Ambassador Oghenekaro Ekewenu is a United Nation’s Ambassador on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Chairman, Board of Trustee of Municipal Youth Vanguard of Nigeria and former Executive Assistant to the Governor of Delta State on Maritime Development. In this interview with SUNDAY APAH, he speaks on the worrisome security situation ravaging the Niger-Delta region and the nation and offers the best approach to tackle the situation among other issues.
Sir, one of the major issues in national discourse in Nigeria today is insecurity, it has manifested in various forms, such as militancy, pipeline vandalization, insurgency, banditry, farmers/herders clashes, community agitation, kidnapping, restiveness, armed robbery and the likes. To fight the monster, some regional outfits are springing up in the country. What is your view about this development?
Thank you very much for your question. If you look at recent trends in the country, you will notice that one area in which the six geopolitical zones have manifested their ties is in the formulation of a ”securitisation policy.” The policy actors in each zone are paying disproportionate attention to the issue of insecurity at the regional levels. The thinking is that the formation of regional security outfits will bridge identified security gaps and complement the efforts of the Nigeria Police in reducing criminalities across the land.
Recall that the six governors of the Southwest zone led the way at a regional security summit in Ibadan, Oyo State last year June, when they adopted the resolution on the establishment of a regional security outfit. The fallout was that on January 9, 2020, the Western Nigeria Security Network (WNSN), codenamed “Operation Amotekun,” was launched.
The emergent trend is that other regions appear to be gradually toeing the path of the South-West by creating regional security outfits that are similar to ”Amotekun.”
For example, the North-Central, North-East and North-West, recently coalesced to form a security outfit under the aegis of the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG), codenamed “ShegekaFasa.” For some time now, the governors of the South-East Zone have been discussing on establishing a joint regional security outfit to tackle the menace.
Recently, the Chairman, South-East Governors’ Forum, Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State said the governors will unveil the name of the joint security outfit of the region at their next meeting. He stressed that after that, the governors will give the go-ahead to the Attorneys-General to draft the bills which will then be sent to the five states Houses of Assembly for deliberation and passage into law. Similarly, the Pan Niger-Delta Forum (PANDEF), have reportedly canvassed for the decentralisation of the nation’s security apparatus to give sub-national entities more room to protect life and property in their domains.
Do you agree with the view on the concern by some people that the regional security outfits are illegal and might be used by state governors to fight the opposition in their states?
Well, the main counter-argument on the formation of regional security outfits is that their operations lack the requisite constitutional and legal framework and that it might be misused and deployed by state governors for political and private ends. This has made the idea of establishment of regional security somewhat controversial, but most observers agree that curbing insecurity in the regions requires the formation of such outfits to assist security agencies in tackling increasing cases of criminality, particularly marauders parading themselves as herdsmen, who have been kidnapping, killing, maiming, raping and assaulting innocent people.
The governors of the South-South states are yet undecided on the formation of a regional security outfit. Does the Niger-Delta area need to join the trend in establishing a regional security outfit of their own?
Across the six geopolitical zones, there is a general feeling of the need for the formation of regional security outfits, which has brought to the fore the need to examine the critical challenges and gaps that needs to be addressed if the Niger- Delta area is to establish a regional security outfit. The Niger- Delta region for our purpose refers to the South-South geopolitical zone, comprising of Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Rivers, Delta and Edo states, to the exclusion of any other meaning. The statistics show that besides insurgency, there has been a significant rise in insecurity in the Niger-Delta area.
A study carried out by the Foundation for Partnership Initiatives in the Niger-Delta (PIND) reports that there were 416 violent incidents resulting in no fewer than 1,000 recorded deaths in 2019. In 2018, there had been 351 episodes resulting in 546 deaths mainly resulting from organised crime, political rivalries, communal disputes, cult clashes and land disputes. Cults are often quasi-criminal, quasi-religious, and often have political connections. This apparently justifies the need for a regional security outfit to help curb the rising incidents of insecurity in the region. What this means is that there is need to roll back the spate of insecurity in the region, but whether the most efficient approach is through the formation of a security outfit is another matter.
Against this backdrop, what do you foresee as the challenges to the formation of a Niger- Delta security outfit if the governors are to key in into the idea?
Despite the seeming potentials in forming a security outfit in the Niger-Delta region, the establishment of such an outfit would be confronted by a range of challenges unique to the region. Chief among these challenges are the negative impacts of the outfit on the wave of militant agitations in the Niger-Delta region.
The main personnel would be the restive young men and if not properly managed, they may become challengers of the Nigerian state. The odds are there that under the funding of governors of the oil-rich region, such an outfit may metamorphose into a national security threat. Another complicating factor in toeing the path of “Amotekun” is the legal and constitutional constraints in creating, rostering and deploying a regional security outfit, whose mandate would likely charge it with enforcing compliance with the various laws of crime in Nigeria.
This legal impediment is driven in the main by two concerns: first, whether the states have the constitutional competence to legislate on matters relating to regional security and whether any collaboration with the police was envisaged under Section 4 of the Police Act, which defines the duties of the Nigerian Police. This challenge is compounded by the reluctance of the Federal Government to recognise the legal status of Amotekun and similar security outfits.
Another issue is that of mobilisation strategies, modalities for coherence and strategic coordination of the security outfit, especially where the outfit in the various states are to jointly commit themselves to a common purpose in countering insecurity in the region.
It is evident that other than resource geopolitics being the tie that binds the states, the Niger-Delta region is characterised by historical, ethnic and linguistic differences, as well as inter-party of rivalries in local politics which may act together to hamper meaningful progress in operability of the outfit in various states.
Do you believe as some people do, that the possibility of establishing a Niger- Delta security outfit by whatever name is remote?
In the light of the foregoing challenges that would likely undermine the basis for erecting a security outfit in the Niger-Delta region, it is safe to conclude that such an idea from a practical standpoint is unrealistic, dead on arrival and should therefore be jettisoned.
What do you suggest as the alternative or the way forward?
I strongly recommend that the various communities in the Niger- Delta region and the Nigeria Police should work out a framework of collaboration that would fill critical security gaps.
In addition, infrastructural deficits can be addressed by directly engaging and granting contracts to the communities, while the Niger-Delta Development Commission (NDDC), plays well the assigned roles for the development of the region in order to promote the wellbeing and economic progress of the people to bring down criminalities among the youths especially.
Furthermore, governments at the federal, state and local levels should deliberately roll back all forms of deprivations because they are strongly linked to insecurity.
In this regard, the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, President Mohammadu Buhari deserves commendations for his efforts at maintaining continuous dialogue with the ex-militants through the Amnesty Programme as well as capacity-building/academic training of indigenous Niger-Deltans, to acquire competencies and skills through the establishment of the Maritime University in Okerenkoko, Delta State. There is no gainsaying that the sustainability of any progress would require a viable bi-partisan efforts. It is also recommended that the leaders of the six geopolitical zones should hold an Inter-regional Security Conference to discuss a jointly agreed basis on the steps to be taken for a National Security Roadmap.