This piece was inspired by a commentary published in this newspaper recently. Although the essay in question highlighted the incongruous provision of Nigeria’s federalism that utterly constrains governors’ capacity to take all the necessary actions deemed necessary to secure their states, it however carried this somewhat mischievous headline “Is Ugwuanyi Overwhelmed by Insecurity in Enugu?” This appears to suggest that any security breach was solely the fault of the governor.
Despite its listing as an exclusive function, years of inadequate funding have essentially made responsibility for security agencies’ welfare a shared function between the federal government and states. Such shared burden has, ironically, failed to yield for the governors any leverage in the control of security personnel deployed in their states. This is often a sore point, given that governors are the ones who bear the brunt of the people’s rage when the security situation goes awry, as it has in recent weeks in Enugu State. The security breaches referenced in that essay are inconsistent with the scale of support the Enugu State governor has given to security agencies, which often comprises donations of utility vehicles fitted with necessary security gadgets, and various forms of logistical support.
But governance abhors excuses, not least in a democracy, because the primary responsibility of government is the welfare and security of the people. That is why Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi has always been proactive with regard to security, an inclination reinforced by the fact he was the first in the South-East establish Forest Guards after the collective decision by governors of the region to set up the complementary security outfit.
A long spell of peace and security often tends to create a false sense of assurance that ultimately results in complacency. But not so for Governor Ugwuanyi. Indeed, long before the recent spate of attacks, the governor had embraced the maxim that it is always expedient to take actions to curb possible future security breach even when the risk of one occurring seems minimal. His administration’s procurement and donation, in 2019, of 360 patrol vehicles (100 SUV trucks produced by Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing company and 260 sundry vehicles comprising wagon style saloon cars and buses) to the Nigerian Police, Nigerian Army, and the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps was premised on this belief.
The recruitment that same year of 1700 forest guards and strengthening of the Neighborhood Watch with additional vigilantes was further testament to that. The employment spread across the various wards of the 17 local government areas of the state is consistent with the community-based approach to crime-fighting the governor has adopted. The successes of the Enugu State Forest Guard and Neighbourhood Watch had fueled strong optimism on the prospects of community police – or state police, if you will.
Indeed, the fairly tolerable security situation that prevailed in Enugu compared to other states is a positive indicator regarding the efficacy of those proactive measures, especially given the huge social burden that comes with its status as the political heartland of the South-east, and the attraction it holds for the Igbo political elite, who either resides in or at least has a home in the city. These are actually facts which the essay itself concedes. So, the answer to the headline wondering if the Enugu State governor has been overwhelmed by the recent untoward security situation is an emphatic no. The question, however uneasy it sounds, should be this: Have the Nigerian armed forces been overwhelmed by spiraling insecurity?
Even in the wake of the sudden spike in criminality, the Enugu State governor has literally been at the forefront of the fightback, evident in his visit to the Nsukka-Ugwogo-Nike-Opi road – a major notorious route lately – alongside armed security operatives on the trail of criminal gangs. Similar visits to other dark spots were a regular itinerary for Governor Ugwuanyi for weeks. Although this disturbing trend is occurring against a backdrop of generally worsening insecurity across the country, the governor has never appraised the situation through the lens of inevitability.
This mindset underlines his prompt visits to scenes of these ugly incidents, and several other forest-straddling communities identified as locations prone to attacks. He has used such visits to rally actions against potential reoccurrence, lift the officers’ morale, inspire confidence in the communities, and encourage them to offer information to security agencies especially with regard to criminal gangs hiding in surrounding forests. The outcome could be seen in the resulting calm that has returned to the once dreaded areas.
The challenge lies in how the calm that has been restored can be sustained and not broken by another cycle of criminality. The essay suggests the adoption of an Amotekun (the moniker for the regional security outfit in the South-West) style crackdown on organized crime like kidnap-for-ransoms and the general terror caused by forest-dwelling bandits. The overlooked point, however, is the state of helplessness expressed by some governors of that region in tackling the menace. The reason is not hard to decipher – the lack of powers to mobilize the necessary arms for Amotekun’s personnel similar to those wielded by the criminals.
I’m not the Enugu State governor’s spokesman. But I do not see the relationship between his political convictions and the security situation in Enugu, as alluded to in the said commentary. Perhaps the writer can help the Enugu public unmask those “observers” who he said would rather Ugwuanyi stopped “following Governor Nyesom Wike about”. The sudden insecurity experienced lately in Enugu State might just have some extraneous political undertones after all.
•Nwatu resides in Enugu.