Several media platforms and discussion circles have been awash with the accusation coming from the Imo State Chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that our Governor, Owelle Rochas Anayo Okorocha is in the scary business of importing some boko haram fighters into the State. We have read and heard about the denials from the Governor’s image makers and the confirmation of these denials from the Imo State Police command. This does not in any way, close the matter. While the Governor’s men may be right in their assertions that those who were imported and lodged at the premises of the nearly defunct Imo Newspapers, which is presently housing the Imo State College of Advanced Professional Studies (ICAPS) and the secretive K-9 security outfit of the State government, the fact that some suspicious movements and trainings have been going on in that premises cannot be denied.
The Peoples Democratic Party and indeed all concerned Imolites should be more concerned about the activities of the Imo Security Network (ISN). This outfit which came to life sometime in November, 2012 is as unnecessary as it is illegal. On their inauguration, the Governor gave an interesting excuse that they were in place to complement the efforts of the Police and other security agencies in their fight against crime. Then, I wondered the instrument of Nigerian law that empowers this outfit. Had the Governor being keen on improving community policing and intelligence gathering, he should have invested resources towards re-training and motivating the already existing vigilante outfits which had got the confidence of most of the communities where they operate. The State also had the Imo State Orientation Corps, The WAI Brigade and some other unconventional security and information gathering outfits, which only needed to be revived and retrained.
Some of us refused to raise the alarm at that period, because we wanted to give the outfit an opportunity to prove their usefulness and otherwise. Within the last fourteen months of closely monitoring the activities of this subterfuge State Police, I think I have gathered enough information to come up with a verdict on their potentials.
On the inauguration of this Imo Security Network (ISN), the Governor made us understand that the operatives of the Network were to be confined to specially constructed barracks within particular areas of the State. This idea, according to the Governor was to ensure that they do not get corrupted by the community. The Governor made it clear then, that these operatives would cease to live in their houses, but operate from the barracks, where their operations and activities were to be closely monitored by the appropriate authorities to eschew any form of abuse. According to Governor Okorocha “These gentlemen will no longer live in their homes but in places that will be provided for them as barracks in nine locations across the State. They will introduce themselves to the people with phone numbers that will be dedicated for their operations and in the case of suspicion, they will be called upon for prompt response.” This idea would have been very wonderful if implemented. But, getting to two years since this group was inaugurated, I am yet to see a single barrack built for them. Instead, I see a group of poorly trained and fund staffed over zealots wielding guns and intimidating their fellow citizens.
The Governor also assured Imolites that every team of the Imo Security Network will have a policeman attached to them to ensure that they operate within the ambit of the law. This also, would have been very good if adhered to. But today, the men of the Imo Security Network have constituted themselves into a beyond the law Police Force of the State, with no serious regard for the fundamental human rights of our people.
Recently, in one of the communities in Owerri North, I had a first-hand experience of how animalistic some of these men could be. In a fracas involving close door neighbours, one of them went to the bar and invited his friends, one of whom happen to be a staff of the Imo Security Network. This ISN official came with these men, reeking of alcohol, cigarettes and other illegitimate substances with threats to unleash mayhem and destruction upon the other neighbour, one of those who came with this young ISN officer is a notorious cultist, rapist and small time thief. Being circumspect, the young man whom they came to deal with, ran into his apartment and started making frantic calls to the Police and some notable indigenes of the community. He couldn’t succeed with the Police, but was lucky to be linked up with the real vigilante set-up. But before this group could come, the young man had been lured out of his apartment by some familiar faces who assured him that he will be safe. He came out and tried relaying his own side of the story amid intimidating shouts from the ISN official and his gang of drunken touts. When he tried to argue that he should be heard out, he was pounced upon on the instruction and with the assistance of the ISN official, whose real names I am yet to find out. He was beaten up mercilessly, with his clothes torn. It was actually due to the quick intervention of the Village Vigilante that the young man was rescued alive.
After this experience, I began to have serious doubts about the Governor’s claim that he the men and women of the Imo Security Network were trained by some American security experts. I have witnessed other disturbing scenes, where these men exhibited the most crude animalism in the discharge of their duties. I have also had personal interactions with some of them who are my friends, and they confided in me that they have an unwritten order to be primarily concerned about the Governor’s interests and security. This according to some of them is understood by a majority of them to be that they should not tolerate any person or group that is known or perceived to be against the Okorocha government. This leaves one in so much worry. Are we not about having a legitimate political hit-squad in Imo State? I have cause to think so.
On the eve of the Anambra governorship election, we were alerted to the news of how two officials of the Imo Security Network were apprehended by the Imo State Police Command as they made to escort election rigging mercenaries, who originated from States like Osun and Katsina to Anambra State. Is that incident not enough pointer to what this outfit may be used for in 2015? Remembering that the Boko Haram of today has a similar history with the Imo State Security Network, should put every Imo indigene on the alert. We must join our voices to call for the immediate disbandment of this potentially terrorist outfit. It is a widely held notion across Nigeria that the Boko Haram is an off-shoot of Governor Ali Modu Sherrif’s ECOMOG group. This is a group of young men who were under the huge patronage of Ali Modu Sherrif and were optimally utilised during elections, to harass opponents and rig elections. While there is another notion that several Northern politicians were involved in the formation and funding of what is today known as Boko Haram, a bulk of the blame falls on the ex-Governor who condoned and even instigated the festering of this terrorist organisation, which has metamorphosed into one of the world’s most dreaded terrorist sects.
The dangers of leaving guns in the hands of untrained or inadequately trained youths cannot be over-emphasized. Giving some unnecessary powers to the same youths is like keeping a bottled bomb in an auditorium, when it explodes it consumes both the one who planted it and the innocent people in the auditorium. The officials of the Imo Security Network are like that. Most of them are young men and women who have a history of violence and crimes. I have recently interacted with one of them who confided in me, that he was a terror to his community before he was enlisted into the ISN, I asked him if he has left his life of crime and violence, he nodded in the affirmative, betraying a thirst for the fast monies that came with the life.
While I cannot directly accuse the Governor of deliberately training these men and women to become terrorists, I must remind him that he will not be in power for long. He should think of what may become of these boys when he is no longer the Governor. Does he think it will be easy retrieving the weapons that have been given to them? He should learn from his experiences after the election of 2011. I am aware that some of the vehicles his campaign organisation gave out to some of their campaign units are yet to be returned till date. It cannot even be confirmed at present that some of these ISN boys are not already using their weapons for the wrong purposes.
Some of them who are greedy may not resist the temptation of easy and fast money when they see some of their mates cruising in state of the art cars, while they languish in the ignominy of an unsafe future. Owing these men the meagre salaries they are supposed to receive is another quick way of turning them into criminals. The government must seriously re-think its policy on the continued retention of the Imo Security Network and explore alternative measures of enhancing security of lives and properties within the State.
One of the ways this can be achieved is by increasing its financial support to the Constitutionally recognised security outfits, towards motivating them to perform optimally. Also, the village vigilante outfits should be better reformed and retrained for local security and information gathering. It needs no re-emphasis that the most fundamental strategy towards ensuring an improved security in any society is by creating jobs and eradicating poverty. The government can effectively curb the scourge of crime and insecurity by providing jobs for Imo people and empowering our teeming youthful population. Apart from the danger of metamorphosing into a full-blown terrorist or criminal gang, the Imo Security Network is a complete waste of tax payers money. There are also better ways of engaging these people, than wasting their potentials with a job that has no prospect. This is an outfit that can only exist beyond 2015, if the unlikeliest happens, and Owelle Rochas Okorocha or any of his loyalists wins election as Governor of the State. Come what may, this outfit cannot exist beyond 2019. The government must take it as a responsibility to ensure that these men are well provided for and protected after the ISN must have ceased to exist. Those who have been a part of the security formation cannot be allowed to live a life of frustration, because they will become a nightmare to the security agencies.
ONWUASOANYA FCC JONES,