SMBLF Demands Inclusion of State Police in Nigeria’s Internal Security Architecture

•Says resort to self-help may become national option 

•Irabor: Zamfara governor lacks power to order CP to issue gun licence

Deji Elumoye, Chuks Okocha, Kingsley Nwezeh and Udora Orizu in Abuja

Following the call by Zamfara State Governor Bello Matawalle on residents of the state to bear arms in self-defence, the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum (SMBLF), yesterday, called for the inclusion of multi-level policing, otherwise called state police, in the internal security architecture of the country. SMBLF made the call at the end of its extraordinary meeting in Abuja.

The group raised critical issues on the state of the nation, warning that resort to self-help may soon become the only option open to the Nigerian people if the government fails to address the mounting security challenges.

But the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Gen. Lucky Irabor, disagreed with the Zamfara State governor’s directive, saying he lacks the power to order the Commissioner of Police in the state to issue gun licences to citizens.

SMBLF said the federal government and the National Assembly should ensure that requisite legislative instruments were put in place to handle the high-level insecurity in the country, rather than indulge in meaningless lamentations.

The meeting, chaired by National Leader of SMBLF and elder statesman, Chief Edwin Clark, had in attendance elders and leaders from the southern and Middle Belt regions, who represented the different apex socio-cultural organisations. It had a good attendance by stakeholders and leaders of the respective socio-cultural organisations.

In a communiqué signed by Clark as leader of SMBLF/PANDEF; Chief Ayo Adebanjo, leader of Afenifere; Dr. Pogu Bitrus, President-General of Middle Belt Forum; and Ambassador Okey Emuchay, Secretary-General, Ohaneze Ndigbo Worldwide for the President-General, SMBLF reiterated its earlier statement on zoning and other critical issues.

The meeting extensively discussed critical issues of national concern, including worsening insecurity, outcome of the presidential primaries of the political parties, the prolonged Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) strike, continuous voters registration, and INEC’s preparation for the 2023 general election.

At the end of the one-day meeting, the group resolved as follows:

“That the state of insecurity in the country is worsening by the day, with devastating impacts on the welfare and livelihood of ordinary Nigerians, thus, calls on the federal government to take urgent steps to stem the tide and assuage the suffering of Nigerians.

“Forum denounces the spate of targeted terrorist attacks on churches and abduction of church leaders in the country.

“In this connection, condemns, in strongest terms, the daring attack on St. Francis Catholic Church, Owo, Ondo State, on June 5 by gunmen, killing no fewer than 40 people and injuring many other worshippers; describes as worrisome the hasty and doubtful conclusion by the federal government that the dastardly act was carried out by the Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP).”

The group further condemned the serial attacks and killings going on the Middle Belt region of the country.

It stated, “We condemn the incessant killings of the indigenous peoples and decimation of communities in the Middle Belt Region, in particular, the current escalated war on Southern Kaduna, targeting communities and churches in Kajuru Local Government Area of the state, with reports of helicopters dropping weapons and supplies to the terrorists in their locations.

“SMBLF equally decried the continued confinement of victims of the Kaduna train attack in the terrorists’ labyrinth after 89 days as well as several other Nigerians, who have been held by terrorists and criminals for months; calls on the federal government and security agencies to secure the safe release of all victims.

“Warns that the ambiguity of the federal government and the failure of the security agencies to decisively deal with these situations, buttress concerns that officials of the federal government and security agents are complicit in the security anomalies in the country.

“Warns that the continuous abdication of the government’s primary and abiding constitutional responsibility of safeguarding the lives and properties of its citizens is an irresistible signal to Nigerians to exercise their inalienable rights of self-defence by all means, in deviance of extant laws, which have not deterred terrorists from the use of weapons even superior to those of the security agencies.”

The organisation reiterated the “imperative of State Police in the internal security architecture of the federation and urges the federal government and the National Assembly to ensure the requisite legislative instrument in this regard rather than indulging in meaningless lamentations.”

On the issue of the protracted industrial action by ASUU, the group tasked the federal government to end the imbroglio.

The communiqué said, “SMBLF expresses great concern over the continuous closure of Nigerian public universities due to the prolonged strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and urges both the federal government and ASUU to take all necessary steps to urgently bring this situation to an end and let the students return to their lectures, in the interest of the nation’s future and development.”

On the outcome of the presidential primaries of the political parties, the group frowned on the parties that violated the principle of zoning in the polity.

It maintained, “SMBLF firmly reiterates its stance on the principle of zoning and power rotation between the North and the South, as the fulcrum on which the Nigerian federation has since independence been premised.

“Accordingly, commends the political parties, which in line with the need for national cohesion, equity, fairness and justice, have nominated their presidential candidates from the South, particularly, the All Progressives Congress (APC), African Action Congress (AAC), African Democratic Congress (ADC), All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Labour Party (LP), Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), Social Democratic Party (SDP), and others.

“Further deplores the insensitivity of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and other political parties, including Action Alliance (AA), Action Democratic Party (ADP), Allied Peoples Movement (APM), New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), and Young Progressive Party (YPP), in nominating presidential candidates from the North for the 2023 election, in total disregard of the time-honoured principle of rotation.

“Commits to, in due course, engaging with the appropriate presidential candidates and afterwards decide on which of the candidates to recommend to the peoples of Southern Nigeria, the Middle Belt region and, indeed, all Nigerians of goodwill, for consideration at the polls in 2023.”

SMBLF also asked the youth to make sure they obtain their Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs) and be ready to exercise their fundamental rights.

It said, “Forum notes the current upsurge in youth voter registration and implores all young Nigerians, who have attained the age of voting, to go out in their numbers to exercise their constitutional right;

“However, condemns the haphazard manner in which the ongoing continuous voter registration exercise is being conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in parts of the country; calls for proper management of the process and even distribution of the Voter Enrolment Devices across the country, to ensure that all eligible Nigerians, in all locations, are registered to vote.

“Cautions the INEC, given certain disturbing reports, to abjure unwholesome practices that would distort the credibility of the 2023 general election, particularly, in its application of technology through the Bimodal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS) and transmission of election results.”

Meanwhile, the defence chief’s position came as the Commandant of the National Defence College (NDC), Rear Admiral Murtala Bashir, called for joint operation of the armed forces in order to contain mounting security challenges in the country. Bashir said approach to insecurity was beyond the scope of a single service.

Irabor, who spoke at the opening of the joint exercise for the National  Defence College and War Colleges of the Armed Forces of Nigeria, codenamed, “Exercise Grand Nationale,” asserted that the deployment of  the armed forces in Zamfara State was at the behest of the President and Commander-in-Chief. He said the security forces do not take orders from state governments.

The position of the defence chief followed the announcement by Zamfara State Government on Sunday, directing residents of the state, particularly farmers, to acquire guns to defend themselves against marauding terrorists and bandits.

Matawalle also ordered the Commissioner of Police in the state to issue licences to residents willing to bear arms to protect themselves against the armed terrorists, while also ordering the closure of markets, petrol stations and the use of motorcycles.

Irabor said the governor lacked the constitutional power to issue such orders, noting that the federal government, through the Attorney General of the Federation, should be in a position to address the issue.

He stated, “We do not take instruction from the state governments. We have a Commander-in-Chief. The constitution gives the right and powers to the C-in-C for the use of the armed forces and I believe what we are doing in Zamfara State and across the states of the federation is in deference to the provisions of the constitution.

“We are there to give support to the civil authority, in this case, the police. We are there to ensure that peace returns to Zamfara. The governor does not have the powers to ask the CP to issue licences. I am yet to get the details, but I do not think that is the right thing to do. I do not see the basis. My view is that the AGF will look at the constitution and what the constitution says. That’s the right way to go.

“The armed forces are in Zamfara, but beyond that, I believe there are legal issues that should be addressed, using the instrumentality of the law, to bring peace and security. I believe that the federal government, through the Attorney General, should look at the details of the press release.

“If what I read is true, I do not believe that the governor has the powers to instruct the CP to issue licence, because the CP does not have the power to issue licences. Like I said, the AGF will do much about it. We have the armed forces in Zamfara, military, police, NSCDC but beyond that, I believe there are legal issues.”

Irabor said the essence of the operation was to review the programmes of the training colleges and the war colleges.

According to him, “No matter what the national defence strategy is, we can only be given the effect with what the operational level, what they are. In order for us to solve current problems and envisage future problems, we thought that this exercise needed to be conducted, to bring the NDC together with war colleges to see how best to address the challenges of a global problem, which Nigeria is a part.”

Bashir equally called for joint operation of the armed forces in order to contain spiralling security challenges in the country.

He said, “As we are aware, our dear country is currently grappling with various forms of insecurity in all geopolitical regions. These security challenges are constantly evolving and are beyond the scope of a single service, hence, the need for a seamless joint operation in order to keep pace with the evolution of these threats. It is in this light that training institutions must continually be forward-thinking and innovative in the execution of training mandates.”

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