Yesterday, we brought to you the opening part of this treatise on VIGILANTE system of securing the society. It is contained in an opinion suggested in a paper presented by Prof. Tunde Adeniran, OFR, Nigeria’s former Minister of Education and former Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany, at the Development Policy Centre, Ojetunji Aboyade House, Ibadan, This is the concluding part of the paper. Enjoy your day.
WALK INS: “Walk-ins” share some characteristics with “Operation Evacuation”. While theft and robbery were usually the primary objective, rape and murder were frequently motivated by ,the circumstances of encounter between the robbers and their victims, especially the extent to which the former became impulsive under the overwhelming influence of hard drugs. Moreover, the various categories were generally preceded by surveillance and periodic ‘monitoring of tendencies within the neighbourhood, as well as the potentials or inclinations of law enforcement’ agents to respond to critical challenges.
Finally, there is the “siege” variety of armed robbery. For some of us students of strategy, a siege situation in warfare is an exciting area of study. It is the process (and the actual act) of surrounding and attacking a fortified place in such a way as to isolate it from help and supplies. Through this, you lessen and weaken the defenders or victims and their capture or caging is made relatively easy. Whenever armed robbers undertook a siege, they left no one in doubt about their desperation and as to their determination to dare any segment of the civil society, including the Nigeria Police.
In some cases the bandits even disguised by wearing military or police uniforms but on most occasions they did not. Generally, however, they were armed with very sophisticated weapons (AK-47, loaded magazines with hundreds of rounds of ammunition) and communication gadgets for their operations. As soon as they got to their targets they would surround them, and start’ shooting. This was followed by subjecting victims to harrowing experiences by the gangs whose membership could be as small as five and as large a fifty. Siege could also take the form of “street raids”, a near war situation in which heavily armed robbers would move from house to house sacking their targets in an operation that could last two or three hours. Any siege would leave its target with records of terrible loss, devastation and a widespread feeling of helplessness.
THE RESPONSE: It was the general feeling of helplessness that led to the formation of Vigilante groups in various parts of the country. The rationale was the unproved perception that since the Nigeria Police, was incapable of effective policing and putting an end to armed robbery, and there was a crying need for self-preservation by individual citizens and their communities; vigilantism was considered a logical answer. As soon as some communities started the Vigilante System, especially in the urban and commercial centres, many others followed until it became a national phenomenon.
In the rural areas, vigilantism entailed .hiring some non-indigenes from communities noted for’ bravery and “juju” to complement local security arrangements while in the urban areas groups were organized around those with military, paramilitary or police backgrounds to serve as community militias at night. In their operations they have had to battle not just armed robbers but the police as well since it was sometimes difficult to regulate their relationship with the law enforcement agents and the power they could exercise over armed robbers arrested by them. Moreover, there was always serious concern regarding the possibility of disinformation or misinformation on the part of Vigilante members whenever security issues were allowed to be coloured by political or other considerations. . It was worse when disinformation emanated from armed robbery gangs. 3
The advent of the Fourth Republic introduced a more complex dimension to vigilantism. In Lagos state and some pockets of communities in the South- West, the Odua Peoples Congress (a political and cultural organisation) constituted some of its members into Vigilantes and this has led to series of clash with the police over _principles and practices. For instance, while the organisation sought collaboration with the police it rejected control by them. By being an arrowhead of ethnic militancy and an unrepentant advocate of its relative superiority, the Odua People’s Congress (OPC) compromised its credibility to serve as an unbiased defender of the life and property of everybody within its area of operation.
Shortly before the new democratic dispensation, the Bakassi Boys were organized as Vigilantes in different parts of the South- Eastern States. They became particularly prominent and popular in Anambra State where they operated as the Anambra Vigilante Services and worked closely with the Nigeria Police to checkmate the rampaging armed robbers and dismantle their networks. They succeeded in dislodging the bandits, from Anambra whose Onitsha used to experience the most bloody of robbery operations. There have been allegations, however, of the Bakassi ‘Boys being subjected to political influence in some of their operations with the result that some innocent citizens had been victims of extra judicial killings.
Attempts have also been made in the other parts of the country – especially in the North – Western and the North – Eastern States – to cur the menace of armed robbery through vigilantism, From media reports and our inquiries, in spite of the’ rise in the number and variety of Vigilantes,’ very limited access has been recorded inthe attempts to stamp out armed robbery. The police, on its part, has’ benefited’ from the billions of naira allocated to equip, reinforce and empower it to cope with the challenge of putting and. end to armed robbery nationwide. Painfully, however, the terror brigades and dispensers of death and deprivation continue to swell. The Police remain inadequate in number, inadequately trained and lacking in the moral and tactical support needed to effectively curtail armed robbery in Nigerian homes and neighbourhoods. The relevant question at this stage is what is to be done?
OPTIONS BEFORE THE NATION: Can Nigerians, faced with the foregoing situation, simply fold their arms and expect the deepening crisis to resolve itself? On serious issues like this Nigerians, of course, have the tendency of passing responsibility for action from one level of government to another. We either place it at the doorstep of the Federal or State Government or arrogate it to a Local Government Area. This we also do without, much regard for the constitutional provisions or the imperatives of collective action when it comes to issues of common concern that lack strict jurisdictional delineation.
A discussion of policy options before the nation logically requires identification of the set of interacting variables that could influence, and be influenced by, policy choices. Firstly, we need to note that the problem we face in the first place resulted from discrete choices by some individuals and collectivities. Secondly, we do not have all the systematic data, the’ intuitions and experiences of all concerned that could ensure our projecting into the future in a way that policy choices and developments or transformations therefrom will be predicated by conditions or circumstances that are already known. In any event, any system or management- structure for problem solving should be inferential, but still we go beyond some disparate guessing game.”
We are therefore going to factor these elements into our proposal of the range of options. The likely wide range and sensitivity of recommendations in this regard, coupled with the complex processes of policy-making and implementation, compel a serious attempt at realism in identifying the scope. This is note-worthy in view of the likely distortions of reality arising from intensely held opinions and values in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society as Nigeria. Whatever may be the personal prejudice of scholars, however, the social scientist (particularly the policy analyst) has the serious responsibility of removing subjectivity from decision processes. —- CONCLUDED