Nigeria: Vigilantes and the Democratization of Violence! – AllAfrica.com

In reaction to incessant killings, kidnappings, assassinations, destruction of lives and property and armed banditry, the Esan people of Uromi last week inaugurated the Esan Ohue Vigilante Group.

During the launching ceremony the Group’s leaders thanked State Governor Godwin Obaseki for his approval and blessing, and revealed that they had liaised with the Edo State Police Command who promised to provide the necessary logistics. This sort of arrangement is becoming increasingly common throughout the nation.

There can be no denying that Nigeria is facing serious security challenges which require urgent action. At a recent two-day Northern Nigeria Security Conference in Kaduna organized by the Arewa Research and Development Project and others, Northern elders including retired Army Generals, Inspectors General of Police, and Intelligence Experts warned that the nation was drifting into anarchy as a result of government’s failure to protect her citizens and successfully address security issues.

It’s really no surprise that an ever-growing number of Traditional Rulers, Governors, and Local Government Chairmen, support Vigilante Groups. What is surprising is that anyone should consider that such groups can be “official”.

The English Dictionary describes vigilantes as self-appointed groups of citizens that undertake law enforcement in their community without legal authority because in their opinion official law enforcement efforts are inadequate. Somehow this dictionary definition which infers that the Police aren’t controlling crime effectively has been lost on government at the highest levels. Vigilantism is a symptom of a problem with governance, it’s not supposed to be a government solution to a problem. Vigilantes have become so widely accepted that the Vigilante Group of Nigeria has appealed to President Buhari to assent to a Bill passed by the National Assembly which would incorporate them into the country’s security system in order to help in protecting lives and property and reducing crime. In theory democratic governance should render violence unnecessary as all individuals or groups ought to be able to express their views and interests though a process of rational deliberation.

But this is seldom the case. In addition to governments that don’t listen, there are always those who reject the democratic process and want to enforce their will upon others. Democratically elected governments are accountable to the electorate, and to the rule of law and as a result they are at a disadvantage relative to non-democracies when it comes to dealing with such errant people. In democracies Counter-Insurgency efforts are less brutal and consequently less effective in restricting violent behavior.

The irony is that elected governments are legitimate only to the extent to which they protect individual freedoms and maintain a legal system which effectively sanctions those who infringe upon the law. it’s self-evident that “official” vigilantes are an indication of a failing democracy. Experts aver that reducing the risk of political violence and insurgency in a democracy requires that public order policing of protests, deployment of special-forces in non-warfare situations, and containment of local conflicts to be carried out properly.

Every Democratic State reserves the right to use violence to restrain individuals and groups who reject democratic processes. The problem these days is that the extremely profitable arms trade has expanded access to military grade weapons to the extent that it has reduced the effectiveness of the State’s Law Enforcement Agencies and even the Army. Prior to the invention of firearms it was virtually impossible for an untrained man to defeat or kill a trained warrior.

Nowadays simple repeating firearms like the notorious AK-47 can be used by literally anyone and a situation has arisen in which delinquents, political agitators and criminals’ posses guns with which to infringe upon civil liberties, while law abiding citizens are denied their use. Avoiding such situations is the basis of the right of every citizen to bear firearms which is enshrined within the American Constitution. It’s based upon a belief that in order to enforce democracy the means of violence must also be “democratized” and made available to everyone.

The first mass production widely used gun made by the legendary Samuel Colt was referred to as the “equalizer” because it meant that everybody had an equal ability to inflict violence. This gave birth to the adage that “God made Men, but Samuel Colt made them all equal! Instead of continuing to “settle” those who threaten to unleash uncontrollable violence within the State, the Nigerian Government must immediately re-organize the Nigeria Police Force by increasing manpower levels, funding, and equipment rather than continuing down the path of approving vigilante groups.

There are also political considerations. When rejecting the demand by the Myetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBAN) to establish a vigilante group in the South-East purportedly to protect their members from indigenes, Ebonyi State Governor David Umahi said through his spokesperson that “I find it extremely strange for anybody to think that non-locals in any part of the country could be allowed to form a vigilante outfit”. Whereas any Nigerian can be a member of any of the security agencies, vigilantism is a different matter altogether. While the people of Uromi should understandably be grateful for this addition to their security needs, the fact remains that the raising of official ethnic vigilante forces portends great dangers for the future. Quite simply put it isn’t the correct manner in which to overcome security challenges.

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