By Engr. Sunny Mbila (Ugwumba Ohafia).
The concept of vigilante service as a security outfit is mostly composed of non-state committed volunteers, operating under the mandate of communal consensus to fight crime at the micro level of our communities. The law establishing the vigilante groups in Nigeria stipulates that vigilante groups should work in collaboration with the Nigeria Police to ensure security of lives and property.
It is therefore an arrangement of a comprehensive security plan needed in Ohafia that will create a new emphasis with a view to making our communities active participants in the process of solving village security challenges. The gamut of the activities is to collate information on suspected criminals in its area to complement the duties of the law enforcement agencies.
Attempts have been made in the past by various interest groups at refocusing the awful performance and probably tidy up negative perceptions associated with the existing vigilante group in Ohafia without yielding the desired result. Therefore, this write-up is to enhance the setting up of a vibrant vigilante group with capacity to serve Ohafia better and avoid the pitfalls of the past.
PREVIOUS EFFORTS AND STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
Several attempts over the years have been made to establish a functional community security outfit which unfortunately has not produced any positive result. About 2017, the Ohafia Local Government Administration embarked on a project of establishing neighbourhood watch to provide the needed security for the communities. This exercise involved some prominent retired security officers from Ohafia LGA in conjunction with Heads of Security Agencies in Ohafia – Army, Police, NDLEA, Civil Defense and Immigration Dept., who were engaged in the training of members drawn from Ohafia communities only. This laudable project was not thoroughly planned and it became an exercise in futility due to unnecessary politicization and making the project an Ohafia Local Government Affair without involving Abiriba and Mkporo communities in the outfit.
The Ohafia Traditional Rulers Council in December 2019 articulated a Constitution and Registration of Ohafia Vigilante Services under the Ohafia Local Government Council. However, the Constitution drafting committee did not officially include the Council of Ohafia Monarchs (Ezieogos) to make input as it affects their various communities. On the other hand, the sub-security committee of the Council of Ohafia Monarchs (Ezieogos) also made a security proposal on how to enhance the operational efficiency of the same Ohafia Vigilante group in our communities without recourse to the initial proposal made by the Ohafia Traditional Rulers Council which was in conflict with their blueprints. All these unnecessary skirmishes are unhealthy for a community whose major developmental strides reside within the neighbourhood.
In a bid to ask for a truce among the traditional rulers, the Ohafia Improvement Union (OIU) in May 2020 organised a Pan Ohafia Summit comprising members of Ohafia Traditional Rulers Council, members of the Council of Ohafia Monarchs, the executive members of OIU and Ohafia stakeholders. The aim of the meeting was to harmonise the views of the Traditional Rulers and put them on same page so as to speak with a voice and same direction on issues of Ohafia development and security. This good initiative however, is yet to yield the desired result.
THE CRUX OF THE DISPUTE
The creation of various autonomous communities in Ohafia vis a vis the structure of governance by the Abia State Law No. 8 of 1991(as amended) places the Ohafia Traditional Rulers Council at an advantage over others in the administration of the communities. However, in a rejoinder by the Council of Ohafia Monarchs (Ezieogos), historical facts on the structure of traditional administration in Ohafia before and after the advent of British colonialism was adduced, adding that the Ezieogos are the custodians of all traditional instruments of power and rulership in Ohafia. They are also custodians of the custom, culture, Akpan, Ikoro, etc. These stated facts form the crux of contention between the Ohafia Traditional Rulers Council and Council of Ohafia Monarchs (Ezieogos) as to who is the rightful chief security officer of the community.
It is unfortunate that Ohafia found herself in such miserable situation where the Government relates to the Ohafia Traditional Rulers while the communities relate to their Ezieogos, thereby creating an official communication gap between the Government and the Communities. This also inspired a poignant circumstance where some vigilante members take instructions from the Ohafia Traditional Rulers Council members, while others refer to their Ezieogos. In effect, this conflict has made Ohafia vulnerable in all ramifications and must be addressed for the best interest of Ohafia development and security. However, the OIU and other critical stakeholders are making concerted efforts to manage this situation.
JUSTIFICATION FOR EFFECTIVE VIGILANTE IN OHAFIA
With the growing urbanization and development arising from continuous population increase in Ohafia, businesses and social activities are daily increasing. These activities may not be conducted as freely as expected in an atmosphere of insecurity. This therefore calls for the installation of appropriate security measures to protect lives and property of people residing in Ohafia.
Ugly incidences are beginning to rear up its head in Ohafia where criminal elements parading as unknown gun men clandestinely exist in our midst and cause unnecessary friction between the military and our communities. There is need for these strange elements to be identified and appropriate actions taken through the installation of a vigilante group.
About 60% of our local population in Ohafia are in youth bracket and most of them are unemployed. Usually, where you have concentration of youths, restiveness is expected. As such the communities are witnessing surge in youth cultism, illicit drugs and even child trafficking. Other vices include political thuggery, stealing, rape and high level of intimidation by young thugs to elders and women. This craves an urgent need to create a vigilante to help protect our neighourhood.
The Nigeria Police whose responsibility is to protect the citizens appear to be overwhelmed with challenges. They are underfunded, understaffed and underequipped. This increasingly makes them unable to respond swiftly to distress calls in our communities. We should also understand that the presence of the military in Ohafia is not specifically to organize peace in our communities; they are in Ohafia to maintain the territorial integrity of the nation and engage in restoration of law and order if needed in cases of insurrection. From observations, military actions in Ohafia are usually reactive in nature; therefore Ohafia must not only play a role in protecting her environment but institute internal vigilante actions that will be proactive in crime prevention, so as to prevent reactions from the military.
Note: while appreciating the courage exuded by the Nigerian Army in raiding the bushes in Ohafia in pursuit of criminals disturbing our communities, we appeal to the soldiers to adopt diligent intelligence gathering as a means of tackling security issues in Ohafia and its environs. Ohafia is presently in a dilemma where the non-state actors use their weapons to harass and intimidate our communities and the Army in pursuit of these criminals also metes out the same intimidation and harassement to Ohafians. This situation is very excruciating for a community that should be very happy having a big military installation around them. We acknowledged the challenges confronting the military in fighting a battle that has no defined boundaries in Ohafia. However, thorough processed information will accord them the opportunity to consider the plight of law-abiding citizens and minimize their sufferings. The Traditional Institutions in Ohafia and OIU should please take up this matter with the Civil Military Affairs Unit of the 14 Brigade, Nigerian Army Ohafia for urgent intervention.
(i). identify and surveil persons of questionable character in the communities.
(ii). conduct local investigations of crimes in the villages.
(iii). to apprehend and handover criminal elements to the Police for further actions.
(iv). to liaise with other villages to prevent crime in our communities.
(v). to maintain peace within the village and advise the community leadership on security situations in the village.
(vi). any other role assigned by the community authorities.
FUNDING OF VIGILANTE SERVICES
Funding is at the very core of running an effective vigilante services. The Ohafia vigilante is to be properly structured in two levels to promote sustainability, i.e. the community level and Ohafia Central level, which head office should be located at Elu or Ebem, as the case may be.
(i). At the community level, the vigilante will be semi-autonomous and the community leadership is to raise funds for their allowances through:-
(a). Dues from each residential and business premises.
(b). Levies that may be imposed for various events.
(c). Donations from well-meaning sons and daughters of the community.
(ii). At the Ohafia Central level, a Board of Trustees of eminent personalities of Ohafia will be set-up by the Ohafia Improvement Union (OIU) to raise start-up funds for equipment and other needs. They are also to set-up an endowment that will utilize the proceeds for sustainability of the program.
Ohafia Vigilante will be centrally controlled at the Ohafia Central Head Office and Staff members at this level will be deployed from the communities. The leadership of the Head Office is to devise guidelines and establish framework for standards to guide performance.
Security is everyone’s business and should not be left in the hands of state actors alone. As earlier enunciated, this write-up is done to highlight issues and challenges that befuddled effective vigilante services in Ohafia.
The Ohafia traditional institutions, the OIU and indeed other stakeholders should be encouraged to redouble their efforts to achieve a befitting and centrally focused vigilante system for our people. OIU, being the activation energy of Ohafia people, should gear up towards the realization of the Sovereign Wealth Fund for Ohafia, which will address myriad of problems in Ohafia including security.
It is also recommended that OIU should set-up a vigilante service implementation committee to input operational details for a standard and sustainable vigilante service for Nde Ohafia.