Hunters As Missing Link In Nigeria’s Security Architecture

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By; BASHIR BELLO 

Until Nigeria takes necessary and bold steps to commission a special security agency that is dedicated and committed to fighting crimes and criminality that are planned and executed within and around forests, all efforts by the government towards ending heinous crimes like banditry, cattle rustling, kidnapping and others would continue to be a mirage. 

 Nigeria has the Police which fights and prevents crime within cities and rural communities and the Nigeria Army which was created to protect the nation from external aggression and insurrection while the Navy fights crime within the nation’s territorial waters and the Air Force to defend our air space, while the NSCDC oversees national assets and work to stop pipeline, public electricity and other forms of vandalism and related crimes.

The only drawback has been the failure or refusal of successive governments to set up a special force to protect the country’s vast forest, which is estimated to cover about 214,637sq. km as at 2021. 

Nigeria’s forest area earlier was 245,664 sq. km in 2002 but reduced to 214,637 sq. km in 2021 due to desert encroachment. 

Unfortunately,  Nigeria’s forest  as large and critical to the nation’s security and national wealth has been left unprotected by successive administrations, leaving them as safe haven for all manner of criminal operations, including illegal mining, kidnapping, banditry and others.

To underscore the strategic importance of establishing a forest-oriented security force for the country, the 9th National Assembly after painstaking clause by clause consideration, public hearing and robust debates, finally passed the NHFSS Bill and transmitted same to former President Muhammadu Buhari who as usual, ‘did not see or know about it’ until he left office with the bill still on the presidential table.  

Interestingly the Speaker of the House of Representatives who presided over the activities of the House when the Nigerian Hunters and Forest Security Service (NHFSS) Bill was passed by the National Assembly, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, is the Chief of Staff to President Tinubu. 

One would think that from such a frontal position at the topmost level of the federal government, Gbajabiamila would have drawn the attention of his boss to the NHFSS Bill and explain to him why it should be assented to. 

Should we then say that Gbajabiamila did not believe in the project when he graciously supervised its passage or as Reuben Abati, former presidential spokesperson suggested, that there is a bug that bites people at the presidential villa which makes them transmute from their original self? Which one should we take as the reason?

It is therefore, not surprising that while many patriotic citizens including traditional rulers have been calling on government, to sign the Nigerian Hunters and Forest Security Service

( NHFSS Bill) into law in order to deploy thousands of youths to protect the nation’s forests and therefore prevent enemies of Nigeria from using them to commit crimes some unscrupulous elements have been making frantic efforts to frustrate and prevent the commissioning of NHFSS because of their parochial interests.

The regrettable thing according to findings is that, the various interests fighting against the signing of the NHFSS Bill into law are many in government and other sectors and are said to occupy strategic positions from where they exert negative influence on the government including Tinubu’s presidency unfortunately. 

However, one should be expectant that Tinubu will assent to the NHFSS Bill because during his campaigns in 2022 and early parts of 2023 he made it clear that one of the cardinal focal points of his administration should he win the election-would be to tackle insecurity which of course is the first and most important job of any leader. In demonstration of his sincerity and commitment to secure all citizens and others living in the country President Tinubu took the bold step to appoint some of the finest officers and men as Service Chiefs while one of the most tested and trusted former Police Officer was made National Security Adviser by the President.

In spite of these bold and commendable steps taken by Tinubu, the question is why are crimes like banditry, cattle rustling, kidnapping and other heinous crimes still escalating across the country? The fathomable answer is that the prevailing crimes are being committed within and around the forests where no serious attention has been given by successive federal administrations.

 And that is the primary reason also why the various achievements of the President in the area of security are being muffled by the hourly molestation and killing of Nigerian citizens and foreigners in the country as well as destruction of their properties and means of sustenance by criminal elements.

Across Ebonyi, Benue, Taraba, Plateau, Kaduna, Borno, Ekiti and Ondo states that are considered as the main food producing states, farmers no longer go to their farms for fear of being raped, kidnapped or out rightly killed by cattle rustlers, bandits and others. Among the states mostly affected by these forest-based crimes include Benue, Kaduna, Katsina, Zamfara and Plateau among others.  

Only recently, it was reported in the media that 55 persons were killed in Benue and Plateau states in two days. In Benue over 35 persons were reportedly killed by the so-called militiamen. The case is not better in Imo and Anambra states in the south east where reports of wanton killing by gunmen and bandits as well as incidences of kidnapping for ransom have refused to abate in spite of efforts by state governments to mitigate the carnages.

 The same is the case in the south west region of the country where only last week on January 30, 2024, two traditional rulers, the Elesun of Esun Ekiti and Onimojo of Imojo Ekiti were shot dead by suspected bandits. 

The third monarch among them, the Alara of Ara Ekiti, Oba Adebayo Fatoba however escaped death. On the same day news came that some school children were kidnapped in Eporo Ekiti, Emure LGA when the armed men ambushed a school bus.

According to the President-General of Agbekoya Farmers Association, Chief Kamorudeen Okikiola, herdsmen and other criminal elements have attacked and killed no fewer than 8,700 people in the past eight years; 4,000 of the victims were farmers in various towns and communities of the South-west. 

He stated this while addressing the media on February 13, 2021, adding that in most of the villages and towns in Yoruba land farmers have deserted their farms and people cannot move about freely to conduct their business activities because of the fear.

It may not be right to say that President Tinubu and his security Chiefs and Advisers like their predecessors seem to have ignored the concerns being expressed by the Nigerian people over the killings as well as calls by stakeholders in the Nigerian project for the government to block the yawning security gap.

If the governments of Canada, Russia, the United State and even Liberia with their low level of such crimes as banditry and kidnapping could commission Forest Security Services why is Nigeria underestimating the critical relevance of that arm of security for the country.

 Even while it has not received official recognition the Nigerian Hunters and Forest Security Service has been playing a complimentary role with the Police and other security agencies in the country, especially in the areas of intelligence gathering. Their officers and men have also apprehended many criminal elements operating within the forest who they usually handover to the Police.

 The Nigeria Police which some analysts have wrongly fingered in the past as working against the signing of the NHFSS Bill only recently commended the Hunters for their invaluable contributions towards curbing insecurity in the country, especially in the areas of banditry and other crimes committed in and within forests. 

The Commissioner of Police for Delta State, CP Wale Abbas stated this when he paid a courtesy visit to the Burutu Area command and stressed the need to have officers and men of NHFSS within forests and farms in the state.

According to reports- CP Wale Abbas also specifically requested that the Delta state command of the Hunters Service should deploy the operatives and pledged the readiness of the state Police Command to work with them adding that the NHFSS are the only solution to the crimes committed in the nation’s forests and farms.  He said he is fully committed and ready to collaborate with the NHFSS in Delta State.

Adebayo Ojo, a security analyst in a recent interview with an online TV platform gave some reasons why Nigeria cannot rely on regional security outfits and community vigilantes to fight crimes and insecurities adding that the only solution lies with the commissioning of hunters across the country by establishing them as a formidable force to concentrate on the forests.

 Ojo said that the only option left for the country for now is to sign the NHFSS Bill into law and commission the organization to complement the efforts of the Police and other security agencies in fighting insecurity in the country. He pointed out that the relevance of NHFSS cannot be overlooked as they are the only organization that is specialized in fighting crimes that are planned and executed in the forests.

Among prominent Nigerians that have called on President Bola Tinubu to sign the Nigeria Hunters and Forest Security (NHFSS Bill ) into law include the Emir of Borgu Kingdom in Niger State, HRM, Barrister Muhammed Sani Haliru Dantoro who on Thursday, February 1, 2024 commended officers and men of NHFSS for their immeasurable contributions to the security of lives and properties of the citizens of Nigeria. He commended the efforts of the Commander General, CG, Dr. Wole Joshua Osatimehin, and the Deputy Commander General, DCG in charge of Technical Service, Amb John Metchie and the management team for their sacrifices while championing the cause of the organization.

The monarch also urged President Bola Tinubu to sign the NHHFS Bill into law to enable officers and men of the Service to have Federal Government’s full backing. According to him, that would be a way to empower and embolden them to collaborate with the Police and other agencies in tackling security challenges in the country.

The Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi  on July 2, 2023 also called for constitutional recognition of the Nigerian Hunter and Forest Security Service in the nation’s security architecture. According to a statement from his office the monarch made the call when the Commander General of NHFSS, Joshua Osatimehin, visited him in his palace in Ife.

 He commended the efforts of the Commander General and his management team in complementing the activities of other security agencies in tackling insecurity in the country over the years. He said giving constitutional recognition to NHFSS would go a long way in reducing banditry, kidnapping, terrorism and other forms of security challenges confronting Nigeria.

All eyes are therefore, on President Bola Tinubu at the moment to see if he would seize the opportunity and the support of Nigerians to make a positive deviation from his predecessors by connecting and commissioning the NHFSS as part of the nation’s security architecture by signing the NHFSS Bill into law rather than allow the ugly status quo, which thereby, continues to give impetus for fellow countrymen and women to be butchered like goats on daily basis.

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