Presently in Kogi state, there is a surge in violent crimes which have defied conventional solutions. Principal state officials and stakeholders must now show capacity to proffer solutions derived from active collaboration and thinking outside the box.
It is impossible to entirely rid society of crime but government must show capacity and commitment to keep it at its lowest ebb at all times as safety and security of lives and properties is the primary responsibility of government.
Considering the positioning of Kogi State in Nigeria’s geography, it is expected that nefarious elements will seek to exploit opportunities to perpetrate various shades of petty crimes in the state but lately, what has been the case is an exponential growth in organized brigandage across the State with exception to a few of the 21 local government areas.
Simply put, there is an increase in terrorism and other heinous crimes which range from piracy to arson and kidnap as well as armed robbery, cultism, bank heists, murders and so on in our State.
THE STAND POINT OF GOVERNMENT:
Strategically, whereas a rub-off effect of the security challenges in the North East and North West of Nigeria which share boarder with the states of Tchad, Benin and Niger Republics as well as Cameroon is expected in the North Central, the reality in Kogi State does not suggest that the spate of violent crimes has an external dimension to it.
Perhaps this rub-off effect is what led the state government via information commissioner, Kingsley Fanwo to suggest that the perpetrators of terrorism and violent crimes for which Kogi State is now known are outsiders.
If this is the case, then it is safe to conclude that security may not be priority to the present administration because victims and survivors, especially commercial transporters of humans and goods as well as travellers; drawing from experience insist that the criminal elements in most cases are natives of the exact location where the crimes happened. A fact they established by taking note of the language spoken during these operations.
Presently, outside Kogi State, words like “Okene Boys”, “Itobe Boys” or “Lokoja Boys” are popular and used by travellers to refer to the various armed groups working round the clock to create and sustain an impression that Kogi state is Afghanistan.
THE REAL PICTURE:
The Kogi state government must up its game, quit the grandstanding and reverse this trend via a clearly defined state policy decision. Reactions like the press statement of the 21st of February 2020 issued by the government and published by The Cable which followed the abduction of 12 passengers of a commercial bus in Itobe does not carry any weight and is therefore completely useless. It portrays the government as a helpless baby.
For the avoidance of doubts, on the Thursday preceding this kidnap saga being the 13th of February 2020, 4 officers of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corp were kidnapped on the Itobe-Ayingba road; precisely in Alo-Offoke community.
On the 5th of June 2020, according to the BBC, at least 8 serving policemen including 3 female officers then some civilians were murdered in Isanlu when over 20 armed youth broke into a commercial bank in broad day light. It was the mother of all heists.
On the 10th of July 2020, Premium Times reported that 2 police officers were again shot dead by a 5 man armed group who then broke into a commercial bank in Okene at 8:55am forcing the sleepy town to shut down.
On the same day, 2 persons including a naval officer traveling in a Toyota Sienna were shot dead on the Okene/Lokoja road.
In yet another development, Punch Newspapers reported that very close relatives of the speaker of the Kogi State House of Assembly; Kolawole Matthew – including His wife and brother were kidnapped on Oshokoshoko-Kabba road. This time, the elements were dressed in military camouflage. This forced the state House of Assembly to demand an arrest of rising terror in the Obajana/Lokoja/Oshokoshoko/Kabba areas.
The resolution of the Kogi State House of Assembly is first an indictment on the executive arm of government which had initially insisted the state is safe; then a resolution urging the executive to be responsive to its responsibilities by providing high tech communication and other gadgets to enhance crime detection in the state. Lawmaker Jimoh Omiata called for focus on the Egbe/Isanlu/Kabba/Obajana roads while Edoko Ododo lamented the plight of road users on the Itobe/Anyigba corridor.
Nicholas Offodile, owner of popular Chuks supermarket, Lokoja was also killed at the Chikara end of the Abuja/Lokoja highway as reported by Daily Sun newspapers. Presently, new facts suggest His murderers are assassins not even highway robbers as thought.
Despite denials from State officials, at least 3 major crime incidences happen monthly in Kogi State counting from January 2020 all of which involve the use of high speed vehicles, sophisticated communication gadgets, reliable intelligence reports and heavy automatic weapons leaving casualties only on the side of citizens and security agents.
If the state government insist the criminals are from elsewhere, now is the time to expose where they come from and explain why Kogi State is their preferred destination contrary to claims of Governor Yahaya Bello that Kogi State is the preferred destination for only investors.
THE WAY FORWARD:
Implementing an integrated agriculture and road transport program will make it impossible for criminals from within or outside Kogi to do “business” in the state because already, all the crime flashpoints are known to have similar environmental features. These features are the presence of vast unused arable land, a unique topography surrounded by hills and mountains and access to waterfront resources all of which are natural endowments.
It is therefore imperative for the Kogi State government to immediately review its agriculture and road transportation policy so they can serve as tools to end highway robbery, kidnaping and other acts of terrorism.
The Kogi State Government must quickly invest in mechanized agriculture and take a clue from aspects of my #RebuildKogi manifesto which clearly designed a road map for the implementation of a “One Zone; One Export” agriculture policy. For each zone in Kogi State, 3 agricultural products will be identified based on comparative advantage which can be developed for export. Partnership with a consortium of banks and other financiers to provide a pool of funds of at least N9B from where start-up capital, backed by government guaranty will be sourced to develop these projects in the respective zones.
Each settlement will have a staff strength of at least 500 supported by a processing plant with a direct staff strength of 100 people where harvested produce will be processed. Output will be only for export through which Kogi State will earn foreign exchange. Similarly, each zone will have an agro-produce marketing board charged with the responsibility of marketing products grown in the zone in various international markets.
To boost distribution in Nigeria, the Kogi State government must acquire warehouse facilities in Lagos, Abuja and Rivers States to serve as distribution out stations. Produces will be delivered to the facilities in large quantities to cater for the food needs of these clusters. This will create massive employment for youths and women, generate income for the state and further reform the civil service since workers who are underutilized in various ministries can be redeployed to work in the farm settlements, processing plants, marketing boards and distribution out stations.
In all, besides food security and creation of a new window of IGR, this initiative will take off 5,000 Kogi people especially youth and women off the job market. It will also improve the living standards of subsistent farmers who will be encouraged to plant, harvest and sell their products at controlled cost to processing plants for processing and reselling.
Most importantly, since terrorists and bandits are known to have camps in the heart of the jungles where they construct arsenals for storing weapons, where they meet and live to plan attacks and evade suspicion, where they take their victims to in anticipation of ransom and where other equipments are stockpiled, the Kogi State government must quickly move in, take over the lands in these flashpoints and convert them to massive mechanized farm settlements which will immediately displace the nefarious elements from Kogi soil.
On the other hand, close observers agree that the Lagos trailers/tankers malfeasance is creeping into the industrial and administrative clusters of Ajaokuta and Lokoja. If left unchecked, Kogi will have a peculiar mess to handle and it will include environmental degradation and pollution, a totally disorganized system of public transport and the risks of mass destruction of lives and properties due to fire outbreaks and highway accidents.
Government must quickly map out massive land for the construction of modern automated heavy duty vehicles parks to tame this ugly menace before it snowballs into an uglier episode. This critical infrastructure should exist along the Ajaokuta/Ayingba/Itobe corridor as well as the Okene/Lokoja/Gegu/Abaji highway. If take-off funds are unavailable, a transparent bid should be advertised to invite private developers to handle it at zero cost to government.
This initiative will first ensure reclaiming and proper usage of vast land which is presently serving the needs of terrorists and bandits. Insecurity will reduce because these elements will be displaced and left without a place to keep their victims, conduct trainings for recruits, hide themselves or store their arms.
The next benefit to the state will be a permanent removal of heavy duty vehicles on highways which on its own will lead to easy flow of traffic through Okene/Lokoja/Gegu into Abaji in Abuja and increase the life span of portions of the highway that have presently been forcefully converted to garages and mechanic workshops.
Presently, there has been incidences where commuters have complained of spending as much as 9 hours travelling to Abuja from Lokoja which should not be more than 3 hours.
Further to this will be an improvement in IGR. Presently, owners of container trucks, tankers or trailers pay a daily parking fee of N1, 000 to the authorities in Lagos State. This means that for every 1,000 heavy duty vehicles parked in flashpoints in Lagos, at least one million Naira is earned by park operators every 24 hours. In a month, this will be at least thirty million. Besides the Kogi tax department, no state agency earns this much monthly.
Furthermore, the state Government should consider granting amnesty to holders of various types of dangerous weapons that are presently in the hands of vulnerable youths across the state. We must take back our lands from terrorists of any kind for conversion to beneficial purposes.
To achieve these, policy drivers in Kogi State must quickly wear their thinking caps and convert the current surge in crimes into an opportunity to grow the agriculture and road transportation sectors of the state for the benefit of taxpayers and people of Kogi State.
There is a crisis in our hands – people of goodwill and conscience must rise to the occasion and demystify the myths of insecurity in Kogi State with practicable policy solutions on agriculture and road transport.
Mohammed Adah Shaibu Tettes; PgD, MBA, MPhil, FNimn is a member of the Kogi State Caucus of the Peoples’ Democratic Party from Egume, Dekina LGA of Kogi State.
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