Nigeria: Umahi and Convoy Blockers

17 October 2019
editorial

The Governor of Ebonyi State David Umahi was reported to have ordered the arrest and prosecution of persons who blocked his convoy recently in the state by mounting of an illegal check point at Onicha in Onicha Local Government Area of the state. According to reports, the road blockers resisted efforts by the security details in the governor's convoy who tried to clear the road. The mob was alleged to have disarmed a cop.

An angry Governor Umahi then ordered that in subsequent similar situations, his security details should shoot at culprits. He also ordered that all those involved in the incident should be fished out and prosecuted. He then banned night public outings beyond 10 p.m. across the state. He has however denied giving the shooting order even as he also justified the possibility of such assailants being shot by the armed convoy escorts, as per their routine operational orders. In justifying his action, Umahi argued that if such outrage can be meted to him as governor of the state, it was easy to imagine what could happen if an ordinary citizen had encountered the mob.

Ordinarily, convoys are intended to provide any of two ends - being protection for the subject and or facilitate unrestricted follow-through in areas that could pose restrictions on movement. It is also the duty of security escorts to assess the potential for any contingency during the course of a convoy's route, and respond accordingly. It was a serious situation when the convoy that was conveying a state governor was intercepted at an illegal checkpoint mounted by unauthorised persons, as was the case of Umahi. The individuals that mounted the illegal check point and blocked the governor's convoy exposed themselves to considerable danger of being shot. It was an even bigger misconduct for them to have engaged the security escorts in a scuffle and reportedly seized a gun from a soldier.

There are several lessons to learn from this episode. In one vein the affair could be seen as the misguided action by villagers who were intent on asserting their control within the precincts of their home land, especially given the heightened state of insecurity in that part of the country. It could also be argued that the incident was a playout of impunity in the society reaching a crescendo, with citizens denying public figures the traditional courtesies. the incident could also signpost a more disturbing playout of a groundswell of anti-establishment sentiments by the secession-minded IPOB elements who have resolved to embarrass the political elite from the South Eastern zone of the country. That this episode happened in a South Eastern state and to a governor who has been in the news over some points of disagreement with IPOB, raises that possibility.

That is why the response of the governor in the situation should have been more discretional that a rash order for the arrest and prosecution of the assailants. Considering that the perpetrators acted as a mob, the best response to such a contingency was not a confrontation. Rather, a more sedate response of moral suasion would have achieved more mileage for his political rating and won him admirers in the vicinity. After all this was a governor and his constituents with whom he should be on the same page. It is easy to appreciate what dividends would have been earned by both parties if the encounter had ended in amity, with the governor paying a listening ear to the bereaved and hence mourning crowd.

While as the governor with considerable leverage over the instruments of state power, Umahi has the liberty to swing the cudgel of authority at any of his subjects, a key lesson for him and others in power is that discretion is still the better part of valour.

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