Nimbo: Ugwuanyi’s baptism of fire and the real issues, by Uche Anichukwu

Ugwuanyi weeps over Fulani herdsmen killings Nimbo
Ugwuanyi weeps over Fulani herdsmen killings Nimbo

For Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, the recent attack on Nimbo community by suspected herdsmen stands out as the saddest and most trying moment of his one year in office. It was a baptism of fire by all estimation, no thanks to a systemically weak security system.

Unfortunately, rather than face the real issues, some people made him the butt of their feat of rage, while political detractors gladly made political capital out of the sad incident.

Some even took their criticism to a ridiculous level. For instance, I listened to a senior journalist who appeared on a radio current affairs programme at the time. He felt so offended that Ugwuanyi wore his signature agbada dress to the Villa to brief Mr. President. In his view also, Ugwuanyi should have dressed in military camouflage or worn shorts, body-hugging T-shirt, and jackboots as well as snubbed the President’s handshake to underscore his grief and seriousness. Talk is cheap!

Worse, as shown by the reaction of the Northern Senators Forum to the herdsmen malaise, we easily pitch ethno-sectional and religious tents even in the midst of human tragedy, finding it difficult to outrightly condemn what is condemnable.

However, Ugwuanyi showed sound leadership and equanimity, refused to join issues with anybody, but rather focused on addressing the real matters thrown up by the incident.  He probably understood that some people spoke out of anger and or ignorance. However, now that emotions have mellowed, we can begin to reappraise the incident, addressing the real issues, especially our knock-kneed federalism and the awkward unitary policing it foists on us.

Ugwuanyi told the world that there was a reliable intelligence revealing an impending attack. The Governor acted within the constitutional limits of his power by summoning a security meeting comprising heads of all security agencies in the state where the intelligence was shared. Importantly, he mobilised them with the requisite resources to ward-off the attack. Yet the attack was successfully executed. What, therefore, should bother us is: How on earth was this possible?

According to Section 14(2)(a) of the 1999 Constitution, “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”. External security is the preoccupation of the military, while internal security is the primary responsibility of the police.

A study commissioned by the Police Foundation and the Policy Studies Institute, United Kingdom, states that “The purpose of the police service is to uphold the law fairly and firmly; to prevent crime; to pursue and bring to justice those who break the law… to protect, help and reassure the community; and to be seen to do this with integrity, common sense and sound judgment”.

Unfortunately, in our case, although Section 176(2) of the 1999 Constitution designates a Governor the Chief Security Officer of his/her state, Section 214 of the Constitution provides that “There shall be a police force for Nigeria, which shall be known as the Nigeria Police Force, and subject to the provisions of this section, no other police force shall be established for the Federation or any part thereof”.

Section 215 (2) further provides that “The Nigeria Police Force shall be under the command of the Inspector-General of Police and contingents of the Nigeria Police Force stationed in a state shall, subject to the authority of the Inspector-General of Police, be under the command of the Commissioner of Police of that state”.

Truth be told, this practice of one big man (Police IG) sitting in Abuja pretending to be in control of internal national security via the unitary police force or the idea of a Governor (supposedly Chief Security Officer) depending on a Commissioner of Police who is answerable to the Police IG, who is in turn answerable to the President and Commander-in-Chief has never worked. It will also never work.

Ugwuanyi would have more likely had a ready, well-equipped, and motivated security manpower at his disposal to foil the planned attack if Enugu had its own police as obtainable in other developed federations we pretend to copy. He would only have called for reinforcement from the federal forces, if need be. All the resources he has expended in providing logistical supports like patrol vehicles to the federal police and other security agencies since he assumed office would have been enough to fund a state police that is more committed to the people. But, here he was at Nimbo, watching with horror, a preventable tragedy.

Ugwuanyi and Enugu are not alone. I saw Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue lamenting helplessly on television a few days ago over the raging havoc by suspected herdsmen in his state.

I listened to the Federal Government gleefully explain at the public hearing by the Senate on herdsmen menace, that the so-called herdsmen arrested by security agencies could not speak any Nigerian language, hence could not be Fulanis. But he said nothing new, for Nigerians knew from recent events that we are apparently in deeper trouble. Which conventional herdsmen would have the capacity to unleash the magnitude of collateral damage witnessed in Agatu and also occupy an entire local government?

In April this year, national dailies reported the arrest by soldiers of the Guards Brigade, 85 herdsmen who allegedly tried to gain entry into the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). While 36 of them were arrested by soldiers from 177 Guards Battalion, Keffi, near the FCT at 4:30pm, 56 others were arrested by soldiers at security checkpoint at exactly 4pm the same day along Gwagwalada/Kuje. Whereas those arrested at Keffi in possession of various weapons, ammunitions, and charms claimed they were on the lookout for their lost cattle, the Public Relations Officer in charge of the Guards Brigade, Captain Bashir Jajira, said those arrested at the Gwagwalada/Kuje axis were in possession of one pump action riffle, 19 cartridges, 118 cartridge ammunitions, 28 cutlasses, three jack knives, assorted charms, drugs, etc.

Wayback in June, 2014, soldiers from the 144 Battalion, Abia State, arrested  a group of 486 men, aged 16 years and above, travelling in 35 buses from the North to Port Harcourt at about 2:00am. But it was soon travilised on the alter of politics of 2015 election and ethno-religious sentiments. Leader of Northern Traders in Mile 3 Area, Alhaji Bala Mutu, told the media that the 486 men were not security threats, but “genuine traders and patriotic Nigerians”. The rest is history.

So, besides announcing to Nigerians an infiltration, which they have always suspected, the only reasonable question the Minister of State for Agriculture’s explanation at the Senate public hearing naturally throws up is whether it not for preventing illegal entry into Nigeria or prowling within her territory by criminal marauders that we have agencies like the Nigeria Immigration Service, Department of State Security, Customs Service, Directorate of Military Intelligence, etc? At best the Minister only testified to systems failure.

A reaction to a story on the menace of herdsmen posted on the website of a national daily insists that the most efficacious way to tackle the ugly syndrome “is for all of us to arm ourselves and declare these sub-humans ‘public enemy number one’ in all communities all over the country”. This promotes the maxim Si vis pacem, para bellum  (If you want peace, prepare for war). It is dangerous. Yet it portrays the growing frustration and anger on the part of citizens over the failings of our security system.

That is why those who were angry that Ugwuanyi did not curse, swear, and throw tantrums, issue orders and ultimatums that he has no constitutional powers to effect were merely judging a goalkeeper by the number of goals scored rather than the saves. What happened in Nimbo was systemic.

I would rather appraise him based on his efforts to prevent the attack within his constitutional limits. He should be judged by his ability to prevent reprisal killings in the State, which could have most likely spiraled into killing of Ndigbo in other States. He should be judged by his far-reaching consultations with critical stakeholder- political, traditional, town union leaderships in the State now leading to legislative, policy, and town-based measures to prevent such occurrences.  We should judge him by his ability to mobiise humanitarian support to ameliorate the suffering of the affected community. He has also set up a commission of enquiry to unravel the whole stories behind the incident.

Even Nimbo community, the people that bear the brunt, have been commending and praying for Ugwuanyi. South East traditional rulers and governors, presidency, APC governors, notable clergies (including Catholic and Anglican Bishops of the area), diplomatic community, among other well meaning Nigerians, are full of commendations for his maturity in the thick of this challenge.

I am for the sobriquet “Si vis pacem, para pacem” (If you want peace, prepare for peace), which in this instance entails decentralizing our policing system in line with federal principle to entrench a reliable, proactive, well trained, well-equipped, and well-motivated security system for the safety of citizens. We cannot build a train, put it in the ocean, and expect it to sail.

Anichukwu writes from Abuja

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