L-R, Balogun, Chukwuma presenting Kits to a member of the VPS
An intervention plan has been delivered by a department of the Justice for All Programme in collaboration with Cleen Foundation to support the development of voluntary policing sector (VPS) groups otherwise known as Vigilante in Lagos State. The project, which kicked off recently started with Agege community and has seen an improvement in the state of security in the area. Taiwo Akintunde writes
The pivotal role that Voluntary Policing Sector (VPS) otherwise known as Vigilante groups play in addressing the safety and security needs of poor communities is well documented. For many Nigerians, especially the poor, VPS groups are pre-eminent and in some cases the only groups they feel able to go to for their safety and security needs. It is therefore an essential area for the Justice 4 All programme to support to improve personal security and access to justice for all Nigerians.
It is in this vain that the J4A Programme, a non-governmental organisation on justice issues, in collaboration with Cleen Foundation, experts on security and safety matters, implemented a project to cater for the need of vigilante groups in Agege area of Lagos State by providing them with gadgets to enhance their service and also introduced a programme that will help build their capacity in line with duty. The event took place in a multi-purpose hall of the Agege Local Government Secretariat.
According to an official of J4A, Mrs Isioma Kemekolam, the aim of the project is to improve the responsiveness and effectiveness of the service delivery, increase accountability of vigilante groups in Lagos community and help them to work more closely with the Nigeria Police at the divisional command level and other relevant counterparts.
She said that ideally, the VPS would play a low level role in ensuring citizens’ safety and security, with their main focus being on deterring crime and supporting the delivery of effective community policing rather than combating or taking on any of the more active policing roles adding that the overall aim of this intervention is to support VPS groups to improve their services to all members of communities in a manner that is both accountable and respectful of the law, in close coordination with the police.
Highlighting the objectives of the project, Kemekolam told THISDAY that the Intervention Plan is to enhance the organisational and management capacity of selected VPS groups, strengthen the capacity of selected VPS groups to deliver the services that citizens need and want with due regard for the law, enhance VPS engagement with, and accountability to, their local communities in selected locations, enhance levels of coordination between VPS groups and the NPF and other relevant groups at local levels and also to disseminate examples of good practice to VPS groups in lead states and across Nigeria and encourage other groups to replicate and adopt them.
She added: “The ultimate outcome of the intervention is that citizens in selected locations feel safer in their communities; have confidence in VPS groups and trust that they will behave appropriately by responding to the safety and security needs of all members of the community,” she said.
Other expected outcomes include improved organisational and management capacity of selected VPS groups resulting in more focused and accountable service delivery and transparency of procedures, selected VPS groups are delivering services that are legal and meet the needs of citizens and communities in the key areas of crime prevention, post-crime conflict services and participation in community safety groups. She continued that, “VPS groups are engaging with, and accountable to their local communities in selected locations, they are also coordinating their activities effectively and in a structured manner with other VPS groups and the NPF in selected locations. Good practice examples and guidance materials are being disseminated across the VPS in lead states and more broadly and are being replicated and adopted across the sector,” she added.
Explaining to THISDAY in an interview after the programme, Cleen Executive Director, Mr Innocent Chukwuma said the main activities being implemented focus on capacity building, technical assistance and limited equipment support to VPS groups and their communities. He highlighted some of the activities as mapping VPS groups in the J4A focal states, to identify who is working in the field, what they are doing and how and their levels of competency and effectiveness. “Some other activities include supporting VPS groups to enhance their organisation and management capacities through the development of their leadership skills; drafting and strengthening of procedures for recruitment of new members as well as policies and procedures governing their functions and facilitating networking among VPS leaders for sharing of best practice,” he explained.
Mentioning further on the activities of the project, Kemekolam said that rendering support to VPS groups and their communities in skills training on basic policing, problem solving, conflict resolution and monitoring and evaluation methods as well as providing responsive VPS groups with basic policing equipment are part of the activities.
At the event, VPS representatives from various parts of the community as well as Community Development Association officials were trained in three critical areas which bother on basic human rights standards (with specific attention to women’s rights) to improve their understanding of human rights law and practice; establishment of complaints system on services and conduct; and facilitation of periodic interactive and accountability forums between the VPS groups and their communities including women were being delivered to them by the J4A and Cleen officials present. Generally, the goal of the trainings was to improve the VPS institutional and legal framework that would encourage professionalism and modernization of the group.
At the end of the training, the VPS groups now have policy documents such as Code of conduct, Procedural manual, Strategic plan and development of complaint form. Messages that would enhance accountability of the VPS groups within the community were developed for flyers with messages like: ‘Report Abuse of power or commendation of good members’ and ‘See something, say something.’ Also, a hotline number for community members to call for complaints is being proposed shortly after the three VPS Groups that fall under Isoko Police Division were presented with kits like; raincoats, rain boots, flash lights, whistles, arm bands, Identity cards and accounting books for record keeping. The groups that received the items are Gboguleri/Isaleoja Vigilante, Ajegunle Vigilante and Ashade/Adeyemi vigilante groups respectively.
Other activities include coordination meeting with the police and VPS groups in Isokoko. According to Kemekolam, the monthly forum was inaugurated on May 18, 2012 and the aim of the forum is to improve the coordination of the police and VPS groups for effective service delivery. Participants at the forum comprised of leaders of CDAs and VPS groups in Isokoko, Neighborhood policing officers and officers of Isokoko police division.
She described the outcome of the meeting as impressive after baseline questionnaires to determine the usefulness of the forum/coordination were filled by the participants. General discussions on coordination between the police and VPS groups were also put in place as well as likely challenges to be encountered in coordination were addressed. Modalities (protocols) for police coordination with VPS groups were agreed upon and frequency of coordination meetings between the police and VPS groups was determined. Monthly activity report meeting was agreed by all present.
Over 100 participants comprising of leaders of CDAs, VPS groups, Traditional leaders, religious, women and youth organisations in Isokoko were in attendance. Community members who spoke were very happy and thankful to J4A for the material support and promised to support the VPS to enhancing service delivery for a safe and peaceful Isokoko.
While Speaking to THISDAY, the Agege Community Development Committee (CDC) Chairman, Comrade Toyin Balogun described the gesture of J4A as outstanding and a must-have project for all communities nationwide adding that security in Agege community has vastly improved. “This is a laudable project embarked upon by the J4A and I want to believe that programme like this will help boost security in Nigeria because the problem starts from the grassroots and if we can address insecurity from the grassroots, the society at large will be safe for every one.”
Serikin Hausa of the community, Alhaji Musa Muhammed Dogun-Kadiri also stated that the issue of tribal marginalisation in Agege has reduced due to the new orientation given to the VPS operatives by J4A. He explained that at one time, Hausa men and women in the area were brutally treated by vigilante officials at night while on duty but added that the case is no longer the same as they now collaborate to ensure the safety of the community in general.
The Ebira Community Chief, Alhaji Lawal Muhammed, who was also at the event said the project still need to go further than the three major areas of the community adding that it is important the circulation goes before other communities who are yet to benefit from the project becomes liability to them. “For instance, in Mangoro area, we have a large number of Ebira indigenes living there and I am speaking in their interest. Security in that area is under control but we want this project to come to that end on time so that we will fully benefit from the project like our neighbouring communities currently does,” he said.