By Emma Okah
Distraction seems to be the strongest tool of the opposition in Rivers State to make sure the government in power does not achieve much. As a strategy, this is deployed to reduce the hanging fruits available for the man on seat so as to point at failures rather than successes. For instance, the opposition has shouted loudest in the past two years that there was insecurity in Rivers State; and this investors and business owners were on the run.
State governments are not in control of the apparatus of security in any state, they can only offer support and advice. The opposition does not one beat blame the FG that has full budget and command control over the Security Agencies. They heap blames on the Rivers State Government and the Governor. Now, that same Governor decides to take some action within the law, it is the same opposition that is up in arms shouting that such an action was not right at all. In all their shouting, they have not put forward any policy alternative or suggestion of how the people would be protected. All the shout is about how the Governor would use the outfit to kill them and run them out of the state. There is no single mention of the safety of the common man, those who do not have VIP protection.
This is why no serious-minded leader would pursue smoke and ignore substance. Noise-making is a political strategy to make a leader drop good intentions and be blamed later for not having the political will to find solutions to his people.
The issue is, what does Gov Wike want to achieve with the Rivers State Neighbourhood Security Watch Corp Bill which he has signed into law? The answer is simple. The Government is aware of the heavy dose of negative propaganda from one particular opposition camp in the state, but what Gov Nyesom Wike simply wants to achieve is to create additional re-enforcement to the security infrastructure in the state. It is to create a back up to the policing structure in Rivers State. It is to fill in the gap that exists; vis-à-vis the way the security agencies do their work. If we want to be serious on crime prevention and focus more on crime control, you will agree with me that intelligence gathering and processing are key. If you do not have adequate information or intelligence to pass on to the security agencies, it will be difficult to prevent a crime from being committed. So, the Neighbourhood Watch Law of Rivers State is aimed at filling that gap; a gap of providing credible intelligence that would enable the police to act. Such intelligence would be able to achieve the desired results that would make the government to beat its chest and say it has been able to protect lives and property in Rivers State.
Gov Wike has made it clear that he does not intend to set up a militia, and he cannot successfully do so, even if he wanted to. What would he need such an army for when people mob him wherever he goes due to his many projects? When you have a budget to win the love and support of your people, why would you rather set up militia to kill opponents when the masses are there to ‘kill them with votes’?
Also, the Rivers State Government cannot be spending so much money to secure the state and turn back to generate additional layer of security challenge for itself. That would be scandalous, and those who think along that line do not wish the state well.
I think that the way things are in our state, we have to secure our state, because if we do not do it, nobody will do it for us. The security agencies sent to the state have their limits; they are overstretched. It is better to involve all stakeholders to encourage all those who have something to offer to do so in terms of tackling insecurity in our state. It is easier if anybody who has something to do to do it so that everybody can go home to sleep with both eyes closed.
Those who are importing politics into a noble idea such as this clearly show that the opposition in the state has nothing to say. I have always said that the marvelous achievements of the Gov Wike administration for almost three years have silenced the opposition; they have nothing to say.
Are those people opposing the Neighbourhood Watch Corp saying that they have police to move around and also have for their relations? So, politicizing security is the greatest disservice anybody can give to his state. So, as far as we are concerned, we believe that the security initiative is for the good of the majority of the people of the state. They will help us do our jobs better and it will enable the security agencies to discharge their constitutional responsibility much better than they did before.
The opposition has harped much on so called laws stopping the Governor from signing the Bill. The issue is now in court, so, we restrain ourselves on how we comment on that aspect, surfeit it to say that there is nothing; absolutely nothing like that. You know, when matters like this come up, everybody becomes a lawyer and begins to quote the law upside down. Some quote sections of laws that do not exist.
The law said operatives of the Neighbourhood Watch may bear arms with the consent of the police. The police already have the statutory obligation to give license to people to bear arms, and a lot of the people talking against the outfit have their licenses and guns granted them by the police. A lot of conditions are met before a license is granted to anybody. So, there is no way an operative of the Neighbourhood Watch Corp can posses any piece of ammunition of any kind, provided the ammunition is one covered by regulation by the police by relevant statutes. So, what are they saying? We are saying the police are the lecturers and they decide what would be used to write; all we provide are the students. Any student you give green biro will write with green biro. The opposition is busy shouting; why should somebody use green biro, but they have not asked what are the conditions warranting the use of green biro. I have always said that most people talk before they think. It is disgusting having to always reply some of these people.
I do not think any papers were served on him. All I am interested in is the merit of the law. Nobody can stop the Government from discharging its constitutional rule. It’s like serving a paper to the National Assembly to say, stop sitting, or telling the President to stop discharging the functions of a President because you are in court. Is that how low we have got to?
Some persons have conclusively said Gov Wike was going to hand over the arms recovered in the state’s amnesty programme to the recruits of the Neighbourhood Watch. This shows what they would have done were they in that position. They have not bothered for two years now what happened to the arms recovered. Their party is controlling the FG and the Security Agencies; so, they are in a position to know what is possible with warehousing arms and what is not. That is therefore another irony to worry about.
The arms were not kept by the Governor in the first place. Do not forget that there was a Task Force on Amnesty. The Government’s duty vis-à-vis that task force was limited to provision of logistics and the political will to enable them do their job. The security agencies were members of that task force and so, arms recovered were given to them. Civilians do not keep arms. Security agencies keep arms as is allowable within international standards and the law. So, when they want to destroy them, it is the military that would do that, not civilians. The Governor does not have an armoury. Government House is no arms depot nor is it a military base to keep arms.
Many worry about the power to arrest and detain. We always say, look, everything the Neighbourhood Watch Corp Law allows the operatives to do is something that is permissible by law. As a private person, you have the right to arrest. Here, we are saying, these people are going to work with the police. Arresting someone is going to be with the police. You cannot on your own begin to bear arms, you cannot on your own begin to arrest people or detain them. You cannot on your own begin to do certain things, if those things are reserved to certain people such as the police and the security agencies.
Even at that, there is the right for ordinary persons to arrest offenders. Are you saying, for instance, if a member of the Neighbourhood Watch Corp is passing and a child is crying of molestation or rape, the operative should walk away? Are you saying he should not peep in to ask, what is happening here? In fact, it is even a greater duty on neighbours who are no security men to do something and prevent crime from being committed, let alone those permitted by law to carry out such functions. The argument is neither here nor there.
So, what the people of Rivers State should expect in the coming months is peace and enhanced security. See what the Governor did in the Omoku (Don Wanni) situation. He put down N200m as bounty to boost the search and hunt for the killers. That shows how far the governor was ready to go to ensure that lives and property in Rivers State remained safe. As far as we are concerned, we will continue what the law and logistics permit us to do, until we are sure that those who do not want us to sleep will not sleep either.
The truth is that Wike’s performance in office has been well acknowledged, it has been outstanding, and it has whittled down the opposition. I have no doubt that as we proceed towards 2019, they may have nothing to say because numerous projects would be commissioned. Projects would shut the opposition up. They did not expect this much and they have been mangled by the weight of his achievements. In fact, opposition in Rivers State has nothing to say; it has said nothing to tell the Rivers people.
(Emma Okah is Commissioner of Information, Rivers State)