[Perspective] The Rivers State Neighbourhood Safety Corps: why Wike is right (Part 1)

By Enemi Alabo George

– Essence of Neighbourhood Security
– Proactivity, Rather than Reactivity
– Provisions of the Law
– Needless Worries
– Dakuku Peterside’s comments

The recent passage into law of the Rivers State Neighbourhood Security Corps bill (HA.8), 2018 by the Rivers State House of Assembly has elicited a cascade of reactions, positive and negative, for and against. In considering most of the negative reactions however, I noticed a recurrent decimal, a common factor, that they were borne out of ignorance, misinformation, unnecessary fear or suspicion, which to me is largely inexplicable and deeply surprising. To me and to my mind, anyone who has taken time to study the bill (which is now law) establishing the Rivers State Neighbourhood Security Corps would be glad and grateful to the almighty God, who has made this possible.

Section 14(2b) of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) places as the most important responsibility on the government, the security and welfare of its people. It states thus: “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” Please also recall that Section 13(1) (ibid) states that “it shall be the duty and responsibility of all organs of government and all authorities and persons, exercising legislative, executive or judicial powers to conform to, observe and apply the provisions of this chapter (chapter 2) of this constitution”.

If the above holds true and strong, then permit me to say that the government of Rivers State of Nigeria as is constituted today, has no choice but to protect its citizenry and their belongings. Perhaps, it was in anticipation of this scenario that on March 30th 1981, at the Conference of the Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO, Ronald Reagan said “government’s first duty is to protect the people…”
In avoiding rhetoric exuberance and complex ebullience, let me dwell slightly on, or emphasize the essence of NEIGHBOURHOOD SECURITY (emphasis deliberate).

Neighbourhood watch or security all over the world has been considered as an effective and proactive measure towards preventing, combating and controlling crime. Crime combating should not necessarily be reactive but proactive. Reactive or responsive approaches to crime however effective ends up with casualties most times. Intelligence and information gathering has proven to be the best tool for preventing and containing crime world over. The proposed Rivers State Neighbourhood Safety Corps is one of such innovative proactive approaches designed to create a safer and more efficiently secured state.

Martin Innes and Vanessa Jones, in a 2006 study titled Neighbourhood Security and Urban Change stated inter alia that “interventions carefully tailored to the local problems which people perceive to be risks to their security are more likely to promote neighbourhood security than generic approaches”. In Nigeria, some states facing peculiar security challenges have taken peculiar steps to contain such security situations through Neighbourhood Security. Cases in point are: The Lagos State Neighbourhood Safety Agency; The Civilian JTF found in the North East, the Benue State Livestock Guard and a lot of other such instances.

Stated earlier is the fact that in combating crime and other anti-social vices, proactive measures prove always to be more effective than reactive measures, and proactivity in security has everything to do with intelligence gathering. Much more than once, we have been told that the Nigeria Police does not have sufficient manpower to police all of us. I do not want to bother about figures here, as it relates the work force of the police “force”. It however is clear to us all that they cannot be everywhere.

The Neighbourhood Safety Corps bill (now law) which was proposed by the Gov. Nyesom Wike led administration to the Rivers State House of Assembly, passed into law and subsequently assented to creates an effective architecture for intelligence gathering and information sharing. Paragraph 2(2) of the law inter alia, states the objectives of the Rivers State Neighbourhood Safety Corps as:

(a) Gathering information about crime, crime in progress, suspicious activities and crime suspects away from other things;
(b) Making available such relevant information on crime, crime in progress, suspicious activities and crime suspects to the Police or other security agencies that require it;
(c) Putting structures in place to ensure that hoodlums and cult groups do not have opportunity to operate within the state;
(d) Undertaking routine motorized patrol day and night;
(e) Reducing the crime rate and ensuring that offenders are identified and made to account for their misdeeds;
(f) Following up on arrest of offenders to the court and ensuring justice;
(g) Timely reporting of suspicious activities and crimes in progress to the police or other security agencies;
(h) Improving relationship between the police and the community as it concerns law enforcement;
(i) Contributing in maintaining community peace;
(j) Providing the police with relevant information that will enhance their understanding of how to effectively police the communities and;
(k) Assisting the police carry out any other lawful activities in maintaining law and order.
These objectives reflect the intendment of the creators of the law in very vivid terms and should give everyone every sense of comfort. The law is forward and forthright in its intentions.

A few worries, needless and unwarranted albeit, have been expressed by a select few from the opposition party in Rivers State, APC. Needless because all issues raised had been adequately catered for by the law creating the organization. The law places levels of control to be exercised by the Police and other security agencies. The law spells it out clearly that members of the group can only carry light arms, subject to approval by the police. Of course, members of this organization who are expected to disarm armed criminals cannot do that with bear hands. This is only rational. Again, another strong measure of control is the fact that every member must undergo vetting and clearance by the Police and other security agencies before recruitment. Functions of the agency found under paragraph 8(1c) of the law is said to include among other things:

to “approve the recruitment and training of eligible persons as corps members in all L.G.As of the state. Provided that persons can only be employed as corps members… after security clearance by the Police.”
The board of the Neighbourhood Security Agency also has as members, the Commissioner of Police of Rivers State and the Director of the Department of State Security (DSS). How much more control can anyone ask for? These controls make the agency a properly structured one.

I read with shock comments made by Dakuku Peterside in an interview published by the Neighbourhood online newspaper on the 15th of March, 2018, in which he was quoted to say “who will train the so-called Neighbourhood Watch members? Who selects and profiles them? Who accounts for their activities?” http://theneighbourhoodonline.com/…/we-will-challenge-wike-… The minute I read this, I realised that “my governor, my governor” had not read the law. Perhaps if certain people took out time to read a bit more, we would have a better society. These questions raised have been anticipated and adequately catered for by the law.

The Publicity secretary of the APC in Rivers State also said in an interview published on punch.com on the 25th of March 2018 that “we have our own idea of steps to take against the corps and this includes, but not limited to robustly resisting it with our own corps, and you can take that to the bank” He went on to say that “…we shall set up a parallel corps of Rivers State. We will sell the goat the same way it was sold to us.” As reprehensible, malevolent, backstreet and embarrassing this statement was, it got me really thinking. I probably did not realise up till that point, that he was a part of this government and Rivers State was some sort of goat farm. God help us.

Let me for now, leave you with the words of Barack Obama, which he said to an audience in Kenya, on the 28th of August, 2006, at the University of Nairobi, Nairobi, Kenya. “In the end, if the people cannot trust their government to do the job for which it exists, – to protect their common welfare – all else is lost”.

In part two of this piece, I shall talk about asymmetric considerations and approaches, practical examples and current realities.

Enemi Alabo George is the member representing Asari-Toru Constituency II in the Rivers State House of Assemby (RVHA)