By Paulinus Nsirim
“Fundamentally, during the campaigns, we also promised to secure our State. No government is worth any value if it cannot guarantee the security of lives and property. I assure you that never for a moment will our administration be a captive of politics, when it comes to public security. We have the political will to fight, defeat crimes and criminality in Rivers State. There will be effective coordination, collaboration and synergy with the Federal Government, the law enforcement agencies and our community leaders in the prosecution of the war against cultism, kidnapping and armed robbery. We urge our people to fully co-operate with us in this direction." - Nyesom Ezenwo Wike.
These were the words of Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike in his inaugural address to Rivers people on Friday, May 29, 2015, at the Yakubu Gowon Stadium ,Port Harcourt.
Dispassionate analysts and Rivers watchers will agree that the Governor has kept his word and remained faithful to that pledge contained in his first address as Governor.
Many can still recall with clarity, the gory episodes of violence and insecurity that attended and defined the 2015 general elections in Rivers State and even Governor Wike himself, coming out of that electoral crucible, described the experience in the following words: "Rivers State has been rescued and reclaimed. It is a new day in our history, a new dawn to repair and restore our dear State to the path of sanity. I invite you all to the table of brotherhood for the new beginning. I reiterate my declaration that in the election there were no losers and winners. Rather, Rivers State was the winner and so we are all winners".
Setting forth with this sincere mindset of healing, reconciliation and brotherhood, Governor Wike was very cautious not to be lulled into a false sense of authority with the illusion that electoral victory would calm the wild opposition horses in the augean stable and political cauldron that Rivers State had transformed into in just a few short years.
However, by the beginning of 2018, when the administration of Governor Nyesom Wike had finally settled down and started the implementation of the programmes set out in the inauguration speech, including the comprehensive effort to tackle the security challenge, the violence and fatalities dropped quite dramatically to the point that those who had traded in violence as their main commodity of negotiation, soon discovered to their eternal chagrin, that the cloak of immunity they had worn to carry out their terror campaigns, was gradually been shredded to pieces by the new, no nonsense Sheriff in town, who had zero tolerance for the violence and bloodletting that had become synonymous with the once idyllic garden city state.
Governor Wike's strategic approach to tackling the security challenge in the state has been anchored on the effective cordination, collaboration and synergy with the Federal Government, the constitutionally recognized law enforcement agencies, community leaders and traditional institutions and he has maintained a very honest, cordial and robust relationship with all of them, especially in the process of translating the various security initiatives of his administration into operation.
In March 2018, Governor Nyesom Wike, in a bid to improve the security of communities in Rivers State, gave his assent to three bills: the Rivers State Neighbourhood Safety Corps Law No.8 of 2018; the Rivers State Secret Cult and Similar Activities (Prohibition) (Amendment) Law No.6 of 2018 and the Rivers State Kidnap (Prohibition) (Amendment) No.2 Law No.7 of 2018.
Assenting to the three bills passed by Rivers State House of Assembly at the Government House, Port Harcourt, Governor Wike said the laws were necessary to enhance security across the state.
“If your hands are clean, then you have nothing to fear about the three laws that I have given assent to. All criminals will face the full weight of the law. We will fight crime and ensure that the state is safe for investors.
"If you are a cultist and you are caught, it is life imprisonment. If you are a cultist and you kill during cult activities, you will face the death penalty. If you are convicted for kidnapping and the Supreme Court affirms your conviction, I will sign the death warrant without looking back. The state government will battle cultism and kidnapping to a standstill. Enough is enough," the Rivers State Governor warned at that time.
Shedding more light on the need to set up the Neighborhood Watch, Governor Wike said that contrary to the falsehood being spread by certain interests in the state that the new recruits would be armed and used to intimidate citizens, the "Neighbourhood Watch has nothing to do with carrying arms. Their duty is to complement security agencies across the state. Security of lives revolves around information and intelligence.
"The youths of the state will be employed as the Neighbourhood Watch takes effect and members of the Neighbourhood Watch will gather intelligence and information and pass same to security agencies for the protection of lives and property. The Neighbourhood Watch is for the good of our people. We have sworn to protect our people," he had pledged.
However, despite the lofty and laudable concept and prospects of the Neighborhood Watch, which was fashioned alongside the Lagos State Neighbourhood Safety Corps Agency, the barrage of negative propaganda and misleading interpretations by those who did not want peace in Rivers State, was so concerted that they had to even drag the military and security agencies into a brilliantly structured security initiative.
Ironically, the pragmatism and foresight which Governor Wike exhibited by seeking to legitimize the Neighborhood Watch through an act of parliament two years ago, has now been embraced, not just by states whose Assemblies have recently passed similar bills, but by the regions in the country. While the South West has fully committed to domesticating "Amoetekun" as their own indigenous Security outfit, both the South East and South South Governors have agreed in principle to set up their regional security structures to combat crime and address widespread insecurity in the regions.
Not one to be deterred by deliberate setbacks and intentionally contrived cogs in the wheel of progress, Governor Wike, intensified his synergy with security agencies in the state and on June 26, 2019, took another major step in ensuring the safety and security of Rivers State's residents with the launch of the State Security outfit code-named "Operation Sting".
Describing the initiative as a signal for criminals to understand that there is no hiding place for them anymore in the state, Governor Wike said: "Operation Sting is our own specialized security initiative anchored on an integrated and coordinated approach, fully funded by the Rivers state government, to effectively tackle both the sources and drivers of insecurity.
“The operation is also to fight against every security threat to our state, our persons and our properties in other to create the right social environment to drive our development. Under Operation Sting we have taken concrete steps to strengthen the logistics and operational capability of the civil and armed security forces.”
The remarkable successes achieved in tackling criminal elements and reducing crime and criminality in all parts of the state, since the outfit was launched, has greatly encouraged Governor Wike to continue to assist and equip security agencies operating in the state to ensure they respond promptly and effectively to the security needs and challenges as they emerge. These equipment include Patrol/operational vehicles fitted with communication gadgets; Armoured fitted gunboats, hand-held mobile radios amongst other operational gadgets. The benefiting agencies are the Army, Navy, Airforce, Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS), C4I Unit, Police Anti-Cultism, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corp and Federal Road Safety Corps.
Also in August 2019, Governor Nyesom Wike, in furtherance of his committed effort to ensure peace and protect the lives and properties of Rivers peeple, proscribed all youth groups in the state.
Speaking on the need to take this necessary action, Governor Wike said proscribing the youth groups had become necessary because they have been hijacked by cultists.
He said: “Anybody operating under a youth body henceforth will be arrested by security agencies. Before you contest for any youth body's leadership you must send the names to the DSS and police for screening. If they are cultists, we will not allow them to operate.
"Rivers State Government is fully prepared and will do everything required to protect lives and property. Without the protection of lives and property, there will be no governance and development,” Governor Wike said.
Of course, no sooner was this pronouncement made, than the divisive and diversionary agents, whose calling in life is to challenge every policy of the Nyesom Wike administration, quickly jumped on the public opinion podium to start bellyaching and misleading Rivers people about all kinds of rights which proscribing youth groups would violate and yet conveniently forgetting to add that only youth groups without proper registration and profiling by the police and other recognized security agencies, would be proscribed.
Needless to say that with the full ccooperation of the security agencies, as well as community leaders and traditional institutions, the enforcement of the proscription has yielded tremendous successes and greatly reduced the activities and influence of these undocumented yet menacingly operational youth groups across the state.
There's no doubt that Governor Nyesom Wike is operating with the administrative truism that peace and security are essential factors of human life and as such a peaceful and secure environment is critical to every society since it affects all aspects of economic and social development in the state and is a necessary condition precedent to the realization of human rights.
His strategic approach to addressing the Security challenge has been hinged on the time tested and trusted processes of Security Controls, which are; Preventative, Detective, and Responsive strategies and many Rivers watchers will concur with the fact that these have had direct effects on the creation of a gradually emerging sound, competitive and equitable economic development, which has ultimately impacted positively on the whole society.
With the drastic reduction of crime and violence related fatalities, the on-going construction of major infrastructural projects, the bustling return of commercial activities in all sectors and the growing investor confidence in choosing Rivers State as an investment friendly and conducive destination, Governor Wike's strategic security master plan is delivering positive and verifiable results.
These have further been complemented by the decision of the Rivers State government to concession some of the state owned assets to private partnership, including the fish farms and agricultural facilities, to interested investors; an economic initiative which can only be contemplated and driven by a government fully convinced and confident in her ability and capacity to provide adequate and comprehensive security to protect its partners and investments in the state.
Indeed, the Rivers State Governor was to emphasize this remarkable conviction and confidence in February this year, when he hosted the Norwegian Ambassador to Nigeria, Jens-Peter Kjemprud at the Government House, Port Harcourt and informed him that more investments are being made to further improve security in the State and this had been reflected, especially in the shipping sector where most shipping companies are returning to Onne Port in Rivers State to carry out their businesses.
“We have improved security in the state and that has given confidence to investors. We are further developing the security architecture for better security of lives and property.
“We want to partner with your government in the area of agriculture. Our focus will be fish farming to improve our economy and empower most of our people,” he said.
Governor Wike had informed the Norwegian top diplomat that while the State government desired greater cooperation between Norway and Rivers State and would embrace the opportunity for more robust interaction with leading investors from Nordic country, with a view to attracting them to invest in the state, the Norwegian government should also open a consulate in Port Harcourt because of its strategic position in the economy of the country.
In his response, the Norwegian Ambassador to Nigeria, Jens-Peter Kjemprud confirmed that the Norwegian government is committed to improving its relationship with the Rivers State Government in order to enhance economic growth. He further added that Norwegian Companies were presently involved in the construction industry in Rivers State and while revealing that 50 Norwegian Companies are already working in the nation's oil and gas sector. He said that Port Harcourt is the alternative to Lagos and would be patronized by investors.
The ambassador also confirned that steps have been taken to actualize the request by the Rivers State Governor for the opening of the Norwegian Consulate in Port Harcourt and invited the Rivers State Governor to Norway to interact with different classes of investors to enhance the economic cooperation between Norway and Rivers State.
Today, Rivers state is much more peaceful and there has been a drastic reduction in incidences of kidnapping, armed robbery and community conflicts. This success is not only as a result of what some analysts recognize as the top down effort of security agencies, but also the collaboration and active participation of some Local Government Councils, Community Development Committees, Community Security Groups, as well as traditional rulers and institutions, whose importance, responsibilities and attendant consequences in the efforts to ensure peace and security in their domains, have been clearly and constantly defined for them by the Governor.
Going forward, the security summit which was proposed by the Rivers State Government, but had to be put on hold by the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic, will be expected to provide an excellent platform, once it is convened, for all critical stakeholders in the security community to converge and fashion out a comprehensive security blue print for sustainable security in the state, that will be in tandem with the pledge of the administration in addressing the security challenges in Rivers State.
Governor Nyesom Wike has received great admiration and commendation for bravely and courageously leading from the front in the effort to tackle insecurity and address violence, especially election related violence, even against the ever present backdrop of provocative threats, incendiary comments and the boastful cacophony of some misguided miscreants and idle youths, who constantly invoke the unleashing of fire, brimstone and destruction on our dear Rivers State as their own response to self inflicted political disagreements and deliberate frictions which their leaders have failed to manage, but for which they want to drag the whole state down with their drowning political structure.
What the administration requires from the people is their full co-operation, wisdom, prayers and support and to also make necessary sacrifices in diverse ways, because working together means that Rivers State can do more and achieve so much more, especially in the direction of security.
Governor Nyesom Wike has always pledged that his promises remain his bond which is the reason he will work tirelessly with his administration to actualize the set goals and objectives.
So that collectively, Rivers State can be transformed into the place that Rivers people can all be proud of, with confidence in the great possibilities and opportunities inherent in the state.
Nsirim is the Commissioner for Information and Communications, Rivers State