Insecurity: What Nigeria Can Learn From Okorocha's Success In Imo

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ONWUASOANYA FCC JONES

Anyone who knew Imo or resided in Imo before 2011, who doesn't concede that some extraordinary interventions played out to calm the security situation and displace the criminals in the State from 2011 is either being insincere or forgetful. There could also be a political reason for the individual's reluctance to accept this obvious fact. It would certainly not be a matter of ignorance, because insecurity is like a pandemic, even when you don't get affected, you would definitely be infected by the agita of the pandemic. So, it doesn't matter if you were ever kidnapped, robbed or someone close to you fell to the savagery of the rampant criminals, you heard it and somehow you were affected.

I know of many wealthy men who literally went on self-imposed exile from Imo in the period between 2008 to 2011, and I know a few of them whose first Christmas down home, in three years or so was in the December of 2011. Things got so bad at the time that people could be kidnapped for as little as 100,000 Naira ransom, and opposition politicians were living in fear of the unknown as political assassination seemed to had reared its head in the State again.

As bad as things were in Imo in the period under reference, Imo could have been likened to a paradise when compared to today's Katsina, Borno, Niger, Zamfara, Kaduna and several other States in the North. Hardly does a day pass by without some news of abduçtion of innocent children, massacre of hapless farmers, kidnapping of aid workers, killing of a traditional ruler or even ransacking of a whole community. People can no longer travel in peace from Abuja to Kaduna and the Kogi linkage to Southern Nigeria is becoming another highway to hell.

Like President Buhari, Owelle Rochas Okorocha made insecurity one of the central themes in his campaign for the governorship in 2011. At the governorship debate at the Odenigbo Center of the Catholic Archdiocese of Owerri, the then APGA chieftain decried the parlous state of things in the State but made a commitment to tackle the menace headlong as soon as he is elected to office. He was elected.

One of the key strategies deployed by the Okorocha administration in reining in the miscreants that terrorized the State was localizing security operations. He understood advanced the logic that criminals do not operate from outer spaces, that they come from our villages, and even when they don't, there would usually be the involvement of some local miscreants before a successful operation could be executed by any gang of criminals.

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He introduced the Black Book, where traditional rulers in collaboration with other critical stakeholders in the various communities were required to record the names of people of suspicious characters. These suspected criminals were not immediately condemned, but granted some form of amnesty as long as they were ready to turn a new leaf. This strategy paid off, as a good number of those who were responsible for the sleepless nights in the State became responsible citizens who became helpful to security agencies in providing information about how their unrepentant gang members could be apprehended. Some of these repentant hoodlums have today become integral to their communities' development and their family's lifeline, by engaging in productive and legitimate enterprises. Those who refused to turn a new leaf were left with no option than to take their criminal enterprise elsewhere, that is if they had not been apprehended by security agents.

Also, the Okorocha administration motivated the security operatives in the State by regularly augmenting whatever the federal government provided for them. He provided them with operational vehicles, modern gadgets, as well as other motivational perks for their efforts at combating crime in the State. Through the 'Operation Rescue Imo', the Okorocha administration equipped the security agencies with operational vehicles, equipped with some modern gadgets that made the job of securing the State easier for the joint team of security operatives, which included the Army, Police, Civil Defence and other agencies.

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Local vigilantism was another key strategy that helped to drastically reduce crime in the State within the period under review. The Imo Security Network, Imo Community Watch and the K9 were some of the local vigilantes set up by the Okorocha administration to help conventional security operatives, especially, in the areas of intelligence gathering and local policing. Though, political opponents criticized the formation of these groups, alleging that they were political tools that would be used to oppress members of the opposition, but, it cannot be denied that these outfits helped in no small way to check the activities of criminals in the State.

The Okorocha administration made deliberate efforts to constantly engage the youths in productive ventures, as a way of keeping them busy, thereby, preventing them from taking to crime. The Imo Youth Must Work program, the Community Government Council, Imo Youths Engineering Corps are among several initiatives of the Rescue Mission administration that helped many youths - who might have, out of redundancy and frustration, been lured into crime -, become useful partners to the society.

Also, huge investment in the education sector, no matter what anyone may have against the styles adopted, saw to Imo been the State with lowest incidents of industrial dispute within the education sector. Imo State tertiary institutions had the least cases of strikes in the right years of Okorocha's administration, and this made it possible for undergraduates, who are soft targets for recruitment into crime, to be steadily engaged and left with little or no time to indulge in acts of criminality.

The free education program helped to lessen pressure on parents and saw the highest school enrollments in Nigeria. This of course, has its significance on the reduction of crime rate in the State. We had less desperate parents, who might be lured into small crimes for little pittance to pay their children's school fees, while teenage children who could be out of school, and be exposed to initiation into crimes, were given no excuse to be out of school.

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The Okorocha administration's conscious recruitment of youths into strategic positions of governance also helped to pull many young people out of the streets. Some of these youths who were appointed at different levels of government knew the streets well enough and the very thoughtful ones among them, instead of distancing themselves from some of the 'troublemakers' in the streets, brought them closer and gave them assignments that enabled them transmute their nuisance values into productive energies, for themselves and for the State.

Conceded that some of these strategies may have been applied at the federal level with little or no results, but, we shouldn't pretend ignorance of the federal government's enormous powers and resources, which when passionately and sincerely deployed would be much more effective than whatever any State governor could do. The most important quality that enabled Okorocha record the modest successes he recorded in tackling insecurity in Imo is the passion for success. Okorocha was no doubt determined to succeed against all odds. He was an on the spot governor, he wouldn't relax in his office and give orders, he goes to where the problem is and supervises the implementation of whatever directives he gave. To put it in military term; he led from the front.

May Nigeria Prevail!

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