A community in one southeastern Nigerian city is joining forces with the police in hopes of making their home a safer place to live.Onitsha is a bustling commercial hub on the banks of the River Niger, in southeastern Nigeria. It is home to what is widely regarded as the largest market place in West Africa, which means traders and visitors from all over Nigeria and beyond are drawn to the city every day. The city has been plagued by crimes such as murders, kidnappings, mobile phone snatchings, rapes, molestations and robbery.
But all that appears to have changed with the introduction of the Anambra state vigilante group nearly two years ago. The head of the vigilante group in Onitsha is Godfrey Okafor.“Since almost two years back, we’ve had a great improvement in terms of securing lives and property here in Anambra, particularly in Onitsha. It is not business as usual,” Okafor said.Volunteers and law enforcement agencies have joined forces to rescue Onitsha from the tide of violent crime. Emmanuel Egbe, a vigilante, says police are helping with their training.
“When the new governor came in, Peter Obi, he started the Anambra vigilante group, which is known as ASV- Anambra State Vigilante. So we went for the training at Awka and we were trained under the commissioner of police, for almost three days,” Egbe said.In the past, clandestine groups claiming to be vigilantes were accused of hunting down and killing criminal suspects in Onitsha in a bid to restore order. Okafor says his group is against vigilante “justice”, which involves the torture and killing of suspects.“If we apprehend any criminal we hand him over to the police. That is what the law says,” said Okafor.
Zero tolerance for crime has become the order of the day in Onitsha, leaving residents and visitors with a deep sense of appreciation for the progress made. Anthony Adibe is a trader in Onitsha.“The vigilante is doing a nice job. They help the police to control crimes in the state. They have reduced criminal activity to a normal minimum. People move freely without any disturbance,” Adibe said.Lacking resources and overwhelmed by the task of ensuring public safety in a sprawling city like Onitsha, local police spokesman Charles Nwuka welcomes the help they are getting from vigilantes.
“We believe highly in the policy of community policing because we can’t do it alone,” Nwuka said. “We believe in neighborhood watch, we believe in vigilantes. We co-ordinate them, we ensure we monitor their activities so that they work according to detail and precepts.Head of the local traders association, Thomas Amandieze, also confirmed that criminal activities have declined in Onitsha.“Before, if you come to Okiwe-Uweke [in Onitsha], people will be running and their bags will be falling down, and thieves will like to carry some of their properties. Everything is now good.
Everybody is moving freely,” said Amandieze. Sociologists are quick to say Nigerian cities and communities with active neighborhood watch groups have seen a remarkable decrease in crime.
By Gilbert da Costa / VOA.