Vigilantism And Crime Control In Contemporary Nigeria

Vigilantism And Crime Control In Contemporary Nigeria


The inability of the Nigerian Police to control the increasing wave of crime has led to proliferation of vigilante groups in contemporary Nigeria.

This study was initiated to investigate the impact of vigilante groups on crime control in contemporary Nigeria, particularly in Udenu L.G.A of Enugu State. Seven hundred and twenty (720) respondents were sampled from Udenu Local Government Area of Enugu State. Multi-stage, cluster and simple random sampling methods were used as the sampling techniques. Questionnaires were administered to respondents by six (6) research assistants whereas interviews were conducted with two (2) traditional rulers, chairman of Udenu L.G.A vigilante group, chairman of vigilante monitoring group and 24 vigilante group members.

The result indicated that Nigeria Police is ineffective with regard to crime control and vigilante groups in its current form sprang up to make up for this ineffectiveness. It also showed that vigilante groups are gaining prominence as agents of crime control in contemporary Nigeria, particularly, Udenu L.G.A of Enugu State. The result equally revealed that vigilante group members are recruited and monitored through their communities and that they are effective in crime control. Also, the result indicated that the best way of solving the problem of crime in Nigeria is by increasing the activities of vigilante groups. Howbeit, lack of fire arms, poor funding, lack of patrol vehicles are the major problems confronting vigilante groups. More so, based on the major findings, it was recommended that vigilante group members should operate within the frame work of law. Finally, security committees should be established at the local government level and these committees should meet periodically to discuss security matters in their areas.



Background to the Study

Provision of adequate security is a social pre-requisite for the survival of any society. Every society takes appropriate measures to protect the lives and property of people living within its boundaries. Business and social activities may not go on freely without adequate security. This fundamental essence of security may be the reason why societies from time immemorial made efforts to police their neighbourhoods in order to secure them from criminal victimization. Security has to do with the act of preventing and protecting in order to ensure that certain facilities, equipment, persons or activities are safe from damage, pilferage, destruction, murder or disruption. The history of crime control dates back to the period when public order was the responsibility of appointed magistrates, who were unpaid private individuals. The first paid public police officer was the praeffectus urbi, a position created in Rome in approximately 27 C (Roberg and Kuykendall, 1993). After the fall of the Roman Empire and the subsequent anarchy that followed, kings began to assume the responsibility for legal administration by strengthening the night watch. Roberg and Kuykendall, (1993) also pointed out that in the twelfth century in England, through Trankpledged’ system which was based on an organization of tithings (ten families) and hundreds (ten tithings), men over the age of fifteen formed a posse comitatus, a group called out to pursue fleeing felons. Thus, the sheriffs who ensured that this Frankpledge system worked were responsible for policing the country.

However, as societies became increasingly complex, social life was disrupted. Existing systems of law enforcement were inadequate to respond to the problems associated with these

changes. As a result, night watch system was introduced. This system involved bellmen who walked round the city, ringing bells and providing policing services. The bellmen were later replaced by untrained citizens and much later by paid constables. However, in 1829, Sir Robert Peel established the first modern uniformed police force, the metropolitan police of London, whose primary responsibility was the prevention of crime. (Roberg and Kuykendall, 1993, Reid 5th ed.) Vigilantism is not a recent development. Before 1900, many vigilant groups were formed in frontier areas of the United States. In 1851 and 1856, concerned citizens in San Francisco organized vigilante committees that forcibly restored peace and order. (world book encyclopedia, u-v20:318, Encyclopedia Americana, vol.24:204). In south Africa, vigilante activity is frequently justified as ‘filling a policing gap’ due to police inefficiency, corruption and conspiracy with criminals, practical failing in the criminal justice system. In Sierra-Leone, vigilante activities have been explained in terms of police ineffectiveness in combating crimes (Brownyn, 2001).

In Nigeria, vigilantism existed in the pre-colonial era. Human Right Watch and Center for law enforcement and education report, (2002) noted that “vigilante and other self-defense groups currently operating in Nigeria have roots that reach deep into the country’s history. In the colonial era, some though not all independent local communities, especially in the South east maintained their own standing Army to defend their territory against the threat of invasion from neighbouring communities. Although there was no equivalent modern day structure at that time, some parallels can be drawn between these groups which were created by local communities for their own protection, and the more recently formed self-defense groups”. This is also true in Udenu Local Government Area of Enugu State where vigilantism was used as a means of both social and crime control before the advert of colonial rule.

The proliferation of vigilante groups in contemporary Nigeria particularly in Udenu Local Government area of Enugu State is a response to crimes and criminality that have not only increased in degree, scope and volume but also have witnessed an unprecedented change in techniques, mode of operation and sophistication between 1998 and 1999 (wake of fourth republic) and the apparent failure of the Nigeria police to rise up to the occasion. Igbo (2001:219) has stated that “the apparent failure of Nigeria police to control the increasing wave of crime has led to unilateral public action against crime and criminals in some major cities of Nigeria particularly in the South east of the country”.

This is true in Udenu Local Government Area, where, presently, vigilante groups are used as a means of crime control due to increasing crime wave and the inability of the formal agents of crime control to bring them under control. In view of this, this study examined the contributions of vigilante groups in controlling crime in contemporary Nigeria, particularly in Udenu Local Government area of Enugu State.

Statement of the Problem

In recent years, many communities in Nigeria have witnessed crimes of various descriptions. Udenu Local Government Area of Enugu State is not an exception. Thus, crime is becoming a serious problem in contemporary Nigeria. The police who are the primary agent in the fight against crime are ineffective. Their ineffectiveness may be as a result of the fact that they are under-staffed, under-equipped, corrupt and lacked public cooperation. These have created problem of under policing in Nigeria including Udenu Local Government Area of Enugu State. Thus, violent and property crimes are committed on daily basis without detection and prosecution. Many people are being dispossessed of their valuable property and others are killed or maimed for life by armed bandits. Many people hardly sleep in their houses at night for fear of criminal victimization. Those who sleep in their houses at Night do so at their own peril. Consequently, Udenu Local Government Area has of recent been gripped by insecurity and lawlessness as armed robbery and other violent crimes reached unprecedented levels.

Hence, this situation of insecurity and lawlessness began to affect more than just the population of Udenu Local Government Area as traders from the neighbouring communities who come to Udenu to transact business in Obollo-Afor and Orie Orba, began to stay away from these towns out of fear. As a result, business and other social activities were paralyzed.

A local newspaper (Starlite) report captioned “Girl, 18 killed at Obollo-Afor described how Miss Ifeyinwa Ugwueje was gruesomely murdered in Oba Guest inn on Wednesday 18 November, 2006. The same newspaper reported that “at Orba in Udenu Local Government Area of Enugu State, the spirit of communalism, oneness, good rapport as well as peaceful co-existence seem to have eluded the people for some time following the rampant killings everywhere including the brutal murder of shinkaffi who was said to be a famous and powerful youth leader. (The Starlite, 2006:5 and 13).

The increase in crime wave and the inability of the Nigeria police to deal with the situation effectively have given rise to the emergence of vigilante groups in its current form. These vigilante groups are to ensure the safety of both their lives and property and that of their families. Eke, (2002) noted that “from time immemorial, ordinary men and women have made several sacrifices to ensure the safety of both their lives and that of their families. That human impulse is not only common in Nigeria. Government in Western Europe, in Africa, and else where was originally set up to offer protection to their subjects”.

Thus vigilantism seems to be gaining more prominence as agent of crime control in Udenu Local Government Area. Several vigilante groups now operate in both rural and urban areas in Nigeria. Residents see vigilante groups as an outfit they can always rely on in terms of security. Put differently, the public is skeptical about the ability of Nigeria Police to provide adequate security services alone without the involvement of the public.

This study, therefore, aimed at finding out the impact of vigilante groups on crime control in Udenu L.G. A of Enugu state.

Research Questions

Objective of the Study

The broad objective of this study is to examine the contributions of vigilante groups in crime control in Udenu Local Government Area of Enugu State.

The specific objectives are:-

Significance of the Study

This study has both theoretical and practical significance. From the theoretical point of view, this study will add to the existing literature on vigilantism. It will also build up a data upon which future research can be based or serve as a point of reference for similar studies.

From the practical point of view, this study will show the security gap created in both rural and urban communities and how vigilante groups have tended to makeup for this vacuum. To this end, this may stimulate the interest of the government in providing adequate police services in both rural and urban communities or modify and assist vigilante groups to complement security efforts of the police.

In another development, this study will be of great benefit to law enforcement agencies and other stake holders in their quest for police reform. In general, it will stimulate further research in vigilantism and policing.

Definition of Concepts

In the context of this study, the following concepts have been defined as follows:

Colonialism: This refers to the period of British rule in Nigeria. contemporary Nigeria: This refers to present day Nigeria.

Crime: This means any act or omission that violates the criminal law of the state which is punishable by the state after prosecution and conviction.

Crime control: This means all the steps and activities taken to prevent the spread and commission of crime.

Crime prevention: Often used interchangeably with crime control refers to all efforts made to ensure that crime does not occur or is reduced to the barest minimum.

Criminal Justice system: This refers to state agencies that fight against crime. They are the police, court, prison, probation and parole services.

Police: This refers to the branch of criminal justice system that fights against crime and maintain law and order.

Policing: Any effort aimed at detecting and preventing crime as well as protection of lives and property. It can be done formally by state agents or informally by private citizens.

Social control: This Refers to efforts made to ensure that people’s behaviour conforms to established norms and customs of the society.

Vigilante groups: This refers to groups formed and funded by members of a particular community to fight against crime and protect lives and property of individuals.

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