Citizens and crime control
With poverty and unemployment competing with a soaring population, the inevitable outcome is that crime and criminality will continue to be on the increase. The law enforcement agents will have to be adequately equipped to meet the exigences of an unenviable situation. Ordinary citizens themselves cannot but be involved in curtailing crimes and criminal activities, in ways that do not suggest an invitation to lawlessness.
There are ways by which citizens can contribute to the fight against crime. One such way is for them to be aware of activities in their immediate environment. They should report, promptly, any suspicious characters or activities to the law enforcement agents.
Another way of playing a part in controlling crime is that they too can arrest a criminal, deploying reasonable force in the process if necessary. The definition of “reasonable force” will always depend on the nature and circumstances of the crime they are confronted with. The now celebrated practice of setting a suspect ablaze, even when such a suspect could easily have been apprehended and handed over to the police, must not be allowed to continue in 21st century Nigeria. It is barbaric, and those who take the law into their own hands also commit an offence.
I once observed a situation when “mob justice” could easily have been meted out to an innocent person. Sometime in the 1960s, a seemingly drunken young man was flirting with a lady he did not know was already engaged. The fiancée got enraged and started shouting “thief, thief”. It was about midnight and in a matter of seconds, neighbours trooped out with machetes and clubs of various descriptions. Were it not for the prompt intervention of a gentleman, the young man could have been killed!
Mob justice has become a dangerous aspect of our societal life. Religious extremists killed those they assumed had blasphemed against their religion. The sad thing is that those religious criminals, even when they are identifiable, go unpunished. Our religious and political leaders hardly speak out against these crimes, and their silence could be construed or misconstrued as acquiescing in them. The criminal justice system is sadly “toothless” in crimes of this nature.
Be that as it may, there is a need to rethink our approach to fighting crime and criminal activities. In a federal nation of the size and population of Nigeria, the approach cannot be anything but federal. A case can be made for each state to have its own police force. The erstwhile fear has been the possible abuse of the state police system by purposeless politicians. However, an independent police institution is not beyond what can be fashioned out.
Community policing is also essential to fighting crime. Community policing is about men and women who mingle with members of the various communities they are quite familiar with. It is not unusual for community police personnel to knock on your door, and ask questions regarding peace in the community.
Finally, those who can afford it may engage the services of private security firms. One is aware of some estates in Nigeria where security officers check on those entering and leaving the estates they secure. There can hardly be any doubt that residents in those estates enjoy relative peace of mind, feeling safe in the privacy of their homes.
However, the greatest insurance against crime and criminality is a society where “stomach infrastructure” has not crumbled. There are not a few who had been forced into criminal activities because the state has failed in its primary responsibility of providing them with jobs and opportunities to earn a living. Those who are unable to feed themselves and their families are sadly on the increase. The challenge before our contemporary governments – federal, state and local – is to reverse an alarming trend towards chaos and disorder by working for the welfare of ordinary Nigerians. The most enduring force against crime and criminality is jobs, jobs, jobs!!!
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