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Community Vigilantes in Metropolitan Kano 1985-2005

Rasheed Olaniyi

3. Vigilante groups and crime control in Metropolitan Kano

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1Vigilante groups as security outfits are mostly composed of volunteers, operating under the mandate of communal consensus to fight crime. As the waning capacity of the police could not curtail the rising trend of urban violence and crime, communal policing or vigilante were created to protect the neighbourhoods. According to a report cited by Baker,

The helplessness of the Federal government in addressing the rising crime wave across the country brings to the fore the need for restructuring. A centralised police force remote from the communities they police is incapable of providing effective protection to the citizens. Indeed, in many regions in Nigeria, parallel local organisations and vigilante groups have proved far more effective in combating crime. Whilst we recognise the danger of untrained citizens, without defined structures or commands acting outside the structures of law to enforce law and orders, the police, pending the creation of independent state police commands must recognise the need to show greater understanding and appreciation of the useful and positive role that the... Bakassi boys and other vigilante groups could play in the effective maintenance of law and order. In truth, the ‘folk hero’ status of these groups is a result of the failing of the police. The police would be well advised to see how the efforts of various vigilante groups can be harnessed in combating the intolerably high level of crime in the country (Baker, 2002:223).

2According to Baker (2003), vigilantism is a category of non-state or self-policing. It is characterised by reactive, ad hoc and often violent methods of crime control. A vigilante is a group of committed people at the micro level of the community, set up to collate information on suspected criminals in its area, for use by the police in the detection and prevention of crime. It is often made up landlords, tenants, community associations and leaders of the neighbourhood, who keep watch over their area and report suspicious people to the police (Albert, Awe, Herault, Omitoogun, 1995: 53). Vigilante groups are largely informal and composed of volunteers and are largely funded through communal contributions. Contributions are insignificant and often irregular compared to the risks vigilante are exposed.

3The resurgence of modern vigilante groups in Kano metropolis has been closely associated with the disproportionate increase in the rise of urban crimes and conflicts. The inability of the police to tame the rising menace of the urban gangs has led to the proliferation of vigilante groups. In the early 1990s, vigilante groups were formed in almost all the local government within Kano metropolis.

4In Kano, vigilante groups were offshoot of Yaffarauta and Yantauri (hunters). Vigilante groups are coordinated through the institution of Zauren Sulhu- the Settlement of Disputes Centre (Yaqub and Olaniyi, 2004: 11). Zauren Sulhu served as a security community and was composed of ward heads, community elders, religious leaders, wealthy individuals and heads of households. The members of Zauren Sulhu set up Kai-da-kai (community self-help). By 1983, Kai-da-kai transformed into vigilante groups to tackle the upsurge of criminal activities by complimenting the efforts of security agencies especially the police to protect lives and properties and prevent crimes. Vigilante groups were practiced in three main forms: Yan’Kato dagora -traditional vigilante groups; Yan’sintiri nafarin kaya -neighbourhood watch; and Yan’kwamitin unguwa- neighbourhood security committee (Yaqub and Olaniyi, 2004:12).

5Since 1985, community vigilante became more involved in confronting Yandaba (youth gangs) that use drugs and commit crimes including abduction of young girls (Yan Daukar Amarya). Community vigilante groups assisted the police in suppressing Yandaba criminal activities of kidnapping young girls. Burglaries, duping, raping and kidnapping of children were on the increase and so vigilante groups were formed in all the old Kano city wards through security committees that involved ward heads. The Masu Unguwanni (ward heads) mobilised volunteers to organise and register vigilante groups in their communities (Dawakin Tofa, 1994: 57 and Yaqub and Olaniyi, 2004:12).

6In order to legalise and provide official recognition to their activities, vigilante groups were registered with the Kano State Ministry of Rural and Community Development, under the Self-Help Edit of 1987. Annually, vigilante groups renew their registrations under the Local Government Community Development Departments. The aims and objectives of the vigilante groups as defined in Article (4) of the Constitution include:

  1. To assist the Police and law enforcement agencies to curb crime;

  2. To protect and preserve public property;

  3. Assist the Police in crowd control and maintenance of peace at public functions where the need arises;

  4. With the clearance of the police, assist public agencies in the protection of their establishment plants and equipment;

  5. To give information to the police and other security agencies of criminals or wanted persons residing in the ward or Local Government;

  6. To locate the permanent or temporary residencies of receivers of stolen properties and 419 practitioners for the purposes of enabling the police to arrest or monitor their activities;

  7. To make positive and useful contributions to the advancement, progress and well-being of the community by mobilising and assisting in communal development efforts; and

    • 1 Constitution of Vigilante Groups of Nigeria, National Headquarters Tudun-Wada (Second Edition).

    To abide by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and all relevant laws and byelaws.1

7According to Article (5) of the Constitution, membership of the vigilante shall be open to all Nigerians who:

  1. Are not less than 18 years of age;

  2. Are of unquestionable character;

  3. Are physically and mentally fit;

  4. Reside in the community where they work;

  5. Have not been convicted of any criminal offence; and

  6. Have pledged to abide by the rules and regulations of the organisation and the laws of Nigeria.

8Vigilante groups emphasised that prospective members should be duly employed and certified/identified by the ward heads before they could be registered as vigilante members. This was to avoid recruiting criminals into their fold and to prevent corrupt practices such as extortion since vigilante groups are largely voluntary without payment of salary by the government.

9Vigilante groups in Kano State are under the State Commander, the Zonal Commanders, the State Adviser and the Intelligence Officers with Headquarters located at Hotoro Kano. At(the local government levels, there are Chief Commanders with 17 Executive members that monitor and control vigilante groups. The constitutions of the vigilante groups differ at state, local government and unit levels in order to suit the socio-cultural peculiarities.

10In Kano metropolis, security committees were organised in each local government as security outfits to defend lives and properties. Each vigilante group has an average of ten to fifteen persons who operate on rotational basis. The vigilante groups have agreements with the residents of the areas in which they guide. In metropolitan Kano, government has supported vigilante with uniforms, which they use in patrols along with police (Interview with Alhaji Kabiru Gundami, Commandant of Vigilante Groups, Fagge Local Government, 28th August, 2002).

11Uniform vigilante groups guide markets, control traffic and network with one another to control crime. Their patrols are jointly carried out with police against criminals. This strategy is to make arrest of criminals easier without necessarily engaged in combat or killing of suspects before they are being prosecuted.

12Vigilante groups consider drug addiction and theft as a threat to public safety. They arrest criminals and assist in their rehabilitation. Vigilante groups work twenty-four hours a day but they perform most of their activities at night. Arrested suspects are handed over to the police for further interrogation and prosecution. In several cases, communities trust vigilante more than police because of the effective, reliable and prompt ways they tackle criminal issues (Yaqub and Olaniyi, 2004: 32). Some parents enlist vigilante groups to monitor the activities of their children whether they were attending Quranic Schools or not.

  • 2 Jamilah N. Musa, ‘25 Arraigned for Removing Human Parts for Grave,’ in Daily Trust, 24th August, 20 (...)

13Vigilante groups in various parts of Kano metropolis provide security for graveyards against the incursion of hoodlums. In Bachirawa area, vigilante groups arrested 25 persons for digging up graves and removing human parts for alleged ritual purposes. The suspects were arraigned before the Gidan Murtala Magistrate Court.2

14The criminals were often more afraid of the vigilante groups than the police because of their ability to arrest criminals in their hideouts. Vigilante groups use light weapons like stick (kokara) but often encounter threats from hoodlums who use sophisticated weapons such as guns. Therefore, vigilante groups obtained permission from the Divisional Police Officers (DPOs) through Ward Heads and District Heads to use the weapons such as cutlasses, swords, barandamis (machetes), bows and arrows and guns.

15Vigilante groups aided the arrest of Yandaba who perpetrated crime, rape and assaults on young women. Community vigilante groups were formed in the areas where Yandaba were most notorious including Mandawari, Warure, Jakara, Satatima and Goron-Dutse (Dawakin Tofa, 1994: 66). They often clashed violently with rival gangs of different wards, which frequently led to a breakdown of law and order. Yandaba use weapons made locally such as knives, daggers, cutlasses and swords. As early as 1983, the Kano State Penal Code (Declaration of Unlawful Societies) Order proscribed the Yandaba:

Yan Tauri, Yandaba otherwise known as Yan Daukar Amarya are hereby declared to be societies dangerous to the good government of Kano State (Dawakin Tofa, 1994:51).

16There was an increasing wave of crime in Kano between 1986 and 1990 as the following figures for reported robberies demonstrate in table 3.1. Also Table 3.2 shows the homicide figures

17In order to curb this increase of criminal activity, the state government, through the Directorate of Special Services and Council Affairs, provided mobility and communication facilities to the police in order to tackle the thuggery, armed robbery and criminal activities of the Yandaba. Kano state government purchased twelve Peugeot 504 Salon and Station Wagons, six Honda Motorcycles mounted with communication equipment at the cost of N1, 757, 643,43.00 (Danyaro, 1991:124). The State Government also provided the police with a communication network across the state at the cost of N1, 604, 104.00 (Danyaro, 1991: 124).

Table 3.1: Robbery Cases in Kano, 1986-1990

Table 3.1: Robbery Cases in Kano, 1986-1990

Table 3.2: Homicide Cases in Kano, 1986-1990

Table 3.2: Homicide Cases in Kano, 1986-1990

18The Penal Code Review Edit imposed punitive measures on the Yandaba in order to combat their criminal activities. A minimum prison sentence of fifteen years was introduced for all offenders while the Magistrate Court in Kano Magisterial District was empowered to promptly deal with all cases of Yandaba (Danyaro, 1991:125). Between 1990 and 1994, the Magistrate Court 7, established by the Kano State Government, dealt with over 792 Yandaba cases. The soaring rates of brigandage, ethnic conflicts and armed banditry led to the more organised community vigilante to control crime and compliment government police.

19There was a proliferation of illegal weapons and of drug abuse among youths, which led to more crimes in Kano metropolis. The following table shows the police statistics of drug offences in Kano motor parks and the railway station between 1978 and 1992:

Table 3.3: India Hemp/Dangerous Drug Offences in Motor Parks and Railway Station in Kano, 1978-1991 India Hemp/Dangerous Drug Offences in Motor Parks and Railway Station 1978-1991, Kano

Table 3.3: India Hemp/Dangerous Drug Offences in Motor Parks and Railway Station in Kano, 1978-1991 India Hemp/Dangerous Drug Offences in Motor Parks and Railway Station 1978-1991, Kano

Source: Crime Records Office, Kano State Police Command quoted by A. V. Dan Asabe, 2004, “The Effects of Drug Abuse Among Youth in Kano Metropolis in Kano Metropolis,” presented at the monthly lecture series organised by the British Council and Centre for Research and Documentation, Kano, p. 10.

20There are Karnikan Farauta (Police Dogs) which are mainly youths recruited from rehabilitated ex-criminals. They knew criminals and their hideouts. They are armed with clubs, sticks and serve as police informants and collaborate with vigilante groups in the arrest of criminals. The Vigilante Group of Nigeria Dakata-Kawaji, Kano, was formed for the prevention of crime and conflict as well as drug abuse among youths. The Elders Committee of Dakata-Kawaji coordinates its activities and collects funds from residents in order to pay the vigilantes who are also paid by the local government. The Vigilante group is composed of about 100 ex-servicemen (Discussion with Yahaya Musa, January 2005).

21In Maikalwa, Wailari and Yanlemo areas of Kano, the incessant armed robbery attack led to the formation of a multi-ethnic vigilante. Five Mai Anguwar (District Heads) played advisory roles and supervised the vigilante activities. Each house paid N300.00 per month. Twenty night guards, mainly Hausa, were recruited from the community. Each of them received N5,000.00 per month (Interview with Abdulrasak Shittu, January, 2005).

22The Kundila Estate, a Hausawa quarter has a multi-layered form of community policing. Most of the houses have high fences and walls and all the roads leading to the estate are gated. The gates are closed at 11 pm and opened again at 7am by retired soldiers. Residents contribute N200.00 per month for security. Rich residents hire retired soldiers and local hunters (Yan Farauta) as private security guards. However, the neighbourhoos in Hausawa often still fall victim to burglary which often occur during day time as well as car theft perpetrated mainly by criminals who live in the area and known security loopholes. Apart from the gated roads, security provisioning was provided to individual residents rather than the community at large.

23Vigilante groups in Kano have experienced funding problems and depend largely on donations from individuals and governments. In Kano Municipal Local Government, a total sum of N30,000.00 per month, was given to all vigilante groups in the local government. In 2001, the Kano State government donated a bus and provided money for its maintenance. The Dala Local Government provides the sum of N42,000.00 every month for the maintenance of vigilante buses under its jurisdiction. Some vigilante groups depended solely on the meagre monthly contributions of members for their activities. Since the launching of the Hisba-religious police, the funding problems became more acute for the vigilante groups. Hisba attracted more government support than the vigilante groups due to its strategic function in the full-blown implementation of the Sharia law.

24Vigilante groups in Kano faced many challenges when trying to carry out their duties particularly when government intervention and reforms deepened its crisis and polarised its ranks. Vigilante groups were politicised and an attempt was made to introduce administrative reforms through elections which threw vigilante into crisis. In June 2003, the vigilante groups were disbanded by the state government because of their politicised nature. Some of these problems encountered by the vigilante were enumerated in the Communique of 28th June, 2003 signed by Alhaji Hafizu Tafida (Chairman/Commander General) and Mohammad K. Alhaji (General Secretary) on behalf of the vigilante groups of the forty-four local governments in Kano State. The Communique is summarised as follows:

  1. Being the present leaders of the State Vigilante Group as well as of 44 local governments we are seriously investigating reasons for the dissolution of vigilante groups. We are elected on non-tenure basis and therefore oppose the process of election imposed on us as we are voluntary security organisation assisting the generality of people to have peace and harmony in the state;

  2. Although we are registered under the ministry for rural and community development and we are generating revenue to the ministry in return, they are not assisting us in our development or providing any legal assistance in court and so on. Many incidences have happened in the course of our vigilante services and we receive nothing in terms of support. Our men are always dying, some have sustained injuries but have received no help from the Ministry;

  3. The resolution has also been passed not to relent our efforts fighting, as criminals are very happy to hear the dissolution of vigilante groups, which has been broadcast on the radio. Just after this announcement vigilante members were attacked. Examples of these attacks are Saminu Ali of Ja’en Quarters was killed on 18th June, 2003; in Karaye they injured Abdulkadir Barau on 24th June, 2003; in Kabo they killed Shehu Mohammad on 23rd June, 2003; in Dala they tied Malam Ibrahim Mohammad and Nura Ahmed on 19th June, 2003. Vigilante members are not safe. We therefore oppose this election. But if the Ministry insist on this election, we will stop coming out to assist anybody or authority on the maintenance of law and order until something has been done. Vigilante members are people who assist the police and other security agencies and serve as supplementary and complimentary support to the agencies in the fight against crime;

    • 3 Communiqué on the Dissolution of Central Committee of Vigilante Group Leadership for the State and (...)

    By the constitution of the National body of vigilante groups of Nigeria, it is very wrong for any individual, authority, or group of persons to dissolve the leadership of vigilante group at all levels. Some local governments, such as Wudil and Garko, have been forced to surrender their patrol vehicles and working materials to the police. Therefore, we are appealing for the intervention of the commissioner on police to release such patrol vehicles as received by the DPOs of the local government areas.3

25According to the Chairman of Vigilante Groups, Kano Municipal Local government, changes have occurred in the leadership of vigilante in an effort to reform the system and above all to bring about development as well as democracy, but these changes yielded little or no progress. The changes triggered crisis in the entire system, as there were criticisms against the new leadership, some of the former leaders encouraged members to disregard and disobey the newly appointed leaders. According to the leaders of the vigilange groups, democracy is not proper in a security setting, but leadership must be based on hierarchy and competence (Interviews with Alhaji Hafizu Tafida, Chairman and M.K. Alhaji, Secretary November, 2004).

26It has been reported by many of the vigilante members that some of the reasons for the lack of government support for vigilante gropus is due to the belief that they were formerly used as bodyguards by the previous government during political campaigns. Lack of investment in vigilante groups meant that they did not have the necessary funds to carry out certain activities such as the annual training exercise. It was impossible to carry out the training in 2003 and 2004.

27There exists a lack of cooperation among the members of the vigilante command particularly from the higher-ranking officers who do not respect certain decisions made. Accordingly, there are ongoing processes to reverse the trend.

28During the early period of vigilante operation, the police considered them as rivals and even released certain suspects arrested by the vigilantes, without trial. However, the two security agents began to cooperate. When vigilante groups arrested and handed over suspects to the police, the police would further investigate and finally take suspects to court for trial. In addition, the police often invited vigilante to conduct joint night patrol operations.


1 Constitution of Vigilante Groups of Nigeria, National Headquarters Tudun-Wada (Second Edition).

2 Jamilah N. Musa, ‘25 Arraigned for Removing Human Parts for Grave,’ in Daily Trust, 24th August, 2005

3 Communiqué on the Dissolution of Central Committee of Vigilante Group Leadership for the State and 44 local government branches signed by Alhaji Hafizu Tafida (Chairman) and Mohammed K. Alhaji (Secretary) on 28th June 2003.

Table des illustrations

Titre Table 3.1: Robbery Cases in Kano, 1986-1990
Fichier image/jpeg, 16k
Titre Table 3.2: Homicide Cases in Kano, 1986-1990
Fichier image/jpeg, 16k
Titre Table 3.3: India Hemp/Dangerous Drug Offences in Motor Parks and Railway Station in Kano, 1978-1991 India Hemp/Dangerous Drug Offences in Motor Parks and Railway Station 1978-1991, Kano
Légende Source: Crime Records Office, Kano State Police Command quoted by A. V. Dan Asabe, 2004, “The Effects of Drug Abuse Among Youth in Kano Metropolis in Kano Metropolis,” presented at the monthly lecture series organised by the British Council and Centre for Research and Documentation, Kano, p. 10.
Fichier image/jpeg, 47k

© IFRA-Nigeria, 2005

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