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Friday, 13 July, 2001, 23:32 GMT 00:32 UK
Nigerian police target vigilantes
Nigerian police
Vigilantes fill in the gaps where the police fail
By David Bamford in Lagos

Police chiefs in Nigeria say they intend to stamp out the practice of executions that are being carried out by vigilante groups against suspected armed robbers.

They described the vigilantes' actions as illegal even though they often have the support of State governors in some parts of the country.

The rise of the vigilante groups is a result of a dramatic increase in violent crime in Nigeria.

About 500 people have been killed by armed robbers within the last year, many of them in the main city of Lagos.

Filling in for police

This week, on a street in Lagos, just 300m from the BBC office, cars were forced to drive around the sickening sight of a burned body.

We want a well-trained police force, well-equipped, and in fact we want the whole justice sector to be reformed properly

Abdul Oroh
Civil Rights Organisation
The remains of the suspected armed robber lay there for most of the day, a victim of the local vigilante group, the OPC, or Odua People's Congress, who say they are dealing with violent crime in a way that police are failing to do.

Many local residents agree with that view and support the extra-judicial killings.

"Resident Lagosians, they really welcome the idea of vigilante groups," said one local resident.

"In fact, I can tell you that during the first coming of the OPC members, when they were called upon to help the police in restoring law and order and some kind of safety in Lagos, people were very jubilant about this, and they feel very secure," the resident said.

Public execution

In eastern Nigeria a few days earlier, another vigilante group known as the Bakassi Boys captured a suspected gangster.

They ignored police demands to hand him over and, to cheering crowds in the main market in the town of Onitsha, they decapitated him with a machete and then set fire to his torso.

The police, who answer to the federal government, are at loggerheads with the state governments, who actively support the vigilantes because of the resulting drop in crime figures.

Unlikely allies

On this occasion, the police are at one with their frequent critics, the human-rights movement, who have strongly condemned the vigilante killings.

"The idea of arresting people and, through more violence, killing them on the spot and burning their bodies - that is not the kind of Nigeria we want," said Abdul Oroh, the head of the Civil Rights Organization.

"That's not the kind of law enforcement we,,, want in Nigeria. We want a well-trained police force, well-equipped, and in fact we want the whole justice sector to be reformed properly."

But the root of the problem, says Mr Oroh, is that the Nigerian police are among the most corrupt in the world.

People have little faith in them as they see armed robbers bribe their way out of trouble.

Until this is tackled, the vigilante killings seem likely to continue.

See also:

11 May 01 | Africa
Nigeria's trigger happy police
20 Jan 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
Islamic law raises tension in Nigeria
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