Community versus regional policing in Nigeria: Learning from community-based crime prevention studies


There is a general belief that President Muhammadu Buhari rode to power in 2015 promising to solve the labyrinth of security (crime), corruption and unemployment problems in the country. Security took the lead probably because crime indicators totally portrayed a country on the precipice. Boko Haram and ISWAP terrorists had taken their grip on the North-East, conquered territories, killed and kidnapped hundreds of Nigerians (mostly women and girls). Recent resurgence in banditry, killings by Boko Haram and ISWAP in the Northern Nigeria and continued upsurge in alleged kidnapping and killing by herdsmen in other parts of the country have fuelled the insecurity discourse in Nigeria, with calls and actions for regional policing in the Southern part of the country. However, we theorize that based on past empirical findings on crimes and crime prevention in Nigeria, especially our study of the (in)effectiveness of community-based crime prevention efforts, a mixture of federal government’s community policing initiative, ever-present community-based crime prevention (CBCP) efforts, regional or state policing arrangement starting in the South-West and state policing might not achieve the desired results without banking on social capital, collective efficacy and ‘communitisation’.

The Amotekun security initiative by governors in the South-West was a response to growing onslaught of kidnappers and killer-herdsmen marauding the South-West, making the region unsafe for travellers and farmers. In the face of existing state incapacity to provide adequate security through its security outfits, pure agitation by the South-Westerners produced Amotekun (a regional security outfit for policing the South West), a development that is cascading into other regions where governors are meeting to establish regional security arrangement capable of bridging the gap occasioned by federal government’s inability to provide adequate security. The federal government itself has responded by asking that its smouldering community policing strategy be launched nationwide, an initiative hoping to bank on the integrity and participation of community leaders (political, age-grade and religious) in recruiting, operating and controlling new set of police constables to provide assistance to police officers, military officers and other security agencies fighting crimes in Nigeria.

These two new arrangements will join state policing and other non-state crime prevention practices as responses to weak government involvement in crime prevention. Our study already identified personal security arrangement, vigilante groups and community watch as a mix of three crime prevention models in many communities in Nigeria and seven out of ten people in the communities we studied could link their safety and perceived decrease in crime level to the community-based crime prevention practices in their neighbourhood. The success of CBCP in many parts of the country as reported by scholars possibly led the federal government to tag her new security initiative “community policing” and seek the participation of community leaders. However, this initiative with its powers and operational strategies may conflict with those of existing CBCP efforts. Under the CBCP model, community associations can exercise power over private properties in their territories, and people work together to solve members’ personal problems. Such communities have some legitimacy in identifying and resolving problems, managing public spaces and providing assistance to state policing efforts in fighting crime. These are community associations that rely on social capital, collective efficacy, ‘communitisation’ and active participation of everyone to fight crimes and ensure general well-being of community members. It is also on record that its reasonable success in fighting crimes could be attributed to the deployment of those variables.

Therefore, we advise the organizers of Amotekun, the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN), the six governors of South-West Nigeria (and similar other groups in other regions planning regional/state policing), and the federal government coming up with community policing to consider how their initiatives would be pivoted on social capital, collective efficacy and communitisation for effectiveness. Where there is no trust, willingness to act together and readiness to share collective and personal spaces and resources for the common good, pursuing a safer society or community through Amotekun or community policing may be a mirage. Actors or stakeholders of the security initiatives should work on how ownership and participation (in all forms of it) can be assured. There is a history of neglect or non-committal to public/government resources and projects and if this is extended to the Amotekun and community policing arrangements, they may not succeed unlike the CBCP efforts which command ownership and grassroots participation. The arrangements should not be seen as ‘their’ security project, but ‘our’ and ‘my’ project for preventing crimes in our communities.

We also call for a synergy among these outfits when they eventually start to co-exist with the CBCP projects in the communities. Amotekun, community policing need to learn from the successes and challenges of community-based crime prevention practices in Nigeria and ensure that they leverage on them for improved performance and greater success. Our study reported that the “CBCP is ineffective in kin-based communities where people neither report their kin to the police nor give out intelligence information about them in order not to offend tradition and ancestral relationships.” The Amotekun and federal government’s community policing efforts should ensure total transparency and unfettered collaboration with state security agencies for success. Where politicians and public officials are allowed to hijack the outfits for personal, selfish interests, we may be worsening the highly-tensed security situations in the country than reducing them.

Obasanjo sent this piece from Bowen University, Iwo. 





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