Christopher Oji and Olakunle Olafioye
The recent announcement that the Federal Government had approved the sum of N13 billion for the take-off of the community policing initiative under the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, expectedly stirred up interest as to how it would be implemented.
The eagerness of Nigerians to know the operational modalities of the initiative is not unconnected with the full blown desire of Southwest states, which had already pushed forward guidelines to enact laws for the operation of their Amotekun security outfits within their jurisdictions. Moreover, a Northern group had also launched a security outfit in Kaduna while the governors of the Southeast states had gone some distance in their deliberations towards the same goal.
Community policing has been an issue of concern to Nigerians, especially considering the fact that the leader of the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, Abdullahi Bodejo, a few weeks ago announced to a bewildered nation that the organisation had set up a Fulani vigilante outfit whose members had been integrated into the structure of the Vigilante Group Nigeria, a registered body headed by a retired Fulani army officer. Bodejo further explained that the Fulani vigilante units were already established in all 36 states of the federation. This is in a nation that had agonised over the murderous menace of armed and ruthless herdsmen who at various times unleashed unspeakable terror on people in communities they besieged with their cattle, and wilfully destroyed farmlands in the name of grazing their animals.
In countless instances they have been associated with killings, abduction of victims, as well as raping of women caught in the farms. Naturally, Bodejo’s announcement raised dust and made stakeholders to speculate that the Fulani vigilante would be massively recruited in the proposed community policing programme, an outcome that would almost be like putting an official uniform and cover to such vigilantes to continue perpetrating evil.
In the face of these misgivings, the police authorities have quickly allayed the fears of the people and also dispelled the notion that the community police initiative would be compromised and skewed to empower the brigandage of Fulani vigilantes that would be smuggled into the community policing scheme. The police hierarchy assured that the people have no cause to fear, stressing that the Nigeria Police Force has time-tested mechanisms to checkmate the activities of all those who would be part of the community policing structure.
Giving this assurance in an interview with Sunday Sun, the Lagos State Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), SP Bala Elkana, said that the idea behind the project should not be misconstrued or politicised to create division.
He noted that the Inspector General of Police through the amendment of the Police Act has taken care of any lapses.
Elkana said: “First, we should understand the concept of the programme. Community policing is not self-help, but a problem-solving concept. It should not be misconstrued to mean that everybody will wear uniform and patrol the streets in the name of fighting crime.
“It simply means policing the community in collaboration with the community. It is a case of the community working together with law enforcement agencies to identify security challenges prevalent in a particular area and providing the relevant solutions. Essentially, it means solving local problems with local solutions. Every community has its own peculiar problem; the problem of ‘A’ may not be the problem of ‘B.’ If crime is community-based, it will be best addressed by the particular community.
“In Lagos, for instance, a particular area may be having challenges of gridlock; they can’t get to work on time and can’t get back home on time. If you are able to solve the problem of traffic, you have solved the problem of that area. Another area may have robbery or kidnapping as their problems.
“Of course, we understand that crime is committed by residents of the area and if outsiders are involved, there must be an insider’s connection. The owner of the house knows where the roof is leaking. So, if you want to repair the roof, you must work together with the owner of the house. But while doing this, we apply modern business approach to it. Customers are always right.”
The PPRO stated that in the community-policing programme, the police would involve the public in identifying priorities.
“We must be open, transparent and truthful. We must also respect human rights. To show how the police are we constituted committees that involved the military, Department of State Services, paramilitary and other professionals,” he said.
To be able to achieve the goals of the programme, Elkana explained that the IGP and the police management team recognised the need to involve the constabulary in community policing, to take care of the voluntary sectors. In this regard, he said: “Priority to recruitment process is given to those existing sectors in each state. Why should we recruit new people when we have those who are volunteering in the voluntary sectors? In Lagos, we have Neighbourhood Watch, which already has a structure. It will be easy to retrain and reorient them. While they concentrate on minor duties such as crowd management and traffic control, because they don’t bear arms, we will concentrate on core police duties that require firearms. We have gone far with the IGP’s directives on the concept. Aside from Lagos, some other states have done the inauguration of their local committees. The inaugurations were done by governors and the Deputy Inspector-General of Police.”
On the issue of herdsmen being involved in community policing, Elkana said: “Herdsmen are Nigerians and they belong to an association, Miyetti Allah. It is a welcome development if herdsmen have volunteered to help us police their fellow herdsmen. Like other ethnic groups and locals who understand their people better, herdsmen understand their members better. They will be able to know who among them is genuine and who is a criminal.
“Second, if any of their members misbehaves, they should be able to fish out the culprit and we know who to hold accountable. So, there is no cause for alarm. We heartily welcome any group that wants to assist us in crime fighting, herdsmen are not exempted and not all herdsmen are violent. We should not politicise the concept. Nigeria is our country and we must work together to live in peace and harmony.”
In granting approval for release of funds for the take-off of the community policing initiative, President Buhari in statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, reiterated his commitment to the sustenance of the community policing arrangement and explained what the take-off would be used to do.
“The essence of the government funding at this time is to do two or three things: one is to ensure training for those who are to be recruited to join the police service; two is to enlighten the public about the functionality of the new system and three is to procure equipment. But above all is the need to streamline the processes embarked upon by the states and the sub-regions.
“As members of the community, Nigerians know themselves better, all the nooks, the crannies, who is who and, therefore, it is not difficult for intelligence to be supplied for effective law and order management in the community,” he said.
With the take-off of the community policing initiative, the Inspector General of Police warned vigilance and neighborhood watch groups not to use the community policing programme as cover to bear arms.
The IGP gave more details about the initiative when he briefed the Minister of Police Affairs, Mohammed Maigari Dingyadi, on his stewardship, on the occasion of the first anniversary of the re-establishment of the ministry.
He said: “Community policing is a strategy. It is not a new police structure that is being created, but it is within the police; we re-strategised to bring in community-based initiatives. The idea and what we are implementing is that the community should take responsibility for policing. The implementation has gone far. So far, we have inaugurated state community policing advisory committees in all the states. And that advisory committee comprises the community leaders, representatives of faith-based organisations, representatives of market women, representatives of the National Union of Road Transport Workers, students, etc.
“At the local government level, we also have the same strategy represented by the same group of community leaders. At the local government level again we have a committee, which will have the same people from the ward and villages. This committee is the one that would help us identify within the wards and the villages their own citizens and natives who are able-bodied. We would select them and train them as community policing officers and send them back to their communities. We have reached this stage already. Now we are at the stage of recruitment.
“They would deliberate on these problems and see how they can solve the problem without necessarily bringing it to the DPO because it is a community-based initiative to deal with community issues.
“The money released by the Federal Government is for implementation of the project. We are going to do town hall sensitization. We are also doing training for the community police officers. We are going to buy all the equipment then the process goes on this year, next year, until everything is established.”
To vigilance and neighborhood watch groups across the country, the IGP said: “If you are caught with an illegal weapon, you will be prosecuted and you will go to jail. For the benefit of doubt, anybody seen with any prohibited firearms will be arrested and prosecuted. Even if you are a recognised vigilante group called by any name that is given to you by the state government that created you as a vigilante group or neighbourhood watch, created to help law enforcement agencies in fighting crime, if you carry firearms not licensed, you will be prosecuted and you will go to jail.”
Meanwhile, an ardent advocate of community policing and Lagos State Coordinator of Community Policing Partnership Association of Nigeria (CPPAN), Deacon Sunday Solanke, has said that the current security challenges bedeviling the nation would in no time become history following the approval for community policing to take-off in the country.
Deacon Solanke who described the Federal Government’s decision as a welcome development, maintained that the readiness and the willingness of the community and security operatives to work together would go a long way in determining the success or failure of the initiative.
Speaking in a telephone chat with Sunday Sun, the CPPAN coordinator said that making community policing work requires the collective effort of both members of the community and the operatives of the nation’s security outfits.
“The concept of community policing is an idea geared towards ensuring maximum policing of our communities by indigenous residents who know the nooks and crannies of the community for greater effectiveness. Therefore, to make community policing work requires the collective effort of both the community and security outfits because they both form the fulcrum of the concept and, therefore, must agree to work with each other,” Solanke said.
The security expert said that Nigeria as a nation needs to raise the security consciousness of its people, saying, “this is very key to safeguarding the community. Every member of the community must be ready to avail security agencies information on peculiar security threats in his or her locality. On the other hand, security operatives must live up to their responsibility by promptly acting on the intelligence given to them without compromising the effort of the community when crimes and criminals are reported.
“Again on the part of the community, members of the community must realise that no one protects them better than themselves. They must realise that the nonchalant attitude of some residents to security threats in their community portend great danger to the entire community and are capable of undermining the lofty objectives of community policing.”
He noted further that every member of the community must know his or her community very well, adding that he or she must know the people, their social life, character, and engagements. “With this knowledge, the community can easily identify what constitute security threats to their community and report same to the police promptly,” he said.
Solanke also wants the government to be alive to its socio-economic responsibilities in order to make crimes unattractive to the people.
“When addressing crime at the community level, citizens need to be engaged productively because an idle hand is the devil’s workshop. The government must wake up to his primary duty of providing food and shelter to the less privileged because the alarming rate of unemployment in the country constitutes a major security threat to the community and the nation at large. Arresting and prosecuting criminals alone will not end crimes, government must make provision for people to legitimately earn their livelihood and cater for their families.
“Lastly, there must be a communication and information channel or platform through which the general populace can be educated about his or her community, where the police can also educate the people about their achievements and challenges at the community level and where the people are also free to express their opinions and give suggestion to the police on security matters,” he said.