States across the country are devising means of securing lives and property of residents in the face of the rising cases of insecurity occasioned by banditry, kidnapping, cattle rustling and armed robbery, which have so far defied the best efforts of the police at checkmating them. Sunday Telegraph investigations revealed that they are called different names in different places. But they do primarily the same thing – safeguarding the community. In Oyo State, they are called ‘Private Guards’, Enugu has named theirs ‘Neighbourhood Associations’, while Lagos State unveiled their ‘Neighbourhood Safety Corps’ with much fanfare in September 2016 by former Governor Akinwunmi Ambode.
There are more than 500 Neighbourhood Associations in Enugu State which performs vigilance services across more than 400 autonomous communities in the state. Some communities have up to two or three Neighbourhood Watch Associations, depending on their size and ability to provide required logistics, even though they are supported by the government.
The state has a well-structured registration, management and operational regime of the vigilante groups. There is Enugu State Neighbourhood Association Board, domiciled in the Ministry of Rural Development and Poverty Reduction under the Neighbourhood Department. The Ministry works in synergy with the state Police Command to ensure effective management and operations of the Neighbourhood Watch Associations. While the Ministry takes charge of administrative details in terms of registration and management, police take charge of operations to ensure that they operate within the law.
When Sunday Telegraph contacted the State Secretary of the Neighbourhood Watch, Mr. Aloysious Okonkwo, to ascertain the number of registered Neighbourhood Watch Associations in the state, he requested a formal letter to the permanent secretary before such information could be released. But from a registration form obtained from the Ministry, the weekly learnt that before request by any community or group to register as Neighbourhood Watch/ Association, the community or group must first make official application to be accompanied with consent letter from the Igwe (Traditional Ruler) or Town Union President of the community concerned. The community or group will also be requested to pay prescribed registration fee broken into many parts but summed up to about N84, 000.
Also, the newspaper learnt that communities pay security levy ranging from N200 to N500 per person to maintain the Neighbourhood Watch Associations. After registration, the Neighbourhood Watch is expected to be dissolved and reconstituted every three years to enable the government/ community weed off any member of the vigilante group found wanting. Sources within the ministry told Sunday Telegraph that there has been upsurge in demand by communities and groups for registration in recent times, stating that not less than 100 of such requests were processed and inaugurated in the last one year alone.
The source attributed the upsurge to the increasing cases of security challenges across the state, particularly the farmers/herders’ clashes. When contacted, the State Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) Mr. Ebere Amaraizu, a Superintendent of Police, (SP), confirmed the involvement of the police in the operations of Neighbourhood Watch Associations in the state. Amaraizu said that po- lice usually screen would be members of the vigilante groups to ensure that only people of impeccable character without criminal record are registered as members. “We work in synergy with the Ministry of Rural Development and Poverty Eradication. While the Ministry does the administration, we exercise control in terms of operations,” he said.
Also when contacted, the Public Relations Officer of the Nigeria Security Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) in the state, Mr. Danny Iwuchkwu, said that there is no enabling law for the organisation to register or operate with vigilante groups, and referred Sunday Telegraph to the police. In Oyo State, Sunday Telegraph gathered that there are over 125 of such groups operating under the banner of Association of Private Licensed Security Practitioners of Nigeria.
“The registered bodies popularly called guards are now 125, across Nigeria,” the Public Relations Officer, National Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Oyo Command, Oluwole Olusegun, said in an interview with the weekly.
According to him, 51 went for registration at the National Headquarters in Abuja between January and June this year. On the criteria for registering the vigilante organisations, Olusegun said: “We subject them to series of scrutiny. We have to vet them. They will have to collect form at the national headquarters. It is when they are found worthy at Abuja that we can incorporate them here. “After their registration, we post them to different establishments like banks, industries, companies’ offices and the rest. Periodically, we call them for trainings; we go to their designated places to conduct trainings there also. We get information from them to work with regarding the security situation in areas they are posted to.
“It is also part of our duties to renew their licenses. We take the bio data of these guards in order to know those working in Nigeria. We do warn them not to work with foreigners to enable us work with them and monitor their activities,” Olusegun told Sunday Telegraph. The former administration of Ibikunle Amosun in a bid to counter rising criminal activities in Ogun State launched the Ogun State Security Trust Fund (STF) in 2011 and later spent over N3billion on procuring equipment for the security operatives in the state including 60 double cabin patrol vans, which had been fitted with sophisticated communication gadgets that will facilitate easy communication between the operational base of the team and other point as well as with the control rooms of all security agencies.
The state government also paid for 10 Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC). He also set up the Vigilante Service which is to serve as the community policing arm of the state among others things.
However, in May, Ogun State government announced the transformation of its erstwhile Vigilante service to Social Orientation and Safety Corps otherwise known as SO-SAFE Corps. The Ondo State Command of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) said it has no power to register any private security outfit and vigilante groups in the state. The Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the Command, Mr. Samuel Oladapo told Sunday Telegraph that it is the Minister of Interior that has the power to register the security outfits subject to the recommendation of the NSCDC.
The duty of the state commands of the NSCDC, Oladapo said, was to give the form to any security firm interested in operating in the country and to seal any of them that fail to register. He said the Corps has the database of the guards of licensed private guard, grain and retrain the guards, supervise and monitor the activities of all private guards and companies. On the part of the Oyo State government, the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Seyi Makinde, Taiwo Adisa, said: “The government of Oyo State since the inception of Governor Makinde has taken the issue of security seriously.
The governor has always summoned Security Council meetings at short notices and has met severally with all apparatus of security in the state to fashion ways to ensure peace. “While we can’t discuss details of the peace efforts on paper, it is convenient to state that the governor has ordered the deployment of full swing security in and around the state. Security is one of the four broad pillars upon which the government of Engineer Seyi Makinde rests.
And the governor will leave nothing to chance in trying to ensure just that.” Talking about not leaving anything to chance, the Miyetti Allah cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), Oyo State Chapter, led by Alhaji Yakubu Bello insisted that security is not for government alone. “We are happy that the governors have come together to find solution to the series of security challenges in the South West.
“We as leaders of the Miyetti Allah, we are not comfortable ourselves. We know the issue of security entails collective responsibility. The government cannot do it alone. That is why we are happy that they invited us to this stakeholders’ security meeting in Ibadan.” He added: “Regarding efforts we have been making to check our people against these allegations, I personally met with the Commissioner of Police.
He gave me two vehicles with six men from the Kidnapping Unit, and four under the OC/ SARS. I led them to the Oke Ogun zone of Oyo State and we worked together for almost two months. I was the one that took care of all the logistics and this was mainly geared towards having peace in Oyo State. This is what we want to continue,” he added.
On her part, Lagos State dazzled all with the roll out of her Neighbourhood Safety Agency in 2016 with the men and women decked in smart uniforms supported by an array of security gadgets including power bikes, patrol vehicles among others. However, a serving senior police officer who did want his name in print due to the sensitive nature of the issue said communities should own their security. He said that the local government areas should make their presence felt at local government levels other than collecting revenues from shop owners and school proprietors. “There should be security vanguards in all local governments.
At night they deploy them to relevant places in all the communities. Give them rain coats; whistle and boots to enable them secure the community. They do not need millions as salaries. They can be like casual workers and be paying them some allowances. Those complaining that there are no jobs that would mean much to them if they are paid about N10, 000 at the end of the month. That will ameliorate their conditions.”