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Improving security situation of the South East

FOR all the wrong reasons the South East is in the news again. The kidnap of four journalists seems to be the worse crime that taken place in years. Our panellists agree that kidnap – and other crimes – is simple manifestations of the festering wounds of a nation that localises situations, instead of seeing their implications for the country. Are crimes in the South East? Yes. Are there crimes in other parts of Nigeria? Yes! Nigerians may have to be grateful to the kidnappers for calling attention to a national problem that is located in the South East…

Moderator: Are there any conditions in the South East that could be responsible for the extent of criminality in the area?

Ogbidi: What is going on in the South East is a blight on the image of the zone and the entire country. Some factors are responsible. When national resources are unevenly distributed, when hard work is jettisoned, when unearned wealth is celebrated we create this type of situation. No honesty, failed leadership, mass unemployment, the plight of the masses ignored, inept judicial system inept, security agencies that ignore prediction of events, when emphasis is on the purchase of Armoured Personnel Carriers instead of human communication, we end up where we are.

We are reaping what we have sown over the years. Since the end of the civil war, no major infrastructure has been built in the area. The slogan of reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation was rhetoric. Former Governor of Imo State Sam Mbakwe cried about this. We called him the weeping governor. Why are we crying now?

Pini: Let us not make the same mistake that Nigeria has been making. All the things reeled out seem to suggest the reasons for kidnapping in the South East. Kidnapping is a Nigerian problem, it is not a South East problem. Kidnapping did not start in the manner it is now in the South East. It would not help anyone to single out South East and demonise it.

Conference Hall in session

In December 2005, eight American aid workers were kidnapped in the Niger Delta. I was involved in some capacity in appraising the situation. I then said America would not negotiate with anyone. I urged that there should be no negotiation with the kidnappers. We needed to call their bluff. Government made the mistake of negotiating and paying ransom that commercialised kidnapping.

Very prominent Nigerians had photo opportunities handing over the kidnap victims. The nation itself seemed to have rationalised what was going on in the Niger Delta. We should have removed the strands of criminality, but we put everything in the same basket, as if kidnapping was something we had to accept.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair would later tag such conduct “Glorification of terrorism”. I once said that one of the problems of the Niger Delta was that Nigerians had become afraid of telling the truth about the place.

Kidnapping was going on and riff raffs were making millions of Dollars from it. The kidnappers became the helmsmen for oil thieves. Some governors in the region used the militants and the criminals as body shield against the authorities in Abuja.

We moved from there to amnesty. We recovered guns. What percentage of guns was recovered in the entire Niger Delta? Abia and Imo are oil producing, let us forget the politics of snatching the wells and placing them elsewhere, we are in the Niger Delta zone. We have youths there, we have militants too. We dissuaded our own youths from destroying national assets. They were excluded from amnesty. We  made very strident representations that the nation that it should not make the mistake of allowing the youth to believe that violence is a way to call attention to their needs.

Typically Nigerian, a professor tried to make a caricature of the Imo State presentation. Now kidnapping has filtered into the South East and people paper to be surprised.

The kidnapping of the four journalists was a circus for politicians. It was all rubbish, nobody has a hand on the issues. There are kidnapping going on all the country.

Sani Lulu’s mum (Lulu is immediate Chairman of the Nigeria Football Association) was not kidnapped in the South East.
What is the single power that drives crimes? It is illegal arms. What has Nigeria done about illegal arms? If we transfer all the police to one State it would solve nothing.

I do not believe that the Nigeria police is in the business of fighting crime. Crime for the police is business. I would not be surprised that many of our policemen have latched  on to kidnapping.

The police are all products of the same environment and culture. Changing by transferring them from location to another would change nothing. Why do they have the effrontery to collect bribes without fear of whether the Inspector General is in the one in the car? They do it so openly without any qualms.

Nigeria is soft on crime of whatever hue. Corruption allows in illegal arms. If you give N20 to the police you are waved on at check points. Unless this country takes definitive steps to decommission illegal guns, nothing would change.

How many of us can we spot a kidnapper? If we make a critical search of everyone at check points, in Lagos, for example, you would be surprised how many armed criminals would be caught within minutes.

Government has not shown seriousness in fighting crimes. Why the debate about the registration of SIM cards? Why should the telecommunication networks be the ones to decide? Corruption is behind it.

After 911, America changed the ways it operated . it served notice that it was willing to inconvenience the world to protect itself. 777 altered the way Britain does business. How often do the police search red light areas? If we are serious, we should forget the on going circus.

What have the South East governors have done about crime? In Imo we inaugurated a Security Service within two months of the government’s inauguration. It is a joint police and military patrol with hi-tech communication that links them to all police formations in the State. For the first time in December 2007, Imo was crime free during the end of year festivals through Operation Festival. We did other things and crimes have reduced since then.

As a result of the success of Operation Festival, in February 2009, the  Federal Executive Council sent the then Inspector General of Police, Mike Okiro to Imo State to understudy the strategy.

No governor would like crime in his State, though we understand that governors are not in control of the police. At the National Assembly they are applauding self-serving constitutional amendments, not an item on the exclusive list is amended.

Let the States that can have their police. The argument is that the governors would use them, but is someone not using the police from Abuja?

If we have our own police, the expenditure on Operation Festival would have employed about 40,000 people, better equipped than the Nigeria Police Force and they would take orders from the governor on improving the State. These are the things that confront us as a nation. Whether we embrace them as a nation or not is up to us.

Abaribe: While I agree that kidnapping is a national phenomenon, I also agree with Pini that it came from the Niger Delta and spread to other parts of the country. I do not want us to gloss over this. I represent Aba South in the Senate and Obingwa is my Local Government Area. My orderly was killed in May 2008 when they wanted to kidnap me. I could have been killed. The matter cannot be located within the governors and the citizens of the South East alone.
Okiro was the Inspector General. I went to him after the incident. I went to him after the incident. When it looked like nothing was happening, I went to the then Peoples Democratic Party Chairman Vincent Ogbulafor. I went to the National Security Adviser, Mukhtar. I found out something scary. The State Security Service had a dossier on kidnappers. The names I gave them, they already had. The SSS feared that information, if given to the police would be bungled. Those of us from Abia in the National Assembly met the governor about the security situation in the State. Nothing came out of it.

Next, politics was thrown into it. We were told politicians used the youth involved in kidnap and dumped them, the youth wanted vengeance.

My take is that there is no way we can solve the problem without a holistic approach. It has far much more to do with unemployment than any other thing.

Kidnapping is a crime chain that includes spotters (those who pick out prospects), informants, police and the barons whose bank accounts are used. Some have been caught but what happened to them. Kidnappers report to some higher quarters.

I read the accounts of the journalists. When they kidnap they report to the hierarchy. To smash it, there must be investigation by the police, not reaction. There must be intelligence and better co-ordination among the security agencies. The important part is moving from gathering the information to using it to arrest the criminals.

We have to detach criminality from genuine agitation. I represent the areas that produce oil in Abia. Some of the youth in Abia were part of MEND, in other words, they have been trained to use weapons, but they were left out in the amnesty. Can you give amnesty to a criminal? Can you really give those who made so much money from crimes any jobs? How much would you pay them?
If something is wrong, we should condemn it.

Onajide: The problem is not just in the South East, it is the entire country. Something is wrong with our value system. Our value systems have changed so much. When we were growing up, judges would not disclose their identities, not to talk of advertisements in newspapers praising them when they get national awards. Suppose criminals placed the advertisements? If those who placed the advertisement have a matter before the judge will they not be favoured?
Kidnappers are not working alone. The security agencies are involved.

A value system would ensure that people live within their means. It is not just kidnapping. There are other crimes like drug peddling. It is not only the South East that is in trouble. Parents do not care how their children get the money with which they buy them vehicles. What about security in the areas around the South East? The South East is outstanding at the moment because of more reports from there on crimes. Criminals are operating everywhere. We imitate each other.

If we are using the Israelis security personnel to tackle the kidnappers did we need to announce it? How come that the crime rate has accelerated to this point, not only kidnapping? Crime is profitable. Since the war ended what has government done about re-habilitating the people? What about re-construction? What was reconstructed? It is not about the insecurity in the South East, but throughout the country.

Okaro: Values are important. Since the war ended, people tend not to understand that there has been proliferation of arms in the South East. The militancy in the South East has helped in fuelling kidnapping. If an AK47 is buried in the canal for 10 years, it would still work. The arms of the war and the new ones are still there. Where are the surrendered arms from the amnesty programme?

So long as the arms are there, crimes must continue. It is very difficult to eliminate crimes. Everyday news of people in govt mismanaging resources fill everywhere. People are not punished, just a few, sometimes. All these boys in the villages look at the money being mismanaged and try to get back some for themselves through crime. Where I come from, Anambra, people worship money. People do not ask questions about peoples’ sources of income, instead they are celebrated with chieftaincy titles. If people are displaying wealth, we should ask them how they got the money.

Ochiagha: Professor Mike Ikhariale once said everything is under alarm, no cause for control. When we have governments that struggle with legitimacy that has been a founder and godfather to the terrorists, what solution can they find? Which government can try those boys? They are all part and parcel of what is happening. These boys voted for the government.  Late President Umaru Yar’Adua admitted that his election was flawed – banditry and illegality were part of the election. The best the government could do when these issues come up was to grant the amnesty to the criminals. How do you reward criminality?

In Abia State, my governor is awarding empty amnesty.

The Federal Government caused us harm. Why did it wait for the youth to take up arms before talking about amnesty. What follows after granting criminals amnesty? Can you pay them the type of money they want as ransoms? Government led us into this, I do not know how they want to change things.

It has to formulate a holistic policy for youth without waiting for them to start causing trouble  before it acts. We  have to re-structure Nigeria by true feudalism, elimination of federal character. We need as federation where the best get the best and are able to give us the best.

You cannot stop criminality with force when the people are hungry and have no alternatives. The youths need jobs.

The youths are asking for jobs. They kidnapped a traditional ruler and asked to be included in the Federal Government’s amnesty programme.

The Federal Government should stop excluding Abia and Imo from its programmes for oil producing States. Our youth are losing some of the opportunities that would have improved their lives through this exclusion.

Iloegbunam: There are two problems. There is illegal proliferation of arms and proliferation of illegal arms. The police have legal arms but they can be sold to the highest bidder. There is also proliferation of arms that should not be in the country. Did the militants surrender all their arms? If they surrounded does it mean that they cannot replenish their stock?

Cultism, in our schools, is an example of the Federal Government’s failure. There is a great link between cultism in schools and crimes among our youth. Obasanjo did nothing about cultism in eight years of being in office. Some of the students caught in cultism when their rich transfer abroad they forget their bad behaviours. It is only in Nigeria that cultism thrives in schools.

Emezue: Kidnapping is not localised. People have been kidnapped in Abuja. The kidnapping of our colleagues has made it a national issue and drawn a lot of attention to the State. Amnesty in Abia State is as a result of the omission of Abia as one of the oil producing State. This amnesty is Abia Government’s an intervention over the exclusion of the State from the amnesty list.

The amnesty in the South South made the made the militants in the South South to migrate to the South East. Kidnap[ping is a  new phenomenon in the South East. If people are marginalised in the State, it is being addressed. Abia State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission caters for the needs of the people in the oil producing States.

Aturu: It is important to give kidnapping perspective. It did not just start. The signs have always been there.  There is a flow from the culture of waste from the elite. The number of people who travel with the governors and the number of vehicles in their convoy are examples of the waste we see. I cannot justify crime, but I understand it. What is going on is a class war between the rich and the poor, no amount of armoury can stop it.

Kidnapping is going on everyday. Texts go round threatening people even in Lagos. A  political system where votes do not count cannot work. There are very few people who can say they were elected with the votes of the people. Some of the kidnappers have left university years ago, without jobs and they watch the behaviour of the politicians. The political elite behave irresponsibly.

We are also misusing our police. Officers at the level of Assistant Inspector General of Police get involved in resolving contract disputes. Police now react to issues and they have found it more profitable to dabble into commercial issues where they earn money from their intervention.

The police are not for debt recovery. The Inspector General should not be issuing ultimatum when he knows he cannot implement it. People are paying ransoms to free kidnap victims.

Capitalism is responsible for these challenges. The meltdown is because of the greed of capitalism. No social security, the workers develop society not the politicians, no payment of their salaries yet we expect that people would not react.

Capitalism has failed, it is a greed-based system.
Buying more guns would not change anything. The presidential system is not sustainable. It is too expensive and drains resources. I heard about the millions of Naira legislators that would get. I am not sure of the figures. If I find out they are what I am hearing I will head to court.

Nnanna: Wastefulness among those in power is endemic. At Owerri, the other day,  hundreds of people from the North arrived in four special flights to congratulate their governor who was getting an honorary degree. The State government must have paid for them. None of those people would have paid for themselves. We should take serious measures to curtail waste.

People in government cannot plead ignorance. They know what is going on. More than a year after the Governor of Abia State was attacked on the Aba-Port Harcourt Expressway, there is no outcome of investigation. Not even the State government appears interested in pursuing the method. Instead they would tell you what they have done to equip the security agencies, yet there is no reduction in the crime rate.

Politics is at the root of the whole thing. Politicians know what is happening and they do not want to tell us.
What are the solutions?

Onajide: We need a rehabilitation centre. Professor Adeoye Lambo (psychologist, former Deputy Director General of the World Health Organisation) is gone, otherwise there is a lot he would have done. It is not only in politics that there is trouble. There is trouble in politics, religion and in the economy.

The problem starts from the top. The law says we should wear helmets. The police lead in breaking the law. The problem is complicated, it has to do with attitude and our value system.

How do you explain one person having 60 houses? How can we have a society where people are not ashamed to have been caught stealing? They have police protection while they are at it? Do we have a system that someone who gets a national award must have achieved something? We should pray that God should guide us.

Abaribe: we need to revamp the security system to be more proactive, to gather intelligence. The collaborators of the kidnappers need to be sanctioned too.

There is need for change in the procedures for fighting crimes.

When the kidnap of the journalists took place, the police mounted check points instead of getting to the likely places to search for the criminals. There are no more thick forests in Igbo land today, at least not in that area and not in the manner that the police made it to seem. The pressure of population has taken care of  the forests.

Some of the things that happen are simple bizarre. I heard of an incident in a village where a woman saw a gun buried in her farm. The villagers dug more and discovered a stash of arms and handed it to the police. The owners of the guns forced the villagers to pay for the guns. Sometimes the value system is so warped that I wonder how they get there.

Every office in Nigeria has an overhead, the cost of maintaining that office, the money does not belong to the office holder. People calculate the overhead for running offices in the National Assembly  and add it to what we earn. We think there is a deliberate effort to use these figures to ridicule the National Assembly.


PARTICIPANTS

Chief Enyi ABARIBE, Senator, represent ting Abia South
Mrs. Omobolanle O. ONAJIDE, Retired broadcast journalist
Willy OGBIDI, Public Relations Consultant, Senior Lecturer, NIPR School, Lagos
Chief Pini ONYEBADUE, Special Adviser to Imo State Governor on Special Projects
Ochiagha Reagan UFOMBA, President, Reagan Cement, Governorship candidate
Ugochukwu EMEZUE, Special Assistant to Governor of Abia State on Electronic Media
Bamidele ATURU, legal practitioner, Bamidele Aturu & Co
Chris CHIME, Enugu State Liaison Office, Lagos, representing Enugu State
Emma OKARO, Brig-Gen (rtd), Sports Consultant
Chuks ILOEGBUNAM, Special Adviser to the Anambra State Governor on Communication
Ochereome NNANNA, Deputy Chairman, Vanguard Editorial Board, Columnist
Moderator: Ikeddy ISIGUZO, Chairman, Vanguard Editorial Board
* We invited the police and SSS, but they didn’t attend


Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.