BY TOPE TEMPLER OLAIYA
ON August 15, the Lagos State Neighbourhood Watch apprehended four suspected armed robbers, who had been terrorising communities in Oto-Awori area of the state. The suspects, Akanye Chidozie, Ch2-+rles Nwozuzu, Ifeanyi Felix and Jude Ugoh, were allegedly rounded up by the community’s security outfit, while ransacking homes in Ajangbadi at about 1.50am.
The suspects, in addition to the Volkswagen Golf car with the number plate BK121FKJ, filled with assorted vehicle spare parts used for the operation, were later handed over to the police at the Rapid Response Squad, Alausa, Ikeja. Mr. Musibau Oguns, who led the team that apprehended the men, told newsmen that the arrest of the suspected robbers was a huge success in the outfit’s efforts to rid the area of criminals.
“For about two years, the people of Oto-Awori have been sleeping with their two eyes open. They can’t just rest or sleep because these criminals keep attacking residents every now and then. The situation got so bad that residents thought all the criminals in the state had relocated to the area. We are glad that our collaboration with the police, to displace criminals from the area is yielding results. We are glad with this arrest,’’ Oguns said.
This is a characteristic example of the success of community policing, which had brought respite to most parts of the state, until two Sundays ago, when armed men shattered Lagos peace and violent robbery rocked the city. It was a day the Lagos State Police Command went to sleep for a moment and it proved fatal for some Lagosians, including one-year-old Taiwo Ibrahim.
While the police is responding to the security slack by sounding tough and declaring fresh and far-reaching war on criminals in the state, there have been renewed calls for the state government to strengthen community policing.
A member of the Vigilante group in Orile-Agege, Hakeem Lawal, said it was difficult to say in specific terms the number of attempts at crime foiled by the outfit, since they do not arrest but mainly serve as informant by reporting suspicious activities to the police.
“We and the Neighborhood Watch have performed creditably well despite several challenges facing the outfit in combating crime. We need to be equipped properly and remunerated very well.
“You will discover that it has become extremely difficult for robbers to invade communities at night in any part of Lagos. It is as a result of our collective effort at policing. What we are saying is that we can also assist the police during the day if we are properly equipped to perform effectively and efficiently,” he said.
Some of the security equipment required by the group include batons, handcuffs, uniforms, walkie-talkie radios, crowd dispersers, bulletproof vests and vehicles.
The Deputy State Co-ordinator of Neighbourhood Watch, Mr. Bankey Adenusi, lamented that most local government bosses, who are supposed to assist the outfit in terms of remuneration and other financial support, have abandoned their responsibilities.
He said if adequate incentives are provided for personnel, they would discharge their responsibilities effectively, adding that the outfit had lost many of its members in the course of combating crime in the state.
Chairman of Ejigbo Local Council Development Area, Mr. Kehinde Bamigbetan, said the LCDA has constantly empowered the Neighbourhood Watch and encouraged Community Development Associations (CDAs) to enforce council rules in their domain.
In a chat with The Guardian, Bamigbetan said “we operate a CDA Patrol Unit of our Neighbourhood Watch in Ejigbo, in which each CDA has a patrol officer paid by the council, who is able to identify black spots, who is coming in and going out in a community, and who has questionable means of income.
“We are involved in this because the Neighbourhood Watchers are not ghosts. They are human beings who live in these communities and know who is who. They also interface with the Divisional Police Officer (DPO), which makes the work of the DPO easier, as they provide the police with important intelligence,” he said.
Citing an example of other areas in which the CDAs have partnered the local government in providing adequate security, chairman of Isolo LCDA, Alhaji Shamsudeen Olaleye, said recently, there have been complaints of some communities locking up their gates.
“This was brought to the attention of the council and a meeting was called with the Community Development Committees (CDC) to address the problem. Though we have the legal power to enforce the state government’s directive on the closure of gates, particularly streets that adjoin major roads, we cannot go all out to effect the order without first consulting with community leaders, who are in control of the gates.
“We had to listen to their fears and the concern has always been that once they open their gates, all manner of people flood those areas, which is a security risk. Some others complained that most people have turned the major roads into car parks. In response to this, the LCDA is organising a public hearing on a proposed bill, which will seek to reprimand those who park indiscriminately on our streets.
“The CDC always bring to the attention of the council security concerns and social menace in the communities and we in turn pass these security tips to the police, while the council pays the salaries of the Neighbourhood Watch, who are our foot soldiers, though it may not be compared to the wage of a civil servant.”
For Pita Okute, a public affairs analyst, the number of uniforms paraded on the streets in every state and local government of the federation does not guarantee security. “From bank and hotel security outfits to street neighbourhood watches, village vigilante, local government, ethnic and state policing organisations, including the entire federal security apparatus, the evidence suggests very strongly that Nigeria is adequately policed.
Okute states in an opinion piece published by The Guardian on September 14, 2012: “But the reality leaves much to be applauded, because of the wide gap in information sharing and networking with the prime security agency in the country, which is the Nigeria Police. So, rather than canvass for dubious control of extra-legal instruments for coercion of indigenes and residents, governors should work for assiduous deployment of the various private and public security agencies into a seamless, efficient nationwide effort to grapple effectively with the security challenges confronting the nation.”
He continued: “Are bank securities and other private guards sufficiently trained to report suspicious behaviour around them, and not necessarily limited to their places of work, to appropriate channels for prompt investigation and action? It is really high time everyone –from the Neighbourhood Watch and village level vigilante to the private security agencies got involved in a collective, properly organised assault on the criminal underworld in Nigeria.”