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Community Vigilantes in Metropolitan Kano 1985-2005

Rasheed Olaniyi

1. Introduction


1.1: Background to the Study

1According to the Safer Cities Programme of UN-Habitat, crime does not occur spontaneously but it grows out of an unequal and exclusive society, and out of a lack of institutional and social control. African cities could be described as places of fear, where violence and crime rule. As Alan Mabin observed, social life and urban economies are often organised around the fear of violence and crime (Mabin, 2004). The criminal justice system, including the police, courts and prisons, is poorly adapted to the rapidly changing urban environment and upsurge in the rates of crime. These state institutions are no longer adequate for the rapidly changing societies and urban boom. It is estimated that by 2006 half of the world population of 3.2 billion is expected to live in urban areas, especially in Africa and Asia. In sub-Saharan Africa, the urban population is estimated to double, approaching 440 million or 46 per cent of the region’s projected total of 952 million by 2020 (UN, 1999; Lubuva, 2004: 2).

2The Nigerian police is under severe pressure for reforms. The decadence and deplorable conditions in the police has attracted a wide range of non-political security actors in crime control. This trend produce new problems and challenges for urban security and governance. Metropolitan Kano presents a unique arena for this growing phenomenon. This study examines the dynamics of informal security networks; explore their linkages and their roles in controlling crime. The upsurge in vigilante groups reveals a decline of the welfare state and failure of the state in ensuring security despite the rising level of crime. The end of the Cold War signaled the receding ability of the state to provide security. Within the last two decades, the establishment of vigilante groups was prompted by the collapse of urban governance, the lack of investment in comprehensive urban development policies and the apparent reduction of social provisioning despite the upsurge in crime (Tostensen, Tvedten and Vaa, 2001: 7 and Baker, 2004: 166).

  • 1 Examples of this phenomenon can be found in Katsina, Borno, Adamawa, Bauchi, Imo, Anambra and Jigaw (...)

3The perception of ineffective policing and rising crime gave impetus to the emergence of a plethora of non-state policing groups (Baker, 2004: 167). The poor funding of the police by the federal government has shifted the burden of the police onto state governments and in many instances, citizens.1 The state has shared its security responsibility with a variety of non-political organisations including vigilante groups, religious vigilante, ethnic militias and private security guards. This trend is an aberration to Section 214 (1) of the 1999 Constitution, which stipulates that the Nigerian Police shall be the only police force in Nigeria.

4The socio-political environment in Nigeria is conducive to criminality. During the last two decades, the police has found itself trapped in contradicting situations and its capacity has, thus, been profoundly weakened. Between 1999 and 2004, an additignad 200,000 people were recruited to the police in order to ameliorate its dwindling capacity in the ever-increasing population. The recruitment process in the police was, however, steeped in corruption and nepotism. This had devastating consequences for the police as they were poorly trained at handling weapons; there was more corruption, conflictual relations with civilians, and infiltration of the police by armed robbers and criminals as well as more police participation in robbery cases.

Table 1.1: Annual Crime Statistics, 1985-2003

Table 1.1: Annual Crime Statistics, 1985-2003

Source: summarised from FOS publications, 1985-2003.

Table 1.2: Police Report on Property lost or stolen and Property recovered, 1988-1995.

Table 1.2: Police Report on Property lost or stolen and Property recovered, 1988-1995.

Sources: Digest Statistics, December 1994 and 1996 (Federal Office of Statistics, Lagos).

Table 1.3: Crimes/Offences Reported to the Police, 1990-1995

Table 1.3: Crimes/Offences Reported to the Police, 1990-1995

Source: Digest Statistics, December 1996 and 1999 (Federal Office of Statistics, Lagos).

  • 2 Adedeji Ademigbuji, “Robbers On Prowl,” in The Week, December 27th, 2004, pp. 43-44; Chief Simon N. (...)

5Police, like unarmed civilians, became vulnerable to the escalating wave of armed banditry which included the loss of police weapons to armed bandits, the robbing of police stations and increasing attacks on the police by criminal networks.2 The unmanageable level of crime and armed banditry prompted Mr. Sunday Ehindero, the Inspector General of Police, to reintroduce the State Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), which was previously suspended.

6According to police statistics, crimes in Nigeria fluctuated from 534,389 in 1985 to 138,001 in 2003. The annual figures are detailed as in table 1.1 Table 1.2 further show the rates of crime between 1988 and 1995.

7However, these statistics may be misleading since many crimes are unreported and undocumented and thus disappear from official statistics. The ‘facts’ of crime produced only represent a fraction of the crimes compared to the magnitude of its occurrence. Young (1995) concludes on the production of crime statistics that,

today the statistical record is still...mythological.
Hard data has become sacrosanct, so that reflexive enquiry into policing becomes even harder to justify, simply because of this reverence for quasi-mathematical truth (Young, 1995: 69).

  • 3 “Violent Crimes on the Rise,” in Crystal September, 1999, p. 20; Abdullahi No Sweat, “States Under (...)
  • 4 Abdullahi No Sweat, “Crime: Trail Blazer,” in Crystal, May 2004, p. 10; PrinceOsuagwu, “Help! Cross (...)

8Since the era of the notorious armmd robber Lawrence Anini, who terrorised the now defunct Bendel State and other parts of southern Nigeria in the late 1980s, armed robbery and organised crimes have transformed dramatically. Armed robbery assumed an unprecedented scale in the history of crime in Nigeria as they operated with great impunity, often in broad daylight and in police and army uniform. Armed bandits with superior firepower often managed to gun down soldiers and police. More cases of murder and armed robberies, which claimed the lives of innocent civilians and police officers, were been reported on a daily basis.3 Many cities, villages, major highways and commercial establishments, were under the siege of armed banditry, which undermined social and economic development.4

  • 5 “Violent Crimes on the Rise,” in Crystal, September, 1999, p. 20.

9Paradoxically, the police who have the mandate to protect citizens from these criminals are often ineffective in combating such threats due to inefficiency and poor motivation. In many instances, police often absconded when they sighted armed robbers in action.5 Police and other security agencies are increasingly involved in crime. Some Nigerians remarked that, “there is no crime without police.” Invariably, police constitute a threat to security.

  • 6 Odita Sunday, “Police Arrest Own Men Supplying Arms to Robbers,” in The Guardian, March 31st, 2005, (...)
  • 7 “Rising Spate of Armed Robbery,” in Daily Champion, 26th April, 2005, p. 10.

10In March 2005, two police officers were among thirty-three people arrested for alleged participation in armed robbery.6 The two policemen were indicted of assisting armed robbery through the supply of arms and ammunition to criminal networks that terrorised highways. This episode was a replay of the surreptitious exploits of the late Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) George Iyamu of the defunct Bendel State Police Command who supplied arms and security information to the notorious armed robber Lawrence Anini.7

11Organised crimes and armed banditry have become daring threats to urban security and governance in Nigeria. In the Kano police command, crimes reported to the police between 1992 and 1996 were as follows: in 1992: 15,449; in 1993: 16,429; in 1994: 17,036; in 1995: 15,422; and in 1996: 11, 349 (FOS, 1996:170). Between 1996 and 2000, armed robbery cases in Kano State are as follow:

Table 1.4: Robbery Cases in Kano State, 1996-2000

Table 1.4: Robbery Cases in Kano State, 1996-2000

Source: Nigeria Police Force

  • 8 Y.A. Ibrahim, “Police Arrest 142 Robbery Suspects,” in Daily Trust, December 16th, 2004, p. 34.

12Between January and December 2004, a total of 142 armed robbery suspects were arrested by the police in Kano State. The police killed a total 39; 78 were charged in court; and 26 were taken into police custody. During this period, the police recovered 146 different types of guns, one bulletproof jacket and over 2,889 ammunition of different calibre. A total of 148 criminals suspected to be ‘Yandaba,’ were arrested and prosecuted. Weapons recovered from them included: 204 cutlasses, 7 axes, 4 daggers, 65 swords, 92 stick and 9 cutters.8

  • 9 “Violent Crimes on the Rise,” in Crystal, September, 1999, p. 20.

13In Kano, Alhaji Nura Mohammed Dankadai, Commissioner of Commerce and Industry and Alhaji Abdulazeez Abba, Permanent Secretary (Political), lost valuable items to armed bandits who attacked them in separate operations.9 Within the same period, armed bandits raided one of the commercial banks at the Dawanau food market and carted away huge sums of money. Motorcycle taxi riders murdered Makama England, a notorious armed robber and leader of a criminal network who had terrorised them.

14As shown in the above statistics, there was a weakening police capacity to combat the rising wave of crime. Indeed, police could only recover a marginal proportion of the property lost or stolen. There was an increasing tendency among the citizens to create informal security mechanisms aimed at combating crime, negotiating transactions and recovering lost properties and debt. Examples include community vigilante groups, private vigilante outfits, neighbourhood security watches and gates, ethnic militia groups and religious, vigilante (Hisba).

15Communities organised themselves through neighbourhood, religious, ethnic and social networks to provide informal security for safeguarding their lives and properties and to suppress the wanton incidence of insecurity in urban landscape. Examples of vigilante in Kano include Hisba (Sharia police); traditional vigilante groups; neighbourhood vigilante in Sabongari and other residential areas in Kano.

16Within the Kano traditional city walls, vigilante groups were revived to control crime, criminal networks, and drug addicts and to intervene in domestic disputes before they develop into violent conflicts. In some parts of Kano, the disillusion that people felt towards the government increasingly manifested itself in the establishment of alternative security frameworks to the police. Some of the community leaders set up vigilante groups to ward off the threat of urban gangs, Yandaba (Salihu, 2003:25). The poor in the peri-urban neighbourhoods rarely rely on help from law enforcement agencies especially police to mediate or mitigate their problems.

17In Sabongari Kano, the activities of the multi-ethnically based vigilante groups and neighbourhood networks have been complimented by collaboration with the police in tracking episodic conflicts and crime. This was through the formation of the Police Community Relations Committee (PCRC).

18At a religious level, the Kano State Shari’a police (Hisba) was formed to ensure the full implementation of Shari’a law in the state. This research investigates the impact of the three layers of vigilantism (traditional, police community relations committee and religious) on security and crime control in metropolitan Kano. The research recognises the overlapping, competitive and complimentary nature of these layers, which operate in the same geographical area but with often contending roles.

19This study constitutes the research report of IFRA on “Security, Urban Dynamics and Privatisation of the Space in Sub-Saha-ran African Cities,” programme carried out in two phases between 2002 and 2005. This research studies the community vigilante groups in Kano; examines their relationships and assess their effectiveness in ensuring security. Vigilante groups and other informal security outfits frequently operate independently from the police but, in a large measure, compliment police roles in combating crime and maintaining peace.

20The study is divided into six chapters. Chapter one provides the background to the study, crime statistics, the aim and objectives, methodology with a brief history of Kano metropolis. Chapter two is a review of existing literature on vigilante groups and community policing.

21Chapter three traces the origin of vigilante groups in Kano and their complimentary roles in crime control. Chapter four discuses the formation of vigilante groups, gated neighbourhoods and the PCRC in Sabon-Gari and Tarauni Kano. Chapter five focuses on Hisba and Crime control and examines the initial tension between Hisba and the police as well as the intervention of the state government. Chapter six summarises the research findings and provide some policy recommendations.

1.2: Research Objectives

22This project aims are the following:

  1. Identify plausible mechanisms that will facilitate effective co-operation between the police and vigilante groups;

  2. Study the dynamics of informal security networks and their roles in controlling crime;

  3. Evaluate how the vigilante groups meet their objectives;

  4. Examine the wide range of security services provided by vigilantes and examine social solidarity as a new form of security;

  5. Offer suggestions on how to enhance the capacity of the vigilante groups; and

  6. Examine the capacities and relevance of PCRC in security provisioning.

1.3: Methodology

23The research was participatory in nature through oral interviews and focus group discussions (FGDs) with the vigilante groups, Hisba group, the PCRC, the police and the beneficiaries. Research visits were carried out in different neighbourhoods of Kano metropolis to understand the nature of vigilante groups and their mode of operation. Crime statistics were obtained from the publications of the Federal Office of Statistics (FOS). Secondary sources, in form of books and publications on the vigilante system, were studied in order to explain the primary data and comparativm analysis was carried out between the vigilante in Kano and other cities in Nigeria. Newspapers and magazines were also analysed to examine the trend of crime and the increasing use of non-political organisations to provide security.

1.4: The Study Area

24Kano has a robust cosmopolitan tendency. It is a city where a multi-layered form of community policing was established in the era of the rollback of the state in social provisioning. Kano is situated in the Northwestern part of Nigeria. It lies between latitude 13°N in the North and 11°N in the South and longitude 8°E in the West and 10°E in the East. It is one of the highly populated and thriving commercial centres in Nigeria. According to the 1991 population census, the Kano metropolitan area had 1.7 million inhabitants.

25For several centuries, Kano had attained reputation for boisterous commerce, political vibrancy, religiosity and liberal policy of accommodating diverse peoples of different culture and identity. Kano has grown in its over-one thousand-year history from a small settlement to large metropolitan city within a heavily populated region (Frishman, 1977:245). The origin of Kano as a settlement date back to the pre-7th century A.D. when some groups of blacksmiths were smelting iron at the Dala hill (Willett, 1971:368). Dala hill was a strategic location for the farmer-craftsmen aborigines. The land adjacent to it was fertile with relatively high water table. The hill itself was a rich iron ore deposit and a refuge for protection.

26In 999 A.D., Kano became a state under the leadership of Bagauda. Bagauda’s grandson, Gigi, who became the King in 1095 A.D., began the construction of mud walls for the settlement but were completed a century later during the reign of Yusa (1136-1194). By the 13th century, the city of Kano became an enclosed entity separated from the countryside (Frishman, 1977: 214). Islam was made the state religion during the reign of Sarkin Kano Yaji (1349-1385) through the Wangarawa Ulama from Mali. During this period, Kano exerted control over a fertile province and engaged in extensive trade and craft production.

27Under Sarkin Muhammadu Rumfa (1463-1499) Islam was revived and the Kano city walls were further expanded to incorporate the southwestern part of the city. Further additions were made to the city wall during the reign of Muhammadu Nazaki (1582-1618) (Sa’ad, 1989: 59-60). Before the Jihad of 1807 in Kano which brought profound political changes, almost the entire population of Kano was residing within the city walls for defense purposes (Frishman,1977: 214). In the 19th century, the Fulani rulers of Kano, especially Emir Ibrahim Dabo (1819-1846) and Emir Abdullahi Maje-Karofi (1855-1882) intensified the policy of accommodating and integrating immigrant groups. Residential wards were established for the immigrant groups within the walls of Kano city including: Danladi Turawa, Alfindiki, and Alkantara for the Arabs; Tudun Nupawa for the Nupe; Unguwar Ayagi for the Yoruba and Zango Beriberi for the Kanuri. It was this diversity that produced the modern Kanawa identity.

28Prior to the British conquest in 1903, Kano was described as the strongest state in Hausaland, possessing an organised army and a well-fortified town. According to Lady Lugard, “Kano represented the principal military power of the northern states, and it was well understood that Kano was the power with which the British strength would be first seriously measured” (Shaw, 1905:439). The British conquest changed the fortune of Kano forever. Kano’s flourishing commerce in the trans-Saharan trade plummeted and the city wall was derelict through colonial legislations. The defensive function of the walls and gates lost its value but its psychological significance and identity has been sustained. Some of the city gates have been maintained periodically and the German support to rebuild the city walls in 2004 has been a slow process.

29The imposition of the British rule and the extension of railroad boosted migration to Kano. However, the British enforced policy of legal and residential segregation between the “natives” of Kano and the Southern Nigerian “non-natives.” In 1913, Sabongari was created for the southern Nigerians most of whom were Christians. This dichotomy created tension between the Kanawa and the unassimilated migrants. Since 1970, metropolitan Kano has witnessed phenomenal growth. The urban space is dominated by residential land-use shared between the old walled city (Birni), migrants’ settlements and new layouts. In Kano, thirty-four residential, thirteen commercial and four industrial layouts were created (Falola, 2000:269). Five government housing estates contain 2,242 housing units: 1,256 sold as owner-occupier; 1,212 rented; and 404 mortgaged (Falola, 2000:269). As a centre of populist politics, Kano has witnessed crises that attempt to defend the interest of Muslims and northern Nigeria. Examples of these crises were witnessed in 1953, 1966, 1991, 1999 and 2004. Kano has also witnessed social dislocation arising from poverty, conflicts, unemployment and diminishing industrial economy.


1 Examples of this phenomenon can be found in Katsina, Borno, Adamawa, Bauchi, Imo, Anambra and Jigawa states.

2 Adedeji Ademigbuji, “Robbers On Prowl,” in The Week, December 27th, 2004, pp. 43-44; Chief Simon N. Okeke, “Armed Robbers Are Still in Police,” in The Week, December 27th, 2004, pp. 44-45. The Chairman/Chief Executive of the Police Service Commission, Chief S.N. Okeke, was robbed by armed bandits in police uniforms and the Adamawa State Commissioner of Police, Alhaji Abubakar Hafiz Ringim was attacked by armed bandits. See, Abdullahi No Sweat, “Crime: Trail Blazer,” in Crystal, May 2004, p. 10 and Jacob Segun Olatunji, “Robbers Are Stealing Our Guns-IG Cries Out,” in Nigerian Tribune, 3rd May, 2005, p. 4.

3 “Violent Crimes on the Rise,” in Crystal September, 1999, p. 20; Abdullahi No Sweat, “States Under Siege: Bandits Raid Villages with Impunity,” in Crystal, July, 1999, 18; “The Rising Robbery Siege in Lagos,” in The Guardian, April 25th 2005, p. 14.

4 Abdullahi No Sweat, “Crime: Trail Blazer,” in Crystal, May 2004, p. 10; PrinceOsuagwu, “Help! Cross Border Bandits Have Taken Over My Domain-Kabiyesi Laments,” in Vanguard, April 9th, 2005; and Thomas Adejo, Ali Muhammad Rabiu and Abubakar Imam, “How Drugs, Crimes and Violence Rule the Neighbourhood,” in New Nigeria, 9th April, 2005, p. 6.

5 “Violent Crimes on the Rise,” in Crystal, September, 1999, p. 20.

6 Odita Sunday, “Police Arrest Own Men Supplying Arms to Robbers,” in The Guardian, March 31st, 2005, p. 72.

7 “Rising Spate of Armed Robbery,” in Daily Champion, 26th April, 2005, p. 10.

8 Y.A. Ibrahim, “Police Arrest 142 Robbery Suspects,” in Daily Trust, December 16th, 2004, p. 34.

9 “Violent Crimes on the Rise,” in Crystal, September, 1999, p. 20.


Titel Table 1.1: Annual Crime Statistics, 1985-2003
Bildunterschrift Source: summarised from FOS publications, 1985-2003.
Datei image/jpeg, 52k
Titel Table 1.2: Police Report on Property lost or stolen and Property recovered, 1988-1995.
Bildunterschrift Sources: Digest Statistics, December 1994 and 1996 (Federal Office of Statistics, Lagos).
Datei image/jpeg, 60k
Titel Table 1.3: Crimes/Offences Reported to the Police, 1990-1995
Bildunterschrift Source: Digest Statistics, December 1996 and 1999 (Federal Office of Statistics, Lagos).
Datei image/jpeg, 104k
Titel Table 1.4: Robbery Cases in Kano State, 1996-2000
Bildunterschrift Source: Nigeria Police Force
Datei image/jpeg, 10k

© Institut français de recherche en Afrique, 2005