March 20, 2018 03:02 pm
From the first presentation of the bill, through its deliberation and after becoming law, the establishment of a Neighbourhood Safety Corps by the Rivers State Government has generated heated conversations, disagreements, and outright allegations among top politicians in the state. A lawyer already filed a case asking the court to restrict the Governor from signing the bill into law. The Governor has come under fire from mainly opposition politicians for signing the bill, although the court has not particularly given the order or heard from the parties.
These criticisms and controversies have focused mostly on the legality of the establishment and bearing of arms by the Corps’ members, but this is just a coat around the entire outfit of the controversy. Knowing Rivers State, its level of political awareness, and clamour for power among politicians, it’s a sure thing that the establishment of the Neighbourhood Safety Corps and the criticisms that have stricken it, are connected to the 2019 general elections.
The next elections may not be very different from the last (except for the violence, we hope), as almost the same dynamics are still in play. The two top political figures are still divided in a seeming FG vs State dichotomy, each one, seeking to control the power of the state by many available means. With this mindset, it is not far-fetched to find each move by one party hallowed with suspicion by the other, in some cases, rightly so.
As regards to the issue of bearing arms, the Rivers State Governor clarified the state’s intention, that the members of the Neighbourhood Safety Corps will not bear arms, but only provide intelligence for the security agencies in the state. The arms debate was also intense at the floor of the Assembly during deliberation, but it was resolved that the issue will be handled ‘administratively.’ During the time between the presentation and passage of the Bill, the Inspector General of Police directed Commissioners of Police to retrieve Arms from vigilante groups and check state laws that seek to establish vigilante groups. The CP of Rivers State recently announced an ultimatum, after which suspected places will be raided for arms. From these developments, it will be unlikely that security agents will stand by and watch the Corps’ members to bear arms.
But bearing arms is not the main issue of contention in this profound argument, the 2019 elections is. A perceived advantage that the Neighbourhood Safety Corps could pose is that it gives a set of people likely loyal to the Governor, the authority to observe first-hand, and possibly influence activities during the elections. This could pose a threat to the opposition who is seeking to regain power in the next elections, and they will not have it without a fight, to at least enforce future complains about the corps. During elections, sensitive materials are moved from one place to another, meetings are held, plans are discussed; an intelligence unit set up by an opponent is a threat that will not be allowed to function.
A group affiliated with the All Progressive Congress (APC), the Free Rivers Development Initiative recently threatened to set up its own Neighbourhood Watch, and apply for them to be armed. According to the President of the Group, Ngerebala Sampson who spoke to newsmen, “Whereby our call is not heeded to, our reaction will be to also set up our own Neighbourhood Safety Corps to watch Wike’s Neighbourhood Safety Corps. We shall cloth them with uniforms and apply for arms for them through the police, then the two Neighbourhood Safety Corps will police each other.” obtained from ThisDay Newspaper.
Former state lawmaker, Chidi Lloyd who is also a member of the group, wondered why the Governor was taking the step within a year to the elections. He alleged that “Wike’s neighbourhood watch is nothing but a ballot snatching tool and an attack dog for the 2019 election because right now, the state security agencies are not on his side.”
What is the Neighbourhood Safety Corps fuss all about? The 2019 elections? Who gets access to power after the elections? Who controls the wealth and resources of the state until 2023?