By Ronald Ugwu
East, west, home is best. This is true, especially for the Nigerian diaspora community. Even if you hold the citizenship of developed countries, no matter the comfort and prosperity you enjoy, you could never feel at home. There are always experiences here and there that remind you that you are in another’s land. To pretend otherwise is to live in perpetual denial and self-deceit. The butterfly could only pretend to be a bird, but it is not.
In fact, I have often disagreed with some fellow diasporan Nigerians who easily pick offence whenever we are described as economic refugees. But truth is, nobody who is on good terms with his Chi (personal god) goes in search of the services of a witch doctor. We are basically here in search of greener pastures and a better life. Should the Nigerian economy bounce back, should life in general experience drastic improvements, a good number of us would return to our fatherland in droves.
One of the major reasons many of us prefer foreign lands is the security of life and property. Insecurity in Nigeria is a major discouragement to not only foreign investments, but also to even the Nigerian diaspora community, who want to visit or invest at home. The insecurity has truly hit scandalous heights.
There is no country in the world that does not have its on security challenges to grapple with, even Europe and America. Who could have ever imagined that the 9/11 incidents were ever possible on American soil or that some bloody terrorists could easily waste lives so cheaply in France or Belgium or even Germany with its retinue of sophisticated police personnel? The difference between such countries and us, however, lies in the premium they place on the security of life and property and crime solving. Former President George W. Bush captured it all when he told a joint session of the American Congress, in the wake of the 9/11 attack: “Whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done.”
That is just it. Justice is usually served. Most crimes are preempted, and when they occur, as they inevitably do at times, they are solved and perpetrators punished to serve as a deterrent.
Conversely, ours is like a jungle, where life is brutish and short. Although Section 14 (2) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) unambiguously states that the security of life and property as well as the welfare of the citizens are the primary purpose of government, Nigeria is one of the few countries where you get killed like a chicken, yet nothing happens at the end of the day. There is embarrassing and scandalous trivialisation and, sometimes, willful sabotage of investigations and prosecution. In fact, in-between, even ethno-religious sentiments, emotional blackmail, and professional complicity are allowed to come in. Nothing buttresses this better than the cold-blooded murder of the Apo Six, in which a senior police officer, who was at the centre of the whole abhorrent episode, suddenly disappeared from police custody into thin air and all we got was a cock and bull story.
You get kidnapped and ransom yourself at grave cost only for police to begin to take credit for rescue oppression, including heavy gun battle with men of the underworld. Overseas-based Nigerians are even worse off as they are the preferred targets of misinformed and disillusioned criminals, especially kidnappers and armed robbers, who think they scoop hard currencies from the streets of America, Europe, and Asia.
For these reasons, many, myself inclusive, are discouraged from visiting home. However, my return to Enugu during the last Christmas holiday changed all that. It is not anything perfect or like what we experience here in our overseas bases, but the security arrangement in Enugu township and the rural communities was good enough to win my confidence enough such that I moved around freely. I noticed, for instance, that security agents, including the military, were positioned in strategic places. For instance, on my way from the Enugu Airport to Nsukka, I observed strategically-located teams of police or the army or a combination both along the Opi Nsukka road. This, my cousin told me, was due to its isolated nature.
In Enugu town also, I noticed that nightlife is back, with fun-seekers staying out till the early hours of the morning without any security issues. There were police patrol vans stationed all over the place, giving confidence to residents. My cousin, who works with the Ministry Justice, informed me that the state, under the leadership of Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, had invested heavily in the security of life and property. This includes more than 22 Hilux patrol vehicles handed to the Nigeria Police, about six Hilux patrol vehicles donated to the 82 Division, Nigerian Army, as well as other number of patrol vehicles provided to other federal security agencies. There is mutual partnership.
Back in the communities, the Neighbourhood Watch groups provide another layer of security to support the conventional security agencies. They know strange faces in the community as well as goings on in their environment and alert the police to any perceived threat to security. A friend of mine, who visited me from a neighbouring state, was trailed by men of the Neighbourhood Watch without his knowing it. It was on hooting the horn at my gate that the motorcycle-mounted men of the Neighbourhood Watch approached him to ascertain he was on a friendly visit. While it lasted, one of them was already in my living room to confirm that I was expecting such a visitor.
This community policing arrangement was launched under the Neighbourhood Endowment Fund in 2017 with the government donating N100 million in addition to security equipment and patrol vehicles to registered Neighbourhood Watch groups in the state. I was also informed that, to check possible abuses, each Neighbourhood Watch group works under the direct supervision of the Divisional Police Officer for the area.
With what I witnessed firsthand, it now makes sense when one reads from the Inspector-General of Police or any of the several state-of-national-security surveys that Enugu is one of the most peaceful and secure states in the country. It also now makes sense when one reads that my state has become one of the investment destinations in the country.
As earlier noted, it is surely not uhuru yet for the Coal City State in terms of security, but the progress made so far is quite impressive. It is even all the more heartwarming because, as the capital of the old Eastern Region, East Central State, old Anambra State, old Enugu State, and the present Enugu State, Enugu is home to every Igbo man. For instance, there is hardly any high-profile Igbo son that does not own a house in Enugu. It is also explains why hotels in the state capital are usually filled to capacity at weekends as Ndigbo from far and near come to cool off and sip from Enugu’s secure environment and famous hospitality.
It is my prayer that the Federal Government sees from the great efforts of the government of Enugu State the reasons to amend the Constitution to allow states set up their own police service and take fuller charge of security of life and property in their domains. This is what is obtainable in other climes, where security and policing work. All the Federal Government needs to do is to ensure that the law also includes provisions to check abuses by state chief executives.
•Ugwu writes from Amsterdam