Neighbourhood Watch to tackle criminals, help women in labour, emergency victims, others
Timothy Olanrewaju, Maiduguri
Excitement greeted the recent unveiling of a new security volunteer group in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital. Known as Neighbourhood Watch, the new group is an offshoot of the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), a state-backed armed group assisting military authorities in the fight against the Boko Haram terror group.
Hundreds of residents of the capital, who gathered at the venue of the launch at Ramat Square, in the heart of the city, defied the scorching sun to cheer the new outfit, made up of 2,900 male and female volunteers. The men and women in blue, pink, green and black T-shirt on black or khaki trousers (depending on their units or neighbourhoods) filed out in a colourful parade that lasted an hour. The arena was charged, as many cheered them on.
“It is a move in the right direction. We need to review our security situation always so that we could introduce new measures,” a resident and teacher, Mustapha Usman, told Daily Sun in an interview at the launch. He said the outfit should address some of the emerging security challenges across the state, especially in Maiduguri, the state capital.
The police in Borno recently raised the alarm over an increase in cases of rape, theft, assault, drug abuse and vandalism, particularly in the capital. Commissioner of police, Damian Chukwu, attributed the crimes to poverty, trauma as well as a high number of displaced persons without a means of livelihood, a fallout of the nearly nine years of Boko Haram violence in the area.
There are about one million internally displaced persons in Maiduguri alone, out of 2.7 million displaced by the insurgency in the three north-eastern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, according to a 2017 report by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). Many believe that the high population of mostly unemployed youths and out-of-school-children has greatly contributed to the present crime rate in the city.
The state government has built gates in most neighbourhoods in the city and deployed members of the CJTF to such gates. But residents have noted that the measure was like a drop in the ocean, hence the introduction of the Neighbourhood Watch.
“We are happy. This is a good thing, and perhaps a permanent solution to some security problems in the state,” said Malam Abdullahi Ahmed, another resident. He said the new measure was expected to bring relief to residents, urging the new volunteers to step up surveillance, especially in highly-populated areas like Gwange, Hausari, Maisandari ward, Shehuri, where streetlights installed by the state government were said to have been vandalised or stolen.
While providing insight into how the Neighbourhood Watch was created, the state’s attorney-general and commissioner for justice, Kaka Lawan, said the introduction of the outfit was to consolidate on the gains achieved by the state authorities and security agencies in restoring peace, law and order in the state.
He recalled that the CJTF was born in late 2013 as a sharp response to the violence perpetrated by Boko Haram.
“The CJTF was a voluntary body that emerged spontaneously as a self-defence mechanism. It did not have any law backing it or any organised command structure at the initial stage, but that was expected in view of its nature and the circumstance that led to its emergence,” Lawan said.
He explained that the volunteers were later trained by the security agencies after a law backing its establishment was passed by the House of Assembly.
“The House of Assembly passed into law the Borno State Vigilante and Youth Empowerment Agency Law. This law encompasses the CJTF, vigilante groups and youth vanguards who have volunteered to work for the promotion and maintenance of peace and security in their neighbourhoods,’ the commissioner said. He explained that the exercise would be extended to other local governments as soon as the first batch stabilise their activities.
The 2,900 volunteers were drawn from the 15 wards in Maiduguri metropolis and 12 from the neighbouring Jere Local Government Area. Each ward has 100 volunteers, except Maidandari and Jabamari, the biggest wards in the metropolis in which each of the two has 200 volunteers each, the commissioner said.
Lawan added that government was not out to use them for election purposes as some critics claimed, but they were purely for the security and well-being of residents. He said the volunteers were screened by the Department of State Security and trained by a combined team of military and police for effective operations.
He also maintained that the CJTF had not been involved in rape cases. Moreover, the volunteers have a command structure and discipline mechanisms that would take care of any member who breaches the oath of allegiance and rules of engagement. He said the personnel of the new outfit would only be involved in arrest and not discipline; they would work with the divisional police officers in their neighbourhoods to ensure security of life and property.
Borno State governor, Kashim Shettima, after inspecting the parade mounted by the volunteers, charged them to arrest suspected drug peddlers, vandals, rapists or other criminals and hand them over to the police. He stated that the volunteers would also help sick people in emergency situations and women in labour to the nearest hospital, specifically during curfew hours.
“We should not forget that there is still curfew in the state capital from 10:30pm to 6am. The neighbourhood watch is expected to assist sick people in emergency situation and women in labour to the hospitals. Members of the community will work together with them so that they can render these services with ease for the benefit of the people. They will be working together with the police and other security agencies,” the governor said.
Shettima said government had worked out the monthly allowances to be paid to the volunteers, adding that the amount might be reviewed “in due course.”
The governor thereafter presented patrol vehicles to the outfit and the CJTF for their operations.