Stakeholders in Bayelsa State, including traditional rulers, chairmen of local government councils, civil society groups, security agencies and top government functionaries, on Monday, October 18, converged at the Bayelsa State House of Assembly Complex for a public hearing on the Community Safety Bill.
The executive bill is intended to repeal the State Voluntary Internal Vigilantes Agency (Bayelsa Volunteer) Law, 2003, the Community Safety and Vigilantes Corp Law, 2018 and the Registration Neighbourhood Watch Laws, and bring all of them under a central coordinating body called the ‘Community Safety Corps’.
Deputy Leader of the Assembly and Chairman, House Committee on Security, Hon. Bernard Kenebai, explained that as lawmakers they take seriously the participation of the people in law making process because of the integrity it brings to the process and the entire system.
He expressed delight at the massive attendance which, according to him, indicates the seriousness of the bill.
In his remarks, Leader of the Assembly, Rt. Hon. Monday Obolo said the primary responsibility of government is the provision of security, noting that because the society is dynamic, laws too have to be reshaped to reflect changing realities.
On his part, the Deputy Chief of Staff, Dr Peter Akpe, stated that the Conflict Resolution Committee in the Bill is intended to compliment that of the Local Government Ministry.
He added that “since the target is our localities, qualifications for membership has to be brought down so that otherwise useful segments of the society are not disqualified based on educational attainment”.
In his contribution, the Commissioner of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Chief Thompson Amule described the Bill, as a welcome development.
“In the light of kidnapping and other criminal activities in our communities, the issues of security needs to be given prominence”, he said.
On their parts, Chairmen of Southern Ijaw, Ekeremor, Ogbia and Kolokuma/Opokuma Local Government Councils, advocated that membership of the corps should include representatives from each of the eight LGAs.
They also requested that because of the criminal sensitivity to uniforms, an Intelligence Directorate should be added which will enhance intelligence gathering without being obvious.
The council chairmen equally suggested that residential status should be a very serious pre-condition for membership of the corps, since knowledge of localities will be a key determinant of the success of their operations.
Among the various stakeholder groups that made presentations at the public hearing were the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and the Ministry of Justice.
Others were; the Ijaw National Congress (INC), Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Yenagoa branch, Bayelsa State Non-Governmental Organizations Forum (BANGOF), the Civil Liberties Organization (CLO), Bayelsa State Center for Youth Development and Bayelsa Volunteers.
They advocated the setting up of a neutral body within the Bill to monitor and report the activities of the body for the purposes of accountability.
They equally advocated that being a community-based Bill, traditional rulers should be given prominent roles to play and the recruitment process should be very professional, devoid of politics and should be gender sensitive.
According to them, there is also need for the provision of dedicated phone numbers which should be toll free through which people can share intelligence with the corps.
In his remarks, the Co-Chairman of the House Joint Committee on Security and Local Government, Chieftaincy and Community Development, Hon. Salo Adikumo expressed gratitude to all the stakeholders and promised that their views will be duly reflected in the final copy of the Bill.