Members of the community where I live did not start a vigilante group because the Nigerian minister of Defence asked us to protect ourselves. We decided to over the spate of robberies we were experiencing in our community in Benin City. The nature of these robberies resembles the kind perpetrated on residents by Boko Haram – they are directed at the vulnerable and women. Sometimes, they are regular and at other times irregular, depending on the time of day and depending on the level of vigilante observed by residents. When the criminals observe that residents may have gone to work, they break in, steal household items and make a break for it. At night, they lay ambush at victims at very isolated spots frequented by poor and struggling women, and take their phones, hard-earned cash and make a dash into the nearby bushes. The other day, a co-resident with her son, was attacked and robbed of all they had eked for the day; a policeman’s daughter was victim as well. There are many more.
This had otherwise been a relatively peaceful and quiet community, considered by some as very safe to live. Incidents in the past involving herdsmen leading their herdsmen into cassava and corn fields and destroying same were resolved after a meeting with the cattle herders. Residents took it for granted that since the airport is close by with an air force post, a police post and a correctional facility nearby, they could at least sleep with two eyes closed and snore into the bargain. But after a sporadic shooting incident and robbery just adjacent to the nearby police post and residents were robbed without police response, the scales fell from the eyes of these residents: that this is a to-your-tent-o- Israel kind of community, with life short, brutish and security for sale to the highest bidder.
In our case though, residents decided to come together to hire local people to patrol. In spite of the fact that we have to pay for water, irregular power supply and contend with high cost of living, we taxed ourselves mercilessly to pay for the services of those patrolling our community by night. But lo and behold, our efforts paid off – in the arrest of a suspect in broad day light – and not by the vigilante we had contracted to patrol but by a bloody civilian policing his community himself. After the arrest of the suspect, and after untrained interrogation (our threat to chop off the suspect’s arm nevertheless) was not yielding any information that could lead to revealing the gang perpetrating these robberies, the community decided to do the needful and hand the suspect over to the local police post.
The police outpost told the residents to take the case elsewhere because the case was beyond them. They had no resources – vehicles, manpower and funds to investigate this matter. Among items found on the suspect included a blood-stained t-shirt. At the other police post, and in the hands of trained personnel, the suspect confessed to having a gang, armed with cutlasses and locally made guns with which they carry out their criminal enterprise. He revealed where his gang was hiding, and to investigate further, the police said they needed a vehicle and ‘mobilization’ to be able to conduct such an investigation. Because we were unable to raise the kind of money to hire a vehicle and ‘mobilize’ the police to conduct a thorough investigation, we were utterly dismayed to learn that the suspect was to be released into regular society.
From the beginning of year 2021, Edo state has experienced unprecedented criminality ranging from cultists fighting one another to kidnappings. Pundits refer to Edo as a den of robbers and kidnappers. The celebrated incident of the Nigerian-American who was kidnapped and killed after ransom was paid further sent shivers down all our spines.
But in all this, what has the Obaseki government been up to? In January, there were reports of a move to start a neighbourhood watch project. It was to look like the Know Your Customer, KYC programme that banks usually carry out for due diligence purposes. We all clapped and applauded at that announcement knowing the positive outcome it would have for security purposes. But as we speak, we are not sure what has come of that announcement. The Edo government also has a security outfit aka Wagbaizigan, Stop Crime (in Edo language). In a report by ThisDay 13th December 2020, Obaseki was quoted as saying that ‘we have trained and graduated 800 community police personnel and other 1,200 will soon be called up for training in the next few weeks. We are investing in the police training school in Ogida police barrack to make it a permanent and proper training facility’. But with Wagbaizigan and the ‘trained and graduated 800 community police personnel’ in Edo state, crime festers. If you live in Benin City, and you are still not home by 8pm at the earliest, your life is at great risk. Don’t try to be at Sakponba Road, the King’s Square (Ring road), 2nd Junction, New Benin, Agbor road by Guinness, the bypass and the road leading to Ogbemudia farms any time after dark.
What makes the situation in Edo awfully awkward is there are claims that the governor, and indeed nearly every governor in Nigeria budgets almost $2million monthly ‘security money’. As incredulous as that sounds, there are assured assertions that governors have such an incredible sum of money somewhere for security. The origin of the security vote has many theories: a government official in Edo state was adamant in his argument that the source of the security vote is a percentage of an IGR from state coffers and set aside for security. In the case of Edo, without viable industries and a viable economy, one wonders how it generates $2million every month. Economies able to generate such sums run 247. Edo’s does not. Second, and a much more practical theory is that that amount is from a monthly allocation from the Federal Allocation Accounts Committee, FAAC – that based on the needs of a state, authorities often allocate a sum from their federal allocation deemed fit to handle security problems. Based on the sensitive nature of intelligence gathering for security purposes, the said monies cannot be accounted for. But even at that, it goes against the grain of good governance, transparency and accountability if the security situation continues to deteriorate after such monies have supposedly been spent on securing the life and property of residents of Edo state.
In February 2019, and according to FAAC, Edo received a gross total allocation of N4, 439, 862, 053.25 ($USD11, 668,490). In the light of the intractable security uncertainties in this state, budgeting $USD2million out of the above amount looks like a sensible thing to do. But in our case as a small community, we wouldn’t be needing to fund and mobilize the police to conduct an investigation if the police get some reasonable fraction of the said monies allocated to fight crime, criminality and its allied appendages. Before we make our appeal to Gov. Obaseki, we call on the Federal Authorities to consider state police to check the recurrent and capital incidences of insecurity in Nigeria. If the Federal government is unable to fund or reform the police, why is it pussyfooting with letting it go for the regions to organise their own security? That said, we appeal to Governor Obaseki to go beyond the rhetoric of training and graduating community police personnel, activate his neighbourhood watch project, rev the Wagbaizigan and increase funding for police beyond the N5million he is alleged to give the police in Edo state monthly. Edo, and Benin City especially, is fast becoming a den of robbers, kidnappers and life is being measured in coefficients of uncertainty and fear.