The mayhem in Ijebu-Ife

We also sympathise with the Police which lost a senior officer and area commander, Mr. Omolodun Oladokun to the mayhem, as well as the families of the victims.

This incident however highlights for the umpteenth time, the crisis of insecurity everywhere in our country, such as to drive even rural communities desperate for some form of safety, to literally take their fortune in their hands and raise their own security outfits. The local vigilante group was reportedly formed a few months ago at the behest of the Ajalorun of Ijebu-Ife, Oba Afolorunso Oguntayo to combat youth criminality. Indeed, many who have had cause to travel through the area testify to the very serious state of insecurity in Ijebu-Ife and its environs.

Vigilante groups bearing all sorts of names and designations have been formed in virtually every community, rural or urban, in Nigeria. It is a new development that, as Ijebu-Ife now indicates, bears its own special type of risk. Persons with little or no training and appropriate skills in the maintenance of law and order, persons whose only qualification may be some hunting experience, or the possession of so-called magical powers are drafted into local vigilante groups, occasionally with disastrous results for the community. The story in this instance, is that a member of the Ijebu-Ife community who defied the orders of the local vigilante group was suspected by the protesting youths to have been charmed to death in the course of a scuffle. If this is at all possible, it may not be tenable in a court of law. And this underscores the unreasonableness of the reaction of the youths.

Two questions immediately arise from this line of story. One, rather than engage him in physical combat, why did not the vigilante personnel simply ignore the erring tailor and report him to the Ajalorun the following day? Two, if in truth the youths of the town were only concerned with the behaviour of the vigilante group and the suspected killing of their colleague why did they not seek an audience with the Oba or elders of the community or better still, the police to lodge their complaint? Their reaction is exaggerated and the motive is suspect especially against the backdrop of the very reason that reportedly compelled the king to establish the security outfit in the first place.

In any case, these and other questions should be answered in the course of the judicial enquiry set up by the Ogun state government.Without mincing words, the youths of Ijebu-Ife acted most irresponsibly to have taken the law into their hands. This is even more so as they attacked the policemen who were at the scene to perform their lawful duty, in the interest of the community. Now these young people have been forced to flee from their homes. Besides, they have also brought miserable plight upon the town and innocent members of the community. Ijebu-Ife is reported to be almost empty and many of its occupants have become refugees in neighbouring towns.

But if the youths’ behaviour is reprehensible, the reaction of the police as alleged by the residents is, if true, no less condemnable. Some are wont to argue that, everywhere in the world, it is not uncommon for men of the forces to react strongly to the killing of one of their own. We would say that, a sense of esprit de corps is one thing, engaging in reprisal attack by members of the disciplined forces is neither becoming nor expected. But the truth should emerge from the findings of the Justice Olukayode Somolu panel.

The Ijebu-Ife crisis provides a strong argument for the strengthening of police-community relations and community policing. We are aware that committees for this purpose exist in many places. If it does not in Ijebu-Ife, now there is a case for it. Since the traditional ruler was instrumental to the setting up of the vigilante group, we suggest that he collaborates with the police and other law enforcement agencies to design a guideline on its mode of operation .

In the final analysis, there is no denying that there would be no need for communities to resort to self-help through vigilante groups if government met its constitutionally assigned responsibility of ensuring the security of life and property, and if the police and other law enforcement agencies were given the resources necessary to discharge their duties. Government must do its duty as in the constitution. Second, it must equip the security agencies appropriately. Only then may we demand commensurate performance from them.

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