Image Source: AMISOM Public Information
September 2016
REGION: Sub-Saharan Africa

In “Understanding the Informal Security Sector in Nigeria,” Ernest Ogbozor discusses “vigilante” groups in Nigeria, which are groups of ordinary citizens that function outside traditional police forces who seek to enforce law and order in their respective communities. According to Ogbozor, research on Nigerian vigilante groups often focuses on the negative impacts of these informal security services, including human rights violations, instead of the necessary role that these groups play in a community’s safety and security. Contrary to the prevailing negative depictions, Ogbozor contends that Nigerian informal security groups provide a semblance of rule of law where local police and courts do not offer effective law enforcement. As part of his study, Ogbozor conducted a number of interviews with Nigerian locals to understand their perceptions of local vigilante groups. Many of those interviewed living in rural communities preferred vigilante groups over the police because they felt that the police were often unavailable when needed. Despite the perceived role of vigilante groups as champions of local justice, the author notes that local governments and the federal government must begin to tangibly redefine their relationships with vigilante groups for that benefit to be truly effective.

The report specifically focuses on the structures, recruitment and training mechanisms, accountability issues, relationships with formal security actors, and perceptions of vigilante groups in three Nigerian states. In each state discussed, the most prevalent, well-organized and successful vigilante group is the Vigilante Group of Nigeria (VGN), which has millions of members across Nigeria.

Each of these groups vary based on the funds they receive from local and state governments, local demand for their services, and overall legitimacy. However, large groups like the VGN, with a stronger presence than the police in many places, normally function to prevent crimes and turn criminals over to police custody. Ogbozor admits, however, that vigilante group activities are largely under-documented because they function outside the scope of the law. As a consequence of operating outside the law and having a weak accountability system, vigilante groups face difficulty in preventing their own members from breaking Nigerian law. The absence of police and court services in some places emboldens these groups resort to violence.

The largest problem that all Nigerian vigilante groups face is a lack of recognition and accountability at the federal level. Only state legislatures in Nigeria provide vigilante groups with a legal mandate to operate and to be held accountable for their own crimes. Ogbozor advises that in order to empower vigilante groups while limiting the crimes that vigilantes themselves commit, a number of changes must take place. First, the Nigerian government must pass a national vigilante law. Second, vigilantes must be trained on human rights and international humanitarian law. Third, the relationship between police and vigilante groups must be redefined. Finally, the role of women in Nigeria and specifically in crime prevention must be redefined because, “[t]he existing security sector, including the informal security structure, reinforces the traditional culture of subjecting women to male control and domination.” Without including women in the new security framework, integrating informal security into the existing legal sector will not be successful.

NOTE: This summary is produced by the Rule of Law Collaborative, not by the original author(s).

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