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SARS: The Tragedy Of A Police Formation

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The role of the police world over is crime prevention, protection of citizens’ rights and to ensure that laws are obeyed. Surprisingly, the security architecture of  Nigeria is drifting with high political underpinning.
The recent siege to the National Assembly, the freezing of accounts of some states with the aid of security operatives, portray Nigeria as a nation where security is heavily politicised.
Elected officials roundly abuse human rights without winking an eye. They render our security impotent and make us defenceless. For instance, men of the dreaded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) would prefer to do the bidding of politicians and humiliate anyone who raises a voice against their excesses than protect the citizenry.
In Rivers State, the SARS has been accused of having a hand in some kidnap cases, armed robbery, oil bunkering and naked abuse of power. The role SARS played in the August 18, 2018, re-run election in Port Harcourt Constituency 3 remains the talk in town. They were said to be involved in wanton hijack of election materials and abuse of INEC officials.
The SARS Commander, Mr. Akin Fakorede, may have been planted in the State to change its security architecture to create an atmosphere of fear. The activities of Fakorede were uncovered by the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Special Squad deployed to the state after the squad busted the attempted kidnap of one Mr. Azumana Ifeanyi on September 11, 2017, at the GRA, Port Harcourt. One of the SARS operatives was killed, while Inspector Justice Nyeche, who led the IGP team was injured.
During the senatorial re-run election in Rivers East Senatorial District on December 10, 2016, pictures of the SARS commander battering electoral officials and attempting to hijack election materials to  compromise the results for a particular political party in a manner reminiscent of “Rambo in the Hollywood movies” went viral.
An Electoral Officer, who was beaten up, was clearly seen in the video holding on to Fakorede. This is very sad and shameful. And, Fakorede, having satisfied his paymasters, was transferred but quickly returned to the State and even promoted to the rank of Assistant Commissioner.
On Monday, March 12, 2018, a video clip of some operatives of SARS brutalising a mechanic, Lucky Joseph, at the Choba Extension, Obio/Akpor Local Government Area of the state went viral. The video showed three policemen beating up the man. The SARS slammed him repeatedly with cutlasses, another one was seen opening a tear gas canister in his face, while the third held him down as the victim’s trousers were pulled off, exposing his private parts.
Following the alleged murder of three Ogoni youths by operatives of the Rivers Special Anti-Robbery Squad in Luebe Community in Khana Local Government Area, community leaders and women called for the immediate arrest and prosecution of Fakorede over allegations that the squad maintained a bunkering syndicate to defraud Nigeria.
Following the allegations, the Police Area Commander in Bori promised to expose and release the names of the SARS bunkering syndicate to community leaders who had petitioned relevant authorities, calling for justice. The names of the SARS operatives are still awaited one year after the dastardly act.
Tricycle operators are not spared the onslaughts by members of the anti-robbery squad as those of them plying the Mgbuosimini road are compelled to part with N200.00 daily to the operatives or risk being manhandled and stopped from doing business in the area. Taxi drivers pay as much as N500.00 each.
In Ubeta community, Ahoada West LGA, operatives of SARS haunt the community daily, making indiscriminate arrests and extortion of money from hapless natives. Consequently, many farmers are afraid of going to their farmlands to plant or harvest their crops. There is no freedom, there is no liberty as the people live in anxiety daily.
In October, 2017, SARS operatives moved into the Mbiama market in Ahoada West LGA like touts, shot into the air and brazenly carted four bags of garri belonging to traders away. Pictures taken of the incident trended. But Fakorede responded instantly that the thieves were men of SARS from Bayelsa State Command. However, Bayelsa State head of SARS refuted that claim and declared that they were men of SARS from Rivers State Command. What a shame!
Also, SARS operatives in the State were recently accused of providing cover for thugs who attacked and destroyed a parallel secretariat of the All Progressives Congress (APC) faction in Rivers State loyal to Senator Magnus Abe. The Senator’s faction alleged that operatives loyal to a chieftain of a parallel faction of the party escorted and supervised thugs who destroyed the secretariat.
Given the series of complaints across the country against the police outfit, the House of Representatives on Thursday, October 25th, 2017, passed a resolution to probe the unit. Similarly, the Inspector-General of Police (IG), Ibrahim Idris, reeled out special ‘commandments’ to personnel of the anti-robbery squad against unprofessional conduct, after an Amnesty International report indicted them of systematically torturing detainees in its custody to extract confessions and bribes.
The IGP said: “You have to correct this impression. This is a new beginning to give the nation a new anti-robbery squad. You don’t have the right to take the life of anybody or change civil offence to criminal offence. Human rights groups would be involved in the training of SARS operatives. We are going to retrain you even as you work in your different zones. You should have the courage to tackle what is against human nature. You should not mount roadblocks as it remains banned.
“The media should visit the various detention facilities and make their report. It is illegal for any police personnel to shoot into the air and cause panic in the community. You must develop a good working relationship with people in their various communities.”
Despite the laudable admonitions by the IGP, the SARS operatives have not changed their modus operandi. Atrocities are still perpetrated by the outfit. This has destroyed their image and that of the police in general. They still mount illegal roadblocks and involve in civil matters. They have even degenerated to the point of demanding debts for people and turned into an army of mercenaries who brutalise and evict tenants for landlords.
The need to overhaul the entire SARS cannot be over-emphasised. The name change which the Presidency has proposed is certainly not the solution. The change from SARS to F-SARS would result in nothing. Indeed, it may even embolden them to do more if no fundamental restructurings are done. “Old wine”, as wise people say, in “new wine skin”, cannot change the taste of a wine. The crux of the matter is not the name but the personnel.
A viable example is the notorious armed robbery saga in Benin in the mid 80s involving Lawrence Anini and his group. The then Commissioner of Police was changed, new DPOs were assigned while  patrol teams were overhauled. In less than one week, Anini and his gang members were arrested.
Thereafter, mind-boggling revelations and confessions were made by the criminals who implicated DSP George Iyamu as their informant and gunrunner. If that strategy worked then, it can work today. If there is a time to deploy that scheme, it is now that kidnappings, robbery,  harassment of citizens and even cultism are ravaging the country.
Let all SARS commanders be changed. It is imperative that all officers currently above the rank of Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP) be redeployed to other responsibilities. They have to be clothed in uniforms with bold name tags and service numbers and be prohibited from using unmarked private vehicles for operations.
The government must ensure that those responsible for extra-judicial killings in the squad are prosecuted and brought to justice. They also have to guarantee that firearms are used only in appropriate situations and in a manner likely to decrease the risk of unnecessary harm.
It is unfortunate that Fakorede has consistently absorbed his men of wrongdoing. He certainly has his date with history. But those praise-singers and political jobbers, who insist that SARS is worthy of its name and, therefore, be left untouched, must know that ‘what goes around, comes around’.
Uyi, an environmental manager and social reformer, writes from Port Harcourt.

 

Meshack Uyi

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Addressing Threat Of EIDs In Africa

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Participants at the just-concluded 5th African Conference on Emerging Infection Diseases and Biosecurity, held in Abuja, agreed that African countries must strengthen their National Public Health Institutes (NPHIs).
They said that strengthening the institutes would enable the countries mitigate infectious disease outbreaks caused by climate change and biological weapons.
They noted that the continent had continued to experience increased cases of Emerging Infectious Diseases (EIDs) like Ebola, Lassa Fever , Yellow Fever, Monkey Pox, Cholera, Bird Flu and Meningitis.
They also noted cases of drug-resistant diseases like Malaria, Tuberculosis and Bacterial pneumonias.
Available statistics indicate that infectious diseases are responsible for about one-quarter of deaths worldwide, causing at least 10 million deaths annually, mainly in the tropical countries.
Experts say that public health plays a leading role in the areas of preparedness and planning to check outbreak of diseases.
In most situations, the public health system would be the first to detect cases and raise  alarm, it would also be at the front line throughout the response.
The Director-General of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, echoed the need for African countries to combat emerging infectious diseases, through strong NPHIs.
Ihekweazu, who spoke at the conference with the theme: “Climate Change and Conflict: Implication for Emerging Infectious Diseases and Biosecurity in Africa,’’ stressed that Africa must mitigate the infectious disease outbreaks caused by climate change and biological weapons.
He stressed the need for a strong surveillance and response system managed by skilled public health experts.
Ihekweazu emphasised that African countries must demonstrate high level of preparedness to check disease outbreaks.
“Early detection through a sensitive surveillance system is required to know when and where the outbreak occurs to limit its spread.
“ Most importantly, a coordinated and rapid investigation is required to describe the outbreak and identify interventions,” Ihekweazu said.
Prof. Morenike Ukpong-Folayan, in her contribution, noted that Africa had continued to witness devastating consequences of infectious disease transmission such as the Ebola crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Ukpong-Folayan, who is of the College of Health Sciences, Obafemi Awolowo University,  said to understand and respond to infectious disease transmission dynamics, it would require collective efforts and deployment  of technological advances at Africa’s disposal.
She said the transmission patterns were needed for continuous investigation of those complex relationships so that the continent could effectively predict future disease outbreaks.
“The rapid degradation of our environment in the form of deforestation, climate change and accumulation of toxins in water tables and the atmosphere, coupled with rapidly expanding megacities is creating opportunities for EIDs and biosecurity threats in Africa,” she added.
Ukpong-Folayan noted that shrinking natural resources was creating human competition for water and grazing, leading to demographic conflicts.
Akin Abayomi, a professor of Medicine and Health Science said that “ poor management of waste and unchecked use of chemicals have contributed to the rise of infectious diseases.’’
Abayomi who is the principal investigator for Global Emerging Pathogens Treatment Consortium, said: “Whatever we do on the surface of the earth is reflected in the water table that ends up carrying pathogens and heavy metals that are harmful to the body.
“The pressure on water is enormous, when we look at the drying up of the Lake Chad, a source of livelihood for 350 million people in four countries – Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad, it has increased tension in the region.
“Wherever you have conflicts and insecurity, there is always the opportunity for biosecurity threats.”
Making reference to why Ebola spread rapidly in three countries– Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, he listed the reasons to include: “Lack of human resources, economic and financial resources to cope.
“The inaccessibility of remote locations where the disease was on the rise.
“The inexperience of staff to handle the strange disease and the lack of specialised infrastructure for dangerous pathogens.’’
An environmentalist, Mr Sunday Ishaku,said that infectious disease was a serious global health problem.
Ishaku said that epidemiological figures have shown that the burden of infectious disease was highest in Africa, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.
He said preparedness was a subset of epidemic management, adding that epidemic preparedness constitutes all the activities that have to be undertaken from the national to the health facility levels to be ready to respond effectively to disease outbreaks.
Ishaku noted: “When all the activities are put together in a plan, then we have an epidemic preparedness and response plan.”
Dr Dotun Bobadoye, the chief operating officer, Global Emerging Pathogens Treatment Consortium, said the impact of climate change and conflict in some parts of Africa should not be overlooked because of its huge impact on human beings, animals, crops and the environment.
“We should focus on combine impact of climate change and serious conflict that we are having in different parts of Africa on EIDs and biosecurity.
“Climate change is becoming a big challenge to Africa, especially with an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather event.
“We are experiencing drought in parts of the continent ; in Nigeria, desertification is moving southwards with 350 hectares lost to desertification annually.
“Lake Chad, which used to be a source of water supply to about 30 million people, is drying up and we have lost 90 per cent of its water content within the last three decades. “This is having a serious impact on biosecurity.
“With the loss of such huge water volume, we have rebel groups rising up and killing thousands of people.’’
Bobadoye disclosed that the consortium, through the help of the Canadian Government and the Lagos State Government, had begun the construction of a biological laboratory in Lagos, where sensitive biological materials would be kept from getting into the wrong hands.
“We are collaborating with Lagos State Government to build a biosecurity laboratory, where highly pathogenic biological materials will be kept so that they do not get to the wrong hands.
“ It is sited in Lagos State and donated by the Canadian Government, it will start operation soon,” Bobadoye said.
As suggested by experts, African countries should strengthen their public health institutes in order to beef up their preparedness to check outbreak of diseases.
Abujah writes for the News Agency of Nigeria.

 

Racheal Abujah

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Towards Improved Children Protection Services

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According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), abuse or violence in all its forms is a daily reality for many Nigerian children and only a fraction ever receive help.
The National Child Welfare Policy of 1989 defines a child in Nigeria as anybody who is 12 years or below; however, a draft decree put into law now sets the age of the child in Nigeria as 18 years or below.
Violence Against Children (VAC) is defined as constituting all forms of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect, negligence, exploitation or for commercial purposes of which result poses harm to a child’s health, survival or development.
It takes different forms, including physical, psychological and sexual; often times, it also takes the shape of disciplinary measures. In recent times, children are even used as human bombs and in any combat or non-combat roles in the conflict in north-east Nigeria.
Studies also show that six out of every 10 children experience some form of violence, one in four girls and 10 per cent of boys have been victims of sexual violence. Often times, the children who reported violence receive little or no form of support. In all of these, the physical, mental, social and even economic burden of VAC is enormous.
Identifying the huge consequences of VAC, world leaders in 2015 made a commitment to end all forms of violence against children by 2030, as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
In Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari launched the same campaign tagged “End Violence Against Children by 2030,’’ on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016.
Following the launch and with increasing incidence of different forms of VAC, including rape, trafficking, Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C), there have also been various clamours to end VAC in the country, of which requires a holistic approach.
A study by UNICEF, the first of its kind in Nigeria, shows that  about half of Nigerian children reported some form of physical violence by a parent, adult relative, community member or intimate partner prior to attaining the age of 18.
The studies, “A Financial Benchmark for Child Protection, Nigeria Study, Volume 1’’ and “The Economic Burden of Violence Against Children’’ were based on data gathered from 2014 to 2016 and the survey done in 2018.
The study on the Economic burden of VAC, reveals the cumulative loss of earnings as a result of productivity losses across diûerent types of violence against children to be N967 billion ($6.1 billion), accounting for 1.07 per cent  of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
This amplifies the urgency to act on reducing or outright stopping of VAC. However, achieving this will involve increasing efforts on Child Protection Services; efforts that will include awareness on prevention strategies, the implications of VAC and the consequent penalties as even cheaper options.
Ms Juliane Koenlg of UNICEF, Abuja, said that the most important thing is still to increase the awareness on the prevalence of violence against children in Nigeria which is high.
“It is a huge problem, especially on its impact on health and economy in Nigeria; the child needs protection. “If we look at child protection services, we are looking at preventive.’’
“It also has consequences on the educational attainment which we have seen in economic growth productivity loss due this consequence.
“Nearly N1 billion is lost due to creativity loss, while N1.4 trillion is lost to VAC.’’
A child rights advocate, Ms Ifeoma Ibe, says governments must be committed to reducing VAC in Nigeria.
According to her, at the economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) First Ladies Forum in October 2017, the 15 member states, of which Nigeria is among, agreed to  adopt a range of measures to protect children from violence, abuse and exploitation.
“We must strengthen our national child protection systems to prevent and respond to violence, abuse and exploitation against children.”
Lending her voice, Rachel Harvey, Regional Adviser of Child Protection, UNICEF, had at the launch of the campaign to end VAC by 2030 in 2016, said that the Federal Government must adopt proactive measures against violence through quality services.
According to her, child protection services must be staffed by trained professionals to help children recover from their experiences.
“Also, perpetrators should be held accountable for their actions by strengthening the capacity of the justice sector. Children and the general public must know that violence against children is unacceptable and know where to seek help when they become victims,’’ she said.
Shedding more light on the problem, Harvey said: “The Nigeria Violence Against Children Survey found that adults who have suffered violence as children, are much more likely to perpetrate intimate partner violence.
“Failure to end VAC also impacts the country as a whole; it leads to substantial economic losses and constrains development. Ending VAC has been linked to sustainable growth not only by the international community, but through the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals.
According to her, it involves religious leaders, NGOs and the media as they have fundamental role in breaking the culture of silence on violence that children suffered.
Aside from the efforts of governments and what the laws stipulate, many stakeholders believe that VAC can be stemmed right from the homes.
This is especially as the National Child Welfare Policy of 1989 specifies that “parents and the society at large, are under an obligation to provide their children with proper education and to protect them from exploitation arising from early marriage, employment and their negative influence that infringe on their rights’’.
A child protection specialist with UNICEF, Mrs Sharon Oladiji, agrees that Nigeria has many laws protecting children in the country, but the laws are not adequately implemented.
She calls for the creation of family courts vested with jurisdiction to hear cases that would help protect the child and prevent trafficking.
“We have good laws, but what we have suffered is implementation; government should also provide the establishment of voluntary homes to take care of children that are suffering,’’ she said.
She tasked parents on their responsibilities of proper upbringing of children in order to reduce the rate of child rights violation in Nigeria.
“If a child is well brought up, issues of molestation and abuse will not occur. “When you raise a child well he goes out to become a good person, when a child has problems in the home he goes out and demonstrates it,’’ she says.
Also, Mrs Eliana Martins, of the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Nigeria, Lagos State branch, believes that parents have critical roles in reducing VAC through the proper upbringing of their children and wards.
“Instilling good morals in the upbringing of children will help to mould a child’s personality for a more responsible adulthood. If you teach your children good values, definitely they will imbibe these values as they grow up and the women, especially have to rise up to this task.
Mr Denis Onoise, a child protection specialist, UNICEF, reiterated the need for “Call to Action’’ by governments and stakeholders to add child protection budget line to national chart of accounts.
He said that based on studies, currently, only 14 per cent of child protection expenditure in Nigeria was devoted to critical prevention services.
According to him, there is also need to formalise an End VAC National Act Plan and establish VAC helpline.
“These will improve the delivery of child protection services across the country,’’ Onoise said.

Ihechu is of the News Agency of Nigeria.

 

Vivian Ihechu

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Insecurity, Traditional Rulers And Community Policing

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The hue and cry about insecurity in Nigeria reached an alarming crescendo when the daughter of Afenifere’s leader, Reuben Fasoranti, Olufunke Olakunrin was killed by suspected herdsmen at Ore junction, Ondo State on July 12.
The ensuing reactions were charged, emotional and combustible.
President Muhammadu Buhari swiftly offered a soothing response; he directly commiserated with Fasoranti and reassured Nigerians of Federal Government’s commitment to the protection of lives and property.
In the aftermath of Olakunrin’s death, alongside other incidents of killings, the Pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, ordered  killer herdsmen to leave South-West now or face serious confrontation. The organisation said that a lot of people had been killed due to the activities of killer herdsmen between 2015 and 2019.
An Afenifere chieftain, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, said the quit order was because of the killing of Olakunrin.
Determined to assuage feelings and find lasting solutions to the reoccurring security challenges, Buhari directed the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, to confer with traditional rulers and get their input  vis- a-vis adopting community policing.
Consequently, on July 20, Osinbajo held separate consultations with the Akarigbo of Remoland, Oba Babatunde Ajayi, and the Awujale of Ijebu Kingdom, Oba Sikiru Adetona, all Ogun  monarchs.
Osinbajo was accompanied to Ajayi’s palace by Governor Dapo Abiodun of Ogun.
“As you know, there are many significant security concerns all over the country, and there are concerns also in the South-West. So, I am here on the instruction of the president to consult with the traditional ruler, the governor and others on what to do to beef up security and to generally improve the security architecture.
“Of course, you know that Kabiyesi is not just a traditional ruler, but a very important part of the government. That is why we are here; to talk to him and agree on few modalities for beefing up security; and ensuring that we are fully conscious of all that is going on, just to be sure that peace and security reigns here and across the country.’’
Osinbajo expressed optimism that by God’s grace, Nigeria would overcome all its problems and set itself on the path of peace and prosperity. The vice president, who also visited the palace of the Awujale of Sagamu, said the monarch was one of the most important voices in the South-West.
He said they had discussed on the important steps to take in order to improve the security architecture generally. According to him, the monarch has given a lot of insight; his own views, on what needs to be done, how to go about it, and what has been done already.
“But very importantly, he showed his commitment to ensure that there is peace and security, and that everybody lives in peace with one another and maintains the highest level of security.
“We are consulting with many of the traditional rulers across the country, but there are concerns in the South-West now. The president has spoken about the role of traditional rulers in maintaining peace and security in their own localities. As we know, they are the closest to the grassroots; the closest to their communities.
“One of the critical things we expect from our community policing efforts is some integration between the traditional rulers, the community and the police; and efforts they are making to improve intelligence; and we need to understand what is going on.
“We need to know who is where, and what exactly is happening all around, so they can be transmitted to the more formal security agencies, such as the police and the army, depending on where and what the situation is,” he said.
In the same vein, Osinbajo, on July 23, met with Osun monarchs at Osun Government House, Osogbo. The vice president, after the meeting, said that community policing was one of the methods that may be adopted to improve security.
In his contribution, Osun Governor, Gboyega  Oyetola, who was represented by his Deputy, Mr Benedict Alabi,  applauded the Federal Government’s efforts in nipping the security challenges in the state in the bud.
“On behalf of the government and people of the state, we appreciate President Buhari’s administration for being pro-active and for showing interest in the security of our people in the state and in the South-West,’’ he said.
Buhari also held a consultative meeting with South-West Obas on July 31 at the Presidential Villa. Buhari said that the vice president had already begun consultations with some Obas and he had been receiving feedbacks and observations.
He said that the consultations were important because traditional rulers formed a critical part of governance structures, especially in their respective communities, where they felt the pulse of the people being the closest to the populace.
The president said that the dynamics for safeguarding security kept changing and stressed the need to adopt modern, technological and people-centred methods in achieving the goals. Buhari said that as the traditional authorities in their communities, government and the security agencies would be relying on them to monitor the communities. The president also announced other measures government intended to adopt to tackle security challenges.
“Some of these interventions include an expedited commencement of community policing, a robust revamping of police intelligence gathering capacity and the significant boosting of the number of security personnel in our local communities.
“This, in specific terms, will include recruiting a lot more police officers and doing so right from their local government areas, where they would then be stationed in the best practice of community policing.
“Working with the state governments also, we intend to beef up the equipping of the police force with advanced technology and equipment that can facilitate the work of the security agencies.
“I will be issuing directives to the appropriate federal authorities to speedily approve licensing for states requesting the use of drones to monitor forests and other criminal hideouts.
“We also intend to install CCTVs on highways and other strategic locations, so that activities in some of these hidden places can be exposed, more effectively monitored and open to actionable review.
“ We will equally continue to bring in our military when needed to complement the work of the police, including possible deployment of troops on certain highways on a temporary basis, and the use of the Air Force assets to bomb hideouts where criminals are located,’’ he said.
On his part, the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi, who spoke on behalf of the Obas, said that the president had agreed to fast-track the monitoring of the forests in the region with the use of technology such as drones. He said that policemen and officers would be recruited among people born and living in the various communities in the region.
“We can use that strategy to avert tension going on now in the South-West,” he said.
Deserving no less attention was the recent kidnap of a pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) and four others, along Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, and the  killing of a Catholic priest, Rev. Fr. Paul Offu along Ihe-Agbudu Road in Awgu Local Government Area of Enugu State. The incidences, among others, buttress the call for drastic and effective measures to be adopted to tackle insecurity across the country.
Undoubtedly, bringing traditional rulers into the security architecture will enhance intelligence gathering and effective community policing that will reasonably address the nation’s security concerns.
Okoronkwo, writes for the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).

 

Chijioke Okoronkwo

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