By Egufe Yafugborhi and Davies Iheamnachor
PORT HARCOURT—NEWLY authorized vigilante outfit, Rivers State Neighbourhood Safety Corps Agency, RSNSCA, conceived by Governor Nyesom Wike-led administration has faced overwhelming resistance from the opposition All Progressives Congress, APC, and unspoken disapproval by federal security agencies.
It was no surprise, to many, therefore, when men of the 6 Division of the Nigerian Army, last Friday, raided and dislodged an official assembly at the Rivers state NYSC Orientation Camp, Nowan Gbam, Tai Local Government Area, to recruit shortlisted applicants for a training programme into the outfit.
While the army gave the agency a bad name, ‘militia group’ to justify its show of force to displace the trainers and trainees, the state government in a letter through the agency, had pre-informed the 6 Division of the intended recruitment.
Rivers govt informed Army
The letter dated 12 November and acknowledged by the 6 Division, two days later, was however not replied, another indication of the non approval, which manifested in the army’s raid and dispersal of participants gathered for recruitment exercise.
It was gathered that the agency had written to the Nigeria Army and other relevant agencies asking for drill and physical training instructors, security etc, but the Army disregarded the request and never advised against it.
The Rivers State Corps 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, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps etc are represented on the Board of the agency.
At the heart of the conflict is the conviction by the Rivers APC and the army that the vigilante outfit also known as Neighborhood Watch is politically motivated by Wike to drive his electoral quest for a second term in office when elections come in 2019.
Army feigns ignorance of letter
As if it was not aware of the existence of the agency despite a letter by the state government notifying it of the vigilante training programme, the army said it “commenced preliminary investigations in conjunction with sister security agencies in the state to fish out sponsors of the militia and the training camp.”
In the letter notifying the 6 Division of the Nigerian Army of the emergent agency to drive the Rivers vigilante process, the state said persons eventually engaged would not bear arms, whereas “light arms” had been prominent in the debate leading to the passage of the law backing the agency.
Why APC is against Wike’s security outfit
APC views the outfit as unconstitutional and has vowed not to allow it materialise in the state. Director General, Tonye Cole Campaign Organisation, Chief Chidi Lloyd, wondered why “Wike had proceeded to recruit these persons and some military personnel as instructors despite a subsisting matter in an Abuja High Court questioning the exercise.”
Lloyd asserted: “Wike has already procured illegal arms for the private army he is setting up. Afraid that his illegal arms procurement and distribution may leak, he recently raised false alarm alleging that the federal government was plotting to plant 800 arms in Rivers State.”
Similar agencies in Lagos, Kwara, Kano, others —Rivers govt
Responding to the censor, a top official of the state government accused the Federal Government of double standards, saying, “On 13th November, 2018, Zamfara State Government inaugurated the Civil Joint Task Force which is armed. It’s photographs was used on the front page of Guardian Newspaper of 14th November, 2018. Lagos State has the Lagos State Neighbourhood Safety Corps; Kwara State has Operation Harmony and Kano State has Neighbourhood Watch (Vigilante Group).”
“Other states like Imo, Enugu, Edo and others have security support agencies which are the equivalent of the Rivers State’s agency.”
We didn’t recruit boys for political reason —Wike
Governor Wike, before key stakeholders of the 2019 elections, including the international community, had repeatedly alleged, “That the ruling APC federal government was not ready for free and fair election. They want to use the police, other security agencies and INEC to intimidate Rivers people and write results.”
He said, “We did not hire boys for political reasons. We involved the Police and the DSS to ensure the trainees are profiled for good of the society. The agency is mainly to assist security agencies with intelligence and information, since there is a lacuna in this regard.”
“The Army is the agency causing insecurity mainly to attract more security votes. They collected $1billion from our Excess Crude Account, yet our soldiers were killed. All they are doing is to intimidate people for political reasons. Nobody can intimidate us in Rivers state,” the governor voiced out.
Aside the sentiments by key stakeholders, the Rivers populace is also divided between those sympathetic to Wike and another segment, who believing his fears towards 2019 were borne out of looming reversal of fortunes between him and his predecessor, Rotimi Amaechi in 2015.
A legal expert, who does not pity incumbent Wike, told NDV, “He’s receiving a dose of his own medicine. He enjoyed federal might to bulldoze his way into Rivers State Government House when PDP held sway at the center. Now, he wants to face federal might under APC. He should face what he made Ameachi go through. No vigilante can save him.”