With the approval of the police commands in states, organized vigilance groups were also established by local governments to serve as community security…
Tony John (Port Harcourt), Timothy Olanrewaju (Maiduguri), Mohammed Munirat Nasir (Gusau), Bamigbola Gbolagunte (Akure), Abdulrazaq Mungadi (Gombe), Emmanuel Adeyemi (Lokoja), Gyang Bere (Jos), Femi Folaranmi (Yenagoa), Judex Okoro (Calabar), Jeff Amechi Agbodo (Onitsha), Raphael Ede (Enugu)
The 1999 Constitution designated state governors as chief security officers of their states. It is for this reason that they have a security vote taken as a first-line charge from the consolidated revenue of the state. Through the years, governors have regularly made donations of operational vehicles and other equipment to state commands of the various security outfits to complement what such agencies get from the Federal Government.
However, when peculiar security situations began to develop within their domains and the security agencies seem overwhelmed, there was the natural desire on the part of the state governments to establish specialized outfits to deal with local security challenges.
This occasioned the creation of ‘community police’ outfits popularly known in some states as Neighbourhood Watch or Vigilante. Again, with the approval of the police commands in states, organized vigilance groups were also established by local governments to serve as community security and intelligence gathering outfits that work in collaboration with the police.
How has it all panned out? Have the new outfits lived up to expectations? In all, the people want the security outfits maintained by state governments to remain focused on safeguarding the communities and not being turned into tools for rigging elections by using them to suppress the opposition.
In this report, Sunday Sun presents a profile of the situation of community policing across the country.
Late last year, when the Army moved to abort the recruitment of applicants into the Rivers State Neighbourhood Safety Corps Agency (RSNSCA) many people viewed it as a political witch-hunt of an initiative by the state government in the opposition PDP. This feeling was fueled by the preponderance of evidence that several states across the country had prior to the move been operating similar security outfits to complement the operations of the police and some other security agencies in the effort to combat crime and criminality in those states.
Sunday Sun investigations revealed that some of the state-sponsored vigilance groups actually bear arms to the knowledge and acquiescence of the national security agencies. This fact naturally made many people to object to the seeming arm-twisting of the Rivers State government.
The unfavourable disposition of the army to the operation of the RSNSCA, set up by Governor Nyesom Wike, was allegedly seen as the culmination of the politicization of the agency by chieftains of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the opposition party in the state with the active support of those at the national level who have voice at the seat of power in Abuja. From the time the state government mooted the idea for the inauguration of the board, till date, the local vigilance outfit was buffeted by a gale of criticism.
Undaunted, Wike pursued the objective with vigour, stressing that the agency was essential to the overall security interest of the state. At the inauguration of the board of directors of RSNSCA on Monday, April 16, 2018, he advised them to use their experience and capabilities to ensure the successful take off of the agency.
Soon after some opposition party politicians were alleged to have approached the police to sabotage the scheme by rejecting the personnel recruited by the agency. As the governor noted, personnel of the RSNSCA would only bear light arms for self-defense and their recruitment subject to police approval.
And true to his promise that a credible and experienced retired security chief would head the agency, the governor appointed retired Brigadier General Dick Ironabere as the chairman of the agency along with Dr Uche Chukwuma, a retired Assistant Commissioner of Police as the Director-General, and Nma Omereji, a lawyer as the Secretary and Legal Adviser, in addition to other notable individuals.
Despite the written communications to the 6 Division of the Nigerian Army, Port Harcourt, intimating it of the planned recruitment exercise, the intent, purpose and modus operandi of the agency, the army still stormed the venue of the recruitment exercise on November 29, at the Permanent Orientation Camp of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in Nonwa-Gbam, Tai Local Government Area of the State.
The move, as the governor told newsmen at the time was proof of the political bias against the agency. He said: “Zamfara and Kogi states have vigilance groups. They commissioned them and the Chief of Army Staff did nothing. The House of Assembly passed a law approving the Rivers State Neighbourhood Safety Corps Agency. The Chief of Army did not challenge the law in court, but he sent troops to invade the training camp,” he said.
Governor Wike said that the state government worked with the police, the DSS and other federal agencies to ensure that only law-abiding citizens are recruited by the Rivers State Neighbourhood Safety Corps Agency. We did not hire boys for political reasons. This has been a transparent process and that is why the personnel are trained at the NYSC Orientation Camp at Nonwa.
“We involved the police and the DSS to ensure that the trainees are profiled for the good of the society. The main aim of this agency is to assist the security agencies with intelligence and information, since there is a lacuna in this regard.”
Zamfara State Governor Abdul’Aziz Yari Abubakar on assumption of office in 2011 became a leading voice for the establishment of state police by individual states in the country to tackle the peculiar security challenges of the states and also to complement the services of federal security agencies in routing crimes in the country.
Yari’s argument was that only the citizens of a particular state, who know and understand the terrain can provide adequate and needed comprehensive security to the people in a state.
Seven years on, after incessant killings, kidnappings and cattle rustling remained unabated, the governor on November 1, shortly after the State Security Council meeting with heads of security agencies, local government chairmen and traditional rulers, announced the recruitment of 8,500 able-bodied youths into a new organ to be known as Civilian Joint Task Force (Civilian JTF), to assist in intelligence gathering and also take active part in military operations against the dreaded bandits and other criminals in the state.
The governor said he had reviewed and extensively discussed the security situation in the state with relevant stakeholders and had understood that the remote areas were the worst affected and very difficult to access by conventional security personnel in the state.
Therefore, he said, it became necessary to recruit people in the areas to complement the security agencies, in the quest to combat and overcome the security breaches and return sanity to the state.
“In 2014 we had only 250 soldiers in the state, but presently we have over 1,600 military personnel. Despite that the rate of banditry, cattle rustling and kidnapping keeps increasing by the day, so we have to take adequate step to halt and reverse the worsening crime situation in the state”, he said.
Yari also disclosed that a bill had been presented to the state House of Assembly to give legal backing to the operations of the Civilian JTF who he said would receive training from security personnel to acquire requisite skills needed for the fight against banditry.
The governor explained that 500 youths would be recruited from each of the 17 emirate councils in the state to serve as a catalyst for combatting all kinds of crimes in the state.
Each member of the Civilian JTF would be paid a monthly stipend of N15,000 and also receive operational allowances as given to the conventional security personnel working in the fight against banditry in the state.
The governor explained that members of the Civilian JTF while embedded with conventional security personnel during operations would not bear arms except clubs and machetes or swords.
The Zamfara Civilian JTF currently operates under the direction of the emirs in each of the emirate councils as they are in the best position to recommend young men of good character to be recruited into the security organ.
However, this move has not met with the approval of all stakeholders as some politicians have dismissed it as a ploy to intimidate the opposition ahead of and during the 2019 general elections.
The Senator representing Zamfara Central and Chairman, Senate Committee on Petroleum (Downstream), Senator Kabiru Garba Marafa, in a statement signed by him gave this indication.
The acting Director, Defence Information, Brig. General John Agim while briefing journalists in Gusau on military operations in the fight against bandits in Zamfara State tagged Operation Sharan Daji (OPSD) commended the recruitment of the 8,500 JTF, which he said would help greatly in the fight.
The Emir of Anka and Chairman Zamfara State Council of Chiefs, Alhaji Attahiru Muhammad Ahmad, described the recruitment of 500 youths in each of the emirates as a good development in the fight against bandits. But he advocated for the use of small firearms by the civilian JTF, noting that sticks and clubs are most inadequate in the fight against bandits armed with guns.
By recruiting 8,500 youths, the chairman, Zamfara State Youths Forum, Comrade Abba Mohammed Gusau, said Governor Yari had reduced the unemployment rate in the state.
The emergence of the Civilian JTF in Borno State came about as what Governor Kashim Shettima once described as “a child of circumstance.”
The birth of the Civilian JTF resulted from the frustration of the youth populace in Maiduguri city over the murderous acts of the Boko Haram. It was a sharp response in early June 2013 to curb the increasing serial killings of scores of residents and security personnel by the insurgents, who were then controlling half of the city, the birthplace of the group.
A group of courageous youths took to the streets, and all nooks and crannies of Maiduguri with sticks and machetes, ransacking houses in search of Boko Haram members and their arms.
The bold move yielded good results as the myth about Boko Haram’s power was exposed. What started like an effort of a few young men to ensure personal safety on the streets in the city later metamorphosed into a huge counter-insurgency force, leading to the arrest of many insurgents and the recovery of guns.
Boko Haram was demystified by the club-carrying youths, who were then called Yan Gora (the people that led). The development forced many of the insurgents to flee the city into the bush and the effort removed fear of Boko Haram from residents.
With more successes recorded in the city over Boko Haram, the young men organized themselves into a vigilante group and adopted the name Civilian JTF, coined from the military-led Joint Task Force (JTF). The JTF, a combined force of army troops, police personnel and men of Department of State Security Service (DSS) headed by an Army General, was first security measure put in place in the state by the Federal Government in June 2012 to curb the activities of Boko Haram, but the force could not achieve its goal until the youth vigilante came to the rescue.
Widespread outcry of alleged excesses of the CJTF men who had started carrying weapons (mostly dane-guns), summary killing of Boko Haram suspects among other allegations drew the attention of the state government. The CJTF was reorganized with an extant law (Youth Vigilante Empowerment Agency Law 2015), leadership and command structure.
One Abba Lawan who started the civilian force against Boko Haram in June 2012, became the overall commander. The state also appointed a legal adviser for the group, provided uniform (sky-blue khaki), vehicles, small arms and introduced monthly allowance for volunteers who then became registered.
The CJTF has a State Coordinator who coordinates the group activities and serves as liaison officer between the group and other security agencies and the state as well. The CJTF is also divided into sectors (sectors 1, 2, 3 etc) with sector commanders, for operational purposes and each of the sectors takes charge of security situation in the neighbourhoods. A special force team, which carries out special operations against Boko Haram especially in difficult terrains has also been infused.
The CJTF operates under the supervision of the State Commissioner of Justice and Attorney General and has been known to be a strong ally of the military in several battles against Boko Haram due to its boldness to confront the insurgents, as well as their knowledge of the terrain.
The members now carry arms provided by the state government. Over 100 of its members have been recruited into the army, police and DSS.
In Akure, the capital of Ondo State, as well as several other towns in the state (Ondo, Ore and Ikare Akoko) local vigilance groups have become integrated into the security architecture.
They work in conjunction with the police command and other security agencies, especially the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC). Investigations revealed that communities engage the services of the local vigilance groups who provide security at night and carry out surveillance.
The efforts of the vigilantes at securing many of the towns in the state have been rated high as they have at different times made several arrests and handed over the suspected criminals to law enforcement agencies.
For instance, the local vigilantes were responsible for the rescue of the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Olu Falae, when he was abducted at his farm in Ilado, Akure North Local Government Area of the state.
The vigilantes later handed over the suspects to the police, who eventually prosecuted them. Facts from sources in various communities revealed that residents of the various communities that engage the services of the vigilance groups contribute money monthly to pay their fees while the police provide logistic support when needed.
When the Kogi State government established a vigilance group, there was apprehension among members of the opposition, who alleged that the intent was a disguised political move to intimidate and checkmate opponents of the government. This feeling was strengthened by the manner of training given to the members, which led to the death of few of them. It was also said that they were given approval to carry arms.
At the beginning of last year, 5,000 able-bodied men and women were recruited from the 21 local governments into the vigilance group and given requisite training by the army to fight the rising crime rate in the state, especially armed robbery and kidnapping.
In the course of the training it was learnt that no fewer than five people dropped dead perhaps due to the vigorous nature of the training and or ill health. At the end of the training, the state government provided them with Toyota Hilux vans and assigned the operatives to flashpoints in the 21 local government areas of the state to join other security agencies to fight crime.
The outfit is directly under the office of the Special Adviser on Security Matters, Jerry Omodara, a retired Naval Commander, who grouped the members into ‘battalions’ headed by retired security officers. The vigilance group, which is reputed to using ‘African power’ has been instrumental in the arrest of hardened criminals which has made the crime rate in the state to drop drastically. There also been reports that some of them move about with prohibited weapons and had on some occasions been used to harass innocent citizens and intimidate the opposition party.
The vigilance group in Gombe State known as State Agency for Social Services was primarily established to tackle the menace being perpetrated and unleashed on people by some restive youths known as Yan Kalare. The members of the group known as marshals have been hailed as an effective youth development and empowerment programme.
The agency effectively neutralized the Yan Kalare thugs and has also made impact in the areas of traffic control, sanitation and maintaining orderliness in the state capital.
The chairman of the agency, Markus K. Danladi, a retired Commissioner of Police (CP), happily told Sunday Sun that the agency has been assisting the police to fish out criminal elements in the society.
He added that the agency is gender sensitive and for that reason it engaged females among the over 3,000 trained youths who are serving as ward, traffic and environmental marshals in the state.
Markus added that the erstwhile thugs who were rehabilitated and reintegrated into the social environment of the society have been of great help to other security agencies most especially the police and Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC) in the state.
“With the constant moral lessons and physical training we are giving the boys they have helped in reducing crime rate in Gombe metropolis,” he said.
The initiative has been found satisfactory as attested to by Mallam Auwal, a member of the community who said that the agency had done much to reduce the menace of the Yan Kalare, who once made life a nightmare for the people.
In Plateau State, Major General Stephen Go’ar (Rtd) is the coordinator of “Operation Rainbow” which was established in 2011 in the heat of herdsmen attacks in rural communities in the state.
The security outfit, which includes women, has members across the 17 local government areas of the state. Some were selected and trained in Israel while others were trained by security experts at the Leadership Institute, Shere Hills, Jos, Plateau State.
The operatives collaborate with the police and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) in providing security in rural communities.
Their job initially was to give early warning signals about possible outbreak of crisis in any part of the state.
The state government later got the approval of the Presidency to establish a state security outfit.
Following this, the state legislature passed a bill, which was signed into law for the creation of “Operation Rainbow” in 2011. The operatives do not carry arms and were initially part of the Military Special Task Force in charge of internal security in Jos and environs.
Operation Rainbow has its headquarters in Jos and is equipped with operational vehicles and other logistics to collaborate with the police in policing the rural communities.
They are closer to the traditional rulers and are highly regarded by the people as they are preferred to handle minor issues such as theft and local disputes within the communities.
The coordinator, Gen. Go’ar was a member of the 11th Regular Combatant Corps who was commissioned into the Nigerian Army in 1974.
As a matter of deliberate policy, the Delta State Police Command has over the years encouraged community policing by involving community stakeholders in the fight against crime and criminality across the state.
This has resulted in the formation of several local vigilance groups in communities to assist conventional security agencies. The vigilance groups are a result of wide consultation with relevant stakeholders.
They are not backed by law. Therefore, you have outfits like Anioma Security Network (ASN), Asaba Community Police (ACP), among others. Each of them is created based on request from community stakeholders, especially the traditional ruler and community development union executives, to serve the security interests of their communities.
Almost every community in Delta State has its own local security outfit, largely to complement the efforts of security agencies in controlling crime in the local environment. But their activities are closely supervised by the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) in the area.
Although membership is voluntary, interested persons must be 18 years and above, and must be indigenes of the host communities, and must not have any criminal record.
Besides fulfilling these basic requirements, they must be recommended by the community leaders before they are screened and subsequently trained by the DPO in collaboration with the Special Investigation Bureau (SIB) of the command.
According to the Public Relations Officer of the state police command, DSP Andrew Aniamaka, the trainings are done with specific focus on issues bothering on human rights to avoid abuse at the community level.
Aniamaka said activities of the local security outfits are closely monitored by the police through the DPO, adding that they are not allowed to bear prohibited firearms, and that they are not also allowed to maintain any detention facility.
He said the basic function of members of the local security outfits is to assist the police by acting as informants, noting that if they make any arrest, such suspects must be handed over to the nearest police division for further investigation.
Bayelsa State because of its peculiar terrain has a distinct disadvantage which criminal elements exploit to perpetrate crime and criminality. In 2012, upon assumption of office, Governor Henry Seriake Dickson banned the then Operation Famou Tangbei (kill and throw away) and replaced it with Operation Doo Akpor (Bring peace).
The Bayelsa State Security outfit, which has an Assistant Commissioner of Police as head comprises men of the Mobile police and operatives of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC). The men of Operation Doo Akpor are not from the Bayelsa State Police Command neither does the agency report to the Commissioner of Police, but directly to the governor through the Special Adviser on Security.
Though in recent times, the effectiveness of the Operation Doo Akpor came under serious scrutiny amid plans by the Inspector General of Police to ban it.
However, it has been useful in the fight against crime and criminality in the state. Operatives of Doo Akpor have arrested several armed robbers in the course of responding to distress calls from residents of Yenagoa.
Bayelsans have hailed the fight against crime carried out by Operation Doo Akpor, but some have also frowned at its meddling in civil issues, which has distracted it from its crime fighting duty, prompting calls for its overhaul.
Sunday Sun gathered that the withdrawal of Operation Doo Akpor made the Bayelsa State Vigilante Service (BSVS) established by law in 2017 active and prominent. It was established to remedy the problem posed by the peculiar terrain of the state and to provide intelligence information to security agencies to fish out criminals.
Parkins Ogede explained that the primary responsibility of BSVS this way: “Our primary mission is to see how we can provide community-based intelligence in our entire neighbourhood to conventional security agencies to curb crime and criminality in Bayelsa State.
BSVS endeared itself to Bayelsans recently with the swift way it gathered intelligence information and apprehended one of the killers of Seiyefa Fred, the 16-year-old 100-level student of Niger Delta University (NDU).
Ogede and his men lack operational vehicles and adequate funding, but he is optimistic that with time government and Bayelsans would come to realise the great work BSVS is doing and provide it with all that it needs to function effectively.
In Cross River State, Governor Ben Ayade saw the need to enhance the policing of the state after assuming office. With the support of the legislature, which passed the necessary legal framework for security outfits, Operation Skolombo Homeland Security and Green Sheriff, was launched to complement the efforts of the police to check crimes and criminal elements and their activities in the state, among others.
Sunday Sun checks revealed that the security outfit headed by General Mani (rtd) functions more as an intelligence-gathering organisation. Personnel of Operation Skolombo are drawn from the Army, Navy, the Air Force, the Police and Civil Defence Corps and they work together as a team to combat crime. Operatives of Skolombo expectedly bear arms.
But two after coming into existence, there are mixed feelings about Operation Skolombo. While some rate their operations very high, others rate them below average, especially in the area of quick response to emergencies.
A resident of Calabar South, Mr Ebong Udoebong, said: “The Operation Skolombo is trying very well, especially in Calabar South where they are stationed at strategic locations and respond promptly. It is better than all the security outfits set up by the state government before now. What they ought to do is to apply more intelligence gathering to nip some crimes in the board.
Another resident, Ekpenyong Ekpenyong Bassey, said: “Regarding cultism, they have tried to reduce it to barest minimum except the ones that have political undertone.”
Bassey, who resides in Ikot Ishie in Calabar Municipal, said though, the Homeland Security has been giving its best, there is urgent need for them to integrate vigilance groups for more effective delivery and tracking down of criminals and their sponsors.
But a commercial tricyclist, Obongette Inyang, gave the outfit a thumbs down. He said: “They are still behaving like the ordinary police because sometimes they just block major streets and start extorting money from us and other motorists. Even sometimes when you call them in the night during emergencies they would not come till the miscreants have finished operations.”
A source told Sunday Sun that smooth operation of the security outfit is being hampered by inadequate funding.
The provision of security services in Anambra State is complemented by the Anambra Vigilante Group, which was established by law in 2001 during the tenure of former Governor Chinweoke Mbadinuju. The law was amended in 2016.
AVG is headed and supervised by a retired Commissioner of Police, Chief Ikechukwu Aduba, as the Chairman of the Anambra State Vigilante Supervisory Committee (AVSC) and Special Adviser to Governor Willie Obiano on Vigilante Matters.
The state vigilante group has structure from the state to three senatorial zones, to 21 local government areas and to the 179 communities, villages and markets in the state with their leaders and commanders at various levels.
The Chairman of Anambra North Senatorial Zone Vigilante Group, Chief Chinenye Ihenko (aka Okpompi) explained that the security outfit was established because crime and criminality in the state at the time, especially in Onitsha, was too high.
He said that the group collaborates with other security agencies like the police, army, navy, civil defense, and DSS, adding that “when we arrest a suspect we hand him over to the police to carry out further investigation and possibly prosecute the suspect. We don’t keep suspects, we don’t torture suspects, we don’t even have cell where we keep them, our job is community policing, to give security agents information, ensure that there is peace in the communities and markets and to settle small disputes.”
On the abuse of the powers of the security outfits, he said that among any 12 people, there must be a Judas.
He, however, said there is mechanism for checks and balances to ensure that the members operate within the rules and regulation, as well as within the law of the land.
In Enugu State, the former Commissioner for Human Capital Development and Poverty Reduction, and now in in-charge of the Neighbourhood Watch, Godwin Ogenyi, is very pleased with the fact that the security outfit won an international award in community policing.
He is also excited that Enugu State was adjudged by a former Inspector General of Police during a visit as the safest state in the country.
“The Enugu State Neighbourhood Watch won international award as most organized community policing in West Africa; that shows that the organization is well structured, well guided and well preserved. It worked in each of the local autonomous communities in Enugu State, which then was 472, but has since increased to 480, but still had one umbrella body. Members range between 20, 30 to 100 sometimes up to 200 depending on the size of the community and number of able-bodied young men willing and eager to volunteer for the Neighbourhood Watch,” he said.
He explained that in the urban areas such as Enugu they created neighbourhood associations.
“When we come to a neighbourhood where we have up to 300 residential buildings we create that as a neighbourhood association that is to make sure that everybody living within the neighbourhood has a fair knowledge of the neighbour; is able to experience what other neighbour is experiencing, be able to come together to have meetings, decide the kind of school they want, the kind of thing they want to happen in the neighbourhood and the things they don’t want to see happening in the neighbourhood. That is why we call it neighbourhood association.
“Where they have enough able-bodied young people and were able to choose from among them, they would create a neighbourhood group, to provide security within that neighbourhood, but where they don’t have enough young men what they do is to elect the executive members who run the affairs of the neighbourhood, including security and sanitation and then hire security operatives from local security outfits to guard that neighbourhood,” he explained.
He disclosed that Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi’s administration has not only appreciated what the Neighbourhood Watch has done, but has elevated the organisation.
“He made each local government to buy at least a vehicle for each neighbourhood coordinating unit. He also provided vehicles for zonal coordination and for the state coordination,” he said, adding that these gestures were responsible for the major improvements in the achievement of the security outfit.