The neighbourhood safety corps will serve a valuable purpose

Last week, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode formally unveiled the Lagos State Neighbourhood Safety Corps (LSNSC), a community policing institution set up to ensure public safety and order. The inauguration of the corps was a follow-up to the passage of an executive bill for its establishment in June 2016. Gov. Ambode assented to the bill in August, 2016. The state government recently recruited some 2,800 corps to enforce the law, while also providing some facilities for effective operations.

The LSNSC was a response to what the governor described as diverse security challenges demanding the intervention of a supportive safety agency. As indicated in the law, the corps was established to assist the Nigeria Police and other security agencies in the maintenance of law and order across all communities in Lagos State, register all private home guards, provide useful intelligence for crime prevention to the police, facilitate the arrest of perpetrators of criminal activities across all communities, and the balancing of communal interests in resolving disputes.

Even though the roles of the police and Neighbourhood Safety Corps are somehow interwoven, Ambode had reiterated that the corps “is not in any way in competition with the regular police force.” Rather, the corps would support and complement the efforts of the police, especially in the area of gathering useful intelligence at the grassroots level.

The safety corps is a testament to the growing inability of the police to secure the state, as in across the nation, despite a support of over N17.2 billion by the Lagos State Security Trust Fund (LSSTF). It is also a proof that a centrally-controlled police could no longer guarantee the protection of human lives, private property and public installations as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution.

Three unresolved crime incidents attested to the inability of the State Police Command to tackle the challenge at hand. One, the police command failed to bring to book the masterminds of the clash that erupted on March 2, 2016 between Hausa and Yoruba communities in Mile 12 Market in Lagos State. Two, the police were lukewarm in the arrest and prosecution of the criminal elements that lynched a commander of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA), Mr. Bakare Olatunji in December, 2016. Three, the police command was unable to respond strategically to the menace of kidnapping that has compelled thousands of Ikorodu residents to abandon their homes for fear of abduction in June 2016, and has forced many farmers in Epe to quit their farms in January 2017.

Given these instances and many more, the corps is a child of necessity that the police and indeed Lagosians should embrace with a view to ensuring public safety and public order in the state. But for it to be efficient, the Lagos State Government should build the capacity of its personnel; take care of their welfare beyond what is currently being offered as well as provide them institutional, logistic and strategic support.

The state government must meet these conditions to ensure that the corps does not suffer the same malfeasance for which officers and men of the police are known for. In addition, the state government must ensure that the corps does not become another instrument of oppression by subverting the will of the people. The corps must at all times and in all circumstances serve as an institution dedicated and committed to promoting law and order without regard to ethnicity, religion or political affiliations.