One of the key resolutions taken by the South-East Governors Forum (SGF) during their crucial meeting at the Government House, Enugu, on July 28, 2019 was to key into the federal government’s state policing programme as well as practically resurrect the hitherto moribund forest guards with the mandate of finding out and understanding the happenings inside the bush and forests in the five Southeast states – Abia, Anambra, Enugu, Ebonyi and Imo. They said roads would be cleared up to 50 metres into the bush to enable people have a clear view of roads ahead. But this remains to be explained better because the governors didn’t give detail of how this would be achieved.
So far, the Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi-led Enugu State government has set the lead for the other states with the proposed recruitment of 1,700 forest guards within 30 days, and the already existing 5, 200 vigilante workers. All put together, Enugu State would have 6,900 men to ‘man’ the bush and forests in the 17 local government areas.
At least, the decision was among measures to be adopted to tackle the security challenges in the zone, particularly the issues of kidnapping for ransom, armed robbery, herdsmen’s incursions into farmlands and banditry, rape, among other violent crimes in the area. The governors reviewed the security situation in the zone and decided to set up a committee and a Centre for South East Integrated Security Monitoring /Intelligence Gathering to be located in Enugu. The governors said the security committee would also address the safety of fuel pipeline routes to the Enugu depot to make sure that pumping of petroleum products in the depot resumes in the shortest possible time. The chairman of the forum and governor of Ebonyi State, David Umahi, who read the communiqué , said it maintained its earlier decision that the zone had no land for the RUGA program. Enugu State has already set the pace apparently for the rest of other states to follow. Apparently jolted by the brutal murder of Rev. Fr. Paul Ofuu last week, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi on Monday rose from a crucial meeting with vigilante/neighbourhood watch groups in the 17 local government areas of the state and took decisions towards strengthening the security of the state. Also, the state government equally approved the payment of stipends to 5,200 vigilante/neighbourhood watch personnel comprising 20 persons per ward, reassuring its commitment to the peace and security of lives and property. If the Enugu example could be replicated in the rest four states, it may mean that in a short time, the entire zone could boast of not less than 34,500 forest guards and vigilantes put together. “Historically, the forest guards had existed even before the civil war, although it appeared to have been literally moribund over the years, therefore its ‘resurrection,’ is not for witch-hunting any particular group of people but to ensure that unlawful and unwarranted things do not happen in the forests,” a source told Daily Trust. But the Igbo Renaissance Assembly (IRA) has tasked the governors never to allow the establishment of the forest guards and, in fact, other security measures being proposed, to end up in the dustbin like some other previous initiatives. A former Secretary General of Ohanaeze N’digbo, Dr. Joe Nworgu, said the meeting was timely and the resolution to establish forest guards should be implemented quickly because “the environment is tense,” adding that “there is a need to bring the forest guards across the boundaries of the states in the zone to calm frayed nerves.” Nworgu stated that people of the zone are almost losing confidence in the security network of the federal government, stressing that “the federal government seems helpless as Nigerians are being pushed to the wall by armed men.” He said: “A few days ago, Boko Haram killed so many persons in Bornu State, but this is the same group government claims it has technically defeated. The import of the killings is that no defeat was handed down to the group and that is where we are right now. “There used to be forest guards even before the war. They will oversee what is happening in the forests. Their duty is to prevent poaching, fire and protect endangered animals. “We won’t have people killing elephants for their tusks and endangering other animals. The aim is to make sure that there is law and order. The situation in the country calls for it, with what is happening now, it is a very welcome thing and it should be done quickly.” He explained that the idea had nothing to do with the police, stressing that with the precarious position in which N’digbo now find themselves, and the manner of attacks by herdsmen, anything should be done within the law to give the people protection. The former Ohanaeze scribe added: “I have said and will always say that the environment is tense and it has to be doused immediately. There is hatred. There is fear and any little thing can spread danger through rumours and gossips. So it is better we take actions that can douse the tense situation.”