In this interview with Susan Oni, the Ogun State Commander of the Vigilante Group of Nigeria (VGN), Mr. Olanrewaju Nureni Adedoyin speaks on the community policing agenda of the VGN and the need for the Presidency to assent to the bill passed by the National Assembly to give legal backing to the group as a legally recognized community security agency amongst other issues. Excerpts:
What does your job entails as the state commander of Vigilante Group of Nigeria?
As the commander of Vigilante Group of Nigeria in Ogun State, I have a lot of responsibilities and roles that I carry out on daily basis. We are not perfect. I am saddled with the responsibility of coordinating all the activities of vigilante personnel across the state, the entire 20 local governments and the 236 wards. Not only that, if there is any intelligence report from any quarter, it is my role and duty to forward such information to the DSS (Department of State Services), Police, NSCDC (Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps), NDLEA (National Drug Law Enforcement Agency) and any other agencies that have anything to do with such information. I have officers across the state. We ensure their welfare as well as give adequate training so that they will perform better when they are discharging their duties. And if you look at it, we have gained public confidence already because that is the most important thing. Vigilante Group of Nigeria is an informal security agency that has been working harmoniously and hands in the plough with the police, the DSS, NSCDC and all other constitutionally recognized security agencies, even though our own is on the way. We have been in existence since 1999 that the organization was registered.
What is your take on State policing and how should the government handle the issue of community policing?
Vigilante Group of Nigeria is not an organisation that is limited to Ogun state. The group has its spread across the 36 states of the Federation, including the Federal Capital Territory, and the organisation has its headquarters at 1, Ibrahim Gambari Crescent, Kantampe New Extension, Abuja. If you look at it critically, as an organization that has its spread across the 36 States of the Federation, definitely we started targeting the federal structure. We have a federal structure because it is an organization that is comprised of a mix of different people from different tribes and languages. Like in Ogun State, we have all the tribes we have in Nigeria being part of the Vigilante Group of Nigeria, Ogun State Command. So it is not an organisation that is pointing towards State policing. We have a bill that was passed precisely in December 2017 finally by the Senate and right now it is on the table of Mr. President (Muhammadu Buhari) and we appeal to him to sign the bill. The bill has a mandate for Vigilante Group of Nigeria. It will be charged when the bill is finally assented to with the responsibility to provide community policing. So that is where I’m going to. Community policing is what we are driving at. When we look at the current problem we have in Nigeria which is tagged as insecurity, you will see that in problem solving, you can’t just sit down in your house and feel this measure or step will provide solution to this problem especially the problem that cut across all the states of the Federation. A problem that is common to all the languages, all the tribes and ethnic groups that we have in Nigeria. And you know that each of these ethnic groups has its peculiar way of doing things and its own peculiar culture. Definitely, before you can finally determine a common solution to the problem that we are having in the country, there must be an empirical study into that phenomenon. And that is exactly what the Presidency has done I think in 2018. The last batch of the graduands of National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru near Jos in Plateau State were mandated to carry out an empirical study into problem solving to provide solution for the issue of insecurity that we are facing in the country. They have done that and came out with recommendations and solutions and it is resolve around Community policing.
Are you saying that if you are approved as a recognized security agency you will do better than present security agencies?
The Police, NSCDC, and other security agencies have done their best and have really tried. They are working; it is not that they are not working but if you look at the ratio of the Police to the public, the standard is too low. What is obtainable in Nigeria is too low compared to International standards. That is why there is a need for more hands to be on deck in this issue of policing. There is a difference between policing and police. Police is an institution, policing is quite different. You may be doing policing work without being a policeman. So we are talking of Community policing. It does not necessarily mean that it is only the police that must do the work of Community policing; no. The concept of Community policing comprises of so many security agencies. In advanced countries like in the United States of America they have Sheriffs that are doing Community policing work. They have LAPDYA who are State Police; they are doing policing work. And they have the Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI; Central Intelligence Agency, CIA they are doing policing work but they still have police. So there is a difference between police and policing. That is why so many times when people misconstrue the meaning of Community policing and State police, some people think they mean the same thing, whereas they are not the same, State Police is different. If you want to go into Community policing now, there is no need for an amendment into the existing Police Act. Already there is a bill on Community policing and that responsibility according to the National Assembly will be given to Vigilante Group of Nigeria. But if you are talking of State Police, there must be amendments to the existing Police Act that we have in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, because that part says that there must be only one Police Force for the whole nation. So since it is embedded in the Constitution definitely there must be an amendment to that section before there can be the issue of State Police.
Do you think that Community policing will help in tackling kidnapping?
That is the best solution to the problem we are facing. Let me tell you something, like the Vigilante Group of Nigeria, this is our state headquarters; we are here now, we hardly see our men at our headquarters, rather you find them concentrated at the rural areas; in the local communities. But for other security agencies, if you visit their headquarters you will see large numbers of their personnel; then at the rural areas you hardly find their presence. That is the difference between vigilante and other security agencies.
Can you shed more light on the controversy on the different factions such as Vigilante Service of Ogun State, VSO, VGN, and others? How do you unite these various factions if the government is to look up to you for Community policing?
You see in Nigeria of today if a group of people should come together with intension to adopt a name for that group for a particular purpose, definitely such a name must be registered with the government and the institution that is responsible for the registration of that kind of name is known as the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). So anybody that is operating with a name that is not registered with CAC, such group or entity is an illegal entity. Vigilante Service of Ogun State that you have mentioned is an illegal entity and the fact that vigilante is in that name that is why we sued the operators. We cannot sue Vigilante Service of Ogun State because it has no legal backing and registration so we have to sue the operators of the Vigilante Service of Ogun State. At the court, they denied that they are Vigilante Service of Ogun State; they said they have another name and they are using another uniform because we alleged that they are using our own uniform. At the end of the day, they changed the name and they changed the uniform. So they are not vigilante; you can’t classify them as a faction of VGN. They are not even doing the work of vigilante. We have already written a petition; if they are still handling anything as vigilante, it is illegal.
What are you doing regarding other groups parading themselves as vigilante?
We are already out of court because they said they are not vigilante. Our lawyer is on it; very soon we are going to have the outcome. Immediately we were through in the court we wrote a petition when we started seeing some of their men with arms because we know that even those who are trained at times make mistakes when it comes to weapon handling, let alone people who are not trained at all; it’s a threat to members of the public. So we wrote that petition to the Commissioner of Police, we are still on it. Now coming to VGN, there is no faction in VGN; there is no organization where you will not find aggrieved members. We have aggrieved members of the VGN. There is only one VGN; there is only one Board of Trustees headed by Alhaji Hammed Dalhatu who is the chairman and that is the only chairman that we recognize. We are already working on the issue. For instance in Ogun State we have already perfected our plan. The management in Ogun State has sat with these aggrieved members and we have fashioned out a way of bringing them into the fold so there are no factions.
How soon are you planning to synergize with these aggrieved members?
We have already taken the step and we held two meetings even officials of DSS were present
How is your recruitment done?
We don’t recruit into the VGN for now. It is until when our bill is assented to that we can talk of recruitment. It is only the people who are willing to join now can join us and that is exactly what we do. We only admit people into our fold. Anybody that wish to join will come, will obtain our form, and after filling the form you will take it to the District Head of where you are residing; he will sign; after that, you will take it to the Police station that is within the jurisdiction of where you are residing and the Divisional Police Officer, DPO will sign; the head of DSS of that local government where you are residing will also sign. After the completion of those processes you will bring the form here; then we will now set up our internal mechanism for verifying the information you filled in the form. The background check will be carried out to verify the validity of all your claims and once we are done with that you are through.
What are the challenges facing your organization presently and how do you think the government can assist?
We have a lot of challenges because even the country itself has challenges, let alone our own organization. One of the challenges we are facing which is the most important thing to be addressed by the government is the issue of legal backing. Our operation must have legal backing; you know there is no legal backing for our operation. There are some things that ordinarily we will see and we won’t do, but we will be incapacitated because the law does not permit us to do it. For instance now, let’s say we apprehend a suspect may be in the case of murder. Murder we all know is a very serious offence; now maybe where we are, (like I told you we have our people) in the remote areas, and we called on the Police. For the Police to come down to that area because it is very far and they won’t arrive on time and there are some people who are mobilizing themselves to come to rescue the suspect from our own hands and we don’t have cells because the Law does not permit us to detain anybody. So that is why I said we need a legal backing because if we have a cell it will be difficult to break the cell but since we don’t have the legal right to detain anybody we will only leave him, sit with him and hold unto him. And if some people should mobilise, let’s say about 10 with the aim of rescuing the suspect from our hands, what do you think will happen? But if we have cell, to break the cell would have been very difficult and since we don’t have cell it becomes a serious problem. So there is a need for legal backing. Secondly funding is another challenge that we are facing. We need the government to come to our aid in funding this organisation because what we are doing has an international dimension. When you go to India they have an International Vigilante Squad; in China they have a Committee for Vigilance Commission so each of these countries has a similar structure of what we are doing. Even in terms of our own name, it might likely be changed by the time President Buhari assents to the bill; probably from vigilante to vigilance. Another challenge to us is the issue of mobility. We want the government to intervene so that the DSS, the Police can screen our members. That is why we are having aggrieved members. You know VGN is a voluntary organization but because it’s a voluntary organization doesn’t mean that if Mr. A or Mr. B commits an offence we should not suspend him. If we now suspend such people they will go ahead to recruit other people in the name of Vigilante Group of Nigeria. That is why we have aggrieved members. That is what led to the issue of aggrieved members.
What is the nature of you relationships with the government?
We have a very good relationship with the government. There are three arms of government; we have the legislative arm of government, we have the executive and the judiciary. Let me start from the legislative arm of government. The bill that is trying to seek the establishment of Vigilante Group of Nigeria was initiated by the National Assembly which is the legislative arm of government. If we do not have a very good relationship with the legislature definitely they won’t have proposed a bill in the name of our organisation. The number of the bill is HB718. It is accessible on the net and through other channels. It is a public document. Secondly regarding the executive, wherever the executive arm of government is carrying out an event, you see our people. Even when the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria was to be inaugurated, we had our men in Eagle Square Abuja for security reasons.
What is the nature of your relationship with the Ogun State government?
We have a perfect and good relationship with the current administration. We have written many letters to the State Governor. And we have been doing that to intimate him about our organization, the VGN. We’ve also written congratulatory letters to all the recent appointees; even to the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, we have written congratulatory letters to him. They all know us and some of them have our men in their residences as security guards. So we actually do not have any problem with them.
Some leaders of security groups have been accused partisanship during elections, what is your view?
That’s not good because as a security organization, we are supposed to remain non-partisan. That affected the VGN.
Is it true that some factions in the last administration worked for the Allied Peoples’ Movement, APM while some others worked for the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC in the State?
Well, anybody who is putting on uniform participating in partisan politics is doing such at his or her risk. Such a person is losing his integrity and public trust. I don’t do that. What I do is that I work for the good people of Ogun State. It is the notice of the integrity in my works that I am known to some of these politicians. I don’t look for them; I don’t go to their houses. At times they write to me. Except there is an occasion that warrants us writing a congratulatory letter but when it comes to working for one politician against another, I don’t do that because it will compromise my duty as the Commander of VGN, Ogun State chapter and I don’t think anybody in his right sense will do that. The result of my integrity in the discharge of my duty has earned me so many awards even from people I don’t know. The politicians really know me because I feature frequently on radio and television programmes as well as in some national dailies. So if anybody feels like going to politicians to work for them, I don’t do that but I believe in working for the society and the good people, then your efforts will be noticed and appreciated.
What is the current strength of VGN in Ogun State?
Right now we have over 4,000 men spread across the state.
Can you tell us your background as commandant VGN, Ogun State chapter?
I am born into the family of Adedoyin, the renowned Sumonu family of Owu Kingdom of Abeokuta. I attended Abeokuta North Primary School; I proceeded to Macjob Grammar School now known as Kudirat Memorial Grammar School. I proceeded to Moshood Abiola Polytechnic. I attended Crescent University for my B.Sc. I possess PGD in Criminology, Masters Degree in Conflict and Peace Resolution from National Open University (NOUN), Masters in Crescent University in the field of Accounting; Associate Accounting Technology (AAT) with the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria, ICAN and I am currently on the final stage of my ICAN programme to be qualified as Chartered Accountant. I am currently undergoing my PhD in Criminology and Security Studies, Southwestern University. So you can call me a criminologist as well an accountant.