BY VICTORIA NGOZI IKEANO
Like the Nigeria Peace Corps, the National Task force on the Prohibition of Illegal Importation/Smuggling of Arms, Ammunition, Light Weapons, Chemical Weapons and Pipeline Vandalism (NATFORCE), has been disowned by the federal government. Like the Peace Corps, the average Nigerian is generally unaware that NATFORCE is not a government agency. And like Peace Corp, it had been operating all over the country on the premise that a law to formally establish it was underway in the National Assembly and would be assented to by Mr. President, Muhammadu Buhari. Indeed, the bill to set up Peace Corps had been passed by the 8th National Assembly headed by Dr. Bukola Saraki and sent to the president’s table for assent. But President Buhari refused to sign it into law, citing paucity of funds and the fact that there are already several military and para-military federal government-run outfits in existence. Setting up a Peace Corps was thus considered superfluous. That was how Peace Corp was ‘killed’, notwithstanding argument of its proponents that it is a veritable tool for youth employment, would complement police efforts in fostering peace in the society as well as assertion of its then boss that it was already a member of the United Nations via UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization).
On the other hand, NATFORCE was shot down over the weekend by the National Security Adviser, General Babagana Monguno (rtd), when he issued a statement declaring the organization illegal and urging it to dismantle and discontinue its operations. The surprise is that it took government this long to take action against it as NATFORCE had been operating for years in the country. Its men in their ghoulish-looking uniform are seen with their vehicles on highways conducting stop and search operations. Like the erstwhile Commandant-General of the Nigeria Peace Corp, Dickson Akor who had a running battle with the Nigeria Police because they considered the Corp an illegal entity from the onset, NATFORCE pioneer boss, Emmanuel Osita Okereke was more or less at war with not just the police but also the Customs, the EFCC and his fellow members of the Importers Association of Nigeria(IMAN). NATFORCE was established in 2008 by IMAN and the president of IMAN was automatically its director-general. Erstwhile southwest coordinator of the organization, Colonel Anthony Awote (rtd) had said that NATFORCE started as a private-public initiative and that it was inaugurated by former Trade and Investment minister, Olusegun Aganga. He added, “It is at present being supervised by Office of the National Security Adviser, under the Ministry of Interior for ministerial over function”.
In September, 2015 Okereke was declared wanted by the EFCC in a statement signed by its spokesman, Wilson Uwajaren. But Okereke contested this. In April 2019 the erstwhile NATFORCE DG petitioned then Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu for allegedly been detained by the police for ten days while at the headquarters for a courtesy visit to the IGP. He said that he had wanted to use the opportunity to request a special team drawn from the IGP office to work with its operatives across the country, adding, “We have handed over so many cases in various Police Commands and at the end of the day there would be no prosecution”. Okereke narrated, “At the Force Headquarters, I and my directors and other officers of NATFORCE and journalists that accompanied us to cover our visit were delayed for several hours until ACP Elema in charge of IGP Monitoring Unit sent his people to arrest me in the IGP’s conference hall and moved us to Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), where we were beaten terribly and some of my men injured to the extent that some of them lost their hearing in the process. Later, I was detained with my officers for 10 days before I was granted bail at Wuse Magistrate court on April, 28, 2019”. It would be recalled that at height of its imbroglio with the Police, the Abuja headquarters of the then Peace Corp was surrounded by the police, necessitating Mr. Akor going to court for an order to get them vacate the premises.
Although Peace Corps and NATFORCE cannot be said to be a one man organization as such, nonetheless, both Akor and Okereke had somehow overbearing influence on their respective outfits. Emmanuel Osita Okereke, one-time presidential candidate of the African Liberation Party (ALP), President of Importers Association of Nigeria (IMAN) and Director-General of NATFORCE passed on in December last year. By end of January, 2021, the organization ‘’elected” a new DG with Okereke’s deputy (Baba Muhammed), stepping into the post; Okereke’s wife was co-opted as Deputy Director-General while his eldest son according to reports was to be “given a position at the national level”. It continued to be plagued with internal wrangling though as its new management vowed to retrieve through legal means, “documents, assets as well as liabilities of NATFORCE from any splinter group”. And now the federal government has wielded the big stick on it.
Recall that in 2013 then President Goodluck Jonathan approved establishment of a committee to curb spread of small arms and light weapons (SALW). Buhari also set up a presidential committee on SALW in June, 2016. In its statement, the National Security Adviser says that NATFORCE has been “mounting illegal road blocks, conducting illegal searches, seizures and recruitment”, asserting that it has no mandate or authority to carry out these functions. According to it, the National Centre for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons domiciled in the Office of the National Security Adviser is the national coordination mechanism for the control and monitoring of the proliferation of small arms and light weapons in Nigeria. It is incomprehensible that NATFORCE was allowed to carry out these gross “illegalities” for over a decade before the government decided to do the needful.