Tuesday, July 16, 2019 11:28 am
PROF. NELSON FASHINA, National Public Relations Officer, PRO and National Commander i/c Planning, Research & Statistics of the Vigilante Group of Nigeria, VGN, says that it is ironic that innocent Nigerians are defenceless when members of Boko Haram, terrorists, kidnappers, robbers and generally men of the underworld are incredibly well armed. He said to GBENRO ADESINA that community policing is the best way out of the security siege that Nigerians have found themselves.
Q: What is the origin of Vigilante Group of Nigeria?
A: The history of Vigilante Group of Nigeria, VGN, can only be summarized in this interview, because there will be no space for extensive discussion and exploration of the various trajectories of history that make up the VGN. But, summarily, the VGN was formed about 30 years ago from the patriotic desires and of concerns for the safety of Nigerians. The VGN was constituted mainly by Nigerians who have experience on security. These include hunters, farmers, credible ex-service men, youths, adults and other able bodied men and women who have no criminal records. Initially, the VGN was mainly constituted by men and women of little or no education. But, as the years went by, with the benefit of exposure to various security trainings by the formal security agencies at home and abroad, the VGN attracted more experts, technocrats, civil servants and even professors. And our organisation excludes politicians, tribalists, and those who belong to any ethnic militia group like OPC, MASSOB and any group that propagates ethnic rather than nationalist interests. We came together to provide community security as a complement to the over-pressured efforts of the formal security agencies in waging war against all forms of crime and criminalities in Nigeria within limits of the law. However, at the beginning, it was predominant in some parts of Nigeria, while membership population was low in other parts. That initial lack of even spread across geographical zones of the country was possibly one of the reasons why the Obasanjo-led Federal Government did not formalise our security organisation during that tenure. Instead, the Obasanjo-led Government assented the Bill for an Act to Establish the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC. But, in the last 15 years, with the increasing challenges of insurgencies and criminalities – especially the Boko Haram ravaging of the North East, North Central, which culminates into the abduction of Chibok School girls, and the destruction of many Northern cities, the VGN has undertaken more informal but proactive approach to Community security by assisting the Police and other security agencies to monitor, prevent, arrest and report crime.
Q: What can you say about the Leadership status profile of the VGN?
A: The current Commander General of the Vigilante Group of Nigeria is Dr. Usman Mohammed. He is from Jigawa State. He served in the Nigerian Army Corps of the Military Police for 22 years before his voluntary departure to seek further heights. Dr. Jahun upon his disengagement from the military chose to seek advanced education, knowledge and skills in security service. He is a product of many national and international security and intelligence courses. His academic and professional qualifications include a Master’s Degree in Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, and another Master’s in Public Administration from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria; a Bachelor of Science Degree in Public Administration from Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma; Diploma in Crime Management from Nuhu Bamali Polytechnic, Zaria, a Diploma in Social Policy and administration from Kano State Polytechnic. He was OC Special Investigation at the Armed Forces Command and staff College, Jaji. He has been recipient of many professional Awards including Best Nigerian Army School military Police Commandant’s Award, 1998. He is a man of exceptional leadership intelligence, courage, skills and organizational ability. In the National Administrative Council of VGN, we also have DCGs, ACGs, and Commanders in the various functional departments who are ex-military, paramilitary/police/DSS professionals and academic professors. At the Zonal, State and local government levels, the VGN has well trained experts in security who have also evolved and advanced in security leadership via sound courses and trainings. Of a fact, the VGN has a super federalised leadership administrative structure.
Q: Earlier you implied that the VGN is strong in Northern Nigeria, what about the other zones of the Southern part of Nigeria?
A: Initially, the problem of insecurity did not get to this height in the Southern part of Nigeria, excepting for isolated cases of armed robbery, ritual killings etc. But, in the last ten years, with the increasing rate of Kidnapping, rape, child abuse, human trafficking, herdsmen attacks on innocent farmers and citizens, the VGN has waxed stronger and widespread in all 36 States of the federation and the FCT, with predominant operational headquarters in all local governments and wards. We have command headquarters in all States of the Southsouth, Southeast, and the Southwest, apart from the VGN’s overwhelming presence in the Northern Zones. Today the VGN is the strongest, most trained, most nationally widespread, most patriotic and most administratively well organised and incorporated informal security outfit in Nigeria. Today, we have command structure at the national, zonal, state, local government and most ward levels. And we are self-funding. We tax ourselves. We refuse overtures from politicians so as not to derail from our nationalist and patriotic focus as One Nigeria, One Vigilante Group. We are the Apex informal security organisation in Nigeria at the moment with minimal internal leadership problem.
Q: What is the working of the VGN like?
A: The VGN is actually a security organisation, which has passed through different reforms as an organisational structure. The structure on ground is super in the sense that the men and officers of the VGN have had benefit of exposure to international security trainings at different levels. We had had trainings in Security intelligence sharing, Surveillance, Operational strategies, arms handling in range, how to manage crime situations before the arrival of the police or other security agencies, traffic management, work ethics, human rights, Special duties, counter terrorism, Counter insurgency, and all sorts of units like women & child protection, market/ crowd control. Our men and officers are trained in how to manage Market riots and monitoring and all that. All these kinds of trainings have been taking place in the last 20 years. Year by year, the VGN has been waxing stronger and stronger in terms of security operations and how to manage crime situation. Recently, we had trainings on gender and the child and mostly, our women have been trained on how to handle the issue of abduction, human trafficking and things that have to do with women crime. That unit is very vibrant in VGN. Apart from that, we have been helping the police and other security organisations on surveillance in the forest and all that. We have the national headquarters at Abuja. We also have State command headquarters as well as local government divisional offices in all the local governments in this country. Permit me to say that two years ago, between 2016 and 2017, VGN had a bill for an enabling act to establish the VGN as a security organisation that will complement the efforts of the police in combating crime, especially in the area of community policing. The VGN Bill passed through the first, second and third readings in both the House of Representatives and the Senate of the National Assembly. It was eventually passed into law by the joint House of the Senate and Representatives, a year ago. It was specifically passed into law in December 2017. Subsequently, it has to undergo various processes of amendments. It has to pass through the Nigeria Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies, NIPSS. They looked at it and it formed the basis of Nigeria’s stand on community policing. In other words, it has passed through the processes of the amendments and now on the table of the president awaiting the president’s assent. We had looked and we are still positively looking up to presidential assent to the bill in the sense that the VGN has satisfied all notable and noted criteria for qualification to be registered as a formal security organisation in Nigeria. As of today, the VGN has records of achievements in assisting the police to combat crime in all nooks and crannies of this country. The VGN members know all the creeks, rivers, streams, mountains, and forest because we dwell among the people. And I think that Nigerians are getting conscious of the fact that community policing is the best way out of the security siege that we have found ourselves in this country today. Our appeal to the federal government is that it should try as much as possible to sign the bill of VGN. Recently, the federal government set up a 15 man committee to look into Report 40 on community policing by the NIPSS. We were thinking that VGN will be invited to present memorandum to help the committee do its job because we are well equipped with information. But we were not invited. We look forward to positive report from the committee. For now, the VGN is the most vibrant informal security organisation that can be ably engaged by the FG to complement the effort of the formal security agencies to combat the menacing crime in our country today.
Q: How is the organisation being financed?
A: We are self-financed as a voluntary security organisation seeking take over by the government as a formal security agency. The major source of our finance has being through self-taxes. We tax ourselves. But in some states of the federation, especially in the North, there has been state government input and donations to help the VGN in carrying out its activities. But we appeal to the government at all levels to provide the VGN a source of soft landing. What we are doing is for the common good of the generality of the Nigerians. They should be able to provide us viable national headquarters office. There are houses seized from corrupt politicians, part of which can be given to us to operate. At the state level, the state government should be able to provide us equal assistance and finances so that our men and officers who are not any paid employment can have food on the table and have equipment and favourable environment to operate.
Q: You said that VGN in the South West have other ethnic nationalities, some of them Fulani. Does that not contradict and compromise the idea of community policing which is supposed to be managed only by the natives?
A: Our operation as VGN has been with nationalist and patriotic outlook. This has worked. For example, the Fulani who have been resident in the South West in the last 20 years and are hence indigenous and familiar to this environment, to the clime, to this milieu, space and time should be able to serve security duty in the area. They speak Yoruba. They live among the Yoruba. They know the valleys and creeks and the bush paths, sometimes better than the indigenes. They understand both the sociology and archaeology of our environment. They know the terrain. The VGN does not share the sentiment of ethnocentrism, which will not work. We have to look at co-ethnic approach to our security in the sense that we don’t have to negate the Nigerian constitution that makes it possible and legally rights for anyone that has been resident in any place for 10 years to carry out any activities – the right to vote and be voted for in that particular place. For example, in Oyo State, we have predominant number of Fulani at Oke Ogun side among us. And they are the ones that actually help us to trace kidnappers, insurgents, Boko Haram and the rest of them in impenetrable, thick and vast Igbeti Forest. The indigenised Fulani/Yorubas who are VGN officers do help us to arrest erring and criminal herdsmen in the area, because they understand their language, they know the terrain, and they also know their antics and they speak the Yoruba Language.
Q: Sir, can’t you see a security problem when non-natives know an area more than the natives? This same Fulani have their business interests in the South West to get a place, if not all, as grazing land. How patriotic do you think they will be, not forgetting that some of them are being alleged of kidnapping?
A: Very well! You said some are being “alleged”. Anyone that is alleged is subject to trial by the rule of law. The Fulani are not above the law. They are subject to the Nigerian criminal law. If they are alleged and proved guilty within the jurisdiction of law, then let them face the consequence. Let us illustrate with house pets like dogs, cats, etc. There are house pets that have been with you for about five years. They understand the terrain. If you bring in a new house pet, a foreign house pet, definitely, it will not understand your environment and such can be barking at you and may want to harm you, and the children in the house. As far as I am concerned, the Fulani that kidnap are not the indigenous Fulani, not the Fulani that have been resident here for over 20 years and speak our language, and their children go to the same school with our children. We go to the same market to buy. We farm in the same place. There are Yoruba indigenes that also have cows, herds that the so-called Fulani people help to graze their cattle. What I am saying is that the Fulani that kidnap are actually not the Fulani that are indigenous to the Soutwest environment. I know the officers of Miyetti Allah in Oyo State. Their Secretary, a beautiful Fulani educated woman is happily married to a Yoruba man. How can she be happy if her Yoruba relations-in-law are being killed or kidnapped by the Fulani?
Q: The reason for advocating for state policing is that the indigenes will be empowered to protect their environment. Don’t you share this ideology?
A: Well, the concept of state policing may be slightly different from the concept of community policing. But, I understand the chemistry of thinking of our people, that Nigerians are usually suspicious of people that are alien to their land and culture. Now, this is part of the sociology of internal unity within each ethno-community, which is okay- We against Others! That may satisfy some collective-Ego of a people. And it may unite them intra-ethnically. It is positive in some respect to discriminate. But, it should not be carried too far. As far as I am concerned, and as far as the VGN is concerned, crime is crime. And crime has no nationality. No tribe. No clan. Whoever commits crime should face the wrath of the law. So, I think we should look beyond targeting the Fulani as the only culprits in this kidnapping business. Government must use we VGN to help nip Kidnapping in the Communities.
Q: But the son of Professor Isaac Adewole, the former minister of Health was recently kidnapped in Yoruba land by the Fulani?
A: Yes. It is unfortunate. But, we Vigilante people were contacted. And we provided security logistics assistance in the attainment of Dapo Adewole’s release from the hold of the Kidnappers. I have to quickly say that we’re not absolutely sure if criminals from other tribes are not privy accomplices to the lucrative crime of Kidnapping in Nigeria. The Yoruba say: “Bi iku Ile O ba pa ni, to’de ko le pa ni”, meaning that crime always occurs with the complicity of those who are close to the victims. Let me say that the business of kidnapping is becoming more lucrative because they are paid huge money for ransom. The business is thriving because they get paid and kidnapping has become a source of wealth. How then can we combat this crime? The solution is intelligence. Security is not even about carrying of arms. It is about intelligence. For instance, our monetary and fiscal policy in Nigeria must be reviewed whereby nobody can carry more than N20, 000 cash. If you can’t do a business that you will pay for in cash, we will see that the avenue for paying kidnappers to rescue the kidnapped will be blocked. In the US, no one is likely to cash $10,000. If the kidnappers now know that we have fiscal policy that is cashless, they will not be demanding for cash in ransom. They know that we will demand for their bank accounts and once we pay into bank account, they could be traced. So, that business will die down. But some of our politicians are not courageous enough to carry out this policy because they know that they are guilty of money laundering. They carry cash in Ghana must go. That is the reason why it may be impossible to implement the cashless policy. If our politicians can have a sense of discipline, introspection and sense of patriotism to deny themselves of access to illegal cash funds through a cashless policy, this crime will stop. With that everybody will sit up and government will be able to monitor cash transaction in this country and the business of kidnapping will go down.
Q: You are advocating that VGN be made a statutory body. Are you not seeing duplication of security agencies, which will increase the recurrent expenditure?
A: I don’t think so. If the committee set up by the president had called for memorandum, we of the VGN would have submitted a memorandum of possible ways, suggestions as how to manage the community policing structure that is being planned or proposed. There can’t be any duplication in the sense that the current structure of the Nigeria police has been transferred from the colonial period. Police has tried its best in managing crime in this country but it has not been able to overcome it because it has been business as usual. We have been doing the same thing the same way for over 30 years. If the criminals are re-strategising, using advance methods to implement their criminal activities, then we of the security section should update our records, our knowledge and our approaches to cover all that. The Nigeria police can’t do it alone. If the police in America, Britain, Australia, Canada and other parts of the world are unable to do it, then in Nigeria, our police will not be able to do it alone. That is the reason why other countries engage community policing. Talking about finance, it is not a problem. What I expect from the 15 man committee set up by the president to look to the strategies for implementing community policing policy is that the burden of finance should not be placed on the federal government. The burden of finance should be based on the community and tax payers. For example, there are many unregistered informal security organisations in this country which put their security personnel in shopping malls, schools, and many places. Let all informal security organisations be dissolved and let them come under the VGN that has federal structure and VGN be transposed to community policing.
Q: Would that not amount to monopoly and infringing on the rights of others by asking them to submit their business rights to VGN?
A: No. How can their security outfits be superior to that of the one that is established by government act for the benefit of all Nigerians? In fact, the duplication of individual person, one-man business security organisation is hardly a good thing for our overpopulated and anonymous population. It is a security risk.
Q: We have such business in developed nations too, without anyone asking for their abrogation. Such outfits are statutorily registered with the government…
A: What we are saying now is that in terms of finance, how do the informal security organisations fund their personnel? How do they pay their salaries? Same method. So, the government can have counterpart sharing in picking up the bills of salaries for community policing. But then we know that one of the reasons why we have problem in Nigeria is the local government reforms that actually make away with the rights and statutory authority of the monarchs, the Kings, the Obas, the Emirs in Nigeria. In the Southwestern region, in history, the Obas had local police called “Oba n ki o! They are the guards that the Oba sends to arrest criminals and bring somebody that has committed any illegality to the palace for justice. As far as we are concerned, the idea of the community policing should be immersed and based in the community whereby business environment, business community, business schools, streets and all that that want to engage their services would apply. Let me tell you, today, one of the reasons why we are in shortage of police personnel to manage this country is because majority of the police officers are assigned to politicians as orderlies and they are being paid extra monies. Why can’t the politicians, rich men, individuals, shopping malls, houses who want private security apply to government through the community policing and government will give them officers of the VGN to manage the area and the Nigeria police will still be the clearing house because they are the one that can actually prosecute offenders? As far as we are concerned, there is a way out because the situation is urgent. There is urgent need for Nigeria to engage community policing strategy in combating crime because those who live in the communities, those who understand the terrain, the creek, the forest, the rivers, the mountains and the footpath to the farmlands are the people based in the community. Instead of having ethnic militias like MOSOP, AREWA, OODUA and Agbekoya and wasting their energies, the government should come in, bring them into VGN structure, commute them to community policing and make use of them to combat crimes and our environment and community will be safe.
Q: Can we not talk about getting it right with the security agencies we have first before bringing another in?
A: We can’t retain the current policing structure. It can’t work. Look, the soldiers are not even doing their statutory duty of defending Nigeria’s territorial integrity. Many of them are in the hinterland. They are supposed to combat crime and defend Nigeria against external aggression but many of them are performing duties within interstate security duties. As a matter of fact, everything depends on the goodwill of the government. Imagine a situation where the military in Nigeria is combating the Boko Haram and even government is trying to free some of these Boko Haram elements that have been put in the dock and they are enlisting them as Nigerian military officers. Do you think that the commitment that made them to betray the nation would not also come up one day and they will start creating some kinds of mutinies and discouragement among the statutory military officers? So, it is a mistake on the part of the Nigerian government to have freed Boko Haram elements that have been imprisoned. It is another mistake to have enlisted them into the Nigerian army. That will be creating discouragement. See any force including police can be discouraged in the sense that they don’t have enough personnel. Nigeria’s population is about 200 million. The total number of police that we have in Nigeria is about 300,000 and when you do the calculation, the ratio, you will see that they are not enough to keep Nigeria safe. So there is a terrible state of insecurity in Nigeria now. My first prima definition of insecurity is a state of no fear. Everybody is afraid, the streets, houses, churches, mosques are not safe. People can’t go to farms and yet agriculture is our primary business in Nigeria and we need to feed this vast population. If farmers are not able to go to their farms because of Fulani herdsmen and kidnappers, how do we feed Nigerians? So, when the federal government is planning to boost our agricultural economy to export standard, it will not be possible. For example, Dayo, the son of the immediate past Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole was kidnapped inside the farm. Everybody will be afraid to go to farm. The next thing maybe Adewole will do is to send his son to Canada or Britain. Whereas this is a young guy who has a creative approach to the joblessness of Nigerians, to lack of jobs and he is trying to make others to get jobs and now he is being discouraged because of kidnapping. As far as we are concerned, let the federal government get it straight that the present security arrangement cannot work. The community police structure should be pulled out of the regular police force. Then, the constitution of Nigeria, which says that there will be only one Nigeria Police Force, should be amended so that it will give room for community policing. And police doesn’t mean Nigerian police. Anybody that is engaging in security is policing an environment. Anybody that is on surveillance, that is keeping watch is policing an environment. Security should be intelligence and information gathering. We should have statistics of how many people resides in one local government and in one ward. We should have statistics of how many people are in a particular area. The community police structure should be able to know how many people are living there. How many people have jobs? Which job do they do? The community police should be able to know how many people are government’s workers, how many people are farmers, how many cows are in this local government, how many cows are in this ward, who are the cow owners, who are the herders? When you know that if you commit a crime, definitely you will be apprehended, then you will think twice. They should be able to know how many cars are in the area. It is not only the Road Safety that should know. When a car is a new car, registered in the area and comes to that community, the community police should be able to know, it should know when x and y come back in the night, it should monitor even those formal security organisations that are engaged in auxiliary, security services within the community.
Q: How do will curb the rising terrorism and other related crimes in Nigeria?
A: That is not too different from what we have said so far that things should not be done in the way it has been done since colonial period. The society is advancing; our security system should also be advancing. The criminals are advancing in their criminal strategies; we should also advance in our criminal detention, monitoring, arrest and prosecution strategies. Let us have community policing. VGN will manage it. I want to say this with all sense of responsibility that this VGN men and officers who have been given advance trainings over the last 28 years, trained by the police, civil defence, army, DSS, even international agencies should be given the opportunity to be transmitted and commuted as the community policing structure. Because when you waste the knowledge and intelligence and experience they have gathered and you now invite fresh people to come and do the community policing, those people who are neglected may likely become part of the strategies for driving and frustrating the efforts because already you have trained them and you now make them useless. If they don’t join the positive structure, they will be part of the negative force. I will advise the federal government not to look away from the VGN because the police, the civil defence, the army understand that the VGN men and officers are gallant and they even lead when they are trying to pursue armed robbers and criminals. We have the strategies.
Q: How can the South West, which has now been overtaken by criminals, be safeguarded?
A: I am also a stakeholder in Nigeria and a stakeholder in the South West as a Yoruba person. I think we have slept for too long in the South West in the sense that the indigenous security system has been couched down by fear of the law, fear of what the law says, what the Nigeria constitution says, fear of being accused of being sectional or whatever. Now the best way in the South West is to wake up in peaceful, logical and effective defence of human rights, not of tribal or ethnic sentiments. We have never been used to having cases of insurgencies, kidnapping and others because we monitor our environment. We have structure. The age grades, youths are in charge of one thing or the other. The Obas were in charge but when the local government reform was done, the statutory rights, and traditional roles and authority of the Kings were eroded. As a result, we are now in a mess. The Oodua Peoples Congress, OPC, became a house that is divided against itself especially in the year of conflict over the leadership of the OPC between Iba Gani Adams and late Dr Frederick Fasheun. Now that Iba Adams has become the Aare Ona Kakanfo (the Generalissimo) of Yorubaland, I expect that he would be able to make good use of the resources of his experience to gather together all security stakeholders, the hunters, the various vigilante groups, the Obas, the drivers, the mechanics, the technicians, etc and school them in all local governments and states of the South West. I read his interview recently in which he complained about non-cooperation of the governors. I think he should understand that there is a difference between the South West as a geo-political zone which is political, and the Yorubaland as an ethnic nationality which is united and has a recognised kingdom in the world, with diasporic extensions of culture, language and civilisation which the West is respects and seeks to emulate and they are emulating. As far as I am concerned, the Obas should try and be up and doing. They should remember that in the days of their forefathers, the Yoruba people were no slaves of anybody except for the time that the Fulani over ran Ilorin, a Yoruba enclave under Afonja, the then generalissimo. History may be repeating itself if the Yoruba Obas, Yoruba indigenous stakeholders are not up and doing. Let us go back to history. Let us understand our antecedent, our values, our heroism and our histories. Let us understand that the Yoruba people are a people who actually dictated the pace for development when we were under the Western Regional Government. Awolowo established the first television, and the first radio in Africa and many other firsts. So, let every Yoruba man and woman in every political organisation understand that if they can’t move forward their own community, they are bastards. Let every Hausa and Fulani man know that if he or she can’t move forward Hausaland, Fulaniland, Ebiraland, Igboland, or Itsekiriland, they are bastards. We must realise that all of us must come together as a united nation, Nigeria, by taking advantage of first being an indigene of a particular ethnic society before being a citizen of Nigeria. If we can’t do that, then Nigeria will be gone in another couple of years as an entity because we are sleeping too much. Let me say that, perhaps, it is not salutary if your arms and ammunitions are legally acquired, then of course, the government should not retrieve it from you. For example, in several countries, individuals have the right to bear arms. So, you will think twice before you face anybody. In Nigeria, the case is not like that; and that is the reason why it is cheap to just kidnap anybody and the person becomes defenceless. We are defenceless and the Boko Haram people, the terrorists, the kidnappers are armed, the robbers are armed and the criminals generally are armed. So, let all landlord associations know that they have the right to the security of their environments and they can demand for the right to own ammunition for the defence of themselves under a government approved security structure. That is why community policing is very important.
Q: What is your last word on VGN to the federal Government?
A: My word to the federal government on the VGN is that the VGN has become established like an island in the ocean of informal security system in Nigeria. As such, the organisation can only be wished away at a high cost of waste of potential human, material, and logistic security resources. So in strategising for this community policing structure, VGN should be at the centre. Some in the “Peace Corps” should be harmonised within that structure, some in the “Neighbourhood Watch” should be harmonised within that structure but then it should be called the Nigeria Vigilance Community Policing Corps. The VGN is ready for Nigeria. Send her. Use her. And, by that, I mean that President Muhammadu Buhari should assent the VGN bill as passed by the last Senate and House of Reps.