Dawn of community policing on the Plateau

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Tanker Burning on Lagos-Ibadan Expressway Following a Stakeholders’ Peace, Security and Community Dialogue, the Plateau State Government has decided to adopt community policing model, in line with the template approved by the Inspector-General of Police at an earlier North Central regional meeting at Lafia, Nasarawa State. YUSUFU AMINU IDEGU reports that the state government has taken proactive steps to ensure reconciliation and a buy-in for the programme within communities.

 

Plateau people have recently resolved to take their destinies in their hands. In other words, they have decided to take absolute responsibility for their own security.

Their original confidence that the security of their lives and properties lays in the hands of the Federal Government and the various federal security agencies appears to have been jettisoned.

The current thinking is that they will put in place a local security structure they can trust and depend on. This is coming at a time when even the Federal Government that has exclusive jurisdiction over security matters is equally looking in the direction of community policing.

The new thinking was prompted by renewed killings in the state where some communities buried over 30 of their loved ones in less than three weeks this year.

Thousands of others were rendered homeless and are likely to die in the cold. The Plateau State Police Command said: “The recent attacks by unknown gunmen in five villages in Bokkos and Mangu local governments claimed 26 lives, a total of 190 houses were razed by the attackers.”

The police added: “In the attacks that happened in Bokkos, 22 people lost their lives, including 14 killed in Kwatas, 4 killed in Sabon Barki, 3 killed in Marish, 2 killed in Changet. Also, four persons were killed in Marish Mangu Local Government, bringing the total numbers of death to 26.”

In all the attacks in five villages, the security agencies reported that they arrested no one. Worst still, rumours had it that more villages would be attacked in the days ahead.

This provoked Governor Simon Lalong. He said: “How can gunmen attack villages and kill this number of people and you are telling me that you have not arrested anybody? Are these attackers’ spirits? This is unacceptable.”

The people also wondered how long they were going to live at the mercy of these unknown gunmen who often came to kill at will and disappeared into thin air.

The situation of those living is as hopeless as those already killed because many have been displaced because their homes were razed, crops destroyed, food ban looted and the rest razed, while their places of worship were also not spared. It was also torched.

Worst still, they are afraid to return because their suspected attackers are well armed and are said to be hiding in the rocks with the intention of striking again.

Plateau people have been living with the menace of “unknown gunmen” for over a decade. Within the period, the government had created a special task force known as “Operation Save Haven” [OPSH], made up of core military troops and stationed in Jos, the capital city, to be able to respond faster than the police.

The special task force was further split into several sectors stationed at the rural areas to enable them to respond rapidly to attacks at midnights.

Of course, the troops of the task force are a combination of men of the Nigerian Army, Nigerian Air Force, Nigeria Police Force, Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corp [NSCDC], as well as Department of State Services [DSS].

No doubt the task force is fully funded and equipped by the Ministry of Defence. However, since 2010 when the task force was established, there is no year that the people will not bury hundreds of their loved ones as a result of attacks by “unknown gunmen”.

The first of such was the invasion of Dogo Nahawa community, Jos South Local Government in 2010, which led to the death of over 300 residents in just one-night attack.

The excuse of the members of the task force was that they were new to the state and still finding it difficult to understand the terrain.  But even after that, more incidences of the Dogo Nahawa attack were witnessed in the state.

A case in point was the 2012 incidence that led to the death a senator representing Plateau North senatorial zone, the late Senator Gyang Dantong who died alongside the Majority Leader of the state House of Assembly, James Danfulani.

They died in a stampede when they went to bury about 150 of their people killed in another attack by yet another gang of “unknown gunmen”.

Up till this moment, no arrest has been made in an attack involving a senator and a principal officer of the state assembly.

Similarly, in 2016, a paramount ruler and first-class traditional ruler, Da Laazarus Agai and his family members and security aides were ambushed and killed by “unknown gunmen” and till date, his killers have neither been found nor arrested.

All these and many other killings added up to get the people and government frustrated but got thinking on how to take their security personal.

General of Police [IGP] had already given the go-ahead to state governors in North Central to establish community police if they found it so necessary.

Governor Lalong confirmed this when he said: “The Inspector-General of Police last month met with governors of the North Central states in Lafia, Nasarawa State, for a security summit where we adopted community policing as a better tool for dealing with the security situation in our geo-political zone.”

With this window, Lalong told the stakeholders during the security meeting that he expects nothing but a frank, open and solution-driven interaction, to agree on the modalities for the community policing model that would help deal with the situation on the ground.

While welcoming participants, Secretary to Government, Prof Danladi Atu said: “The dialogue has become necessary as a people because there are challenges regarding the safety of citizens.

The government feels that the security of people should be people-driven. So, in this meeting, we are expected to be frank with ourselves, tell ourselves the truth and suggest solutions”

In his keynote address, Lalong said: “It is with mixed feelings that I address you today at this Stakeholders Peace, Security and Community Dialogue.

I say with mixed feelings because this in one type of stakeholders meeting that we were almost relegated to the dustbin of history, considering how hard we have toiled to ensure the return of peace to our State since our coming into office.

Sadly, we are compelled to hold this meeting once again instead of ordinarily coming together to celebrate the peaceful coexistence and prosperity of our land and its good people, as we were looking forward to during the forthcoming Forgiveness Day.

“The unfortunate events of last month in Kulben, Kombun District in Mangu Local Government, as well as that of Kwatas in Bokkos Local Government which claimed over 30 precious lives of innocent citizens with many injured and properties destroyed, is most unfortunate and a bitter pill to swallow.

It is difficult to comprehend this carnage because the two events appear to be deliberately orchestrated to test the resolve of our administration in bringing back peace to the State and also undermining the security and safety of our people who are simply going about earning their livelihoods.

Like I said both during my visit to Kulben and during the meeting with Local Government Chairmen, Community leaders, Traditional Rulers and Ardos after the Kwatas killings, the dark days of pain, tears and sorrow will never be allowed to return to Plateau State again.

That is why I told the security agencies that the killers must be fished out at all costs because government will no longer take excuses of ‘unknown gunmen’ who kill and maim at will.

“That is why we directed that the community leaders and Ardos be invited and questioned with a view to assisting the security agencies with information that will lead to the arrest of the killers.

They are not ghosts. I am happy that this directive has been acted upon, and sooner than later, those killers will be unmasked and brought before the law to answer for their crimes. While that is going on, we must look ahead and seek ways to forestall reoccurrence.

That is why I have convened this enlarged Peace and Security Dialogue with the theme Domestication of Community Policing in Plateau State: Exploring the Indigenous Options” with a view to putting forward practical and proactive measures that will address these unacceptable attacks.

“The dialogue seeks to explore ways towards undertaking a holistic overview of the prevailing security challenges in the state, with specific reference to a community policing model that can better respond to public safety and security.

You will recall that “happily we already have structures on the ground, which is in tandem with the community policing model such as the Operation Rainbow, Early Warning System, Vigilante Volunteers and Community-based Intelligence Volunteers.

“Let us ask critical questions as to what we are doing right and what is not working, with a view to making it more effective for guaranteeing the security and safety of lives and property in Plateau State.

We should also examine what the conventional security agencies such as the Police, State Security Service, Operation Safe Haven, Civil Defence and related agencies are doing in securing lives and properties in the State.

What do we need to do in creating synergy between their work and that of the community policing structure in order to achieve better results? Since virtually every relevant stakeholder is here today, I expect that the discussions will be honest, frank and capable of leading us to a safer Plateau State that thrives on respect for human lives, good neighbourliness, tolerance, justice and forgiveness.”

Also speaking at the event, the lead speaker Professor Dakas Clement Dakas (SAN) said: “Domestication of security policing should take into consideration personnel recruitment and the process must be transparent and must be remunerated.”

Dakas who is a constitutional lawyer said the legal framework for the local police is also very necessary in a manner not to conflict with national laws and operations of regular security agencies.

He encouraged the state House of Assembly to formulate the laws to make ample provision for severe punishments in a manner that political office holder will not be able to abuse the local police for selfish intentions or used to intimidate political opponents.

Another speaker, Dr. Chris Kwaja commended the government for the initiatives, saying it is the choice for community policing is people’s response to the failure of the existing security agencies to protect them.

He pointed out that the security risks the state is facing are enormous and it is high time the people and government rise up to the challenges. He noted that the population of the state is growing, not by virtue of new birth but by migration.

He regretted that the much talked about police-community relations network is not effective. Early warning signals are often ignored or not taken seriously due to internal rivalry among security agencies.

He noted that there has been no centralized coordination, a case of everyone in charge and at the end of it, no one in charge. He further recommended the model of civilian JTF been practice in Borno State.

He added: “The security structure that should be set up should be such that take careful note of migrants and their purpose of coming to Plateau.

He, therefore, advised the state government to constitute a technical committee made up of professionals to decide on the model of local security, structure, funding and mode of operations and remuneration of the security personnel.

He further recommended that traditional rulers need to be engaged in the formulation and running of the community police, “community coordination by traditional rulers are very key.”

The Commander of Operation Safe Haven [OPSH], Major General Augustine Agundu said citizens have the responsibility to secure themselves and it is when the people themselves wake up that the security agencies will find their job easier.

Read Also: Lalong, SAN, others endorse community policing

But, from my experience, I will tell you that there are tribal militia groups in this state. This has led to proliferation of arms. The task force could have been that effective but for certain local factors like the ethnic militia I talked about.

This is in addition to the fact that citizens of the state are highly divided politically and we have too many ethnic bigotry. Even the Christian leadership are divided due to proliferation of churches” General Agundu said he has maintained 16 months of no attack by gunmen until the recent one in Bokkos and Mangu local governments.

In a communiqué issued after the stakeholders’ meeting, they agreed to go with the option of community policing. Participants agreed that community policing as a veritable security option in a complex and fragile community should be pursued at all levels.

They also agreed that a more robust synergy and confidence building be encouraged among the established or statutory security outfits like the armed forces, the police, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and other agencies within the ambits of the law.

They equally agreed to strengthen Operation Rainbow as a security framework be and to also increase the capacity of its operatives, so that the neighbourhood watch component can be a visible channel for intelligence gathering and response.

The statement also commended the initiative of the North Central governors for agreeing to adopt the community policing framework, to confront the insecurity threatening the region and the country at large.

It also called for the setting up of a Technical Committee, to harmonise the presentations and evolve a more sustainable framework for immediate implementation. it said traditional rulers are key components for intelligence gathering and that they should be supported to discharge such responsibility in the overall interest of the people.

It said proactive initiatives within the communities are imperative to the successful implementation of the new policing model.

While waiting for the constitution of the technical committee, the state government welcomed the idea of dialogue within the communities to release pent up anger of among the people.

That is the forgiveness and reconciliation forum, which was preceded by the hosting of the second national summit on peaceful coexistence and nation-building organised by Da’Awah Coordinating Council of Nigeria [DACCN] in conjunction with the Plateau State Peacebuilding Agency.

The Forgiveness and Reconciliation Forum and the second national summit on peaceful coexistence were attended by the Sultan of Sokoto, Saad Abubakar II.

While giving his royal blessing to the peace efforts of Governor Lalong, the Sultan said: “I am very comfortable with the untiring efforts of the Plateau State government to ensure peaceful coexistence among the people.”

The monarch also urged the people to make use of the opportunity provided by Lalong to forgive one another. He called on other governors to emulate the peace initiatives of the governor.

Lalong said during the Forgiveness and Reconciliation Forum: “All I am pleading for now is forgiveness and reconciliation. On behalf of the people of this state, including farmers and herders, I sincerely tender an apology for the huge and unquantifiable losses you may have encountered in the past conflicts.

I stand before you by the grace of God as the governor and on behalf of all the good people of our dear state to ask for forgiveness from everyone who has suffered one loss or the other.

“Government has over the past four years pursued policies that promote public peace and harmony. This has made many people who initially ran away because of crises to return, while other Nigerians and foreigners as well are coming in almost every day to make a living and settle in this serene, temperate and well-endowed state. However, the state is still faced with some security challenges due to the activities of criminals.

“Following this reconciliation programme, I expect that people will have a sober reflection and forgive one another, by seeking reconciliation of the bad things of the past.

As we mark the second annual Forgiveness Day, we are conscious of the efforts that have been put in to ensure that our people live in peace and harmony, as well as find a new narrative that does not only prevent conflict but also encourage dialogue and reconciliation.”