Although during the early years of the current democratic dispensation in Nigeria, Cross River State like most states in the South-South geopolitical zone of the country was faced with serious security challenges. While militancy held sway in other states namely Bayelsa, Rivers, Delta, Edo and a little bit in Akwa Ibom, Cross River was renowned in cultism, assassination and communal clashes.
Many political watchers blamed the Machiavellian leadership style of the then Governor, Mr. Donald Duke for the high rate of crime at the time. During this period, it was almost impossible for anybody to publicly criticise the government of the day as agents of government were spread everywhere looking for whom to “attack”.
Assassination was a common word associated with the political development in the state. So many students’ leaders, politicians and elder statesmen were victims of this undemocratic practice in a democratic regime. The death of former Deputy Governor, Mr. John Okpa is still very fresh in the memory of Cross Riverians.
This inglorious practice however faded away with Duke’s administration.
Duke’s successor, Senator Liyel Imoke was more committed to building a secure and peaceful state than Duke. It was during the Imoke’s administration that the state was adjudged as the state to “come, stay, rest and be at peace.” Calabar, the capital city was regarded nationally and internationally as the most peaceful city in Nigeria.
While there is no clear road map on how Imoke achieved such relatively peaceful state, there have been constant insinuations that he built a security team that had the needed expertise and experience to combat insecurity head on.
Imoke’s team was led by an experienced security expert, Rekpene Bassey, a retired personnel of the State Security Services. During this time, Bassey was able to organize steady security submits where stakeholders from all spheres of life were invited to discuss the best approach to maintaining peace and security in the state.
This approach didn’t just provide government the opportunity to sample opinions from opinion leaders, but created a bond and understanding between the people and government. Government was benefiting from their experiences while in the other hand making them feel as part of government and as such it was also their responsibility to secure the state.
This approach of course yielded the result that was evidenced in the level of peace enjoyed during the administration.
However, the build up to the 2015 elections was accompanied with some disturbing security situation. Politicians used street boys popularly known as “Skolombo” to cause a lot of security threats. During this period, day light robbery was the order of the day. But immediately the elections were over, the state returned to normalcy until Imoke’s successor, Senator Ben Ayade set up his government.
Under Ayade, the state didn’t only returned to old days where killings, kidnapping and communal clashes were the order of the day but crime has increased uncontrollably to a level that the state is currently standing shoulder to shoulder with Rivers in crime rating according to Police report.
The current government has not only failed abysmally to protect lives and properties but has deliberately failed to protect our territorial boundaries. The boundary disputes between some Cross River and Akwa Ibom as well as Ebonyi and Cross Rivers communities which has led to incessant wars where Cross Riverians have always suffered the highest level of casualties is a pointer to the porous security situation in the state.
In Obudu, the country home of the Governor, armed robbery, kidnapping and raping has become almost a daily routine. Some times last year, a Pastor with Assemblies of God fled his station because of unabated robbery attacks. His wife of over 45 years was reportedly raped three times within just one month.
In Calabar, the capital city, a city once adjudged globally as the most peaceful in Nigeria, cultism, kidnapping, armed robbery and all manner of crime has taken over the day. In fact, Calabar is now a safe haven and Camp David for criminals.
Within the past two months, no fewer than ten people have been burnt alive. Jungle justice is the new order of the day because, since government has failed to protect lives and properties, the poor masses have taken the laws into their hands.
All criminal activities that used to be strange to Cross Riverians is now happening on daily basis without any sign that government is working to addressing it.
Although, the reason for this sudden deteriorating security situation is not clear, many commentators have accused the government of handing over the security of the state to a professional politician rather than a professional in politics. The current state Security Adviser, although smart and intelligent seems to know little or nothing about security. He is a typical Nigerian politician who thinks first of what enters his pocket before considering his core responsibility of advising government on the best approach(es) to secure the state.
Some analysts have insinuated that he makes a huge fortune from the damning security situation as government and partners pump in money to his office to combat the situation. While this allegation is still unconfirmed, it cannot be completely ruled out too as the situation is getting worse with more money voted to his office
However, despite all these, elder statesmen and opinion leaders who used to provide useful security tips to the government have remained mum. Cross Riverians had expected that traditional rulers, head of tertiary institutions, leaders of faith based organizations, Union leaders amongst others would ask the governor some questions. But in all these, there seems to be strange silence from people who should ordinarily have the courage to ask government specific questions.
The situation of course may be politically motivated but do bullets know any political party? Or maybe, they are quite because it has not affected them directly. But how can a leader wait for a situation to affect him directly before reacting? (If this is their thought)
The spate of communal clashes alone should have sparked reactions from them. Or could it be that Ayade is suffering from the inglorious retirement of over 250 traditional rulers? Of course, the sacked monarchs are people who contributed immensely to fighting insecurity under Imoke.
Now, leaders of faith based organizations should be speaking up. Opinion leaders should speak out. Political leaders should condemn the situation and follow up by calling some of the hoodlums, most of whom are their boys to order. Government has failed, should elders wait till things get out of hand before they step in? Even if government was doing the right thing, opinions of these set of people is very important.
Nevertheless, in the failure of government and the silence of the elders lies the inaction of the rest of us. What role have we all played in all these? Can everybody claim not to have information about some of these persons who are terrorising the state? This is not about Ayade, PDP or APC. It is about Cross River, her people and their properties.
Cross River leading social critic, Ifere Paul sometimes last year did a master piece titled “Towards Sustainable Peace In Cross River”. In the article, he made some valuable and important suggestions to government. He also talked about the role of the citizen in combating crimes. Have we implemented his recommendations if government has failed us? I suggest we all revisit that article.
How many Cross Riverians in the past one year have reported suspicious movement to relevant authorities? The fight against security should be all inclusive. Government may have failed, but the silence of our elders and the inaction of the rest of us may have contributed more to the worrying security situation.
No meaningful development thrives in a place with security challenges. If we want our state to develop, we need to all play our parts. We should be more proactive to security issues and be ready to take responsibility. When government shows more commitment, Elders advice where necessary and we give our supports as patriotic citizens, the state cannot remain unsafe.
If security is indeed, every man’s business, government must play her part, our Elders must offer elderly advise by calling their children to order and we the citizens must act smartly by reporting any criminal element to relevant authority. Until then, insecurity would continue to remain a bane to our development.
Inyali Peter is a journalist and writes from Calabar, the Cross River State capital.
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