Regional security: how far can Southsouth governors go?

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Following the establishment of a security network in the Southwest, the Southsouth governors are planning an outfit to address peculiar security challenges, writes MIKE ODIEGWU

 

THE formation of the Amotekun, the new Southwest regional security network, has become a wake-up call to other regions in the country. Though the security network has yet to officially take off, issues about Amotekun have unified all governors and stakeholders from the Southwest. Most of them spoke in unison and collectively shut down all oppositions against their security machinery, which is principally aimed at tackling myriads of security challenges in their zone.

The execution of the Amotekun idea was speedily systematic. The hullabaloo that greeted its gestational period has compelled the Houses of Assembly in each Southwest state to enact laws to give it a legal backing. All the governors of the region have signed the bill to make the laws operational and enable the take-off of the Amotekun.

The idea behind the Amotekun has gone viral. Most regions are tinkering with such a regional security system. The Southsouth governors are not left out. They gathered at Asaba, Delta State capital, and agreed to form a local security arrangement to deal with their common security challenges. The governors of Rivers, Nyesom Wike; Akwa Ibom, Emmanuel Udom; Edo, Godwin Obaseki; Bayelsa, Douye Diri, and Ifeanyi Okowa, the host governor,  were personally present at the gathering.

Though most stakeholders commended the decision of the governors, the question on everybody’s lip has been, how far can the governors go to realise their common security project? Past experiences have shown that regional integration and common economic cooperation are alien to the Southsouth. Some persons believed that asking the governors to deliver a common regional project is like asking a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.

Those, who doubt the abilities of the governors to unite for a common cause are always quick to point at the BRACE Initiative. It could be recalled that on October 31, 2010, governors of the six Southsouth states rose from an economic summit at the Tinapa Business Resort in Calabar, Cross River State, and constituted the regional economic commission, the BRACE Commission with its headquarters in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital.

The acronym BRACE was derived from the first letter of each state’s name. It stands for Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, and Edo states. It was indeed, a laudable idea aimed at uniting the governors on common economic and infrastructural projects. The idea, if executed, would have hastened the development of the region and impacted positively on the people especially the downtrodden.

Unfortunately, observers watched in disappointment as the BRACE commission slumbered and snored away immediately it was formed. BRACE without achieving anything tangible went into a coma and has yet to be reawakened. There was no deliberate action to make BRACE a success by its founders.

Therefore, if the governors could not achieve anything with BRACE, can they collectively sustain a regional security outfit? Some analysts are of the opinion that the present crop of governors has everything it takes to ensure the birthing of a regional security network.

Wike has always demonstrated passion for development. Diri, the miracle governor of Bayelsa, though new in the saddle, understands the importance of regional integration. Obaseki, though fighting an uncommon political battle, has shown flashes of hope. Udom has been driving some unifying projects in Akwa Ibom, including floating an airline, the Ibom Air. Prof. Ben Ayade of Cross River State has dazzled with his uncommon developmental ideas while Okowa, who is the Chairman of the Southsouth Governors’ Forum, has shown his vision in project execution.

Therefore, most people believed that the governors have the financial war chests and the capacity to emulate their Southwest counterparts and ensure the realisation of the regional security outfit. They, however, argued that such capacity is dependent on the governors’ selflessness and their willingness to make required contributions. According to observers, a common project like a regional security outfit will never be realised if any of the governors fail to make required financial and material contributions.

Already, stakeholders and leaders are commending the gesture. They refer to the move as long overdue and said it was a welcome development. Most of them listed kidnapping, herdsmen menace, cultism, militancy, the proliferation of light weapons, sea piracy, pipeline vandalism and oil theft as disturbing security challenges that such regional outfit should deal with.

The Secretary-General of the Ijaw Youths Council (IYC) Worldwide, Alfred Kemepado, said the regional security outfit would help provide maritime security and stop the criminal activities of pipeline vandals and oil thieves.

Kemepado said: “The governors of the southsouth should have come up with this type of security measures long ago to protect our water territory especially against pipeline vandalism and other oil theft activities.

“This goes back to emphasise our long cry for the restructuring of the Nigerian state not to the advantage of any particular region, but to make Nigeria a more viable project. The Federal Government from Abuja is too small to police large Nigeria that it controls. It can only effectively do that by decentralising most of its powers.

“The Southsouth governors should not just stop at the formation and the funding of the regional security outfit, they should also task oil multinationals operating in this environment who will be the major beneficiaries of this initiative to also contribute to a security trust fund as it is in Lagos to ensure that the security outfit is productive.”

Kemepado advised that the governors should put measures in place to protect such security outfit from abuse insisting that the outfit must focus on the purpose of its creation. He, however, said for such security outfit to achieve its purpose, there must be a deliberate policy to create economic empowerment for the people through the BRACED commission.

He said: “The governors should also ensure that this security outfit is not abused. It is easier for this outfit to be abused in this area because of the amount of light weapons littered in this environment.

“What is common in our region is kidnapping and militancy. Another thing spoiling our environment is illegal oil bunkering and pipeline vandalism. We have also in recent times recorded cases of herdsmen-farmers clashes in Delta State.

“The security outfit has to ensure that it curbs the proliferation of light weapons because politics and political brigandage has brought to this environment a whole lot of light weapons that the politicians bought and left in the hands of criminals. Of course, cultism is another area that must be addressed especially in Bayelsa and Rivers State.”

Also a famous Niger Delta activist and founder, Niger Delta Self Determination Movement (NDSDM), Annkio  Briggs, said her letter to the Niger Delta governors dated February 19, 2020, triggered the governors’ decision to form a regional security outfit.

In the letter, which was principally addressed to Okowa, the activist said the NDSDM watched with trepidation the deteriorating security situation across the country and herdsmen menace, especially in Delta State.

“Only recently, some communities in Delta State were attacked by kicker herdsmen, who continued to be emboldened to commit more atrocities as the security agencies look the other way or sometimes overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the attacks.

“The NDSDM, in al sincerity, can no longer trust the established security agencies to protect our people as they have shown a high level of complicity and sometimes outright connivance with the killer herdsmen to attack, kill, kidnap, rape, molest and terrorise our people.”

Briggs appealed to the governors to convene a security summit to discuss with all stakeholders the need for a security network that would aid the overstretched established security agencies in combating the unacceptable level of insecurity across the Niger Delta.

The Leader of the Niger Delta Youth Coalition for Peace and Progress (NDYCPP), Kennedy Tonjo-West, said the plan by the governors to set up a regional security outfit was a step in the right direction.

He said: “It  is a welcome development that security be regionally domesticated because presently we are facing a very harsh situation in terms of security and the economy. What is happening in our region shows that security has been breached.

“But in doing that they should discuss with the Ijaws as a whole because the Ijaws cover the littoral aspects of the states. We have a high rate of sea piracy. It will amaze you that you could not point to any day the Navy arrested sea pirates.”

But a coalition of unrepentant militants expressed fears about the proposed regional security outfit.  The Coalition of Niger Delta Agitators (CNDA) in a statement accused the governors of having an ulterior political motive behind the move for the outfit. They argued that the governors would deploy the regional security outfit to settle political scores and deal with perceived enemies in their various states.

The statement was signed by John Duke, who is the leader of Niger Delta Watchdogs and Convener of CNDA; Ekpo Ekpo of the Niger Delta Volunteers and 14 others. They expressed fears that a regional security outfit would heighten insecurity in the region. They reasoned that the governors would divert weapons meant for such outfit to their political thugs.

They said: “The Coalition of Niger Delta Agitators hereby condemn in totality the recent  meeting of the Southsouth governors in Asaba, Delta State, in order to form a regional security outfit, which is totally out of place, as the present problems facing the Niger Delta are not security-related, but greed and corruption by the governors.

“The aim of creating this regional security outfit is to use them to fight their perceived political opponents and those that would dare speak against their anti-people policies in their respective states.

“We want to alert the Federal Government and International Community that the guns and other weapons these governors will buy to equip this security outfit will be diverted to equip their political thugs and cultists, which will be difficult to control.

“This will return the Niger Delta to those inglorious days of violence, pipeline vandalism, kidnapping, armed robbery, and other violent crimes. Let it be known to the entire world that if there will be any security threat in the Niger Delta, the governors should be held responsible. They (Southsouth governors) intend to cause security breach using their agents in order to press home their demand for regional security outfit, which we vehemently reject.”

But Annkio Briggs, the Convener of NDSDM, described the fears expressed by the militants as misplaced and unfounded. Briggs referred to persons behind the CNDA as faceless and alien to agitations in the Niger Delta region.

She said her group had been in the forefront of agitation for a responsible and responsive regional security framework in the region following failures of conventional security agencies to tackle insecurity in the country.

She said the unfortunate incidents that led to the loss of lives in the region, especially in Delta State where Governor Ifeanyi Okowa complained of armed herdsmen attacks, demonstrated the need for a regional security network.

Briggs said the militants’ position was meant to derail the plan and satisfy the selfish interest of their sponsors, adding that a regional security outfit must establish an internal mechanism to check any possible abuse.

She insisted that regarding regional security, all the Niger Delta stakeholders were on the same page and would not tolerate attempts by some faceless persons to sow the seeds of discord among them.

Despite the issues surrounding the proposed security outfit, stakeholders are eagerly expecting the Southsouth governors to take the next practical step to deliver a security outfit for the region.