By George Adekunle
On Thursday 18th February 2021, in the aftermath of the abduction of students of a secondary school in Kagara, Niger state, the Honourable Minister of Defence Maj. Gen. Salihi Magashi (rtd) made a statement with regards to the roles that local communities could play in crime prevention.
The Minister’s comment have been widely reported in the media with misunderstanding and misinterpretation of facts. Unfortunately, the message in the heart of the Minister was: “AND LET THESE PEOPLE KNOW THAT EVEN THE VILLAGERS HAVE THE CAPACITY TO DEFEND THEMSELVES AND DEFEAT INSURGENTS” and it is evident that this quotes was completely missing in almost all the reports published in the media. This could have been either as a result of mischief or innocent ignorance of the important roles of community resilience and community participation in modern crime prevention.
Given the significant threat of security challenges facing Nigeria, and the need for communities to develop some levels of resilience and participate actively in crime prevention, there is the need to examine the Minister’s remarks through the prism of modern crime prevention techniques and theories.
In the contemporary world bedevilled by security and safety risks both from man-made and natural sources, the efforts of government security agencies alone may not be enough and experts are looking more towards linking the building community Resilience and Crime Prevention through application of Community Engagement Theory to the Risk of Crime. Through this theory, citizens are increasingly expected to take a more participatory roles in society, which increases the need for them to be knowledgeable about a wide range of uncertain risks and threats and to properly prepare themselves in case these risks become reality. To date, most attention regarding risk preparedness has focused on natural hazards. In the past decade, when human-made safety risks have gained notoriety in the public’s eye, Community Engagement Theory is now being applied to the context of social safety hazards such as crime, kidnapping, burglary , terrorism etc.
A study conducted using 1245 Dutch citizens who were already a member of the citizen panel of their municipality at the time of data collection showed that the Community Engagement Theory is not only applicable for natural hazards, but also for human-made risks such as crime. Psychological drivers of all three levels, individual, community, and marginally institutional/governmental level, are relevant in explaining the willingness to report and intervene when witnessing a crime.
This research gives insight and guidance for policy makers and practitioners regarding stimulating reporting and intervening behaviour of crime and citizens information-gathering .
Crimes like banditry and kidnapping can be said to be undermining local authority and interfering in businesses,. These types of crimes have disruptive effects on individuals and communities alike. Bandit attacks on schools and kidnappings as witnessed in Niger state recently, for example, may strike fear in the heart of citizens and affect the community by pitching groups within societies against each other. Other effects may include food insecurity as local communities abandon farming and other livelihood activities.
Crime is seriously undermining local authority, unless local communities get involved, otherwise, it may have disastrous consequences on the regular local economy and the quality of society.
Criminal money such as ransoms invested in legitimate businesses may for example result in unfair competition and consequently affect agriculture and food security. Taken together, it is increasingly realized that crime risks can have severe negative and dislocating effects on the community, stressing the importance of making communities resilient to crime. Community can be defined as ‘a group of people with diverse characteristics who are linked by social ties, share common perspectives and engage in joint action in geographical locations (MacQueen, et al., 2001; e.g. in this context the neighbourhood they live in.
Since most citizens would know the ins and outs of their own neighbourhood, they would be the most likely candidates to know where criminal activities are likely to happen and to actually recognize crime in action.
As such, they can have valuable roles in crime prevention and as sources of crime-related intelligence for security agencies such as the military and the police (Terpstra 2009, Bullock and Sindall 2014). In the past decade, governments which have the lion’s share of responsibility to provide safety and security have increasingly pursued opportunities for citizen engagement and citizens, in turn, have become more aware of possibilities to actively participate (Yetano et al. 2010). These developments are perhaps best signified by the increase in a number of so-called neighbourhood watches and vigilante groups in the Nigeria. Often involving both citizens and security personnel , these neighbourhood watches provide a means to connect people with the aim to prevent crime and increase crime-solving rates by signaling suspicious activities in their neighbourhood (Schreurs, Franjkić, Kerstholt, De Vries & Giebels (2020), WABP 2018, Pridmore et al. 2018, Lub 2016). This greater demand on citizens to partake in the fight against crime on the one hand, and the increasing opportunities for them to do so on the other, underscores the importance to know which psychological factors drive people to actually take these opportunities.
According to Paton (2013), dealing with uncertainty represents a common denominator in people’s experience of various hazardous events. In the example of a flooding, citizens may be uncertain about the exact time and place of the flooding, its intensity, and its potential consequences (Kerstholt et al. 2017). Taking preparatory action can be seen as a means to cope with these uncertainties.
This should be no different from the risk of becoming a victim of crimes such as kidnapping and banditry, whether or not citizens would become a victim of crime is highly uncertain, as is the severity of the crime itself and its consequences for individuals and their community. Crime is a special domain in comparison to the domain of natural hazards, in the sense that government security agencies have a monopoly on violence. In crime prevention, citizens are not free to do anything they want, but are bounded by laws and regulations.
This emphasizes the relevance of relationships between citizens and institutions such as the police and the military as well as intelligence agencies. Collaboration between the former and the latter should ensure that citizens abide by these rules and do not take the law into their own hands.
However, citizens increasingly being required to act out of their own initiative in concert with security agencies to ward off crime without taking undue risks. Ideally, therefore, citizens should also play a role in crime prevention. Security agencies should assist citizen participation by informing them about the relevant laws and regulations, and provide some oversight to ensure these are abided by. For example, a burglary in progress should be stopped by citizens calling in the help of the security agencies , rather than apprehending the suspect themselves, and, perhaps, use violence (Jackson et al. 2013).
All in all, it could be argued that the Community Engagement Theory’s all-hazard applicability would also apply to how people make choices in actual information gathering and whether they are willing to act when crime occurs (for example by reporting to the police and intervening when witnessing a crime). It was this concept of using Community Engagement Theory for crime prevention that the Hon Minister of Defence had in mind when he said “AND LET THESE PEOPLE KNOW THAT EVEN THE VILLAGERS HAVE THE CAPACITY TO DEFEND THEMSELVES”
George Adekunle, a public affairs analyst and commentator writes via firstname.lastname@example.org
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