In April 2019, at the Forum of Northern Traditional Rulers in Kaduna, President Muhammadu Buhari, approved the adoption of Community Policing to tackle the upsurge of crime in Nigeria.
Before now, Community Policing has been on the front burner of security discourse with many stakeholders clamouring for it on the assumption that it is the long-awaited solution to stem the tide of insecurity.
With the prevailing security challenges evidenced in the escalation of violent conflicts and crimes: from herdsmen-farmers clashes, an insurgency in North-East, the resurgence of militancy in the Niger Delta and kidnapping for ransom in the South West and other regions, the need for a strategic policing approach has become expedient.
Origin of community policing
The concept which started decades back in the United Kingdom and the United States did not come to Nigeria until 2004. The main aim for launching the pilot scheme in the country then was to make the Police closer to members of the public and by extension, get prompt information that could help them to be proactive.
The earlier concept of this initiative resulted in the formation of vigilante groups in every nook and cranny of the country. Ethnic militias as vigilante groups emerged in communities and cities across the country ostensibly to combat rising crime waves in the face of the inability of the Police to effectively deal with armed robbery and other violent crimes.
The very first of such operations began around 1988 during the tenure of the military governor of Borno State, Lt Col Abdul One Muhammed, who introduced what he called ‘Operation Sunlight.”
The operation was made up of detectives and vigilante groups with a mandate to arrest and prosecute robbery suspects. Apparently, the government found the judicial process rather slow and boring.
The government later reconstituted the squad to form another outfit code-named “Operation Damisa” (Hausa name for leopard) made up of men drawn from the army, the Police and civil defence groups who acted as informants.
“Operation Zaki” was the code-name assigned to a brutal hit squad comprised of the army and civilian vigilante groups set up by the military government of Borno State in response to the menace of armed robbery in the state.
Its mandate was to shoot at sight any person (rightly or wrongly) suspected to be a robber. A spine chilling account of the activities of the squad as given by a nurse who witnessed the killing of seven suspects at Damagun General Hospital Maiduguri read thus: “They (referring to the Zaki Squad) came here (the hospital), late last year with about six suspects, in a pick-up van.
They ordered everybody around to stay away. Soon the suspects were told to lie face down and I was horrified to watch the bodies wriggle to the numerous bullets that are being pumped into them by soldiers (about four of them).”
The mass killing of people in the name of Operation Zaki continued in spite of the protest from human rights organizations and other concerned members of the public.
O’ dua People Congress, OPC
The OPC was formed during the dark and brutal era of repressive military dictatorship presided over by General Sani Abacha. It was an ethnic response to the perceived persecution of Yoruba people under the military regime.
This persecution was believed to have culminated in the annulment of June 12, 1993, presidential election apparently won by late Chief M.K. O. Abiola.
Core to the formation of OPC was the demand for a Sovereign National Conference, SNC, to address issues of marginalization and oppression. Over time OPC began to meddle into vigilante activities and became effective in using unorthodox means to fish out and eliminate criminals.
For this reason, the group often clashed with the Police, who believed that the OPC was usurping their constitutional functions. The Police also accuse the OPC of excesses of resorting to lawless methods and killing innocent people.
On the other hand, the OPC accuse the Police of colluding with and aiding criminals. They allege that when suspects are arrested and handed over to the Police, they take bribe from the suspects, release them and the criminals turn on their captors with a vengeance.
There were regular bitter and bloody clashes between the OPC and the Police on the one hand and the Police and civil society on the other hand. The bitter encounters resulted in enormous casualties on both sides.
The Bakassi boys
Historically, Bakassi was a child of necessity. When armed robbery rose to a level unprecedented in the history of Aba, Abia State and another group of young vandals who call themselves the Mafia, held Aba hostage, the Police was unable to protect lives and property in that commercial town.
The traders who were the worst victims then set up a resistance force that countered the armed robbers and the Mafia. They triumphed. That was the birth of Bakassi boys.
Bakassi Boys was a group made up of artisans (mainly shoemakers) and traders in Ariaria Market extension, Aba (called Bakassi). They organized themselves into a citizen-initiated vigilante group called the Bakassi Boys.
Suspected criminals who hitherto freely menaced the city and its environs were fished out, “tried in the Bakassi “Court” and those convicted had their arms, legs, and head chopped off with machetes before being burnt.
One month after the Bakassi operation started, calm and normalcy were reported to have returned to the city. The Bakassi Boys pursued suspects who reportedly fled to neighbouring cities and villages, apprehended and brought them back to Aba to face ‘trial’
Onitsha and Nnewi in Anambra State, on the other hand became uninhabitable, as a result of the menace of armed robbers and liability of the Nigerian Police Force to live up to their constitutional duty. Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju, the governor quickly extended an invitation to the crime bursting outfit.
The governor who declared himself as the commander-in-chief of the Bakassi Boys observed thus: “We heard of the exploits of Bakassi Boys in Aba, we went and invited them. Within three to four weeks, things changed. Rather than the armed robbers chasing us around, we found ourselves on the offensive. Now the robbers are on the run.”
The Egbesu boys
The Egbesu boys were the first real attempt at community policing in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria. Before the formation of the group, the Niger-Delta area witnessed a lot of crises. These crises centered on the effects of oil exploration and exploitation and demand for resource control and compensation by the people of the Niger-Delta.
Then issues were accompanied with a lot of youth restiveness manifesting in cases of kidnapping and hostage-taking of oil workers. The causes of youth restiveness in the Niger Delta included lack of youth development programmes by government, activities of multinational companies; lack of youth participation in policy and decision making; poverty, unemployment, oppression and marginalization; insensitively of government to demands of the youth; mistrust of elders; environmental pollution; domination by major ethnic groups, unitary nature of Nigeria’s political system and lack of control of natural resources.
With the above problems facing the Niger Delta, it necessitated the birth of the Egbesu Boys.
The new phase
With the exception of few, most of the community policing outfits fizzled out. As time progressed, the concept was reviewed, with Commissioners of Police meeting with members of the public on a monthly basis to get report of their peculiar security challenges and the way out.
In Lagos, armed policemen were attached to members of these vigilante groups, who carry out surveillance of crime-prone areas. With the symbiotic relationship, the Police gradually began to win the confidence of members of the public in information gathering. A vivid instance to this attestation was ending the reign of terror of the Badoo cult group in Lagos State.
There were also establishment of state-owned security outfits to drive home the debate on Community Policing, with retired senior security personnel assigned to head them.
The Neighborhood Watch which has been in existence in Lagos was upgraded to the Lagos Neighborhood Safety Corps, LNSC, where residents of a particular area were mandated to watch over the area, make an arrest when necessary and hand culprits over to Police divisions in their localities.
A similar outfit ‘The Rivers State Neighbourhood Safety Corps Agency RIVNESCA, had 3,000 persons recruited into it, with a charge to bridge the security gap in the state. Plateau state, established Operation Rainbow, among others.
The new community policing idea
Meanwhile, President Buhari’s Community Policing, which was reiterated by the Inspector-General of Police, IGP Mohammed Adamu, Tuesday, introduced a new policy and modern pattern to the concept. It is expected to align with the existing traditional security structure in Northern Nigeria.
To this effect, 40,000 Nigerians under this new concept will be addressed as Special Constables. They will be drawn from communities where they reside: be it their states of origin or not.
In this case, they are expected to carry out same functions and duties of the conventional Police, including wearing the regular police uniforms and are expected to be paid allowances by the Federal Government.
The Special Constables Model according to the Inspector General of Police was mirrored after the Police Community Support Officers Standard in the United Kingdom policing architecture.
To kick start this phase; Commissioners of Police have begun to meet with security stakeholders in their respective commands.
In Lagos, the Commissioner of Police, CP Hakeem Odumosu, met with members of the screening committee, comprising Local Government Chairmen, Traditional Rulers and members of the Police Community Relations Committee, PCRC, Wednesday, to sensitize them on the concept.
Modalities for screening
Members of the screening committee are expected to recruit volunteers from their communities as Community Policing Officers, CPOs otherwise known as Constabulary Police. One of the major qualifications for recruitment is one devoid of criminal records. After selection, volunteers are expected to be taken to the nearest police stations for character checks before undergoing training with the Police.
At the meeting, traditional leaders from different ethnic groups raised concerns over the possibility of the screening process being ethnicised. Some also stressed the need for members of the screening committee to put their feet down, and prevent politicians from hijacking the process. The committee was also cautioned to be fair in the recruitment.
Briefing journalists at the end of the meeting, CP Odumosu said: “ We are highly elated because they (Constabulary Police) are coming in to assist us. Police can’t work without information. They will serve as our eyes and informants.
“The meeting is about practicality of community policing. It is a sensitization step towards actualizing the federal government’s decision to bring in community policing on board, through the IGP. It is going to reduce the shortage of manpower in the police but more importantly, it is going to be a symbiotic one.
“The modalities for recruitment and their duties are stated in sections 49 and 50 of the Police Acts and Regulations. They (CPOs) are unlike the SPY Police because they are going to be working in police stations, like regular policemen.
They have the same rights and privileges as the conventional police. So they may be deployed to work at the counter or be sent to invite somebody to the station.
“Part of the qualifications is age, as stated in the Police Act. The age requirement is between 21 years and 50 years. There may be variations in other areas, for instance, a Police Constable must have at least Secondary School Certificate Examination, whereas they (CPOs) may not require such because it is a voluntary service.
“Their services will be restricted to the communities they reside in. Unlike regular Police that will be transferred, they will not be transferred outside their communities. If they leave the communities they were recruited, they can not work from their new locations, as their services are not transferable.
They will have to undergo training with us after the screening committee recruits them.”
Project long overdue
Describing the new move as a welcome development, Chairman of Idu Victoria Island Local Development Council, Princess Basirat Abiodun, said that the project was long overdue, adding that security was the duty of all and not strictly the Police.
She noted that the recruitment of people with good characters as CPOs would be better done by community leaders, since they were closer to the people.
She also ruled out the possibility of the recruitment being hijacked by politicians or being characterized with favoritism. She said: “Lagos, being a metropolitan state, will accommodate those qualified.”
Asked the difference between CPOs and Amotekun, she replied, “ The issue of Amotekun is about South West only and it has its own segment. But this one is a Federal thing. These two can work together for peace and security because security is germane, so, everybody must key in.”
The Amotekun, others challenge
Given past experience, the questions on the lips of some observers are: will community policing meet the security needs of the country? Since it will be under the police, will it not suffer the fate of the regular police? Will it not face the problems of funding, and logistics among others?
Indeed, the Pan-Yoruba Socio-Political Organization, Afenifere, last week, the South-West would resist attempts to make Amotekun part of the community policing programme of the Federal Government Afenifere Spokesperson, Yinka Odumakin, said the regional security outfit, which had been widely accepted, should be allowed to have its own independence and not tied to the Inspector-General of Police
He said: “We rejected any attempt to subsume Amotekun under any community policing scheme of the Federal Government to be mere informants to the police. Amotekun should be independent in carrying out the security of residents of South-West with defined operational cooperation with the police but not function as its subordinate.
“While Amotekun has now come to stay, there must be no let or hindrance in the pursuit of a federal state so we can revert to the multi-level policing status of Nigeria of the past.”
Indeed, South-West leaders are exploring all angles including legal to make Amotekun functional. One of the legal teeth is getting the six houses of assembly in the South-West to pass the Amotekun Law so that the outfit can begin operation, this month.
As expected, other regions of the country have started copying the Amotekun model. The Pan-Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, the umbrella body of monarchs, leaders and stakeholders in the Niger Delta, at an expanded National Executive Committee, NEC, meeting, weekend, urged the six South-South governors to urgently put in place a regional security outfit similar to Amotekun.
In like manner, governors of the five South-East states have concluded plans to establish a security outfit similar to Operation Amotekun.
Last year, most of the governors sanctioned the establishment of Forest Guards, which was implemented by Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State.
Chairman of the South-East Governors Forum and Ebonyi State Governor, David Umahi, weekend, while hosting the General Officer Commanding 82 Division of the Nigerian Army, Lasisi Adegboye, in Abakaliki, the State Capital, said the governors had written the Federal Government, and met with military authorities on their plan to establish the South-East regional security outfit.
Origins of Amotekun
Western Nigeria Security Network, WNSN, codenamed Operation Amotekun (Leopard)was established on January 9, 2020, by the six state governments of the South-West – Lagos, Oyo, Ogun, Ondo, Osun and Ekiti following the decision of the six governors at a regional security summit held in Ibadan, Oyo State, in June 2019 through the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria Commission, DAWN.
In support of the outfit, all the six state governors contributed 20 vehicles each, except Oyo that contributed 33 vehicles, making 133 vehicles for the start-up. They also procured 100 units of motorcycles each, making a total of 600 motorcycles.
The members of the outfit were drawn from local hunters, Oodua Peoples Congress, OPC, Agbekoya, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC, and vigilante group.
Amotekun, the first regional security outfit initiated by a geopolitical zone in Nigeria, will be based in all the six states of the South-West, and responsible for curbing insecurity in the region.
The operatives of the security outfit will assist the police, other security agencies and traditional rulers in combating terrorism, banditry, armed robbery, kidnapping and also help in settling herdsmen and farmers contentions in the region.
For the start-up, Lagos, Osun and Ekiti states, recruited 1,320 operatives for the operation, while they will carry dane-guns like local hunters, operating in about 52 deadly black spots all over the region.