Of all human needs, security and self-preservation takes preeminence. That is why the absence of this great fundamental need results in helplessness and distraught personality. It also contravenes one’s basic rights to personal security and freedom.
Issues of safety and security have been of interest to the Rivers State Government since its inception in 2015. Violent crimes like armed robbery, kidnapping, cultism, killings etc. were rife in the state then, hence the resolve by the state government to live up to its constitutional responsibility of protecting lives and properties.
Section 14 (2b) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) obviously places the security and welfare of Nigerians on the government. This is their primary obligation and the reason every government exists. That section states thus: “The security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”.
Since the above section of the Constitution holds true, the Rivers State Government had no choice but to be proactive in protecting the lives and properties of its people. The Rivers State Neighborhood Safety Corps established by the government, is one of such highly innovative and proactive approaches to create an efficiently secured and safer state.
What is neighbourhood watch? According to Wikipedia, it “is an organised group of civilians devoted to crime and vandalism prevention within a neighbourhood”. Similarly, The Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Criminology and Criminal Justice describes it as that which “keeps a look out for any suspicious activities, make neighbours aware of any local incidents and work in collaboration with their local police”.
The aforestated definitions or descriptions depict it clearly that neighbourhood watch has been considered globally as an effective measure of preventing, combating and controlling crime. It is for this reason some Nigerian states facing security challenges as Rivers, have ratified it. For example, Lagos, Benue, Anambra, Borno and some North East states have set up vigilante outfits with positive results to demonstrate.
Like any conscientious organisation, the Rivers State Neighborhood Safety Corps has clear objectives. The objectives are (a) gathering information about crime, crime in progress, suspicious activities and crime suspects away from other things; (b) making available such relevant information on crime, crime in progress; suspicious activities and crime suspects to the police or other security agencies that require it; (c) putting structures in place to ensure that hoodlums and cult groups do not have the opportunity to operate within the state; (d) undertaking routine motorised patrol day and night; (e) reducing the crime rate and ensuring that offenders are identified and made to account for their misdeeds; (f) following up on arrest of offenders to court and ensuring justice; (g) timely reporting of suspicious activities and crimes in progress to the police or other security agencies; (h) improving relationship between the police and the community as it concerns law enforcement;(i) contributing in maintaining community peace; (j) providing the police with relevant information that will enhance their understanding of how to effectively police the communities and; (k) assisting the police carry out any other lawful activities in maintaining law and order.
These objectives are very laudable and reflect the intentions of the creators of the law. If executed rigidly, the law will confer everyone in the state a sense of security and comfort. However, some dissenting views have been expressed notably by the main opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state. The APC rejects the idea of the Corps in its entirety and claims that it portends danger in the area of security. These are the words of the state chairman of the party, Chief (Dr.) Davies Ibiamu Ikanya:
“This sinister bill that authorises the Neighbourhood Watch to carry arms, enter, search and arrest citizens without warrants is mischievous, diabolical, evil, wicked and unacceptable. Allowing Nyesom Wike to formally arm his militia would not only pose severe threat to the security of everybody in Rivers State including those urging him on this sinister plot, but will make the evil, satanic, autocratic fascist regimes of Mobutu Sese Seko, Emperor Fidel Bokassa or legendary Idi Amin of Uganda look like saints.”
APC’s contention is vagrant and needless. It is unnecessary because all the issues it raised have been adequately covered by the law establishing the organisation including the most contentious aspect which is the bearing of arms by members of the Corps. It must be understood that the law provides for levels of control to be overseen by the police and other law enforcement agencies.
For instance, the law states explicitly that members of the organisation cannot bear arms except with the permission of the police and this is in line with the Constitution and the Police Act. Another control measure is the provision that all members must be vetted and duly cleared by security agencies before recruitment.
Also, heads of security agencies in the state like the DSS, police commissioner, army, navy etc. are automatic members of the Neighborhood Watch board. With the indicated and other checks in place, why would anyone need to be afraid?
It was to clear the air on the misgivings perceived by the main opposition party and some residents of the state that the Rivers State governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, assured Rivers people that the Corps was established to support existing security agencies with intelligence and information to enable them fight crime effectively and make the state safer. According to the governor, the Corps cannot work without the security agencies who would profile all the operatives. Hear him:
“Neighbourhood Watch has nothing to do with carrying arms. Their duty is to complement security agencies across the state. Security of lives revolves around information and intelligence. Members of the Neighbourhood Watch will gather intelligence and information and pass same to security agencies for the protection of lives and property.”
Rather than vilify him, Governor Wike should be applauded for his meritorious initiative. With the introduction of the Neighborhood Watch, it is expected that some of the challenges being faced by policing organisations in the state will be a thing of the past.
Likewise, complaints such as police delay in responding to emergencies and mismanagement of information by the police will cease. It will also create jobs for youths in the state, engender close affinity, respect and trust between the Neighborhood Watch and members of the community. This will give the community members a deep sense of participation in crime prevention and control.