The seemingly uncontrolled proliferation of military-like outfits in the country is worrisome, and may worsen the scourge of insecurity pervading Nigeria.
One of such illegal outfits is the Nigerian Merchant Navy, which training ground, the Lagos State Police Command, recently discovered in Ogudu area of the state, arresting about 108 persons in the process. The discovery raises even more serious concerns about safety of lives and property which are being trampled upon by the day.
The outfit has been in operation since 2005 and interestingly maintains a functional website where it described itself as a “quasi-military Nigerian Marine Department…. duly registered by the federal ministry of commerce…to be among the best in the world for the provision of more security both at land, air and sea, to meet up with the international standard at all levels.” Lagos is the commercial nerve of the nation and if an outfit of such a large size could be located in one of its city centres for 16 years, the question is: how many more of such outfits are lurking in the rural areas?
Parading the suspects who were clad in what looked like the Nigerian Navy camouflage, at the headquarters of the Lagos State Police Command, Ikeja, yesterday, the command boss, Hakeem Odumosu, said that the command embarked on intensive surveillance of the camp and its activities, following what he described as credible actionable intelligence on the illegal activities of the outfit, before it carried out a well-coordinated overt operation at the training camp.
Odumosu explained that during the raid which was coordinated by the Operations Department of the Command, items recovered included several military accoutrements such as camouflage, badges of ranks, flag, signboard, ID cards. Others are recruitment letters, promotion letters, a portrait of the Commanding Officer, two motorcycles, one plasma TV, three cutlasses, criminal charms and other items.
But that is not all. In another instance, security agencies are reportedly set to carry out a major crackdown on an illegal security outfit, National Taskforce on the Prohibition of Illegal Importation/Smuggling of Arms, Ammunition, Light Weapons, Chemical Weapons and Pipeline Vandalism, for defying Federal Government’s ban on its operations throughout the country five months ago.
NATFORCE is alleged to have become emboldened in its illegal activities by luring some influential Nigerians, particularly some retired military personnel, ex-senior police officers and some members of the National Assembly with employment promises for their preferred candidates and people in their constituencies. The group is also said to have issued 18,000 fake appointment letters for employment into the illegal security outfit after allegedly collecting various sums of money, ranging from N6, 000 to N35, 000 from the beneficiaries.
In June 2021, Federal Government had declared NATFORCE as an illegal security outfit and directed it and other similar groups to immediately end their operations nationwide. The National Centre for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons (NCCSALW), domiciled in the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) is the only national coordination mechanism for the control and monitoring of the proliferation of small arms and light weapons in the country.
Notably in 2018, the Nigerian Army reported its discovery of an illegal security training camp in Serti, headquarters of Gashaka Local Government Area of Taraba State, where over 300 youth were being trained, ostensibly at the instance of the state government.
It begs the question, what is the commander-in-chief of the nation’s armed forces doing to address the state of insecurity in the country? Beyond the yearly appropriation of huge sums for equipment of security agencies which sums and or equipment are often reportedly unaccounted for, what is the plan for tackling the root cause of these issues? Surely the existence of unauthorised outfits that had been declared illegal in the country is a recipe for perpetration of violent crime. Could these outfits be the genesis of the unknown gunmen that had been causing havocs in parts of the country?
But how long must Nigerians live in fear? While the Constitution may have declared the primary purpose of government to be the security and welfare of the people, President Muhammadu Buhari’s government is certainly not on top of the situation considering the spate of killings, kidnappings and other acts of violence across the country. The fear of falling victims of violent crime has prevented the average Nigerians from visiting their farms, thus further worsening their economic situations. The government needs to act now to discourage further proliferation of these unregulated groups acting under the guise of providing community policing or any other pretext. Security agencies need to be more proactive and employ the use of technological applications in intelligence gathering and crime preventions.
More importantly is the need for a review of the country’s security architecture. Indeed stakeholders have repeatedly argued for the amendment of the constitution as would allow the establishment of state police to tackle security issues. With a population of over 200 hundred million and police strength of less than five hundred thousand, Nigeria is far from achieving the United Nations recommended ratio of one police officer to 450 persons. The debate for the creation of state police is beyond individual or political party ideologies, it is more of a necessity in view of the country’s current realities which have since confirmed that the country’s security architecture can no longer carry the weight of its many security challenges.