Niger State Governor Abubakar Sani Bello’s promise to acquire pump-action guns for vigilantes to confront “these enemies [bandits] of the people across the state” is a challenge to Nigeria’s security architecture and infrastructure. The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘vigilante’ as “a member of a self-appointed group of citizens who undertake law enforcement in their community without legal authority, typically because the legal agencies are thought to be inadequate.”
Based on the definition above, the governor’s outburst is an opinion on how inadequate the police’s measures in tackling banditry are. It is also an outright rejection on bandits’ insistence that Niger State must disband vigilantes as a precondition for them to halt their criminal activities. Governor Bello reinforced his stance by saying, “We are not going to disband vigilantes… Even when banditry activities in the state are stopped, vigilantes will still be there to provide security in local government areas.”
In the face of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, the governor’s decision to arm a security outfit, other than officers of the Nigeria Police Force, is an aberration. Arming untrained persons with guns is not the solution to the insecurity crisis in the country. It is true that we have a huge problem, but we must be mindful of actions taken to avoid worsening the situation. Already there are reports of hundreds of thousands of arms in the hands of persons who ordinarily should not possess them. There is no need to add to that number.
The state government clarified that the vigilante would be monitored by trained policemen whenever they go out on operations, but in reality this may not be possible and the arms could be abused.
The police are equipped with the constitutional powers for crime detection and prevention, protection of lives and property, preservation of order, arrest of offenders, military duties, prosecution of offenders, and other responsibilities.
They must rise to what is required of them. Nigeria needs a police force that can respond to the challenges posed by bandits, terrorists, armed robbers and militant groups who have disorganized Nigeria, poisoned national cohesion and threatened our territorial integrity. We, in the circumstances, call for mass recruitment, training and retraining of policemen so they could take the battle to bandits in forests and rural communities, detect planned attacks and prevent criminals from unleashing their deadly venom on vulnerable citizens.
It beats the imagination how bandits and criminals smuggle sophisticated weapons into Nigeria and use them to terrorize, abduct, torment and extort ransom from the people when the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) are placed at Nigeria’s land, sea and air borders, solely to prevent arms trafficking and illegal migration. These agencies who live on tax payer’s money have failed in carrying out their constitutional roles. It is clear that government needs to urgently reset and resize the activities of NCS and NIS in the light of our challenges.
Governor Bello’s decision also speaks to growing appeal of state police system, as the current centralized policing system does not respond to the insecurity all over Nigeria. State governments, communities and villages have resorted to self-help in tackling insecurity. Governors of geopolitical zones are debating the expediency of setting up regional security outfits, perhaps, in the mode of Amotekun, in the South-West. Though regional security outfit lacks constitutional backing, it has become a necessity in order to give Nigerians who live in the states a sense of security.
Nigerians are voting for vigilantes because they tend to be more courageous in tackling emerging criminal groups. However, before they are provided with weapons, governors and the police authorities must come together to set a national standard for their operations, under, say community policing and they must undergo the necessary training. Their role should be regarded as a stop-gap measure, until the country either reforms the central police system to meet the current challenges or amend the constitution to accommodate state police force. In the interim, we call for the retraining and reinvigoration of the mobile police force to tackle banditry in a professional manner, instead of surrendering the fight to vigilantes who depend on raw zeal and native intelligence to face our deadly enemies. Nigeria needs a precise and organized approach to deal with insecurity.