Opinion: Of Security, Neighbourhood Watch And The Reward For Excellence
BY MUFUTAU EGBERONGBE
Unarguably, many states in Nigeria and even some African countries constantly want to associate with Lagos, a coastal state with a population ranging between 22 and 23 million. Often, they visit to get some tutelage and documents that could help them navigate the troubles of governance. With Lagos, a lazy thinker has no place in leadership.
It is of note that progress distances itself from any state where the House of Assembly is at loggerhead with the executive arm. We have seen that in many cases, even at the federal level. But not in Lagos. While Governor Akinwunmi Ambode continues to work hard according to his belief that ‘Itesiwaju Eko lo je wa l’ogun’, the state House of Assembly under the leadership of Mudashiru Obasa has given the right support with great bills that would ease governance and leave the state always above the pedestal.
One of such which has got the entire state excited is the “BILL FOR A LAW TO ESTABLISH THE LAGOS STATE NEIGHBOURHOOD SAFETY AGENCY for the regulation and control of the safety corps activities and for connected purposes.”
History will not forget Speaker Mudashiru Obasa, the initiator of the bill. He came up with it at the right time when Lagos residents were already living in fear of insecurity.
Few months after becoming the governor of the state, Ambode spent a whooping N4.8 billion on equipment donated to the Nigeria Police Force. This was to encourage the men of the force to be at the same pace with the governor as he set off to breast the tape. His efforts have worked.
But the police has its fundamental problems, one of which remains the chain of command. For the police to act in some cases, a report moves from one chain to the other sometimes up to the Inspector-General. Thus it is argued in many quarters that this militates against the force. Another issue is with number. Its total staff strength is 371,800 as against the population of about 170 million.
With this challenges in mind therefore, one would understand why security issues ranging from armed robbery to kidnapping continued while the governor of the state had sleepless nights churning out ideas to curb same.
This is why I argue that the bill which seeks to repeal the Neighborhood Watch Law of 1996, enacted by the military administration of Brigadier-General Buba Marwa (rtd), came at the right time when, apart from the teething security challenges I mentioned earlier, cases of acts of terrorism, armed banditry and attacks by herdsmen have become rampant in some parts of the country.
The bill, as passed into law, creates for board for the agency. Lagos State already has the Neighbourhood Watch but the bill gives the new agency more powers and creates for adequate funding. It also gives room for expansion in the sense of accommodating more officers.
For years, there had been calls on the federal government to allow for the establishment of state police. The argument by all those who are favourably disposed to it is that the police, as we have them now, can never ensure effective security in any state. The Nigeria police, like I would always maintain are always at their best, but like other institutions, it has its own problems one of which I mentioned earlier.
Now, take a look at this illustration: in a state like Lagos, it would not be surprising to discover that the number of Yorubas in the police deployed to the state is so small compared to officers from other states. If a policeman who is from the northern part of the country is posted down to the south, of course it would take him years to understand the terrain, culture, activities and language of those he is expected to serve. As a result, he may be handicapped and would waste a lot of time and energy trying to adapt.
Unfortunately, at exactly the time he thinks he has adapted enough and would want to begin his work, he could be redeployed from that state to another where he would start afresh.
This is partly the reason crime festers in many parts of the country. In Lagos, most criminal activities like major robbery and kidnapping are carried out by those who understand the terrain. It is easier for them to navigate the waterways and this is why such security issues are common in Epe, Ikorodu and other such areas close to water in the state.
Those clamouring for state police believe that its officers would be those at the grassroots who know the hideouts and dangerous spots as well as those perpetrating evils in the various communities. In the absence of this, many residents have resorted to using untrained guards and local vigilantes.
This is where the Neighbourhood Watch draws importance. Its men are to be trained and uniformed. They are to work in the communities within the local government areas of the state. They are not to be armed, but assist the police in combating crime within their various areas of jursidictions.
Of course, this would contribute to the end of crime in the state or to its minimisation.
There is no gainsaying the fact that the agency is an avenue for the state government to meet its promise concerning employment. Governor Ambode understands this. He recently disclosed that his administration plans to recruit at least 5,000 residents into the Neighbourhood Watch.
Nigeria is a country with an already soaring unemployment rate. Each state governor is doing all within his power to help reduce the problem. Lagos state is even peculiar in the sense of its population and the increasing number of people who daily throng the state in search of greener pastures.
With 5,000 people off the unemployment radar and with each of the recruits paid at least N25,000 monthly with other allowances, an estimated 20,000 immediate family members would have been taken care of considering that each of the recruit has a wife or a husband and two children. Some will argue that the money is nothing to write home about, but would you say it is not better than just sitting at home with nothing to do?
Governor Ambode is not just excited about the bill which is now a law, he is very eager to begin its implementation. Hear him: “We would go all out to make sure that this agency is activated and all our neighborhoods will be covered, and then centralised with the state government with all the necessary equipment and resources to ensure that we establish what we call community policing and that is the way to go. We will re-brand Neighborhood Watchers and re-equip them to the level that each Neighborhood Watchers in all the local governments will have their vehicles and necessary equipment to complement security. We are also working on employing additional 5,000 Neighborhood Watchers in all our Local Governments and they will be paid by us, while the basic salary for the entrance level will be N25, 000 per month.”
To this, I simply say: “Thank you, Your Excellency. Working with mutual trust between the executive and the legislative arms of the state government, you and the House of Assembly, through its Speaker, Mudashiru Obasa, have achieved, with ease, another milestone.
Lagosians know and understand what this agency is set up to do and this much was deduced from comments residents made during the stakeholders meeting that took place at the House of Assembly concerning the bill. It was commendation all the way
I recall Obasa, the initiator of the bill, saying at that event: “The bill is for the purpose of the people and safety of all. We have all noticed an upsurge in crime in different nature across the country. Here at the Lagos Assembly, our resolve as lawmakers is to make laws that will make residents enjoy the dividends of democracy in the comfort of their homes.
“Issues of security and safety have been an issue of concern to Nigeria and the provision of adequate security of lives and property is the resolve of our government. We are determined to completely wipe out crimes in Lagos tate. We want the participation of the people at the grassroots in policing their community because they live there and were privy to intelligent information.”
May I make some humble suggestions here that we should not allow all the officers always be on their uniforms. Some could be recruited as secret agents or undercover operatives who could help burst terrible spots within the state if any. The board members should also be made to constantly give reports on the daily situations in their areas of command as well as the activities of their men in the areas. They can even make the reports in their local languages as they constantly carry out enlightenment programmes.
THERE IS A REWARD FOR HARDWORK
Kudos to us all. The state government recently bagged an award as the best security and most safety conscious state in Africa. Organised by the Security Watch Africa (SWA) in partnership with Security Institute for Governance and Leadership in Africa (SIGLA) and the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa. in far-away Johannesburg, South Africa, the Rapid Response Squad (RRS) of state Police Command also emerged the best anti-crime police squad in West Africa, while the RRS Commander, ACP Olatunji Disu got the award of the most outstanding police operational officer in West Africa.
The organisers said Lagos state and its officials were so honoured in recognition of the outstanding efforts and achievements they have made in securing residents. They also commended what they called the massive improvement on security architecture of the state.
We all share in this glory and will continue to do well to be at the fore-front in the area of security of lives and properties as enshrined in the constitution.
Egberongbe is the Special Adviser to Speaker Mudashiru Obasa of the Lagos State House of Assembly on Political and Legislative Matters.