INTERVIEW: Regional Police And Insecurity In Igboland

Dave Umahi, Ebonyi State Governor. Image: Facebook 


Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State is also the Chairman of the South-East Governors’ Forum. Umahi, in this interview, speaks on insecurity in the country and the agitation to have regional police in the South-East just like the South-West has Operation Amotekun.

Can you tell us about your conversation with the Inspector General of Police? Was it what you were proposing that you got or what did you agree?
Because of the heightened insecurity in every part of the country, people are agitating for different types of protection. And the summation of all these agitations is that people want state police. Governors took the oath of office to uphold the Constitution. So, it becomes very difficult to have the governors do the wish of the people in terms of giving them what they are asking for in different forms. But we had a discussion with the Inspector General of Police (IGP). Let me commend him (IGP) as a professional officer and very committed to his job. We took the IGP through all the agitations. What our people expect from the meeting and we were able to reach a number of agreements. First, the IGP introduced what community policing is all about. When we listened to him, it fitted into what we are doing in the various states in the South-East, but people tend to lose confidence in security agents, although not their fault. Because there is heightened insecurity and the personnel are not enough, so when you hear about community policing, you just believe that it is another kind of police outfit. We agreed on a number of things. In our different states, since 2015, we have ministries of security, and we have laws that back up our community security outfits. Like we have ‘Operation Kpochapu’ in Ebonyi, we also have Neighbourhood Watch in Ebonyi and Enugu. We have Gatekeepers in Abia, herdsmen committees in Imo, forest guards and others. These outfits were all backed up by law. The IGP told us that community policing is community-based, that he was not going to select the personnel and they were going to be independent of the IGP or the commissioner of police. They handle their affairs perfectly well. One sticking and very important aspect of community policing is that they will have the ability to arrest and arraign but will not detain. 

But one interesting thing you said about what you are proposing and what you have on the ground are similar. You said you had a conversation with a former deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who said community policing as being proposed by the IG is a distraction. He said it is more like police PR when we should be talking about building peoples relations. And that’s not what people are talking about. He called it a fraud. What do you make of what he said?
Senator Ike Ekweremadu is one of our leaders, and I wouldn’t want to comment against what he said, but I want to speak in line with what we heard from the IGP. If what we heard is what it is, I can assure you that community policing is an enhancement of what we are already doing because what we are doing is backed by law and community policing is going to be domesticated in each of the states, and also backed by law. Where we don’t have alternatives, you have to find a way to protect lives and property. What we are doing is giving comfort to our people, making sure that we have peace in the various communities. If we now come up with community policing, it is an added advantage because it is backed by the Constitution. At the local level, we will now be able to enhance the security situation. They can arrest and arraign and will not also go to the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) with cases. 

I find it interesting when you say you were able to reach some compromise with the IGP. In other words, what was the point of departure concerning the things you wanted initially, that you have to come to a middle ground to achieve? 

The idea is that our people want a security outfit to protect them because of heightened insecurity now. In other words, the IGP was able to convince us that if there is no state police which there won’t be unless the Constitution is changed, community police will enhance community security. The people want to state police. When people talk about regional security, there is nothing like that. Regional security is above state police. Even ‘Amotekun’ is not a regional police. Some of our people just believe that we have one central security outfit and then a central command. The Constitution doesn’t allow that. What we started in July 2018 in South-East prompted the South-East security committee and what we agreed in Enugu which is our central home is that the committee will be saddled with the job of intelligence gathering. We have our ex-servicemen and communication gadgets there. These people get information and coordinate the local vigilante to ensure that they are trained. But when Ohaneze kicked, we held another meeting with all the stakeholders of the South-East and said we can improve on that security committee. 

But we heard of those flying the kite of ‘Ogbunigwe’ outfit before South-West came out with Amotekun. Was it a thing that came out from South-East governors? 

That is personal opinion because everybody is entitled to his own opinion. Everybody is thinking about how our lives can be protected, because you don’t know who may be the next victim. There is nothing like a regional outfit, not in any part of the country. I don’t see Amotekun as a regional security. It is a cooperation outfit. We have a similar outfit that is in the making. I have read through the Amotekun law and one interesting thing is where they say ‘we apply to the IGP for firearms’. And I heard the police PRO saying, ‘if you have to apply for firearms, it has to conform to the law of the country’. There are two kinds of firearm license; one is issued by Mr President and another one is by the IGP. When you look through the law, there is no common law for Amotekun. What we have is a similar law. 

But what is different between regional cooperation and regional outfit? 

The difference is that in the regional outfit, you have an outfit, postings, and financial purse managed by one central command. But that is not what they have, rather it is an enhancement of regional cooperation that, if there is a problem in Osun for example, under their law, people from Ogun can come to help to show that they are one people. That is what we are having in the South-East. We have not jettisoned the idea. It is in the making. Our attorney generals are working on our papers based on peculiarities. When we finish, what we are going to have that will bind all of us together is a unit that will be centred in Enugu. This committee will coordinate the security outfits we have in our various states. We know what the IGP told us about community policing, and if the template comes out and we found it a departure from that agreement we reached, both the South-East governors and people will not embrace community policing. 

You did state that community police fits into what the governors are doing in the South-East and others. Can you expatiate? 

Saying that community policing fits into the local security in our states, and people are losing confidence is not together. The right thing to say is losing confidence in the security in our states. We are trying to do what we can to restore that confidence. Why is it that what we are doing is not enough for them? You cannot confront a terrorist without arms. That’s why they feel that our various security outfits that do not bear arms will not adequately help the people. They are looking at a people-based security arrangement that can assist the people. For the community policing to bear arms, it is only the IGP that can answer the question, because he has the power to issue certain kind of license to this arrangement to build up confidence in the people. 

But even with the security outfits set up in the country, some have the right to apply for arms… 

That is exactly what we are working on. They are doing everything without breaking the law; to enhance the confidence in our people in the local arrangement for self-help, especially when people are helpless. The issue of community policing has been there from day one, even in the villages when groups came and barricaded the roads at certain hours of the night to ensure that late night comers were clean people. What we are saying is that we had listened to IGP who told us a number of issues that concern community policing which do not affect what we are already doing at our local level. What we are waiting for is the template that will reflect what the IGP told us. If that happens, we now embellish it in our various security outfits. We are also going to apply for firearms so as to equip the outfits. 

Different states have different security groups that comprise traffic warders, vigilantes, Neighbourhood Watch and others. If they can apply for arms within the confines of the law, what is then wrong for states to have their own police? 

South-East people support state police and restructuring as well. State police are also part of a restructuring. There are two kinds of insecurity in the country; the terrorist and internal insecurity occasioned by the kind of elections we conduct in Nigeria. Until we can sit in our homes and count election results without challenges, this kind of insecurity will definitely continue in Nigeria. Politicians are desperate people who go all out to get arms for youths and after elections when the youths’ expectations are not met, they will now turn around and use the guns to help themselves. It is a serious issue of insecurity. Let us have a proper method of election that is peculiar to our people. Another source of insecurity is when people that are elected into positions which are people-based did not sit down and consider working hard for another re-election through the favour of the people, but basing it on manipulation through the barrels of the gun and believing that they can always sustain it, it breeds poverty. Poverty is as a result of the kind of election we conduct that allows anybody to be elected again through the wrong mechanism. It is a very serious issue that we have to look at the country. The ability of the governors to protect the people is what we are doing now. What we are doing with the Ohaneze and other committees of the South-East is to sit with the attorney generals to see how it can be backed by law. Then when the template comes out, we will match it with our similar regional law. The effect is that there will be cooperation between the South-East states and the centre to ensure that when a crime is committed in Ebonyi, the security there will activate the information gadget to other states to block and apprehend the offender wherever he is within the region. 

Is the challenge of getting the states to embrace community policing a subject that has been discussed at the governors’ forum, because some governors who may feel that they might not benefit from the project may not want to push the case? 

I have not seen any governor that has come to speak about state police. Every problem creates its own solution. You cannot say that state police is going to be an answer to all our insecurity. It will have its own problems too. I think it is what our people need. There may be a lot of problems with our Constitution but we don’t have another one. We have to manage it and also assure our people that we will get there. I think the country has an opportunity with the review of the Constitution now so that we will be able to push that demand. Insecurity in the communities is peculiar to all communities. We as a nation cannot continue to fold hands and see the people being wasted. State police should be advocated for. What our leaders should be aware of is that you don’t make a law to suit only you. The political positions are ephemeral; it is not more than eight years. We have to make a law to protect the generations to come, but, sometimes, we make a law thinking that we will be there forever. We have to sit down and look at the pros and cons of state police, if that can guarantee the safety of lives and property. 

What was the outcome of the governors’ meeting with the Ohaneze? 

I must tell you that everything about security is not always discussed on the pages of the newspaper, and the South-East, in that case, could easily be misconstrued. That is why we are being very careful so that we are not misunderstood. Our people, including Ohaneze, did not quite understand the governors. But I can tell you that South-East is quite secured than any other region, with kudos to our governors who make sure it happens. We don’t have to totally tell the world about what we are doing. But about a week ago, we had a meeting with a smaller group of Ohaneze and other stakeholders in the South-East where we discussed the issue of community policing. We explained to them our deliberations especially the ability of the outfit to arrest and arraign without reference to police, backed by law. Currently, we have members from Ohaneze, South-East stakeholders and other cultural organisations together with the governors to fashion out areas of cooperation, and then come up with common law to give the people confidence which Ohaneze is happy with. But it is very unfortunate that some people grant media interviews without listening to us. I listened to one-time PDP leader in Anambra insulting governors on television which is so unfortunate. It is only in South-East that you can get that kind of trash. To say the least, we are on the same page with Ohaneze and our people. But one thing is certain; that it is very difficult for our people to get what they are looking for, in terms of security in this country without tampering with the Constitution. But when the IGP allows certain categories of outfit to bear arms, it will enhance the security of the country. 

What are the governors doing to tackle one of the challenges of security which you mentioned as poverty? 

We are doing quite a lot to enhance the fortunes of our people. But you know, the south-easterners are majorly commercial people and certain institutions of the Federal Government do hamper the ease of doing business in the South-East, such as road. Our roads are so bad and there is a very high level of demobilization from this bad state of the roads. I must thank Mr President, especially on the road projects he is doing in the South-East. I don’t seek the permission of anybody to speak the truth. But do we really need more? Yes. The roads are totally cut off. I have proposed a solution that will maintain our roads, and this involves dividing these roads from one kilometre to another by means of concession and allow the handlers to create service centres and armed men to parade the road. It is not hard to put solar-based light on the roads with communication gadgets to monitor the situation on-site. Within a section, there will be infrastructures to cater to workers and peoples’ needs. The road is basic in fighting poverty. 

Why do you have to wait for the IGP template when South-East is also coming up with theirs? 

We have our laws since 2015 backing our various security outfits and nobody has come to tell us that we have broken the law. But when the Inspector General of Police came up with a new idea, that we can integrate community police into what we are doing, we have to wait. What we are doing without bearing arms is also giving comfort to our people. The people like what we are doing, and that’s why South-East will always support state police. We are waiting for the IGP to produce the new template; to be sure that it bears what he promised it would look like.