- Realising that the Nigeria Police cannot curb crime alone, vigilante groups in a southwest state have stuck to ancient practices of reducing insecurity and seem to be succeeding.
When Olajide finally joined the Supreme Eiye Confraternity as a sophomore at the Olabisi Onabanjo University in Ogun State, it was not because he wanted to stand out. He was rather desperate to blend in.
Membership of the confraternity was a trend where he lived in Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State. It was not only the undergraduate community who identified with these cult groups; artisans and non- professional members of the community also belonged.
Before his arrest by vigilantes in 2015, he had been part of multiple violent operations, including deadly clashes with rival cult groups, and had started to consider himself truly invincible. But as he spent a few nights in the police cell with five other members, reality dawned on him.
Olajide’s gratitude knew no bounds when the police informed him and the others that the charges against them would be dropped on the condition that they would swear to an oath before the traditional ruler and chiefs of Ago-Iwoye that they would never disturb the peace of the community again. After a customary rite of oath-taking, the community also placed a curse on them against returning to their old ways. It worked.
When HumAngle met the Divisional Officer of the town’s Social Orientation and Safety (SO-SAFE) Corps, a vigilante group recognised by the state government, he was full of praises for Ebumawe, the king of Ago-Iwoye, for the initiative.
The first time such oaths were administered was in 2010 and it involved members of Eiye Confraternity and Black Axe (Aiye), the two prominent cult groups in the community.
“There was one boy among them, a very sharpshooter. He normally used two guns and was even known to the commissioner of police at the time,” Olalekan Alatishe narrated.
“There was a day cultists were rioting close to his (Ebumawe) place and I asked why he didn’t intervene. He replied that he had sworn at the palace that he would not hold guns let alone fight anybody,” Alatishe said.
Many of the repentant cultists now work with the police and vigilante groups by providing them information that could help check dangerous plots in the community.
“You see, this our African sense is very good,” declared the SO-SAFE boss, delighted at his accomplishments.
He said if the youth had gone through the criminal justice system and were imprisoned, they might have returned to crime after life in jail.
In communities in Southwest Nigeria, it is common to use traditional methods in crime-fighting. The practices include oath-taking, adjudication or alternative dispute resolution, use of herbs to fortify crime fighters, and the invocation of gods and spirits at shrines.
While many of these practices are fading, especially in urban areas due to conventional policing, rural communities still use them.
Osanyin and Ayelala are two of the deities popularly consulted in Yoruba communities for crime control as they are widely believed to reveal the identities of culprits.
A 2016 study by Crawford University in Ogun State indicated that 94 per cent of people interviewed agreed that Ayelala deity was efficient in punishing offenders, while 54 per cent of the respondents wanted the consultation of the deity to be incorporated in the modern justice system.
“In 2005, when Oba Market in Benin City, Edo State went into flames, hoodlums had a field day looting traders’ belongings and breaking into many shops not affected by the fire,” the author, Matthias Olufemi Ojo, wrote.
“However, when the service of the Ayelala deity was employed and the announcement was made that the looters should return the goods they had stolen or face the wrath of Ayelala, the goods earlier carted away resurfaced in the market the following day,” Ojo stated.
In various communities today, the task of fighting insecurity rests partly on the shoulders of vigilante groups such as SO-SAFE and the Vigilante Group of Nigeria (VGN), which work closely with state structures and are increasingly getting government support and recognition.
In the 20th Century, a group called the Banjini operated in Ijebu North Local Government Area. From 1999, an arm of Oodua People’s Congress (OPC), a Yoruba nationalist organisation, started getting involved in crime-fighting amid accusations of brutality and extrajudicial killings. Also in 1999, the Vigilante Group of Nigeria was registered, originating in Benue but quickly spreading to states across the country.
Ayankoya Marcus, Zonal Commander of SO-SAFE in Ijebuland, recalled that a local vigilante group was first formed in the 90s after nine people, including prominent individuals, were killed by robbers during the annual Ojude-Oba festival. The organisation, then called Vigilante Action Group, was led by Thomas Adewale Toye, an engineer. It was later renamed Obanta Safe and Secure Central Vigilante before it became part of VGN.
During the administration of former governor Ibikunle Amosun, in Ogun State, the organisation’s name was again changed to Vigilante Service of Ogun State (VSO). Eventually, a law passed by the House of Assembly in 2017 dissolved VSO and replaced it with SO-SAFE, currently divided into five zones in Ijebu, Egba, Yewa, Remo, and Ota.
Not all VGN members were interested in joining the state organisation. But because of their shared history, the now separated groups occasionally work together. They also collaborate with other security outfits, including the police, military, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, Department of State Services, Nigeria Immigration Service, Federal Road Safety Corps and National Drug Law Enforcement Agency.
The large network of their members and their familiarity with the nooks and crannies of various communities gives them an advantage in the fight against crime.
In Ogun alone, VGN is estimated to have over 10,000 active members compared to about 7,100 police personnel in the state. Across the country, it claims to have about 200,000 trained members but the leaders say this is not their only advantage.
READ THE FUL REPORT HERE: