Zamfara State Governor, Bello Muhammad Matawalle last week took a bold step to actualise the much-mouthed community policing strategy for tackling incessant crimes in the North-West state. He did so by inaugurating what he called the Community Policing Advisory Committee, geared towards the engagement of 500 special constabularies. Top security personnel attended the inauguration, among them the Assistant Inspector-General of Police in charge of Zone 10, comprising of Sokoto, Kebbi and Zamfara states, Muhammad A. Mustapha, the State Commissioner of Police, Usman Nagogo, and the Emir of Anka, Alhaji Attahiru Muhammad Ahmad.
On how the personnel would be selected, the governor said, “Those to be recruited must be tested, and have proven track record of integrity. They will wear uniforms like conventional police but theirs will be different from those of the police and can easily be identified.” This move is timely, as Zamfara State has been beset by banditry, armed robbery, cattle rustling, kidnapping for ransom, outright arson and terrorism, which have defied the Nigeria Police Force’s strategies. Thousands of lives have been lost to insecurity in the state in the last five years, properties destroyed and the lives of survivors have been dislocated, as farmers have escaped their fields for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps.
Resorting to community policing may be the logical step to take, as it will deliberately promote organised strategies in communities to combat potential situations that might create insecurity. It is a well-known fact that people in local communities know those who live among them more than the conventional police would. For instance, every village has a village head, and every district has a district head. These leaders, if they know their onions, scan their environments regularly and possess the essential network to easily spot criminal elements; with effective community policing and taking these institutions into confidence, police can effectively smoke criminals out of their holes and make them to face the law.
Like similar initiatives being tinkered with in other parts of the country, these constabularies are intelligence gathering instruments to support police operations. It is, therefore, important to train them in the art of intelligence gathering – how to profile their environment, detect sinister groups, carry out discreet investigations, how to document evidence of crime, how to access credible evidence against crime suspects, and how to preserve exhibits needed for further investigation by the police. We, therefore, call for proper training of these personnel in such a manner that they can intelligently carry out these duties.
Also, measures against the misuse of the privileges being given to the constabularies must be put in place. Some could take the law into their hands by brutalising suspects in the name of compelling them to admit to wrong-doing. The role of the constabulary is complementary to those of the police, which is an institution of state with the authority to arrest, investigate and prosecute criminals. These constabularies must not usurp these powers of the police. Again, they must not be susceptible to manipulation by mischievous individuals who may want to use them to settle scores. Previous experiments with community policing in Nigeria had shown such abuses.
Zamfara State government must adequately equip these community police constabulary with necessary facilities for protection. It is a known fact that bandits are well-armed, vicious, and deadly. Foreseeing that the constabularies would go after them, these criminals could launch the first attack by targeting the recruits. Government should do everything possible to ensure these men are not vulnerable. They must be paid their allowances as at when due in order to boost their morale, else some could be tempted to jump ship, and begin to serve the interest of criminals, instead of that of the state.
Community policing in Zamfara State is a brilliant foot forward in the fight against banditry, but every activity and strategy needed to make it a success must be activated and implemented.