More and more communities across the country are setting up vigilance groups to secure lives and property following the increasing wave of banditry in many parts, an investigation by The Nation.
No fewer than 16000 such vigilance groups have been licensed by the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) in the last one year.
But there is a contentious issue between the vigilance groups and the NSCDC: use of arms.
The groups are clamouring for permission to carry arms much against the wish of the corps.
The fear is possible abuse of arms by non-professional security people.
The Ohanaeze Ndigbo says over 2000 vigilance groups are currently operating in the South East to help tackle crimes.
Its spokesman, Chuks Ibegbu, told The Nation that members of the vigilance groups should be allowed to bear arms, otherwise “hoodlums will eat them raw.”
He said: “We have been meeting with traditional rulers and all town union leaders on the issue of security. We have vigilance groups in all autonomous communities in the South East.
“We have over 2,000 vigilante groups across the South East. We want the federal government to do everything possible to ensure constant power supply because most of our people in the South East depend on it for survival.
“The government is saying that they should not bear arms. If they don’t bear arms, how would they combat crimes?
“They shouldn’t be barred from using guns. Rather, the guns should be licensed.
“If they are not allowed guns, hoodlums will eat them raw. We are against any plan to stop vigilance groups from using arms. They should be trained on how to use arms.”
The National Publicity Secretary of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Alhaji Muhammad Ibrahim Biu, cautioned against the proliferation of vigilance groups.
State and local governments, he said, “must provide a framework in which they must operate, or else some of them may turn into ethnic militants or religious terrorists, which is a security threat to the nation.
“Politics has provided an avenue for politicians to form informal security outfits comprising mostly thugs around them, which in most cases snowball into terrorist groups and become a security threat to the community.
“As a result, many innocent lives have been lost, properties destroyed and trust among various communities built over the years severely damaged.
“Worst, endemic corruption that has eaten so deep into our polity, coupled with the advent of insurgency, armed robbery, kidnapping for ransom, bandits attacks, killings of innocent people and many other criminal activities, there is the need to strengthen neighborhood security outfits known as vigilante group to secure the community.
National Secretary of Pan Niger Delta Forum, Dr Alfred Mulade, called for the deregulation of the nation’s security system.
“Deregulating security means we have to create another tier of security and that takes us to the concept of state policing so that other tiers of government can also have the direct responsibility in the policing system of their people.
“The central system as it stands today can no longer work. If you are bringing somebody from Zamfara to come and police a village in Ekiti where he doesn’t know anything about the people, he will find it difficult.
“First of all, what he will first do is to find his feet on the ground, find his way, study the psychology of the people and how he will do his job.
“Before he will be able to do all that, maybe one year or two have passed. The criminal elements will also take advantage of that. If you have people that are close to the communities being in charge of policing, it works better.
“The argument of funding and use of local security to harass political opponents may not be true all the time. Even if you have a governor that is powerful, he will not be there all the time.
“We need a system that we can build. If you build a system, a governor cannot just wake up one morning and begin to use it to harass his enemy. If all of us stand up to say this is how we should do it, then it stands.”
On the use of arms by vigilance groups, Mulade said: “If we say that vigilance groups should carry arms, the question is, are they trained? They need to be properly trained and structured. You can’t just set up a vigilance group today and they begin to bear arms.
“If you allow everybody to set up vigilance groups in every community, then it will become like self-help. It would work to some extent but it may not work on a larger scale.
“We have to sit down and structure the security system. It is something that the central government cannot run away from. Any attempt to run away from it and allow everybody to defend themselves will lead to anarchy.
“When state government coordinates vigilance groups, then what happens to the police? You want to change the name from police to vigilante group or what? If the state government is doing that they have to control it properly. It has to be properly structured.