A region under security siege
After completing what he later called a tortious journey that took him through the main artery of the south east and arriving Port Harcourt through Owerri, lawyer and human rights activist, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), expressed shock on the overbearing number of road blocks mounted on the major roads linking the capital cities in the south east and south south by security agencies. His experience is what businesses and ordinary folks have been going through on daily basis since the uptick in deployment of personnel under Operation Python Dance.
In the past two years, a puzzling security siege has been laid on the major roads linking the towns in the south east with their immediate neighbours in Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Cross River states. The most notorious are the ever-busy Owerri-Port Harcourt and Aba-Port Harcourt roads. Although the Owerri-Port Hacourt road was conceived as a dual carriage way, large sections of it have since failed, forcing motorists to wade through deep and deadly potholes and obstacles. However, it is the numerous road blocks needlessly erected by the equally numerous security agencies that are giving the people, especially businesses nightmare.
From the Army, Navy, Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, the Police which comes with many detachments of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squads (FSARS), Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) as well as the Nigeria Customs Service, hundreds of road blocks have been mounted by many detachments of all the agencies. The security points are so close that each unit has close visual contact with the next security post. A journey that ought to have taken less than an hour in the case of Owerri-Port Harcourt usually takes over two hours due to the numerous stops at the road blocks where the same routine plays out.
Essentially, the road blocks have become toll collection points. Everyday and at every point, businesses and ordinary travelers are taken through a harrowing and nightmarish ritual of checks characterised by deliberate time wasting that inevitably ends in demands for money. Often times, the demands are laced with barely disguised blackmail that leave the commuting business people with little choice but to succumb to the intimidation.
The impact of the unnecessary siege on the smooth movement of goods and people in an area reputed for its entrepreneurial and peaceful disposition of the people can only be imagined. While acting in the absence of his principal, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had in February this year signed an executive order that directed all relevant agencies to create less cumbersome environment for businesses to thrive with minimum encumbrances. The order gave birth to the Ease of Doing Business initiative under which goods are expected to be evacuated from seaports under terms and processes approved by the Comprehensive Import Supervision Scheme (CISS).
Rivers and Cross River states are home to seaports in Onne, Port Harcourt and Calabar, the locations that best suited the business community in the south east and north east in addition to their counterparts in the two states. Apart from the low draft of the channels leading to the ports that have limited the size of ships that berth at the ports, the stifling presence of the numerous security agencies is a strong debilitating factor in making the ports less attractive to shippers in the areas.
Although security agencies have been notorious for deploying inappropriate number of operatives to the south east for less than altruistic reasons, the current security siege generally began with Operation Python Dance, the military campaign targeted at neutralising the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and its leader, Nnamdi Kanu. That objective has long been achieved, albeit with disproportionate use of lethal force that left avoidable collateral damage.
That about 90 percent of all non-oil goods shipped through Nigerian ports pass through Lagos ports is substantially attributable to the inclement environment created by the deployment of too many security agencies and personnel in the south east corridor. Today, the nation is battling with the scandalous traffic in Lagos where more than 12,300 trucks have virtually crippled the roads in a bid to evacuate goods to other parts of the country.
Within security circles, it is known that some personnel lobby to be posted to the south east which is seen as a lucrative axis. This mentality has subsisted because the leaders of the security agencies benefit materially while the economy of the nation bleeds.
In the spirit of the Ease of Doing Business initiative, the federal government should order the withdrawal of the unnecessary plethora of security operatives deployed to the south east. We urge the governors in the region and the organised private sector to impress on federal authorities the immediate and long term harm being inflicted on the economy by the ongoing security siege in the southeast corridor. There is no immediate or discernible security threat in the area to warrant the retention of the huge number and units of security agencies in the zone.