By Jimitota Onoyume

When governor Nasir Elrufai of Kaduna state made the call for foreign mercenaries to be recruited to quell the security crisis in his Kaduna state and probably other parts of the northeast, few questions agitated minds.

When the capital city, Port Harcourt and adjourning local government areas like Obio-Akpor, Eleme, Okrika, Ikwerre and even some areas in Ogoni had security challenges were foreign mercenaries recruited to crush the ugly situation? Blood was flowing on the streets of these Rivers communities and anarchy loomed.

Harvest of deaths in Rivers

Cultists literally took over the above areas between 2004 – 2007, killing with little or no resistance from security operatives.

Before the 2003 general elections, the state was flooded massively with various cult groups. Name them, Dey Bam, Dey Well, Black Beret, Iceland and so on.

It would be recalled that in June 2004, the governor of the state then, Dr Peter Odili signed into law, the secret cult and similar activities (prohibition) law, N0 6 of 2004. The bill listed about 103 cult groups that were proscribed.
This move still did not address the ugly situation. Most of the nocturnal groups continued to wreak havoc in the state.

One night in 2007, about twenty persons were shot dead by one of the groups in Diobu. At about 730pm that night gunshots rented the air for about an hour. At the Afikpo market in Mile one, (close to Vanguard office ) traders, and buyers ran helter-skelter. Nobody knew where to run to because the gunshots sounded like the killers were close by.

About an hour later, calm returned, but through no effort of security men. It was like the killers completed their mission that night and disappeared from the streets. By the following day, it became clear that no fewer than twenty persons had lost their lives in the shooting.

It was really very bad in Rivers state then to the extent that cultists threatened the nightlife economy in a bubbling city like Port Harcourt. There were occasions gunmen stormed restaurants, and social gatherings opened fire and disappeared people, leaving behind blood and deaths.

Residents and passers-by scampering for safety were a reoccurring scene. If you were driving and saw people running away from a direction you hurriedly parked your car as soon as possible and then jumped out to join in the race to no direction.
Septuagenarian Mother of Sir Celestine Omehia, Mrs Cecilia Wahia Omehia, was abducted when he was Governor-Elect. Though she was released in the first week of May 2007 before he was sworn in but it was clear that one of the major challenges he inherited as governor was insecurity.

Celestine declares curfew in PH

In August, the state government intensified its war against insecurity with a dusk to dawn curfew. The Chief of Army Staff then, Lieutenant General Oweye Azazi told newsmen at the former admin block of 2 Brigade barracks ( now 6 Div ) after a security meeting attended by the Inspector General of Police then, Mr Mike Okiro and several other top security chiefs, that the insecurity was coming to an end that same day. By the time we got to our offices to file stories, we heard that a dusk to dawn curfew had been imposed in the state.

Soldiers were deployed to areas considered strongholds of cult groups in Diobu, Marine base, Town and several parts of the city.

Residents raised their hands when walking past security blockades erected by the soldiers at different spots. Passengers on Okada, (then Okada rode in Port Harcourt) had to come down, and walk through the barricades with their hands in surrendering positions while the bike riders rolled them behind.

Peace returns to PH

The effectiveness of the curfew brought an appreciable level of peace. The Joint Task Force, JTF, was effectively mobilized for security roles in the state.

Rumours even filtered in that in some areas like the Marine bases, special soldiers with padlocks on their lips were deployed there to enforce peace. The foregoing could not be independently verified even though some persons said they saw them.

Amaechi comes on board, intensifies security

When Chibuike Amaechi came on board as governor barely six months into the reign of Omehia the same year, following the Supreme Court victory, he also sustained the security architecture and enhanced it.

Later he lifted the curfew and still strengthened the JTF, then Brigadier General Sarkin Yakin Bello was the Commander 2 Brigade.

When the governor lifted the curfew there were initial fears that the hoodlums would take advantage of it to overrun the city at night. But this was not to be because the JTF was effectively mobilized by the state government to secure the state.

At a time rumour filtered into town that Israeli security mercenaries were behind the success recorded on the security front in the state.

According to the rumour mill, the governor recruited special Israeli security men to secure the state. Most journalists could not confirm this. Because what we saw were Nigerian soldiers doing the job.

Soldiers took the war against cultism to the doorstep of a warlord in his Okrika home town, dislodging his grip on the town.

Warlord flees far into the forest with his men.

The military, to further consolidate its gains, harmonized JTF operations in the Niger Delta with Bello with his new rank as Major General heading the JTF ‘s headquarters in Bayelsa state while Brigadier General Tukur Yusuf Buratai as he was then, took over as Commander 2 Brigade.

The army, JTF and other security bodies in the state continued to enjoy good support from the administration of Governor Amaechi and this helped them to sustain the peace in the state.

The summary of the story is that effective funding of the military, Police, the Department of State Security, and DSS brought life to the state as peace returned. Residents could sleep with their two eyes closed, enjoying their dreams. There are also rumours that Amaechi used intelligence supplied by Israelites. Nobody could confirm this till he left office, But what happened in Rivers was dramatic. The criminals were chased out of town.

Maybe proper funding of the military, Police and other security bodies by state governments with the worrisome security situation in Kaduna and other states in the northeast, the way Rivers government did under Sir Celestine Omehia and Rt Hon Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi could just be the solution. But the criminals in Rivers were attacked and chased out. The military is not attacking the bandits and terrorists but always reacting to their insurgencies. That’s the difference. The seeming lack of political will to destroy the terrorists has not helped Nigeria. And that’s why Gov. El Rufai appears frustrated and daily raises the alarm.

Waiting for the federal government to drive the process may really make the security problem linger on for a relatively long time. Governors, as chief security officers in their states, could make the difference.

Vanguard News Nigeria


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