Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State says the people of the South-West are under siege. The Chairman of South-West Governors’ Forum spoke at the zonal security summit held in Ibadan, Oyo State capital. Excerpts:
The growing fear (of insecurity) among the populace makes nonsense of any plans conceived for the development of our God-given space.
There is no gainsaying the obvious; the issue of socio-economic integration in the (South-West) region must be taken seriously for any aspiration towards development to be meaningful. No remarkable progress can be achieved amidst chaos. No state in the region can achieve greatness in isolation.
We should extend the possibility of cooperation on other socio-economic fronts. Our people stand to benefit from our resolve to ensure that they remain at the centre of all permutations and considerations. Partisan coloration should not delimit the extent of collaboration aimed at maximum service for our people. With shared yearnings for the development of the region, there should be no difficulty in agreeing to provide the best services possible in the interest of our people.
There should be no disagreement in aspiration for service, if altruism is the focus. Our seeming difference, considering political platforms, should not stand in the way of commitment to promote the collective well-being of our people. Convinced of our shared heritage, propelled by the desire to proceed on the enviable tradition of excellence for which our ancestors are reputed, we cannot harbour any extraneous preferences to this inherited and established course of development.
We are particularly lucky; we have many examples to draw from history considering exemplary courage in the face of adversity, uncommon display of hospitality, even in privation, industry and distinctive virtues, all of which mark us as a unique people. The influx of peoples from other parts of the country and beyond attests to our urbanity and humane disposition which accommodate divergence. The evidence of great successes recorded by those who seek refuge in our geo-political space is sufficient reason for the sustenance of our hospitable disposition, provided that our people’s interests are not in jeopardy.
Again, our history compels us to be cautious when confronted with strange occurrences. Our past experiences should teach us that understanding a phenomenon will assist us, tremendously, in proffering useful solutions. As leaders of our people we cannot afford to be emotive in taking decisions for their benefit. Any step taken must reflect the collective will to protect them. No sacrifice is too much to preserve this heritage of peace and prosperity.
The pervasive presence of persons not indigenous to our space bears eloquent testimony to the quality of our upbringing. The preponderance of thriving businesses owned and controlled by our brothers and sisters from other parts of the country is evidence of sophistication. Our land is indeed a lesson to other parts of the country. There is no limit to the aspiration of anyone who lives, peacefully, among us. Nobody is persecuted in our midst. We protect the weak, even against our own. Our borders are thrown open to all and sundry in the spirit of brotherhood and oneness.
There is, however, the urgent need compelling a review of this liberal policy of openness. Our people are under siege, the harbingers of death, sorrow, tears and blood threaten the existing fraternity among the peoples of this country. Narrow-mindedness gloats over the horrendous crimes perpetrated by these criminal elements. Some fail to see beyond partisan parochialism. The situation on ground should compel a broader and open-minded analysis of this strange incursion with a view to ascertaining the real reasons responsible for this disquiet. We should be particularly worried by the current spate of an insidious phenomenon, hitherto unknown and uncommon in our immediate clime, creeping into our erstwhile peaceful and prosperous ambience. The incessant perpetration of anti-social behaviours, occasioning pervasive despair, and the seeming helplessness of our security agencies to stem the tide of these aberrant attitudes, which threaten the very existence of our region as an autonomous socio-political entity, call for serious scrutiny. We must review these unfortunate incidents individually and collectively. Every state must be able to ascertain the extent of this current threat. We must locate the sources of compromise within our space with a view to curtailing same effectively in both the short and long run. Our collective goal should be the security of our space and safety of our people in all ramifications. On this, there should be no compromise. We must, consequently, be proactive in tackling the current security issues. The adoption of a scientific approach towards the resolution of the current crisis will bear far-reaching effects. Our state will be looking forward to working with other states in the South Western Region to eradicate the menace of armed robbery, drug abuse, cultism, kidnapping, among others.
There can be no argument on the assertion that insecurity has become a major issue in the polity today. There is virtually no part of the country which is spared at the moment. All the six geo-political zones experience one form of crisis or the other. From Zamfara to Katsina, the current trends are banditry and cattle rustling. Kano, Sokoto and Bauchi are not spared. Kaduna faces an uphill task in combating security challenges.
The Middle Belt Region is also affected seriously. The crisis between the Jukun and Tiv in Taraba State appears intractable. Jos has witnessed a serious upheaval recently. Benue State was practically under siege at a moment. The North-East has been waging a seemingly endless war against insurgents who have now introduced an international dimension to the mindless killings and destruction of properties. The South-East and South-South battle with communal clashes, banditry, armed robbery and kidnapping.
The South-West had enjoyed some moment of respite until recently. What started as isolated cases have now become a daily occurrence. Some cases are obviously exaggerated and there are many fictive narratives out there. Some unscrupulous persons hope to derive political mileage from this confusion, no doubt. There is no denying the fact that the region, which had enjoyed some relative peace, is currently under siege. Everybody is concerned about the ease with which these fiendish characters operate. Some victims have been unlucky, they paid the supreme price.Others live with bodily scars and bruised psyche. The morale of our people had never been this low. Our security agencies appear overwhelmed by the incessant and sustained attacks on our people in different parts of the country. Our roads are no longer safe. Our schools operate under palpable fear. School children are now abducted for ransom. Commuters are no longer safe on our roads. This aberrant phenomenon seems blind to class, religion and ethnicity. Nobody is spared. All of us have become victims, suddenly.
There have been attempts by some to create disaffection among Nigerians. Others have tried to take advantage of the unfortunate crisis to further compound the problems. A traditional ruler and a pastor have been accused of feigning kidnap to extort money from sympathisers. Crime, of varying hue, is gradually becoming a very lucrative business in Nigeria.
The Ondo experience
Ondo State government, recognizing the gravity of the current challenges, held a Security Summit early this year. The enormity of these problems made the convocation of the event exigent. There was unanimity in the belief that the location of our state explains the seeming vulnerability of both the government and its people. The assemblage of security experts, personnel and representatives of agencies agreed on the pathway towards the resolution of the current crisis.
Ondo State occupies a very strategic location in the country. Her littoral shores are the longest and, arguably, the deepest. Her northern borders lead to the North-Central and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. The volume of human and vehicular traffic coursing through the state requires constant alertness. The state is the gateway to the South-West. She shares common borders with Kogi, Edo, Osun and Ogun States. The state is easily accessible from Lagos state by the Lagoon and Atlantic.
These geographical realities dictate that our security architecture be honed, constantly, to reflect the dynamic nature of the challenges faced by our people. Some fugitive criminal elements believe that our state provides a safe haven for them by the simple logic of her heterogeneous composition. Our porous borders encourage seamless ingress and egress, especially by these undesirable elements whose nefarious activities excite anxieties.
The state has had her own share of socio-economic adversities, chief among which has been the issue of crime and the embarrassing presence of army of unemployed youths. We have been contending with common anti- social attitudes like stealing, thuggery, even armed robbery. We have had to resolve crisis between farmers and herdsmen and a new understanding has been reached. The introduction of the novel phenomenon of kidnapping has, however, been quite unsettling. We are not unaware of the antics of some unscrupulous elements who seek to employ this unfortunate development to divide the people. The pernicious attempt to bring in ethnicity and religion must be condemned by all well-meaning citizens in the country.
The Ondo State Security Summit produced a Security Policy Document. This document considers the current situation and suggests ways through which the problems can be tackled. The summit identified high level of insecurity, wide gaps in available security architecture, constraints occasioned by these challenges, future institutional arrangements, sustainable structure and funding. It also came up with both medium security and safety strategic plans.
Our administration has exhibited sufficient political will which leaves no one in doubt of its readiness to confront the challenges headlong. This Security Policy Document (SPD) promises to address these problems realistically. The provision of adequate security architecture will enhance the socio-economic development of the people of Ondo and promote investment and tourism.
The document contains five key Security Policy Objectives which the government proposes to boost public confidence.
Ondo State government has adopted a holistic and integrated strategic approach to manage security risk. We will be relying on the 4Rs to combat the menace. These are: Reduction: this administration believes in the drastic reduction in crime rate through identification and analysis of long term and short term risks with a view to eliminating them, Readiness: developing operational systems and capabilities to prevent crimes, Response: moving swiftly to nip in the bud any significant event before, during and/or directly after occurrence and Recovery: using coordinated efforts and processes to engender immediate, medium-term and long term prevention of crimes.
In achieving these lofty aims, heavy reliance will be placed on collaboration with certain government agencies which deal with crime and delinquency prevention. These include:
Law Enforcement and Investigations
Legal Defence, Victims and Witness Protection
Prisons and Offender-Correction.
Need for a proper coordination of the activities of all formal and informal security groups in the state.
Free flow of information regarding crime from members of the public
Need for a toll-free line for crime reporting.
Need for joint border patrols with neighbouring states.
Above all, the need for inter-agency cooperation and collaboration.
We must ensure that we fill the gaps in legislation to sanction deviance promptly, firmly and comprehensively.
The role of the people is vital in the implementation of any conceived ideas. The people must be informed adequately on the strategic importance of collaboration with the agencies of the state. Unless they are made to own the programme, it will be very difficult for the government to make any appreciable impact in its bid to confront insecurity.
The South-Western States must ensure that their strategies are harmonized to achieve a common purpose. We cannot afford to work in isolation at this moment. We must cast aside all partisan considerations in the interest of our people. Our ultimate aim must be the socio-economic integration of the region which reflects our collective aspirations for a peaceful and prosperous environment.
As we seek to collaborate to combat a common challenge, it should also not be tasking for those of us in the saddle to begin to think of the socio-economic benefits accruable from working together to make our region less dependent, almost solely, on external sources for survival.