THE CONTRIBUTIONS OF VIGILANTE GROUPS IN CRIME CONTROL IN ETHIOPE EAST LOCAL GOVERNMENT AREA OF DELTA STATE
1.1 Background to the Study
Provision of adequate security is a social pre-requisite for the survival of any society. Every society takes appropriate measures to protect the lives and property of people living within its boundaries. Business and social activities may not go on freely without adequate security. This fundamental essence of security may the reason why societies from time immemorial made efforts to police their neighbour hoods in order to secure them from criminal victimization. Security has to do with the act of preventing and protecting in order to ensure that certain facilities, equipment, persons or activities are safe from damage, pilferage, destruction, murder or disruption. The history of crime control dates back to the period when public order was the responsibility of appointed magistrates, who were unpaid private individuals. The first paid public police officer was the praeffectus urbi, a position created in Rome in approximately B.C (Roberg and Kuykendall, 1993). After the fall of the Roman Empire and the subsequent anarchy that followed, kings began to assume the responsibility for legal administration by strengthening the night watch.
Roberg and Kuykendall, (1993) also pointed out that in the twelfth century in England, through ‘Frankpledged’ system which was based on an organization of tithings (ten families) and hundreds (ten tithings), men over the age of fifteen formed a posse comitatus, a group called out to pursue fleeing felons. Thus, the sheriffs who ensured that this Frankpledge system worked were responsible for policing the country.
However, as societies became increasingly complex, social life was disrupted. Existing systems of law enforcement were inadequate to respond to the problems associated with these changes. As a result, night watch system was introduced. This system involved bellmen who walked round the city, ringing bells and providing policing services. The bellmen were later replaced by untrained citizens and much later by paid constables. However, in 1829, Sir Robert Peel established the first modern uniformed police force, the metropolitan police of London, whose primary responsibility was the prevention of crime. (Roberg and Kuykendall, 1993)
Vigilantism is not a recent development. Before 1900, many vigilant groups were formed in frontier areas of the United States. In 1851 and 1856, concerned citizens in San Francisco organized vigilante committees that forcibly restored peace and order. (world book encyclopedia, Encyclopedia Americana). In South Africa, vigilante activity is frequently justified as ‘filling a policing gap’ due to police inefficiency, corruption and conspiracy with criminals, practical failing in the criminal justice system. In Sierra-Leone, vigilante activities have been explained in terms of police ineffectiveness in combating crimes (Brownyn, 2001).
In Nigeria, vigilantism existed in the pre-colonial era. Human Right Watch and Center for law enforcement and education report, (2002) noted that “vigilante and other self –defense groups currently operating in Nigeria have roots that reach deep into the country’s history. In the colonial era, some though not all independent local communities, especially in the South east maintained their own standing Army to defend their territory against the threat of invasion from neighbouring communities. Although there was no equivalent modern day structure at that time, some parallels can be drawn between these groups which were created by local communities for their own protection, and the more recently formed self –defense groups”.
The proliferation of vigilante groups in contemporary Nigeria particularly in Ethiope East Local Government area of Delta State is a response to crimes and criminality that have not only increased in degree, scope and volume but also have witnessed an unprecedented change in techniques, mode of operation and sophistication between 1998 and 1999 (wake of fourth republic) and the apparent failure of the Nigeria police to rise up to the occasion. Igbo (2001) has stated that “the apparent failure of Nigeria police to control the increasing wave of crime has led to unilateral public action against crime and criminals in some major cities of Nigeria particularly in the South east of the country”. This is true in Ethiope East Local Government Area, where, presently, vigilante groups are used as a means of crime control due to increasing crime wave and the inability of the formal agents of crime control to bring them under control. In view of this, this study examined the contributions of vigilante groups in controlling crime in contemporary Nigeria, particularly in Ethiope East Local Government area of Delta State.