Community policing is a law enforcement strategy that focuses on creating a safe environment for residents of a defined area by creating an accurate law enforcement priority list shaped by the people who live in the area. It engages them to determine which criminal activities they are most affected by and encourages residents to participate with law enforcement in order to keep their own community safe. Community policing is intended to prevent crime before it happens rather than responding to crime after it occurs.
Community policing is not a new phenomenon in Nigeria. I am sure we remember the Bakassi Boys of Aba, Abia State, a vigilante group birthed out of necessity in 1998 due to the incessant robbery in Aba; Oodua’s Peoples Congress founded in 1997 as a socio-cultural group representing Yoruba interest and opposing military rule. It later broke into two factions – one of the factions headed by Ganiyu Adams later became a vigilante group; the Hisbah vigilante group founded in 2000, and the Civilian Joint Task Force, that started out in 2013 as a group of local hunters intending to protect their communities – to mention a few.
Some of these security outfits were formed with the intention of curbing crime and insecurity. They succeeded in their mandate, to an extent, but later became tools to perpetrate evil by reckless killings, extortion and harassment. Little wonder why Bakassi Boys was disbanded.
However, there is a growing concern about safety and security in the country with the rise of kidnapping, Boko Haram insurgency and armed robbery which have gone unabated. The Federal Police has failed woefully in its responsibilities of protecting lives and properties. The Nigerian police system is one which has many factors militating against its effectiveness which ranges from insufficient funding and poor intelligence gathering to inadequate, ill-equipped and undertrained personnel amongst other things. All these problems have hampered the effective combating of crimes at all levels.
It will be easier and effective for crimes to be tracked locally because these groups are not completely alien to the community in question and factors such as diverse languages, cultural practices and unfamiliar terrain will not militate against their efforts. Crimes in Nigeria are simply thriving because we have very poor intelligence gathering, with criminals outsmarting these security agencies on several occasions. Given the above scenarios, a much better tool of enforcing law and order in society, which will enjoy the support of community members, becomes very essential.
In the wake of these concerns, there has been a regional security consciousness. An example is the Coalition of Northern Groups canvassing for the establishment of Shege-ka-Fasa which, according to them, will serve as extra measures for self-protection in the prevailing insecurity situation in the region. This move came just after governors of the South-Western Region, in their bid to curb insecurity in the region, established Operation Amotekun in June 2019, an initiative geared towards protecting lives and properties within the states.
The South-Eastern part is not left behind as operation Ogbunigwe was birthed. It is said to be a security outfit focused on intelligence gathering that will help in securing the South-East zone.
There is no doubt that these outfits may have greater knowledge of their local communities and terrains than law enforcement officials, but there is need to consider factors that could mar this noble cause which include its legal power (is it backed by law?), funding (where will it get its funding from?), operational focus (will it encroach on the duties of the police?), training (will they be adequately trained and equipped?), etc.
I believe a collaboration between conventional security operatives and community police will result in a responsive system for citizens. While the community police focus on intelligence gathering and alerts law enforcers on impending danger, the law enforcers wade in to enforce the law.
The Federal government should meet with all stakeholders and discuss how this collaboration can improve states. We cannot continue to fold our hands and watch while insecurity ravages the nation.