NEC sits over state police as govs plan forest guards

The National Economic Council will reconvene later this month as more state governments have submitted their reports on the establishment of state police, The PUNCH has learnt.

This came to the fore on Monday as our correspondents reported that no fewer than 10 states had begun the process of deploying forest guards to protect farmers and flush out bandits.

At President Bola Tinubu’s meeting with the governors last February, the Federal Government and states agreed to recruit forest rangers and invest in more training to “keep our forests and our borders safe,” said the Information Minister, Mohammed Idris, when he briefed State House correspondents after the meeting.

At  NEC’s 140th meeting held at the Aso Rock Villa on March 21, the council received reports from 16 state governors expressing their support for establishing state police.

They also recommended changes to the constitution to allow for smooth establishment.

Spokesperson for the Vice President, Mr Stanley Nkwocha, had revealed that NEC was still awaiting reports from 20 states, expressing confidence that others would support.

However, no details were given about the specific states. But Nkwocha had, at the time, affirmed that the total number would be presented at the next NEC meeting even as “the compilation is still going on”.

Responding to questions from our correspondent on Monday, the Council’s Secretary, Mr Nebeolisa Anako, confirmed that more states had submitted reports.

Although the next meeting is scheduled to be held on April 18, Anako noted that a date for April’s gathering would be confirmed after the holidays.

“Yes, more states have submitted. NEC meeting will be confirmed when work resumes,” he said.

NEC was established by the provisions of section 153(1) and Paragraphs 18 & 19 of part I of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

Its membership comprises the 36 state governors, the Governor of the Central Bank, and other co-opted government officials.

Chaired by the Vice President, the council meets monthly to execute its mandate of “advising the President concerning the economic affairs of the Federation, and in particular on measures necessary for the coordination of the economic planning efforts or economic programmes of the various Governments of the Federation.”

On February 16, the Federal and state governments resolved to develop modalities to create state police to tackle the country’s security crisis.

At President Tinubu’s meeting with the governors last February, Minister of Information, Mohammed Idris, said, “The Federal Government and the state governments are mulling the possibility of setting up state police,” said Idris, adding that “this is still going to be further discussed.”

He explained, “A lot of work must be done in that direction. But if our government and the state governments agree to the necessity of having state police, this is a significant shift.”

“Like I said, more work needs to be done in that direction. A lot of meetings will have to happen between the Federal Government and sub-nationals to see the modalities of achieving this,” Idris noted.

On February 20, 2024, a bill proposing the creation of state police successfully passed the second reading in the House of Representatives.

The legislation titled, ‘A bill for an Act to alter the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, to provide for the establishment of State Police and related matters,’ was slated for a second reading before the end of this week.

Backed by 13 House members, the bill gained the majority’s favour in the Green Chamber, with many lawmakers arguing that the security challenges take preeminence over concerns about political victimisation by state governors.

Weeks earlier, the Presidency noted that although the President had given his nod for the creation of state police outfits and forest guards, governors would ultimately determine the success of both moves.

Speaking exclusively with our correspondent on the issue, a presidency official who did not want to be named said, “The President told the state governors to discuss it further at the state level.

“A committee was set up for that. We have not heard from the committee yet. Don’t also forget that simultaneously, the national assembly is considering inserting state policing in the constitution. So, there is a consensus around state policing.

“As for the forest guards, work is going on with it. There are existing forest guards in several states, but they are under the states’ ministries of agriculture. The goal now is to strengthen their capacity by arming them properly and recruiting more people.

“Still, it all falls in the hands of states to strengthen the forest guards. That is where we are now.”

Forest guards

Explaining the Ogun State Government’s move on state police, the Commissioner for Forestry, Taiwo Oludotun on Monday said that the state government planned to recruit at least 500 forest guards to combat bandits troubling farmers in the state.

Oludotun said that the ministry was still waiting for the directive of the state Governor, Prince Dapo Abiodun on the recruitment of forest guards as advised by the President.

He said “Presently, we have well over 250 forest guards who are manning our forest reserves in Ogun State. The only thing is that they are not armed.

“For the directive of the Federal Govt to engage forest guards that are armed to protect our forest reserves and farm settlement, Ogun State Government is seriously working towards it, as you know, the state government can’t just procure firearms and ammunition without due process and proper training of the forest guards that will handle these task.We plan to start with 500 whenever we take off and then take it further from there.’’

Speaking with The PUNCH in Jos on Monday,the Plateau State Commissioner for Information, Musa Ashoms, described Tinubu’s advice as noble. He said already the state government had enlisted the collaboration of agro rangers of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps to protect farms

The commissioner said “For us as a government,Mr President advice is a beautiful one and we will just do that especially now that farming activities are around the corner.

Ashoms, who did not disclose how many forest guards would be recruited in the 17 local government areas, stated, “ Already, we have collaborated with the agro rangers of the NSCDC to protect our farmers and the recruitment of forest guards will be a complement to what we have started doing already.

“But What I can assure you is that we will embark on the recruitment of forest guards in line with the advice of Mr President because we need to protect our agricultural integrity and territory so that the people will cultivate more because agriculture is one of the strongest items in our agenda.’’

On his part, the Osun State Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, Kolapo Alimi, said the Ademola Adeleke administration was ready to key into the initiative.

He said, “There was a release made by the government to sensitize people about the breach of security in Osun that some people were planning. And consequently, we said the government should hold the security meeting. In that security meeting, some measures were taken. Part of the measures was to empower the Amotekun, forest guards and some other securities to forestal any breach of security.

“At the same time, we sensitized schools in the state that they should be more vigilant concerning their areas, and the security agencies were mobilized. So establishing forest guards is a good idea, and the Osun State Government has keyed into it, and we are working on it already.”

Ekiti foresters

In Ekiti State, the governor, Mr Biodun Oyebanji, recently inaugurated newly recruited 22 foresters, 18 boundary men, and 10 technicians as part of efforts to address the ugly trend in deforestation and illegal activities of criminals in the forests in the state.

The governor said that the recruitment was to strengthen the workforce “to be able to tackle the rising cases of insecurity, deforestation, and other criminal tendencies being displayed by some unscrupulous elements in the forests”.

The governor, who spoke during the passing out parade of the new forestry personnel, which was held on March 21, directed the forest guards in the state to synergise with the security agencies to flush out kidnappers and other nefarious criminals using Ekiti forests as hideouts and inflicting terror on the citizens.

The Kebbi State Government also expressed its determination to tackle banditry.

The Chief Press Secretary to the state governor, Ahmed Idris, stated this on Monday while speaking with one of our correspondents on the telephone.

He said, “Already we are working on the establishment of our community guard corps here in the state.

“I believe the establishment of the corps will go a long way to tackle headers and farmers crisis in the state. The issue of insecurity will be greatly dealt with once the local security outfits are put in place “ he added

In Bayelsa State, the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Mr Daniel Alabrah, said the state government already had the community safety corps, which would be deployed in farms.

Also, the Commissioner for Information, Culture, and Tourism in Benue State, Mathew Abo stated that the state had forest guards.

Abo who spoke to our correspondent on the phone on Monday explained that the forest guards were already in existence before the present administration.

He stated, “We have some forest guards that are on the ground but we have not recruited additional ones but the existing ones are working seriously. And we call them hunters”, Abo said.

As part of measures to ensure improved security within the state, the Sokoto State Government plans to recruit more forest guards.

A top government official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to speak on the issue, said the newly established community guards corps had already been deployed to some forests in the state.

“Yes, the directive of Mr President is a welcome one and we in the state appreciate and believe it’s one of the lasting solutions to solve this crisis between farmers and headers.

“But I can confirm to you that the community guards were deployed to some of the bushes even before the statement credited to Mr President”

All efforts to speak with either the state Commissioner for information, Sambo Bello Danchadi, or the spokesman to the governor, Abubakar Bawa, were not successful as their calls to their phones were not responded to at the time of filling this report.

Agro rangers

In Kwara State, state, the government is making use of the agro rangers of the NSCDC to guard the farms.

Questions sent to the state government officials including the state Commissioner for Communications, Mrs Bolanle Olukoju, and the Chief Press secretary to the governor, Mallam Rafiu Ajakaye, had yet to be responded to as of the time of filing this report on Monday.

However, the Public Relations Officer of NSCDC in the state Command, Ayoola Michael ASC said that the state government had been making use of the agro rangers unit of the command to secure the farms in the state.

He said, “The Agro Rangers unit of NSCDC in the state has been guarding and protecting farmers in the state and we have been performing some other functions including mediating and settling quarrels between farmers and herders in the state.

“The Agro Rangers unit of NSCDC is functioning and has been performing our functions which include guarding farms and mediating in the crises between the Farmers and Herdsmen. We have settled more than 1,000 cases in the state since the inception of the unit in 2016”, Ayoola said

In Gombe State, it was learnt that the state government had deployed forest guards.

But Founder of Jewel Environmental Initiative, a non-governmental organisation, Ismail Birma, said the state should recruit more forest guards.

He added that the number currently operational in the state was inadequate, “they are yet to recruit more forest guards,” he said.

Source: The PUNCH

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