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Operation Search And Flush (SAF) In Imo: The New Security Paradigm

In the prospect of detailing this topic, we shall invoke some sections of the Nigerian Constitution to bankroll this discourse for complementarity purposes. The 1999 Nigerian Constitution as amended (2011) singled the security architecture (improvement and modernization) of Nigeria, power and legitimacy were given to both federal and state governments to secure the lives and properties of Nigerians. Section 14(2)of the Nigerian constitution talks about the welfare and security of the people. An allegiance own by the government to her citizens. Second, by virtue of section 11(2) of the Constitution, the government should do its best to secure the peace, order, and good governance of the people.

Also, Section 20 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act allows a private citizen to arrest any criminal and handover to the police for investigation and prosecution. Historically, starting from 1999 we witnessed democracy without interruption to date many successive governments both federal and regions has established different security schemes to maintain peace and order, curtail banditry and criminal vices, extrajudicial killing, kidnapping, etc in Nigeria.

The whole geopolitical regions in Nigeria have suffered and still suffering (in minimum) from security challenges which have led to the establishment of different security outfits. For instance, to counter-terrorism in Northeast, Nigerian government established in 2009 Special and Joint Task Force (JTF) comprising the Nigerian Army, Nigerian Air Force and Nigerian Navy and Para-Military institutions such as the Police, and State Security Service (SSS) on military containment to help fight Boko Haram insurgence. One staggering thing that evolves in our appropriation bill was an increase in security spending. The focus was shifted from the educational sector to security. Special and Joint Force (JTF) was later accompanied by civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) first as a community effort, and later as a joint effort with the security forces to help to fight terrorism in the northeast.

In the southeast, Bakassi Boys, a group of local vigilante groups made up of youths, created in 1998 to solve the problems of killings, annihilate all forms of vices in the southeastern region of Nigeria. Funded by trader’s association, the enjoyed popular sponsorship and praises mostly from Imo, Abia and Anambra State residents because criminal vices in these areas were greatly reduced since their inception. As a young boy growing up in Aba, I enjoyed watching them travel in convoys performing different tricks to tickle the fantasy of onlookers and passersby alike. They shout, sing, dance, clap sharp machetes together and conclude by releasing gunshots in the air just to entertain their fans.

Though rebranded and integrated into state government payroll and security schemes which saw them transformed from Bakassi boys to Anambra Vigilante Services (AVS) in Anambra State, Abia Vigilante Services (AVS) in Abia State, and Imo Vigilante Service (IVS) in Imo State. The Bakassi boys operational method seems quite different from what we usually experience, armed with machetes and guns soaked with powerful charms, and an array of black magic artifacts that exposes them to clandestine operations. Their actions are anathema to every criminal within any given environment; beheading a criminal was their modus operandi. The results of their methods was showing.

According to an article published by Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, authored by Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa on 14 February 2006, the Bakassi Boys became “high demand” as their activities spread across eastern Nigeria. Their leadership was a “highly structured organization with a defined chain of command”. As a result of the public’s general lack of trust in the court system and law enforcement agents in Nigeria, the Bakassi boys were involved in the settlement of disputes in civil matters (Journal of Democracy and Development 2002, 9-10; HRW and CLEEN May 2002, 34).

In Northern Nigeria, a group known as Hisbah was created to promote Islamic virtues and discourage vices. Hisbah was variously translated as Islamic Police, morality police, or perceived as widely state police because it was established mostly in Muslim majority states in northern Nigeria after the declaration of Sharia law in 1999. In the wake of their investigation, Nigeria Stability And Reconciliation Program (NSRP), “most hisbah organizations start as volunteer organizations formed by like-minded Muslim individuals. Hisbah is governed by many religious rules, injunctions, and duties that differentiate it clearly from vigilantism which is solely concerned with the provision of security. These findings went ahead to say that Kano and Zamfara hisbah have their foundations in state law and get state funding; Gombe hisbah has no legal backing and is funded by volunteers; Borno hisbah exists only on paper, Garba, and Ostien (2006). Hisbah performs the functions of dispute resolution, drug control, marriage counseling, conversion of people to Islam, protection of people at religious functions, first aid services, forcibly preventing the mixing of the sexes on public transport system; enforcing a dress code, especially on women in educational institutions; preventing the performance of music and films; seizing and destroying alcoholic drinks; and putting pressure on ‘deviant’ youth, prostitutes, homosexuals, and lesbians.

Western Nigeria is not left out in the build-up of its security operatives to curtail cases of insecurity in the region. This idea kickstarted in 2019 amongst southwestern governors who were uncomfortable with the rise of criminal activities in the region. On January 9, 2020, the praxis manifested, six southwest states comprising of Ogun, Osun, Oyo, Ekiti, Ondo, and Lagos, launched the western Nigeria security network called ‘Operation Amotekun’ in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital. Amotekun is a Yoruba word when translated to the English language means Leopard. Amotekun seeks to work hand-in-glove with the Nigerian police and other security outfits in correcting anomalies, unusual activities, and social vices in the region.

There are many existing security outfits in almost 23 states nationwide playing domestics roles in combating crimes. For instance in Kano State, we had Kano State Vigilance Services. Sokoto State had Yan Banga which operates in almost all the villages in the state before Gov. Tambuwal came on board, retained and rebranded it to Sokoto Corps Marshal. Zamfara State had Yan Kansai Local Vigilantes. Rivers State had Neighbourhood Safety Corps Agency which was later suspended due to the high cost of funding. Ebonyi State had Neighborhood Watch Group with membership drawn from the 13 local government areas of the state. Benue State had Livestock Guards set up to check attacks from herdsmen on farmers and residents of the state. The guards were empowered to arrest people who flout the state’s anti-open grazing law. Cross River had Green Sheriff to tackle the rising wave of security challenges facing the state. Enugu State had Forest Guards which play the same roles with the local vigilante.

This article, therefore, focuses on Operation Search And Flush (SAF) launched by Imo State Governor, Sen. Hope Uzodinma which comprises of NPF, Army and the Air Force to sanitize the state from kidnappers, internet fraudsters and ritualists (according to the governor) in Imo State. SAF arises from the perception that the government is doing nothing to guarantee the safety of Imolites, visitors, and investors alike. While we argue that this model must pursue a community security option, it is well bent on having a citizen-driven communal approach for efficiency and effectiveness in combating related crimes troubling the entire state. However, previous governments in Imo State established different security outfits to complement the work of the police and other security agencies in intelligence gathering and crime prevention and beyond crucial areas of our human and cultural development.

The Imo Security Network (ISN), Imo Community Watch (ICW) and Imo Civil Guard (ICG) are security outfits established by former Governor, Senator Rochas Okorocha to sweep Imo free of criminals through community watch. These three security outfits were funded by the state government and lasted till the end of his tenure playing crucial roles in solving security challenges that threatened the state. When Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha took over the saddle of leadership in Imo State, he launched a new joint security outfit with a code name ‘Operation Iron Gate’ and implore them to maintain peace and order in the state.

The dungeons of Douglas road, hidden shacks at Ohaji Egbema, cabins at Imo Housing, Orji axis, Aladinma axis, Bishops Court environs, New Owerri axis, Toronto axis, Ama JK, Amakaohia environs, Westend avenue, has in one way or the other experience the operational touch of SAF covertly or overtly. Hoodlums have gone to hiding. Prior to this, kidnapping business was at the climax as there were no new day stories of kidnapped victims doesn’t appear on the pages of newspapers or via radio news broadcasts. Businesses collapsed as investors were scared of establishing businesses. Imo State’s economy was dwindling.

Since the launch of Operation Search And Flush (SAF) by Imo State governor, Sen. Hope Uzodinma, life seems to be gradually coming back to Imo State. Birds of different species visit market squares in unison for an interaction when the environment invited serenity. Waves speak peacefully in the response of a society that’s no longer volatile. Hurtful stories of robbery at gunpoint have gone low. Snatching of males wallets and female handbags, snatching of cellphones on gun points, roadside night rapes, cultism, killings, and other vices have reduced drastically. Early May 2020, a video went viral on social media of a young man successful apprehended by members of Operation Search And Flush (SAF) conveying ammunition to Imo State. When interrogated the culprit opened up and shared secrets of their intercity operations. This shows the sharpness of the eagle eyes of SAF in securing Imo citizens and preventing crimes.

In conclusion, we commend the bravery of SAF since its inception. However, SAF must work smarter, reactively, and embrace technology to improve in tackling the challenges of insecurity, including kidnapping and banditry in the state. Problems of crime, disorder, and terrorism that afflict our society is so complex, therefore community security option, partnership policing, and community engagement approach must be fully adopted in the fight against insecurity in Imo State. This is because an individual is a member of a community. A community is headed by a traditional ruler who is usually more accessible by the ordinary people in times of need and problems than government officials. Community engagement means serving as a means of getting things done, involving the people in solving their own problems also brings many lasting solutions to said problems or challenges.

To achieve results their method of operations and response must ensnare in the socio-culture of the state. Having SAF stationed around every roundabout can act as a deterrent for criminals and troublemakers. This implies that security guards are more likely to recognize suspicious persons or vehicles that are frequenting any streets without a valid reason. The constant presence of around-the-clock security can make Imolites feel secure, knowing that they are protected at all hours. Businesses within Owerri and neighboring cities will thrive again, peace and harmony will triumph.

Mr. Compassion Chidozie is a political scientist and public analyst. Phone: 08163772241 Mail: Chidozieogbanu123@gmail.com.

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