… As community policing receives boost in Lagos
By Dickson Okafor
The recent launch of community policing by the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Idris Ibrahim in Abuja has boosted the spirit of vigilance groups in Nigeria. This came on the heels of an earlier call by the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, for the enactment of a national policy on community policing.
In order to brace up for the challenge, the Vigilante Group Nigeria (VGN), Lagos Command, organised a one-day programme, tagged “Re-Strategising for Optimal Operation.” The event, which attracted members of the group across the country, was opened by the Commander-General of VGN, Alhaji Ali Sokoto.
Sokoto, in his opening remark, commended the IGP for engaging vigilantes in neighbourhood watch, noting that it would enhance the performance of the police to secure life and property. He said the purpose of the programme was to awaken the consciousness of vigilance groups across the country, especially in the rural areas, as a way of complimenting the efforts of the police in confronting security challenges in the nation.
Sokoto noted that, by the move, vigilance groups would live up to expectations, as a fulcrum for effective policing of the country.
He highlighted the objectives of VGN as promotion of community policing and assisting the police in crime control and prevention, and protection of life and property.
According to him, members of VGN, having understood the mirage of security challenges in the country, came to the conclusion that community policing would help the police contain security threats such as robbery, terrorism, kidnapping, domestic violence and rape.
“The action of IGP Ibrahim is a welcome move because vigilantes are closer to the people, as community policing will serve as information bank for the hard-working Nigeria police,” the VGN boss said.
Sokoto praised the new Commissioner of Police in Lagos, Mr. Edgal Imohimi, describing him as a determined man who started well by recognising the importance of vigilantes in information gathering. He expressed optimism that, with the launch, the passage of the bill seeking the establishment of VGN at the National Assembly would receive accelerated support.
In his welcome address, Assistant Commander-General, Community Policing, VGN National Headquarters, Mr. Emmanuel Ayisire, thanked the Lagos State Police Command under Imohimi, for the recent stakeholders’ meeting on neighbourhood watch, which he said was in the right direction, as it would complement the police in the state in fighting crime.
He recalled that the concept of VGN was developed immediately after the Nigerian Civil War, when the nation faced the problem of proliferation of arms and ammunition because many people were thrown out of jobs, leading to armed robbery and other social vices. He said that it was in the 1980s that the Commander-General of VGN, Sokoto, formed the group in Kaduna, and it became necessary because of rising criminality, which the police could not handle in Kaduna. He further recalled how VGN, under Sokoto, was able to arrest criminals and hand them over to the Kaduna State Police Command, saying that vigilante is a universal word that defined a group of people in the neighbourhood who come together to protect their environment against crime.
He reminded the audience that, in line with true community policing, of all paramilitary organisations in Nigeria, VGN was the only one that had its men resident in their areas of operation in the 774 local government areas, while others, including men and officers of the police, were posted outside their communities to work as partial or total “strangers” in areas of their posting.
He said: “Consequently, VGN comprises men and women who are much more familiar with the terrain and the demography of their areas, a factor, which, no doubt, enhances internal security operations that, unfortunately, is a basic ingredient lacking in all the security agencies in the country.”
The commandant appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to support the VGN Bill by giving it executive push.
Ayisire, said that it was pertinent that both the police and Federal community policing do not negate the importance of state police as the nation was currently under-policed with an abysmally poor police-population ratio of 187 per 100,000 people. He noted that it was a far cry from the United Nations ratio of 400 per 100,000 people.
According to him, the partnership has boosted the efforts of the police in the protection of life and property in communities. He described the wide gap between the police and the people as unhealthy, which makes the police unable to get pertinent information from the people because, the police, as a civil force, work on information.
Ayisire added that this situation gave credence to the police as being proactive when they received information from the people, making them more or less reactive in incident response rather than being proactive.
He said that VGN was an organised group whose duty was information dissemination; it was believed that the police were too far away from members of the community as a result of which vigilantes are present in all the communities.
On funding, Ayisire said that the VGN levies members on an agreed amount of money. He also stated that the recruitment policy depended on whether members of the vigilante were part of the communities. He identified the problems of the police as being systemic, saying that the history and dynamics of the police were established by the colonialists as an instrument of oppression because, after fraudulently acquiring territories, colonialists felt that the people would soon become knowledgeable and might begin to retrieve the territories that were fraudulently acquired from the emirs, obis and obas.
Ayisire cited northern states as examples, where the police were collaborating with vigilantes to combat crime but regretted that in the southern part of the country, the police were not forthcoming in partnering with the vigilantes in combating crime. This gap, he said, Imohimi had closed by recognising the vital role vigilantes play in security of life and property in Lagos State.