From Bode Durojaiye, Oyo.
The unabated wave of terror attacks and series of deadly bomb blasts by insurgents in the Northern part of the country, have continued to heighten and exacerbate the palpable state of insecurity in the land.
The incessant bombings, which have claimed many innocent lives, as well as the barbaric and unconscionable criminal abduction of over 200 Chibok School girls in April, 2014, plus others, have continued to generate widespread global concern, outrage and condemnation.
While mass protests and advocacy campaigns have continued to be staged in all parts of Nigeria and major cities around the world, calling for the prompt rescue and safe release of the girls, many people believe that with the abominable and unthinkable abduction of these young school girls, the Boko Haram insurgents have clearly crossed the red line.
Despite repeated emergency declaration and the presidential order on total war against terrorism, it has neither stop the Boko Haram insurgency nor check the complicated security challenges in the country, including the sporadic militancy in the Niger Delta, incessant clashes between Fulani Herdsmen and Farmers in the North, ethnic and religious conflicts, including the ‘cold war’ among ethnic nationalities in the country, as well as all other forms of violent crimes.
Other social vices include banditry, ‘area boys’ syndrome, gang conflicts, cult uprisings, kidnappings, abductions, robberies, murder/ ritual killings, incidents of mob attacks and lynching of suspected criminals (who, at times, may turn out to be innocent citizens), police brutality and extra judicial killings, all of which have culminated in the present Nigerian security crisis.
Pertinent questions now are how were the communities being administered by the traditional rulers in the ancient days without any iota of insurgency? Why has the Jonathan administration, the National Assembly, state governments and their legislatures been dragging cold feet in incorporating the Vigilante Group of Nigeria (VGN) which was established by the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua?
Correspondent BODE DUROJAIYE takes a look at the relevance of VGN in tackling security challenges.
On 27th April, 2004, community policing was founded on the principle that in a democratic society, the police are entrusted to protect and serve the public’s fundamental rights, liberty, equality and justice under the law.
To fulfill the role, the police is expected to be part of the communities they serve.
The motive is that any police organisation that seeks to serve democratic and humanitarian ideals must be, and be seen to be transparent, fair, apolitical, accountable and responsive to public perceptions and expectations.
Consequently, the Vigilante Group of Nigeria (VGN) was established with over five million officers and men in the six geo-political zones of the country in 2008.
The late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, at the inauguration, said the establishment of the VGN was in line with ‘recommendations of the United Nations (UN) on community, public security and safety’ adding that the police is trying its best in a very harsh and hostile environment’ yet effective security of the country needs the collaboration of groups like the VGN.
He said many Nigerians were ignorant of basic security issues and that the VGN, with the support of federal and state governments, will provide adequate security training for Nigerians in the bid to ensure community participation in the entire business of security in the country.
The idea of the VGN was sold to the Federal Government in 1999 during the regime of President Olusegun Obasanjo.
VGN did not take firm roots until when Yar Adua expressed keen interest in supporting and giving the organisation full legal and legislative backing, as many states in the core North have adopted the VGN as part of the operating security mechanism in their domains.
The late President was said to have seen security, not as a gift to be given out to the people, but rather as the property of the people themselves and that they should be involved in the entire process of security, pointing out that this is what gave birth to the idea of VGN which is expected to work with the police and the SSS.
He said the VGN borrowed the idea from the ancient culture of many ancestral communities in Nigeria when hunters and villagers from such settings were directly involved in public security.
Unfortunately, since the death of the former president, succeeding administrations seem to have put the concept and implementation of the VGN in the dustbin of history.
What is more, there has been drastic decline in public confidence and citizens’ withdrawal of their voluntary support and cooperation to the police.
The reason for this is due to lack of public satisfaction, trust and instilled confidence.
Consequently, crime and criminal activities continue unabated.
Many notable Nigerians have expressed dismay at the inability of the Police to fight crime, a situation which has earned the country bad image in the comity of nations.
However, the VGN in Oyo State, with about 11,000 officers and men, which could be taken as a case study, has instilled confidence in the people, through demonstrable commitment at all times to deliver the best possible services.
Their activities are more felt in Oke-Ogun area of the state, as residents are now relieved from the onslaught of daredevil armed robbers and can sleep with their eyes closed.
Several motorists plying the area had fallen to the robbers’ bullets, while others sustained various degrees of injuries, when plying the roads.
The robbers, who usually cover their faces with a face caps, unleashed terror mostly at daylight with arrows, guns, cutlasses and charms.
Usually in groups, they emanated from the thick bush besides the roads to carry out their nefarious activities, and in less than an hour, disappear into their abode.
They do not snatch cars, but only after cash and movable items like mobile phones and jewelry.
From Oyo to Iseyin to Okeho, Iganna to Ijio/Iwere-Ile and from Ipapo to Okaka/Saki, the roads are so bushy that it is difficult for motorists coming on both ends to see each other.
The VGN has equally begun a clampdown on blacksmith operators who secretly manufacture locally-made guns for criminally-minded people, to unleash terror in the areas.
Hunting, farming and blacksmithing are major occupations of the people. Security sources hinted that most of these locally-made guns are being sold to foreigners from neigbouring country, the Benin Republic.
Iwere-Ile, Idiko-Ago, Agbororo, Onikeun and Wasimi, all in Oke-Ogun areas, are border communities close to Benin Republic.
Investigations to these border communities reveal their porosity and undulating terrains. There are several illegal routes as alternatives for smugglers and other criminals to enter into and out of the country.
These concerted efforts by the VGN have brought respite to the residents, community leaders and traditional rulers who expressed satisfaction and were full of praises for prompt service delivery.
The commendation was reinforced recently when the state chapter of the VGN held its zonal meeting in the town.
The colourful meeting was attended by the Divisional police, SSS, Defence Corps, Operation Burst and the Immigration Service.
Others were Hausa/Fulani community, representative of the community’s monarch and various associations.
In his message, the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi, who is one of the National patrons of VGN, lamented the increasing rate of criminal propensity in the country, and stressed the urgent need for effective community policing which does not replace any regular styles and methods of normal police duties, but harness the principal policing which remain essential and are entirely compatible and complementary.
Oba Adeyemi, who is also the Chairman, State Council of Obas and Chiefs, pointed out that “The people are overwhelmed with the activities of VGN because they have been contributing towards the creation or reinforcement of trust in communities, strengthening the security of persons and property and the feeling of security of persons, as well as stave off frequent discords which exist between the police and members of the public, due to loss of confidence.”
“Your efficiency, thoroughness, courtesy, tact, tamper, and tolerance, as well as impartiality deserves commendation. The service you are rendering is a voluntary one. You are not equipped with operational vehicles, let alone arms and ammunition. You don’t even receive any salary. Yet, your performance is delightful and pleasant to the people. We held general elections and you proved yourselves, by not compromising patriotism and diligence for gratification. You did not allow electoral malpractices, but provided adequate security to the electorate. The people are grateful to you. Your patriotic zeal and commitment to nation-building is highly appreciated and admired by the people.”
Oba Adeyemi noted that significant benchmarks of performance by the police are public satisfaction, trust and to instil confidence, adding that “a situation whereby police activities are retroactive and fail to recognise that the power to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviours, and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect, nothing meaningful can be achieved.”
In his welcome address, State Commandant of VGN, Mr. Sunday Olajide, noted that despite “the large number of his officers and men which is about 30,000, services being rendered are voluntary, as they do not receive salaries or remunerations.
“Our commitment to national peace and security remains unparalleled. A recent case in point was the rescue of wife of the Speaker, Osun State House of Assembly by VGN men from kidnappers,” Olajide said.
The VGN Commandant, who explained challenges encountered by the organisation in combating crime and how criminal activities had been drastically reduced in Oke-ogun area, lauded the unalloyed support and cooperation of other security agencies in the arduous task.
“We (VGN) were also able to succeed in checkmating crimes because most of our men are recruited from the core villages, who know the terrains and communities topographies. So, we mix-up with the villagers to extract useful information that will lead to foiling any attempted nefarious plans.’’