There is no gainsaying that security is the most fundamental need of human beings. A disturbed mind results in a restless, hapless and distraught personality. Succinctly, there are extant laws which provide for fundamental human rights and freedom from torture, cruel and degrading treatment in our polity. Issues of security and safety have been of concern to Lagosians and the security of lives and property is the resolve of the state government in view of increasing acts of lawlessness, social disorder, such as the recent invasion of militants in some communities in Ikorodu and Igando areas of the state, armed robbery, and kidnapping, exemplified by the recent kidnapping of the Oniba of Iba.
The presence of law enforcement agencies in the body polity of the state is a sine qua non for safety of lives and properties in a state. The spate of insecurity in Lagos is worrisome indeed. Thus, advocates of community policing have opined that Lagos should have community and state police to check the challenges of insecurity bedeviling the mega city. Hence, it has become expedient to revisit the role of vigilante groups readily accessible to the populace in curbing crime in the commercial capital of Nigeria.
With increasing activities of hoodlums, the motley communities comprising Lagos, definitely need a commensurate increased vigilance from security agencies at this time of economic down-turn in the country. Increased surveillance and intelligence gathering is desireable since everything cannot be left for the police. The large population of the state has made it quite difficult to curb the excesses of hoodlums and miscreants increasingly immigrating into the already over-populated state. Moreso, efforts to checkmate crime by the police have been mostly futile since often times, the great distrust and absence of empathy by the police creates a wide gap between them and their host communities. Public hostility and indifference are the most perplexing problems the police force in Lagos is facing today.
However, over the years, local vigilantes have helped to patrol neighbourhoods under the supervision of the police in many communities in the state. Thus, the Lagos State House of Assembly recently passed a bill for a law to establish the Lagos State Neighbourhood Safety Agency, for the regulation and control of the safety corps activities and for connected purposes. The functions of the Agency’s board is to take over all existing responsibilities of the neighbourhood watch and absorb all eligible ‘Watchers’ into the corps. In addition, they will establish uniformed neighborhood safety corps in all local government/local council development areas (LCDAs) in the state, formulate guidelines, regulations and policies for the day to day operations of the corps; and other local vigilante groups within the State amongst other functions.
The Bill came to the fore in a bid to ensure that emerging highbrow crimes like killings by herdsmen, kidnapping, ritual killings and terrorism do not take root in the state. The Bill seeks to repeal the Neighborhood Watch Law of 1996, enacted by the then military administration of Brigadier-General Buba Marwa (rtd). The new agency would integrate the existing personnel of the Neighbourhood Watch, that are competent, having good character and integrity.
However, the efficacy of the philosophy and policies of any system of government in any given society depends on their faithful implementation. Hence, the vigilante system must not be turned into tools in the hands of influential community leaders to threaten and punish their adversaries. Also, a major caution note is that the security outfit to emerge should not compete with the Nigeria Police, but must complement their efforts in preventing and combating crime, since our laws do not recognise state policing.
It is important to state that anyone carrying any firearm must be licensed by the competent authority which according to the Firearms Act is the Commissioner of Police in the state. Illegal possession of firearms by any group whatever names it is called, either vigilante or non-vigilante contravenes Section 328 of the Criminal Laws of Lagos State, 2011.
The fulcrum of the foregoing is that crime prevention is not achieved through isolated retaliatory actions or pre-emptive violence of policing organisations but by prompt reporting of such incidents to the law enforcement agencies in our neighbourhood. It is in the light of the above that the law by the Lagos State House of Assembly for the regulation and control of vigilante groups in communities to fight the scourge of crime and assist the police in their crime prevention initiatives and to enable it discharge its civic duties to the society is laudable.
- Ogunjobi, an attorney, lives in Lagos.