It is confirmed, Kogi state government has set up a vigilante and armed it. In other words, the administration of governor Yahaya Bello has created a state police force by indirect or secret means. Nigeria’s federal Constitution recognises only the Nigeria Police Force for the entire nation.
It is a surprise that neither the NPF leadership nor the military said anything about this until a senator from Kogi, Mr. Dino Melaye, brought up the matter in the Senate Wednesday, March 14. The senator (APC, Kogi West), in a motion based on Order 42(1) of the Senate’s Standing Orders, alerted that Kogi government “has introduced a state police through the back-door”.
This armed militia, named Vigilante Service Group, derives its ‘legtimacy’ from a law passed by the state’s House of Assembly. According to Melaye, section 15 of the law “illegally” gives the VSG powers to “detect and prevent crime, carry guns and other light weapons”. He alleged this government funded militia is being used to trail, intimidate, arrest and “even kill political enemies”. Melaye wanted this militia in Kogi and similar ones in other states disbanded, invoking section 1(3) of the Constitution that declares any law inconsistent with the Constitution as “null and void of no effect”.
The decision of the Senate on the Melaye motion was to direct its Committee on National Security, Intelligence and Judiciary to “summon” the national security adviser, Brigadier Gen. Babagana Mungono and federal attorney-general Abubakar Malami to “deliberate on how to disband” the Kogi militia. However, the Senate rejected a suggestion that Rivers state’s Neighbourhood Watch be disbanded also. That might be because its personnel does not bear arms.
Also exempted are vigilante groups in many states including Anambra. In the case of Anambra, senator Victor Umeh( APGA, Anambra Central), contributing to the debate on the Melaye motion, said: “Vigilante services have worked in some states to maintain peace. I give Anambra as an example. The vigilante group was established there 9 years ago. It was set up to tackle the insecurity in the state.(However), I want us to treat the issue of Kogi as a special case”.
No doubt, certain challenges we face in our security architecture make a compelling case for vigilante watch. First, the national crime rate has risen significantly, what with the 10- year- old insurgency in the northeast, kidnappings in the south and herder-farmer killings in the middlebelt. The Nigeria Police has not been able to rise to the occasion for the obvious reasons of understaffing, underfunding and poor training. However, we must be careful not to push the case for vigilante militia too far.
They are only necessary as a compliment to the police, not as a counter force. The same reason that rules out state police works against arming vigilante groups. The risk of political manipulation is too high. As it is, the amount of small arms in circulation nationwide is worrisome. Putting arms in the arms of persons not authorised to have them is courting too much trouble. This is why Kogi must be stopped just as Zamfara was stopped few years back.