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 Corps, 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 was passed by the 7th National Assembly and sent to the president 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 organisation 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 parts of 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 of the Nigeria Peace Corp, Dickson Akor, who had a running battle with the Nigeria Police because they considered the corps 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. According to erstwhile southwest coordinator of the organization, Colonel Anthony Awote (rtd), NATFORCE which started as a private-public initiative was inaugurated by former Trade and Investment minister, Olusegun Aganga. He added that it was being supervised by Office of the National Security Adviser and then under the Ministry of Interior for ministerial oversight.
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 being detained by the police for 10 days while at the headquarters for a courtesy visit to the IGP.
Although Peace Corps and NATFORCE cannot be said to be a one-man organisation, nonetheless, both Akor and Okereke had overbearing influence on their respective outfits.
Emmanuel Osita Okereke, one-time presidential candidate of 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 organisation “elected” a new DG with Okereke’s deputy (Baba Muhammed), stepping into the post; Okereke’s wife was co-opted as deputy director-general and his eldest son according to the organisation, 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.
In its statement, the National Security Adviser says NATFORCE has been mounting illegal road blocks, conducting illegal searches, seizures and recruitment”, adding that it has no mandate or authority to carry out these functions. According to him, “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.
Victoria Ngozi Ikeano writes via email@example.com