By Umar Sa’ad Hassan –
Many parents in my neighbourhood looked forward to “That Saturday” sometime in 1997. I recall my mother keeping her invite where she could steal glances at it, perhaps to boost her feelings whenever she felt down. It provided a great opportunity to get to know and bond better with the people around. It was the major topic of discussion everywhere and you felt some sense of pride knowing your family wasn’t left out. Only rainfall could prevent one from attending the meeting, and, luckily, it was dry season.
“That Saturday” was the first meeting of the newly formed Neighbourhood Police Committee – a committee formed as some sort of liaison with the police where all manner of security threats would be appraised and measures taken promptly. I think it was later renamed Police-Community Relations Committee, PCRC.
Such a committee barely exists in the present day. Many are too preoccupied with trying to stay above ground and have grown to “trust” the police more.
But this same committee, if resuscitated, could prove to be a crucial element in the war against Boko Haram. As I once said, intelligence gathering is key at this stage of the war where bombing is the insurgents’ most potent means of wreaking havoc and where the most logical step would be tracking down bomb-making factories or buildings and making it difficult for them to set up shop, that is, if we can confidently say we have left them no camps or safe havens to operate and strategize unhindered.
Police committees would come in handy in that regard. If properly managed, they would have the data of everyone in the neighbourhood and be constituted by representatives from every house.
Most buildings used for making bombs or housing armed insurgents are ones belonging to new occupants, as raids have revealed. They are people who have been programmed to portray themselves as responsible family men going about their day-to-day business. There have been some cases of Boko Haram squatters moving in with members who have lived long in an area as well.
It would be much more likelier for the neighbours to detect foul play faster than the police or army would and it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the authorities to hand them traits to look out for in suspicious new neighbours or old ones turning “new” and report to them as fast as possible.
The recent spate of bombings across northern Nigeria is quite disheartening, especially after looking at the death toll since May 29: over 500 at the last count. I wouldn’t blame the president in any way because there is actually a lot to this war than a lot of people fail to consider. In a nutshell, if it was something we could make disappear easily, then we wouldn’t be a Third World country. He has taken some concrete first steps and the “Big Brother” countries share that belief and are willing to help.
There have been commendable strides in the war against Boko Haram, a lot of them made by the previous administration; we are much better off than we were this time last year when the insurgents seized Damboa in Borno. Communities may sleep with one eye open but not under captivity. Wives and mothers may worry about the safety of their spouses and children but anything beats watching them forcefully “converted” to Boko Haram or slaughtered outright.
A wise man once told me, “The only yardstick for measuring meaningful progress in a war is the casualty rate and nothing else.” The number of lives we have lost in the space of one month tells us we still have a huge problem on our hands.
In addition to more rigorous search of persons and vehicles and all other security measures adopted in these trying times, we must seriously consider the prospects of restarting neighbourhood police committees if indeed we are serious about curbing the bombing epidemic.
Whether or not our security agencies are capable of consistently sourcing credible intelligence at the right time is for the commander-in-chief and security chiefs to answer, and I don’t intend to undermine the capabilities of our security operatives in any way. But a committee like the aforementioned could guarantee an endless flow of useful tips while reducing chances of informants harbouring any fears to the barest minimum: there would be a “togetherness” feel to the whole arrangement.
Besides providing a viable source of obtaining useful information from people in a position to know, it would discourage the insurgents from just setting up anywhere. The resultant effect would be fewer blasts and attacks.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. Our security operatives need to fashion out new ways to tackle this problem because that is the only thing that can guarantee new results.
“Security is everybody’s business” used to be the slogan of a media campaign years back.
They have spoken of the war being a collective fight and on the need to work together at ensuring a peaceful Nigeria a countless times. Well, I think they are right.
Hassan is a lawyer based in Kano. Twitter: @alaye26 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org