neighbourhood Watch (Hisba). Other states like Imo, Enugu, Edo, have security support agencies which are the equivalent of the Rivers State’s agency. So where did Rivers State go wrong?,” Okah asked.
He noted that the agency is a body created by act of parliament to assist security agencies in local intelligence gathering and the Nigeria Police, Department of State Services (DSS), Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) are represented in the board of the agency. He urged President Buhari to call the Nigerian Army to order and avoid provoking the peace loving people of Rivers State.
In his reaction to the incident, Governor Wike declared that the Nigerian Army has been transformed into a political weapon that has abandoned her security responsibilities. He stated that the disruption of the training of the Neighbourhood Safety Corps Agency training programme was the worst act of irresponsibility, aimed at instigating insecurity in the state. He noted that Zamfara and Kogi States have vigilante outfits which were commissioned by the Army and the federal government, wondering why it would disrupt a legal training exercise.
“The army is not concerned about the killing of soldiers in Borno. They are only interested in creating insecurity in Rivers State. If you don’t want Rivers State to be safe, then Nigeria will not be safe. They want to use their guns against us. Zamfara and Kogi States have vigilante groups.
“They commissioned them and the Chief of Army Staff did nothing. The House of Assembly passed a law approving the Rivers State Neighbourhood Safety Corps Agency. The Chief of Army Staff did not challenge the law in court, but today he sent troops to invade the training camp,” he said.
The governor accused the Nigerian Army of stoking insecurity in order to attract huge security votes. He explained that the state government worked with the police, the DSS and other federal agencies to ensure that only law-abiding citizens were recruited by the state Neighbourhood Safety Corps Agency.
“We did not hire boys for political reasons. This has been a transparent process and that is why the personnel are trained at the NYSC Orientation Camp at Nonwa. We involved the police and the DSS to ensure that the trainees are profiled for the good of the society. The main aim of this agency is to assist the security agencies with intelligence and information, since there is a lacuna in this regard,” he said.
But the Army in its reaction, said it shut down the training camp because the Neighbourhood Safety Corps is an illegal militia group. In a statement issued by the Deputy Director Army Public Relations, 6 Division Nigerian Army, Port Harcourt, Colonel Aminu Iliyasu, and titled ‘Discovery of an Illegal Militia Training Camp’, the army said investigations were on to unravel those behind the camp.
It added that similar illegal militia training camps were discovered and disbanded in Benue and Taraba States earlier in the year and measures were promptly taken to forestall breach of security and safety of citizens.
The statement said, “Troops of 6 Division Nigerian Army on November 29, 2018 while on a routine surveillance at Nonwa Gbam, (NYSC Orientation Camp) in Tai Local Government Area of Rivers State, discovered an illegal militia training camp. The troops met over 100 recruits undergoing military type of training.
“Preliminary investigations into the discovery has commenced in conjunction with sister security agencies in the state to fish out the sponsors of the militia and the training camp.”
However, many observers believe that the army acted wrongly and should not have frustrated the noble effort of the state to tackle lingering security challenges in Rivers especially when the same army was believed to have inaugurated the Lagos and Kogi Neighbourhood security agencies. It is also in support of the Civilian JTF in Borno and other states. Why is the Rivers State agency different? It is for this reason that many observers are accusing it of double standard.