The government should define the role of vigilante groups in our community policing system

No fewer than seven people were recently killed and 19 others severely injured when members of two factions of ‘vigilante’ groups clashed in Adamawa State. The bloody fight occurred during the coronation of two officials of the Amalgamated Union of Nigerian Hunters in Gombi. To the extent that armed vigilante groups are involved in providing security in Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe States as they assist security officials in the battle against Boko Haram insurgents, it is in everyone’s interest that they resolve their differences.

However, there is also the need to look at the whole issue of vigilante groups and their role within the current security architecture of the country against the backdrop of rising cases of wanton killings by some of these groups. Even though such killings occasionally dominate headlines, not much seems to have been done to arrest the alarming trend.

It is obvious that there is a clear connection between the worsening security situation in the country and the emergence and proliferation of vigilante groups. It should worry the authorities that all manner of groups now carry arms for which many are not trained. Besides, there is nothing to distinguish some of these groups from armed robbers and/or kidnappers.

While we believe that the primary responsibility of a state is the protection of lives and property – a responsibility that is discharged by institutions like the police, the military, paramilitary services and the intelligence community, it becomes worrisome when this sacred duty is outsourced to unregulated, ill-trained, poorly-equipped and uncoordinated groups as obtains today in most towns across the country. We believe that this could be a prelude to anarchy if not properly addressed and we thus call on the authorities to move in quickly to restore a measure of order.

We are not opposed to efforts by communities to protect themselves against violent hoodlums and night marauders, or for the existence of vigilante groups as part of efforts to tackle the challenging security situation in the country. However, we are of the view that if these groups could be incorporated into our internal security framework, then their activities must be regulated and their members properly documented. Also, their right to bear arms, even if such arms are locally made, must be critically reviewed with clear guidelines issued by the appropriate authorities. A situation where touts and confirmed drug addicts bear arms at night as members of vigilante groups should not be acceptable in any decent society. Not only is it a threat to law abiding citizens, it is also a serious danger to public peace.

In checking this ugly trend, we could also borrow a leaf from other climes where the existence of neighbourhood watch is basically to serve as the third eye which gives information to the police on unusual activities and suspicious faces in their neighbourhood. In those societies, there is a close synergy between the neighbourhood watch and the security agencies, with the former helping to gather intelligence in areas where the latter lack the required manpower and resources. And on occasions when they assist in nabbing suspected criminals, such suspects are promptly handed over to the police for proper investigation and possible prosecution.

We therefore call on government to properly define the role of vigilante groups in our community policing system. That should include keeping proper documentation and conducting background checks on their members. We believe that these are the ways the spate of tragic killings by members of vigilante groups could be effectively checked.