Proposed neighbourhood corp in the eyes of Lagosians
For sometime now, some stakeholders have been clamouring for the creation of state police to tackle the country’s seemingly insurmountable security challenges. However, all such efforts have been met with stiff resistance from the centre.
Towards this end, the Lagos State government recently set up the Neighbourhood Safety Corp Agency, aimed primarily at policing communities. After the Bill for the establishment of the agency was signed into law, the state governor, Akinwunmi Ambode pushed the project to the next level, by setting up a board to manage its affairs, with a retired Police officer, DIG Israel Ajao, as the chairman.
A few days ago, the state government advertised its intention to recruit 5, 000 officers for the agency. With this, the stage seems set for Lagos State to be the first to take concrete steps towards formalising community policing, and enacted by law.
While inaugurating the board of the agency, Ambode was very optimistic that the agency would be able to provide the much-needed solutions to some of the security challenges facing the state. He believed that the fight against crime and all forms of criminality would be better enhanced, if efforts were geared towards embracing community policing to complement efforts of the Nigeria Police and other law enforcement agencies.
The governor, however, explained that the primary task of the agency would be intelligence gathering, protection of lives and properties and maintenance of law and order, among others.
Kola Tubosun, a Lagos resident, said community policing is good and has worked in many developed countries, especially by helping to provide intelligence for law enforcement.
“As a matter of fact, many ‘gated communities’ in Lagos already have similar volunteer efforts or those funded by community associations,” he said. “However, I would be interested to know what checks they have in place to ensure it does not intrude on the privacy of citizens, as well as how they will ensure that they do not duplicate current efforts in many places around the state.”
Dr. Adebayo Akintayo, another resident, said the Neighbourhood Safety Corp Agency could be extremely useful in controlling crime, if it could be insulated from selfish exploitations and manipulations.
He said: “We sincerely need to adopt and entrench the right behaviour and attitude, as a community of welfare oriented persons. We need to impress it on people’s mind that community wealth thrives in an atmosphere, where social equity, security and safety are made cornerstones of community sustenance. Communities need to jointly and collectively resolve to build and sustain institutions that will promote cohesion and peaceful co-existence without selfish motives.
“Politicians and all stakeholders in the society should be encouraged to adopt the right attitudes, so that this laudable initiative would not be sacrificed on the altar of personal scores and political shenanigans.”
To this end, he would want the recruitment process to be undertaken, exclusive of political affiliations, while officers should be mentored on benefits of community-based value system and civic responsibilities.
He said: “It is a self-help effort, and not really policing as such. It is like having a vigilante group, which we have had in Lagos before now. For instance, the OPC falls in this category. In other states, you also have the Ogun State Vigilante group, just as there is a similar body in Edo State, while we have the Bakassi Boys in the East and so on.
“Similarly, we have the civilian JTF in war ravaged zones of Northeast. So, it has to be understood in that context, as these are irregular agencies intended to provide very narrow specialised assistance to public law enforcement, but not themselves a substitute for public law enforcement. That is the concept that should be strictly realised and adhered to.”
Ekhomu warned state government officials not to see members of the Neighbourhood corps as persons to confront or tackle the increasing rate of militancy, kidnapping, cultism and gang wars.
“Those are not in the purview of the neighbourhood agency. The things they can control are common crime, stealing and probably mayhem. But when militants come with their rain of bullets, is it neighbourhood watch agents that have only batons that would confront them?
“So, we should be careful about what we say and wish for. These people are just to give the alarm; they are more or less like private security. Their job is to observe, use vigilance and contact the police for action.
“Even the police, with trained personnel, cannot confront some of these criminals, and soldiers have to be deployed. Presently, we have JTF in 34 states of the country, because we need superior forces to tackle violent criminals, militants, armed robbers and kidnappers. It took the combined efforts of the Army, Navy and Air Force to dislodge the criminals in Arepo.”
Speaking on intelligence gathering by the Neighbourhood corps, the security expert said it is a very technical act, and that what the governor meant was information gathering.
“As these guys would be everywhere in the community, it is easy for some of them in mufti to listen to discussions at beer-parlour to get information, which should then be passed immediately to their head, who relays it to the DSS or the Police for processing before actions are taken. Those passing information are just like other citizens in the neighbourhoods and that is what their role is all about.”
He further explained that with their uniform, the agents are able to display authority, which could deter people from committing crimes of opportunity. “The state government does not have an intelligent agency and intelligent gathering infrastructure in place. It only has amebos, and that is not intelligence,” he said.
He emphasised the need for the Neighbourhood agents to strictly limit themselves to providing information about what they see and hear in beer parlours and public places to government agencies, which is what an average citizen should be doing.
The Lagos State Police Commissioner, Fatai Owoseni, while speaking at a security summit recently, noted that rather than government setting up new policing bodies, it should invest half of such fund in supporting and equipping the Police, as this would greatly enhance its performance.