Our security agents, rules of engagement, and Abia’s approach to checking pastoral conflicts

 

By Okechukwu Keshi Ukegbu

It may not be out of place to suggest here that our security agents are contributing negatively to the fragile security situation in the country. This suggestion is basically informed by the ugly incident that took place in Aba on Thursday where a soldier allegedly killed a meat-seller at the Aba abattoir located at the river slope popularly known as the “Aba Waterside”.

The incident has attracted different story lines and angles and has been changing in form and content. But despite the angle one approaches the incident, one thing is common: none paints the actions of the soldier professionally. Thank God for the swift response of the police and the State Governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, which deterred the incident from escalating.

In a swift reaction to the ugly incident, Abia State Government expressed heavy hearts and condemned the dastardly act which sent the victim, described as the bread winner of his family to his untimely grave.
The statement reads:”Our dear brothers and sisters, It is with heavy hearts that the state government received reports of the unfortunate incident at Aba abattoir today. Initial information made available to us indicate that the violence was sparked off by a solider who killed a meat-seller at the popular waterside abattoir located at the Ogbohill area of Aba. Our hearts and prayers are with his family and friends in this moment of pains and loss, even as we also commiserate with the traders at the market and others who were affected by the ensuing crisis. The solider who allegedly perpetrated this act has been arrested and taken into custody. He will surely face the full weight of the law. We call on the good people of Abia, especially those of us living and doing business at Aba, to remain claim. We reassure all citizens and residents of the state that the government is doing everything to protect lives and property of citizens as well as prevent further disruption of peace”.

Expectedly, the untimely death of the meat-seller, whom his family may have depended on, should diminish even the hardest of hearts; because, according to John Donne,”Any mans death diminishes me,because I am involved in Mankind ;And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

The incident has reenacted discussions on the conducts of our security agents, especially in discharging their duties. It will be recalled that few months ago, the peaceful atmosphere of Aba, the commercial-hub of the state had a crack from the activities of the same security agents.
In the Ariaria episode, members National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA , allegedly on an operation to raid drug hideouts within the neighbourhood of the market, inflicted pain on the peaceful and serene environment.

The incident left on its trail scores of people severely injured, including a Divisional Crime Officer, DCO of Ariaria Police Station, who sustained a serious machete cut from miscreants, and few other civilians whose lives were cut short in the process.

It is a common knowledge that security agencies’ response to threats should be proportionate to the threat. The rationale behind members of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA , engaging in such operation in a densely populated market and threw professionalism and rules of engagement to the whirlwind remains a puzzle. It is also a mystery why the operatives unleashed live ammunitions on defenceless citizens. It was reported that the casualty rate escalated when soldiers who were drafted to put the situation under control arrived the scene.

One would have expected the agency to take a critical study of the operations and design the best practices to undertake. The lives of innocent civilians worth more than whatever operations they went for in the market, and no amount of provocation could warrant them to apply live ammunitions in a densely populated environment.

I don’t want to delve into the argument of why our security agencies are still using live ammunitions in the 21st century to demobilise mobs, while pepper spray and synthetic ammunitions can serve the same purpose. That is an argument for another day. There is a dispassionate appeal to our security agents not to stretch the fragile security situation in the country which is occasioned by ethnic suspicion, hunger in the land as a result of harsh economic conditions, any bit further.

Though the suspect- soldier has been arrested and is expected to face the full weight of the law any moment from now, a lot needs to be addressed. No doubt, soldiers are basically trained to protect the territorial integrity of the country and to protect the country from external aggressions, current situations have demanded that they involve in internal security. This arrangement may not be entirely evil but i think that some adjustments need to be made here.

There have been calls to redesign the soldiers recruitment process to expose them to some academic works on human psychology, human rights, and the constitution. The proponents of this arrangement also advocate a review of academic entry requirements of the soldiers. They are of the view that the proposal if implemented would go a long way in enhancing the soldiers performance and respect for the civil population.

The Abia State Governor deserves some commendation here for not contemplating shutting down the markets. This action could have been counter-productive. One it could have exerted more pressure on the lean resources of the state which is occasioned by federal allocations which are dwindling at geometric levels. Two, it could have provided the fifth columnists( the miscreants) ,who have no business in the town but are looking for opportunities to unleash mayhem, the leeway.

Another action of the Governor that deserves mention here is the proposed pragmatic approach to check pastoral conflicts in the state.The Governor has instructed the recently re-equipped security agencies in the state to ensure watertight security around our borders and towns against any form of attack.

He has also directed the men of the Abia State Vigilante Services (AVS) to commence, with immediate effect, a two week intensive training, for onward deployment to our communities to assist in community policing under the supervision of the Commissioner of Police.

All Traditional Rulers in the state have been directed to submit names of 10 able-bodied youths from their community to the Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs from Tuesday 10th to Wednesday 11th May 2016. These youths will be enlisted into the Abia State Vigilante Services (AVS) to further boost community policing in the state. This approach has multifarious benefits as it will provide employment opportunities for over 7000 youths. It will also ensure effective community policing and complement the efforts of the conventional police who are faced with inadequate manpower. It will also entrust security of the communities in the hands of a security outfit backed by the law instead of laymen who are not exposed to the basics of security.

While the law enforcement agencies have been mandated to search and monitor all trucks and vehicles conveying livestock, food items and persons into the state from any part of the country with a view to preventing inter-state movement of arms and terrorists, they are also to search and monitor markets and settlements where livestock and dealers are located, to ensure security.

The Governor has approved the constitution of a Farmers/Herdsmen Conflict Resolution Committee. The Commissioner of Police will head the committee at the state level. Other members of the committee are: The Brigade Commander, State Director of DSS, State Commandant of the NSCDC, the Naval Commander, Special Adviser to the Governor on Security, Special Adviser to the Governor on Special Duties,State Chairman of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Miyenti Allah, cattle dealers representative ,and Sarkin Hausawa.

The Governor has also directed the constitution of Farmers/Herdsmen Conflict Resolution Committees in the 17 Local Government Areas of the state. The Local Government chairmen will head the committees in their LGAs. Other members of the committees include; Divisional Police Officers in the LGAs,Local Government NSCDC heads, the DSS Local Government Chiefs, LGA Chairmen of Traditional Rulers Council and LGA Heads of Hausa communities.

The state encourages the people to be vigilant and report any suspicious movement or activities of strange persons within the communities to the Traditional Rulers or call any of the following Police Emergency Control phone numbers: 08079210003, 08079210004, 08079210005, 08035425405 for prompt deployment of a Rapid Response Unit formed for the purpose of dealing with security alerts.

Indeed, the Abia State model of checking pastoral conflicts and terrorism is a pragmatic approach and deserves to be copied by other states.

Ukegbu, a public policy analyst, writes from Umuahia,Abia State.

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