Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike appears ready for a fight with the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris as the governor insists on empowering the neighbourhood watch corps and allowing them to carry arms.
The IGP has since warned that no security group or organisation created by a state government was allowed to carry guns. But section 2 of the new law makes provision for the corps to be armed.
Already, the PDP in the state has said that the Wike 'policemen'would be very helpful during the local government elections planned to hold in the state in June this year. The opposition APC has already opposed the establishment of the corps and the conduct of the election.
Indications of a face-off between Wike and the IGP emerged on Saturday when the police image maker in the state, Nnamdi Omoni said in a telephone interview with TNN that the order of the IGP was irreversible as it concerned the bearing of arms by persons outside the police and other recognised federal government security agencies.
In fact, from the way Omoni spoke, it was clear that the police had no knowledge of the details of the bill before and while it was being processed by the house of assembly. When asked to talk in this regard specifically, he said he would prefer to talk about it later. He had earlier said the police high command were still examining the new law.
But the law has attracted knocks from a cross section of the society, including lawyers, the civil society, members of the opposition and other critical stakeholders.
The International Society for Social Justice and Human Rights (ISSJHR), for instance, rose against the bill even before its passage. Chancellor of the group, Dr. Omenazu Jackson, said during e media briefing in Port Harcourt that the bill(as it then was), was not necessary because the corps would not only engage in vigilante services but would bear arms.
He had asked: “Who and how will the boys be recommended for employment? Which ministry will they report to and under which civil service rules will they be subjected? Under which command will the Corps report to and who determines what misdemeanor are within the corps' operations?
“Who vets the moral standards of these corps members since section 2 of the bill permits the corps members to carry fire arms (guns)? Will it not be counter- productive since the national security systems are still active in their responsibilities of securing lives and properties? Is this not a total vote of no confidence on the nation's security architecture?
“What is the role of our traditional rulers if youths will be armed in their domains to secure it? Is it not another attempt to subjugate royal fathers further and erode their powers and question their credibility? The effectiveness of our communal method of maintaining law and order had not been questionable, hence it outweighs all logic behind the Neighbourhood Watch Corps”.
Dr Dakuku Peterside, a former gubernatorial candidate of the APC in the state in his reaction quried the intentions of the governor on the new agency and said the governor had merely set up a militia group to fight opponents.
Several Rivers people have voiced their opinions against some provisions of the bill that seek members to bear arms, in addition to the governor having the powers to direct the agency to carry out arrest and prosecution of accused persons.
“Governor Wike has claimed on several occasions that the state is safe, it is therefore surprising that the same governor is now setting up a private militia as an alternative to law enforcement agencies.
“It is obvious to the least discerning person that his contraption is to arm his private militia. This is an attempt to use a legal platform to illegally arm his militia. The fear of everybody in the state is the antecedent of the governor, who has been accused of associating with touts and criminals and it is not surprising that some of them have been given appointments by the same Wike.”
Peterside, who is also the Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) alerted members of the public that Wike had, on numerous occasions, said he did not have trust the law enforcement agencies, hence this may be the reason for creating a private army.
“This is one creation that Rivers people will vehemently reject. Never in the history of the state has any governor sought to do what Wike is trying to do now. Arming his militia is a signpost of danger and only those who are discerning enough will understand the thinking of the governor.
“Who will train the so-called Neighbourhood Watch members? Who selects and profiles them? Who will have the authority to control them? Who supplies the arms and registers them? Who accounts for their activities?
“Rivers people have been through tears, sorrow and pain in the last four years owing to the activities of thugs, kidnappers, cultists and hired assassins. Giving guns to people who have no formal training in arms handling and discharge may signal another round of mayhem,” he stressed.