Rise of vigilantism: How communities are rising to combat crime

KOLA MUHAMMED writes that vigilante groups are fast springing up in parts of South West Nigeria as criminals take the advantage of the country to rob residents of their valuables.

 

“OPEN this door or we will break it down.” Loud bangs on the main door jolted the Busairi household to life around 1.00am after they had retired to their beds to get some rest after the day’s hustle.

The number of voices shouting the order increased and it became apparent to the Busairis that the main entrance door might eventually give in to the onslaught of the uninvited marauders. With the family still in shock disbelief as to what was about to happen to them, four able-bodied, desperate looking youths barged in, bearing guns, machetes and knives.

In a matter of minutes, what was a tranquil night of rest suddenly transformed into a midnight of terror. As dazed as they were, the Busairis knew that nothing would remain the same after the incident. They would only be lucky to escape with their lives and bodies in one piece.

Recounting his horrendous experience with Sunday Tribune, the head of the family, Alhaji Salaudeen Busairi said: “I had never been a victim of armed robbery or burglary in my life. I would never have thought of it, not in my wildest dreams.”

“It was a distraught experience to have encountered those boys. We were besieged by each of these boys. They demanded money, phones, laptops and any useful gadget and we didn’t hesitate.

“They were about four, with each of them taking each of our rooms. We didn’t struggle with them. It was pointless because of the weapons they were carrying.

“Despite not struggling with them on everything they demanded, one of my sons was attacked with a machete, cutting deep into his flesh. They complained he was nonchalant.”

Several other families who live in the same Yemetu Alaadorin community, Ibadan, Oyo State as the Busairi family were also robbed and attacked to varying degrees.

One of the residents in the community, Tunde Sadiq, revealed that the armed robbers came in a large number and as such had the capacity to attack all the houses at once.

According to Sadiq, the robbers who attacked the community were up to 50 in number and several other residents of Yemetu Alaadorin confirmed that they were all attacked simultaneously, with the robbers carting away a motorcycle, several phones and money running into hundreds of thousands of naira.

For Emmanuel and his girlfriend who reside in Bodija, Ibadan, the story is also the sorry same. Both were robbed in the midnight and their belongings were taken away. They could only console each other with the saying that “when there is life, there is hope.”

On the other hand, the residents of Odogunyan, Agric, Isawo, Maya and Adamo communities in Ikorodu, Lagos State, were warned beforehand of the intrusion by armed robbers who are popularly known by ‘One million boys’ through a public letter.

Before they were subjected to the kind of misfortune which was fast becoming a trend in some states in the South West, the residents of the Ikorodu communities decided to take security into their hands.

 

Vigilante groups

The communities and many others decided to form vigilante groups in order to ward off any potential raid.

Landlords and residents would gather together at night to take watch. They would assemble at a junction, one that often leads into the heart of their community and set up a burning stake. They often arm themselves with cutlasses, dane guns and clubs and take turns on the vigilante duty every night.

One of the Ikorodu landlords, Akintunde Akinwunmi, spoke to  Sunday Tribune, expressing his opinion that it was pointless waiting on security agencies when it was obvious that they could only attend to so many cases at a time and with cases of robberies on the rise, it was expedient that people rose to help themselves.

“We notified men, old and young, in our area that we would take watch every night and rotate it among ourselves. Armed with all kinds of weapons, we burn tyres on a stake from night till daybreak when we disperse.

“With the brawn we possess in this area, there is no way the thieves won’t be terrified to come here. Ikorodu particularly has a reputation for fending off attacks. They know us and we will always remain prepared,” Akintunde added.

Several reasons have been cited by many agitated persons who have no choice but to participate in keeping vigil against possible invasion, several of which range from slow police response to ostensible incapacitation of security agencies.

An Ibadan resident who wanted to be identified simply as Segun, narrated to Sunday Tribune his experience when the noise of gunshots rented the air on his street recently.

“I suddenly began to hear the blast of gunshots in the middle of the night and I knew it wasn’t our night guard. The gunshots continued and I called the emergency number of the police for Oyo State. It took some time before my call was picked.

“I was told a response team was on its way and it was not until three hours after before I heard the sound of siren as a police vehicle approached my street. If it were to be an actual robbery, it would have been too late,” Segun added.

This, among many other factors, did not serve to endear security agencies to many Nigerians.

The act of vigilantism appears to be getting embraced by many citizens across the southwestern region as they get innovative about ways to combat the rising terror.

The bright fire and attendant flames that go up in the night on many streets in Ibadan, Lagos and others hint that people in those areas are on vigilante duty.

At the breaking of a day, residue of burnt tyres and other combustible objects could be easily noticed at street junctions and on main roads. This sight, Sunday Tribune learnt, is now commonplace because of the activities of the vigilantes.

 

Are vigilante groups lawful?

While speaking to Sunday Tribune, the Oyo State Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Superintendent of Police Olugbenga Fadeyi, said there was nothing wrong with community vigilance groups as they do so only to ensure security in their communities.

SP Fadeyi, however, said in the spirit of the community policing being championed by the police hierarchy, it is important that when the vigilance group members lay hands on suspected criminals, it is their responsibility to hand over such suspects to the police.

He said beating or attacking such suspects amounts to jungle justice and that means members of such vigilance groups have gone against the law.

“When members of vigilance groups arrest suspected criminals, it is important they hand them over to the police who will investigate their alleged crimes.

“Beating them or attacking them is going against the law and that is not part of the community policing being championed by the police hierarchy.

“What community policing is all about is that community members or members of vigilance groups partner with the police through information sharing, and when they arrest alleged suspects, they should hand them over to the police.

“Jungle justice, like beating or attacking suspects is not part of the community policing policy; when members of the community perform their role, the police should also be left to perform theirs,” Fadeyi said.

 

Warning to watchmen

In an interaction with Sunday Tribune, Oyo State Commissioner of Police, Shina Olukolu, warned communities against erecting unmanned gates as they hinder the ability of the police to respond to distress calls in such areas.

The police commissioner said that community associations must always ensure that if they have gates at the entrances to streets or areas, those who have the keys to such gates must by readily available when there are distress calls and the police need to reach such areas.

In addition, SP Fadeyi, lamented that on several occasions, such gates had prevented police operatives from reaching where people needed help, while people would not consider such situations when making their complaints public.

“What we need to just say in that regard is that in communities where there are gates, those manning the gates should always be there to open and close the gates at any time of the day.

“Some communities will just close the gates at a particular time of the day, leaving no one to man such gates. When members of the communities call the police in time of distress, it will be difficult for the police responders to reach the particular area because of the locked gates.

“So when communities have gates, it is important for the gatemen to always be there should any situation arise,” SP Fadeyi added.

Even as the economy is further dented by the coronavirus pandemic, crime is not abating. However, if news about robbery attacks had reduced, it must simply mean that the community vigilance groups must have risen gallantly to the occasion, foiling attacks against them by not folding their arms, but taking the fight to the criminals.

 

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