The Kogi State government’s deployment of local security outfits in form of Kogi State Vigilante (KSV) and hunters to check crimes might come with its future problems such as arms accountability and fragments of militia all over the country.
The state governor, Yahaya Bello, had given the force of executive power to signing the bill that established the Kogi State Vigilante Service on Nov. 25, 2014
Kogi State sits in the middle of a conflict prone area, sharing boundaries with Benue, Nassarawa, and Niger state; considered as hotbeds of conflicts ranging from herders and farmers clashes, community attacks, banditry, school kidnappings among others. The state government has been able to curtail insecurity to an extent using internal community security measures similar to state policing.
Model for other states?
The North-central region accounts for some of the highest levels of violence involving communal groups, with communal militias accounting for over 40 per cent of political violence according to reports.
As a joint operation organisation, KSV collaborates with local hunters to safeguard forests and prevent abductions. They ransack such areas for illegal operations and in cases where crimes are timely reported, chase after the culprits and rescue victims after engagement with the criminals.
On Sept. 19, 2021, the vigilante group in the Koton-Karfe Local Government Area (LGA) of the state, during an interception, gunned down about 11 members of a suspected criminal gang, arrested three suspects including an alleged civil defence officer who had attacked the community in a bid to kidnap, according to a report.
The local vigilante group who were ambushed also engaged and overpowered a kidnap gang, killing three of them and arresting one along the Ottoyi forest between the state and Niger state in June, 2021.
Twenty-eight hostages, including four children, were also rescued after a gun duel between Kogi government-backed local hunters and abductors at a kidnappers’ camp in the notorious Irepeni forest along Abuja-Lokoja-Okene highway in Jan. 2021.
Some of the vehicles provided by the state government to KSV in combating crime.
In another report, the state vigilante group neutralised an armed robbery gang operating along Lokoja-Gegu-Abaji in Dec. 2019, where four of the armed robbers/kidnappers were arrested and four others were killed.
A resident in Ogaminana, Adavize Ibrahim, told HumAngle that one unique feature of the local security team is that officers protect their local government areas; community and forest because they know their terrain better.
“You can’t find a vigilante or hunter from Dekina local government officially operating in the Kabba-Bunu area of the state. Everyone stays in their areas.” Ibrahim said.
Reports on the state vigilante website however state that arrested suspected kidnappers and perpetrators of crime are handed over to the Nigerian police for proper investigation as the right agency under the law to handle such cases.
Apart from violent confrontation between criminal herders and local farming communities, the North-central zone is rife with ethnic militias, making it a hotbed for violent ethnic and religious clashes where small arms are used.
Government’s move to curtail arms proliferation
A preliminary finding from a report published by the National Small Arms and Light Weapons Survey shows that about 17 per cent of civilians in rural communities possess craft weapons and one-tenth of civilians in urban areas.
Craft weapons (locally made arms) are mostly purchased or produced to protect and defend individuals and communities. Some locally made arms manufacturers also believe such weapons are forms of community service in the face of increasing insecurity, especially when state security agencies seem not to guarantee safety of lives in the community.
Nigeria’s federal government in a bid for an institutional mechanism for policy guidance, research and monitoring of all aspects of small arms and light weapons in May, 2020 established a National Centre for Control of Small Arms and Light weapons (NCCSALW) which is domiciled in the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA).
Babagana Monguno, National Security Adviser speaking on the move by the president said, “This decision is part of ongoing restructuring of Nigeria’s security architecture to address emerging threats and strengthen the regional mechanism for the control, prevention and regulation of SALW.”
He also stressed that the impact of the proliferation of small arms and light weapons across national borders in Africa and the Sahel region has resulted in terrorism, human trafficking, organised crime and insurrections in West Africa and Nigeria.
Concerns for abuse of power
Although the state’s security architecture might seem like a model for other states to emulate, there are concerns by security analysts, experts, and other personnels on future implications of the vigilante and hunters groups being used as militias for ulterior agendas.
KSV is trailed with heroic chants, queries from authorities, allegations and some measures of criticism as there had been reports of human rights violations by officers of the vigilante groups aside the debate over the legality or illegality of the group vetoed by the state government.
Just like the South-west regional security outfit codenamed Amotekun had gradually come under criticism despite their glamorous praises on compacting insecurity in the region, for involving in extrajudicial killing of innocent citizens and human rights violations, especially in Oyo state as captured by a report by HumAngle, there are fears of relatable actions in the future by officers of KSV.
A senior lecturer of law in Kogi state who pleaded anonymity said the replication of similar models in other states might truly solve the immediate security challenge facing the country, but what happens when there is not much work for them to do while still in possession of arms?
“The country is in a mess because of arms being in possession of anybody and different people. Considering the violent political history of Kogi state wherein armed hoodlums are used to rig elections, stir violence, shed blood and dance to the tune of the government in power, one should be scared about the massive possession of arms by youths in Kogi state especially during elections.”
Dr Bartholomew Idowu, chairman of the conventional security organisations, Masaka vigilante Group, had in a 2015 report urged the Nasarawa state governor to give formal approval for the operation of vigilante in all areas of the state giving that, “vigilance group despite being a special security apparatus, had the capacity of following criminal elements up to their door steps given their full knowledge of their domain, a feat, he believed, the police can’t easily attain.”
Support Our Journalism
There are millions of ordinary people affected by conflict in Africa whose stories are missing in the mainstream media. HumAngle is determined to tell those challenging and under-reported stories, hoping that the people impacted by these conflicts will find the safety and security they deserve.
To ensure that we continue to provide public service coverage, we have a small favour to ask you. We want you to be part of our journalistic endeavour by contributing a token to us.
Your donation will further promote a robust, free, and independent media.Donate Here