The debate over the desirability or otherwise of the creation of state police is raging. There are suggestions that the federal government should consider partnering with vigilante groups to complement its security efforts.
The entire arms of the nation’s security apparatus, as at the moment, have their hands full as they battle with insurgency, herdsmen/farmers clashes, kidnapping and other related anti-social issues. The vigilantes played and are still playing their role in the fight against Boko Haram. This is because they understand the terrain and know the people at the local level.
From time dating back to the colonial era, vigilante groups have always been the bulwark of security duties in the rural areas. They go by various appellations depending on the geographical area concerned and their dedication to the security of the people in their area of operation recommends them.
However, the politicisation of the hitherto effective and efficient security structure became a problem that eventually led to its ban. Even with the ban, it continued to function low key across the nation. This changed with the emergence of a new form of terror in the name of Boko Haram. This was when the Civilian Joint Task Force (JTF) came into existence, working in conjunction with federal security forces to check the menace of insurgency in parts of the Northeastern part of Nigeria. The JTF began in 2013 as a group of local hunters who wanted to protect their communities. They ended up being quickly absorbed as a valuable security resource.
The point needs to be emphasised that the regular security forces, while doing their best in their assigned roles, are obviously overwhelmed. Some are not used to the terrain they find themselves in and to that extent become sitting ducks. The vigilante groups work round the clock to keep the areas safe with their whistles, locally made guns and trained dogs. Areas that have not been reached by government security forces are covered by these security groups.
These vigilante groups can work with the regular security agencies under strict supervision and clearly defined operational directives. During the crisis in Zamfara, one of the local government areas was reportedly rescued by vigilante groups while they were waiting for security from government. Such cooperation can be expanded to fill the apparent security gap.
As stated earlier, even the military high command commended the assistance they received from these vigilante groups, especially in terms of intelligence gathering. In our opinion, the role of these groups can be carefully factored into the security arrangement even at the state and national levels.
In the recent past, other examples of this locally organised security groups include the Bakassi Boys, Egbesu boys and Oodu’a People’s Congress. They were given funds and equipped by the communities that set them up to maintain security.
The Hisbah came up in parts of the North after some states implemented Sharia law. In 2000, the Hisbah vigilante group was established in Zamfara and Kano State. In 2003, laws to regulate the Hisbah were passed. But official regulation did not stop and they clashed with federal Police despite enjoying their support. A ban was in place by 2006, but the group continued in some other Northern states.
There have also been various groups in the Niger Delta. There is presently a conventional type vigilante group called Vigilante Group of Nigeria. Originating from Benue State, they were registered as an NGO in 1999. Said to be well structured, the group works with the Police and the military. It has also been reported that, just like the Civilian JTF, they have contributed in fighting Boko Haram terrorists.
It is the position of this newspaper that as Nigeria is already making use of the vigilante groups, it should work towards integrating them at the national level in these times of random attacks by criminals masquerading as herders. Vigilante groups should at this time complement security forces.
They know the people, they understand them and are better familiar with the terrain. Working with federal security forces, their chances of success are high. In other to bring this about, it is our view that the Police should review the decision to disarm vigilante groups because that policy is working against the citizens contributing to their own safety. There should be more of these partnerships between regular forces and local vigilante groups. They are playing a commendable role in securing the grassroots and deserve to be encouraged.
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