In a recent article “How to tackle insecurity in Nigeria”, Dakuku Peterside, chairman, House of Representatives Committee on (Downstream) Petroleum, stated: “Security, law and order are the major preoccupation of any government. Once a government gets this priority right, it has made the very first right step. Growing insecurity, on the reverse side, is the first sign of a failing state.” Also, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, poet and political philosopher, once wrote: “The three great ends which a statesman ought to propose to himself in the government of a nation are – (1) Security to possessors; (2) Facility to acquirers; and (3) Hope to all.”
Since assuming office as governor of Rivers State, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, who firmly believes that the inability of elected leaders to provide adequate security for the citizenry is an impeachable offence, has shown sincere appreciation of the wisdom contained in the above words. “The first offence governors commit is when they are unable to provide adequate security for the people. This is because the first oath taken by elected leaders is to protect life and property. It is the responsibility of the government to provide security for the people,” the governor once said.
Prior to Gov Amaechi’s accession to the governorship seat of Rivers State, the hub of oil industry in Nigeria, Port Harcourt, the state capital, was more like a war zone, a jungle where the fittest determined the fate of the lesser animals. The city, once very glamorous, was ranked among the three most dangerous cities in the world for foreign workers as criminal gangs and militia groups seeking greater control of energy revenue took the centre stage.
My late friend and brother, George Onah, writing in Vanguard in those years, captured the scenario this way: “For many residents, the capital of Rivers State, hitherto the Garden City where life was lived to the fullest, is no longer the place to live in as rivers of blood flow ceaselessly following an unending siege by militants, kidnappers, cultists, and criminals of other hue. Violence in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, has gone full circle and the guns are still booming. The casualties are piling, even as blood of defenceless citizens flow endlessly. Neither the police nor the government has answers to the brigandage. Security outfits do not have official figures, record or reliable estimates of casualties in the Rivers State orgy of killings.”
In his article “A blood-soaked city”, renowned columnist Okey Ndibe made reference to the once idyllic Port Harcourt that had become a scarred place, a war zone, a city soaked in blood; a city under siege with thousands of citizens displaced; a city whose once quiescent boulevards and avenues “were now ruled by marauding militiamen and by the fierce soldiers deployed to dislodge them”; where “death by bullet was now a generalised hazard for the city’s trapped and hapless residents”.
Also speaking in a recent interview, Tonye Princewill, a frontline politician in the state, gave the verdict that Rivers State was “a garrison state” when Amaechi took over. Indeed, the situation was so bad that Edwin Clark, onetime minister of information and an elder statesman, called on the Yar’Adua government to immediately declare a state of emergency in Rivers. But all these have changed for the better with Gov Amaechi on the saddle.
On assumption of office, Gov Amaechi went all out exploiting every possible means to arrest the insecurity situation in Rivers. Apart from declaring war on all the militia groups in the state and refusing any form of dialogue or negotiations with them, he ensured that the security organs in the state were well motivated and trained to tackle the menace of insecurity in the state. David Meyer, a security expert and CEO, MPD Security Systems, stated as follows: “The first step we took in Rivers State was to raise capacity among selected police personnel, over 200, through local and overseas training in Israel and other parts of the world on modern crime fighting techniques and intelligence gathering.” Working with modern gadgets and substantial logistics including an Israeli-trained concealed weapon-detecting dog, these crossbred police teams have since been strategically placed at main outskirts check posts witnessing mass movement in and out of Port Harcourt City. Others lead a number of metro patrol teams responding to security emergencies around the town and environs. These are as far as the public can see.
Beyond public view, as part of Rivers’ current long-term vision of security, Meyer pointed to underground application of ICT-aided security hardware and software helping the police to sense and react to security situations with dispatch. This network of technology managed by experts from a hub, which Meyer would not disclose its location for security reasons, employs the C4I urban surveillance cameras watching over the city and active 24 hours of the day in Port Harcourt and environs. The interactions between the seen and unseen infrastructure, according to Meyer, account for the recent swift bursting, by security operatives, of some of organised crime operations, including an attempted raid of a bank in the Mile 4 area of the city last year. “These measures,” Meyer added, “have been working well and while the public may not know, they have led to several arrests and we have gained convictions against suspects on account of the improved network.”
Before the close of the year 2012, Gov Amaechi said of his administration’s efforts in fighting insecurity in the state, “We have done a lot about security. We are doing more. Before we came to office, kidnapping was a serious challenge. We have dealt with it substantially. We are finishing December 2012 without a single report of kidnapping or armed robbery. We have specially trained policemen handling security. Barring any unforeseen circumstance, any moment from now, the Rivers State government’s security web would be two surveillance helicopters stronger, laying foundation for a standing air wing to give the state 24-hour security coverage.”
A major proponent of state policing, the governor once postulated: “If we have state police, Rivers would be able to train its police the way it wants. It would not have suffered the loss of those 500 policemen it trained. Most states are spending a lot of money improving the police which are not under their control. States can use the same resources to fund their own police. Only those with something to hide are afraid of state police.”
But beyond these practical strategies, Gov Amaechi, who believes that the panacea to insecurity or any form of crime is to provide employment to the youths, has taken giant strides in the areas of education (free education, free text and exercise books to pupils in all state primary and secondary schools, etc), health (160 model health centres operational in the state’s 23 LGAs, free health care programme, etc), agriculture (four fish farms in Buguma, Andoni, Opobo and Ubima, banana farm in Ogoni to employ about 500 workers, Rivers Songhai Learning Initiative’s centre for training, agricultural production, research and development of sustainable agricultural practices, etc), power generation, among others.
All these efforts, geared towards educating and empowering the youths so as to engage them meaningfully and so steer their attention away from crime, have no doubt yielded positive results. Rivers is now a peaceful and safe state and has not only attracted foreign investments, but Port Harcourt, the state capital, is today a haven for national and international conferences as well as sports championships. The city has also hosted the Miss ECOWAS beauty pageant, Pan African Parliament, Garden City Literary Festival, CARNRIV, amongst several other national and international gatherings. Perhaps there is a lesson for other state governors and the Federal Government – especially in the face of daunting security challenges – in the revolutionary strategies adopted by Gov Amaechi in arresting the security challenges in Rivers State.
EZE CHUKWUEMEKA EZE
Eze is a media consultant based in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
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