Late Rev FR Paul Offu, Parish Priest of St. James the Greater Parish, Ugbawka
TAKING their fates in their hands, the Governors of the South East on Sunday, July 29, 2019, resolved to establish Forest Guards as a counter to the insecurity which had plagued the region for some time. The proposal for enhanced security aims to empower locals with the knowledge of their communities to check activities of marauding armed “herdsmen” and other bandits who take refuge in the forests.
So far, of the five states, only Enugu has implemented the project. The state government on August 27, 2019, launched the Forest Guard scheme with 1,700 personnel to patrol the forests and curb the murderous impunity of the “herdsmen” and kidnappers.
The Enugu Forest Guards are to complement the 5,200 neighbourhood personnel and secure the state against banditry.
We salute this innovative measure as agreed by the South-East governors and recommend it to other states facing similar challenges.
It is revealing that since the launch of this scheme no news of killings by herders has been reported as against the recurring impunity when their banditry even led to the murder of a Catholic priest, Rev. Fr. Paul Offu.
Also read: Security: Enugu and the Forest Guards model
This resort to local measures in addressing a local situation is salutary and a pointer to the benefits of sharing of security power and responsibilities between the Federal and lower tiers of government instead of the current ineffective centralised command architecture. Perhaps because of the activities of pro-Biafra activists, it was recently reported that nearly all officers in command of Federal security agencies in the South East were from outside the zone. With the creation of these Forest Guards, the people of the zone can contribute to their own security and protection from these armed invaders who are reported to be mostly foreigners.
Here, we are strong believers and exponents of decentralisation of power, including the power over security. Self-preservation is a natural impulse. The people of every locality must be allowed to play a role in their own security, while the Federal police and security agencies can complement their efforts.
We call on the state governors who have been pushing for state police not to relent, especially as it is obvious that Federal monopolisation of the nation’s security architecture has failed.
Those operating our security system have shown their inability or unwillingness to stop armed marauders from around the West African sub-region infiltrating indigenous communities and violating the constitutional rights of the citizenry with impunity.
In the absence of state police and prisons, the Forest Guards and local vigilantes working with the police and other agencies will make life safer for people in the grassroots. The security votes given to governors will find more relevance, and their roles as Chief Security Officers will both be justified and enhanced.