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Published On: Tue, Jun 3rd, 2014

Finding balance between insecurity, vigilantes and lawlessness

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By Choice Ekpekurede

The current level of insecurity in Nigeria remains the dominant issue of public concern in the country. And while it is true that Boko Haram is the first thing that comes to mind on this subject, we cannot ignore the sense of insecurity brought on by marauding herdsmen, militants of the Niger Delta, political thugs, assassins, kidnappers, ritual killers, violent cultists, armed robbers, hooligans parading themselves as “community youths”, the executive agberos that run our motor parks, and ethnic and religious militias.

If the Boko Haram flags, reportedly in several villages of Gwoza Local Government Area, have not been knocked down and the villages recaptured by government troops, we can say there has been a de facto reduction in the geographical size of Nigeria as Boko Haram has now carved out a portion of the country for itself. It is now old news to say the Nigerian government has lost control of much of the North-east to Boko Haram.

What we must cease to do, however, is to carry on almost as if we are naïve about the character and capability of Nigeria’s police or military. In a country with a functional and responsive security system, a mere cellphone is enough to guarantee security pretty reasonably. You call an emergency number and you see the police or military respond with alacrity and immediacy. Such does not happen in Nigeria. I am a practical man. We must marry our ideals with realism. In a previous article of mine, The Example of Kala-Balge Village in Borno State, I referenced stories of how distress calls made to our security forces were ignored on several occasions, resulting in unconscionable loss of lives and wholesale destruction of entire towns and villages. Yes, being able to make contact our security forces in times of emergency is good but not good enough. We need much more than a cellphone and telephone numbers to call.

As things stand today, every community, village, or town in Nigeria should have a well armed civil defense unit to fill the void left by the country’s security services. Maybe someday in the future, we can devise a security model where the security of our communities and people is left mostly in the hands of the police and the military, but that is something that may happen in the future. Presently, it is a foolish thing to do. We need to protect our lives and our communities today. I must admit that it is painful to note that Nigerians have near-zero confidence in the ability of the police and the military to protect life and property. It is the reality, however, and it is not misplaced distrust. Yes, in addition to providing our own borehole for drinking water and generators for electricity, we must now resort to a do-it-yourself strategy for the security of our lives and that of our communities.

As a measure to bring the current level of insecurity in the country under control, government should arm and train civilian vigilantes and encourage the formation of such groups in different communities across Nigeria. All that this amounts to is a call to fortify, sharpen and civilize, proliferate, properly deploy, and regulate a system of self-defense that has been with us for many years. But what about the fear expressed by that reader who asked, “And when everyone decides to be smart and turn against each other… what then?” Let us take note that often the solution to abuse is not non-use but right use. The number of good inventions which are utilized by perverse individuals to commit crime and wreak havoc on their communities are too numerous to list. It will be reckless, however, to jump to the conclusion that the answer to such abuse is outright prohibition of such inventions. With proper governmental intervention, it is possible to minimize abuse and allow law-abiding citizens to reap the benefits of the proper use of said inventions. This is true of firearms and herein lies the balance between arming civilian vigilante groups and wrong use of the weapons.

I am not oblivious of the fact that increase in the rate of gun violence is directly proportional to the number of guns available to the civilian population. That fact is not in dispute here and has never been disputed in any of my writings. Is it not commonsensical to say that where there are no guns there cannot be gun violence? However, we do not live in that utopia; Nigeria is already replete with guns, mostly in the hands of the bad guys. Just how do you contain these bad guys and make them think twice? Any fool can tell that thoughtless, unregulated proliferation of guns is a bad answer to gun violence. We can even question the motives of Wayne Lapierre of the Unites States National Rifle Association when he argued that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” But it is irrefutable that there are certainly times when the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

It is up to the government to pursue this balance by getting fully involved in the process of arming, training, registering, and regulating said vigilante groups and encouraging the formation of such groups where they are nonexistent. It is in the interest of the government and of orderliness for this to happen. Whatever the government decides to do, however, it should not delude itself that the people will sit idly by forever while criminals murder their loved ones, kidnap and enslave their wives and children, destroy their possessions and livelihood, and lay waste their towns and villages. I am sure the government already knows this because most of the civil defense groups that exist in different parts of the country, including the vigilantes in the North-east, happened without any permission from the government.


Choice Ekpekurede is on linkedIn.


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