For a long time, some communities in Rivers State have experienced insecurity in different forms. There were reports of kidnapping and robbery. During those period of panic resulting from deadly attacks from dare devil armed men, many lost their lives, others lost their homes and up till now, some communities are still struggling to recover from the psychological trauma caused by the situation.
It was in the light of this and the quest for freedom that most communities resorted to self help. That was how the One-Stop Public Assistance Center, popularly known as OSPAC was introduced in some communities of Rivers State.
Somehow, the introduction of OSPAC paid-off, or so it seemed, as the local vigilante group was able to restore normalcy to some of the communities, arresting and handing over criminals involved in causing unrest in the area to security agencies.
Unfortunately, recent reports show that the insecurity OSPAC came to fight is now caging the people and this calls to memory the lines of Karl Popper that, “we must plan for freedom, and not only for security, if for no other reason than that only freedom can make security secure.” It now looks as though the aspect of freedom has been swept under the carpet in pursuit of maximum security.
Today, there are reports of unrest in Rumuekpe community of Emohua and Rumuosi in Obio/Akpor Local Government Area, among others, in Rivers State where OSPAC has constantly been in the news for alleged illicit acts. The group has been accused of allegedly inflicting injuries on some residents in their area of operation who were not found guilty of committing any crime.
The local vigilance team which gave to itself the responsibility of apprehending perpetrators of all sorts of criminal activities and handing over to security agencies, has lately been accused of terrorizing innocent residents in some parts of the state.
For instance, in Rumuekpe community in Emohua Local Government Area of Rivers State, there has been panic, following series of attacks on residents. One of such is the case of one Mr. Wisdom Gabriel Jeremiah, a native of the community who was inflicted with deep machete cuts by a supposed member of OSPAC for allegedly dropping a dead snake in a member’s house. The member whose name was given as Obiri Ndubuisi but popularly known as ‘money die there’ was reported to have claimed that OSPAC god had found Jeremiah guilty of the act when he consulted their god.
In another instance, a woman identified as Beatrice Obisike, a mother of four, was reportedly shot dead allegedly by an OSPAC member during a burial ceremony in Rumuosi, Obio/Akpor local Government area of Rivers State last Saturday.
Also, one Mr. Goodluck Ekwe was said to have been allegedly detained by OSPAC in Rumuekpe. It is believed that Ekwe was allegedly abducted for assisting a victim of alleged OSPAC brutality to Rumuji police station for complaint.
Some persons claim that people are using OSPAC to threaten, arrest, detain and brutalize others over minor quarrels, insisting that they should be cautioned seriously.
These are just a few instances the group has reportedly abused and humiliated those they ought to have protected. This makes people to wonder if the risk of introducing the group has been defeated as Theodore Forstmann opined that “the opposite of security is insecurity, and the only way to overcome insecurity is to take risks.” Has the risk taken become a threat to the people?
Unarguably, OSPAC has been instrumental in restoring peace and order in many communities which also brings the concern whether all the allegations are true or are coming from the criminal elements OSPAC has been fighting, just to ensure that the government disbands the group.
It is therefore our position that the government should quickly address the situation to avoid the experience of #EndSARS protests which was allegedly hijacked by hoodlums.
We also appeal for a review of the modus operandi of OSPAC as well as the extant laws which gave birth to them. It behoves on the police and other security agencies in the state to arise and find ways of putting an end to cases of alleged harassments by OSPAC operatives.
It needs be stressed that the security agencies, especially the police, should blame themselves for abdicating their legitimate duties to OSPAC. But now that the harm has been done, the security agencies should save the state from further torture in the hands of OSPAC, that is if the allegations against OSPAC were anything to go by.
We have nothing against the activities of vigilante groups as long as they are operating within the ambits of the law. The state government should know that its primary responsibility is to protect lives and property. This is all they owe the people. Therefore, the time for the Rivers State government to act is now.