By Shittu Ahmed Obassa
Given the spate of insecurity in volatile communities in some geo-political zones of Nigeria, some stakeholders in the age-long communal living have advocated strengthening and sustenance of neighbourly ties as an enduring strategy towards identifying and isolating criminal elements.
These stakeholders, who are worried over the fragile security in some northern states including Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi and Zamfara, held the view that knowing our neighbours is the foremost step towards ensuring that our neighbours are good enough to be trusted.
They noted that the communal living which characterised the Nigerian society since time immemorial could not have been threatened by insurgency, kidnapping, armed robbery, banditry, cattle rustling, and ethno-religious conflicts among other crises, if neighbourly ties had been strengthened and sustained.
The stakeholders further maintained that good neighbourliness remained a key factor in ensuring sustenance of peace and security in communities and return of permanent harmonious co-existence.
They attributed the rising incidents of criminal activities in the society in the past decade or more to the neglect of time-tested values embedded in communal living.
These values, they noted, had hitherto encouraged people to share and care for one another, irrespective of social status, ethnicity, circumstances of birth or religious beliefs.
Alhaji Yakubu Umar, a respondent and Ward Head of Sabon Garin Narayi in Kaduna, said currently, neighbours don’t know each other because good neighbourliness had been severed over time.
“I remember my childhood days where we used to live peacefully with our neighbours who were Tiv, Yoruba, Igala and others; we shared food and played together.
“It is saddening the way we relate with our neighbours nowadays, a situation where people live in isolation, not bothering to know their neighbours.’’
Umar blamed politicians for adopting “divide and rule’’ strategy in their constituencies to score cheap political points.
According to him, discarding traditional methods of settling communal disputes has largely contributed to the waning of strong social ties and consequently the breakdown of good neighbourliness.
“In the past, traditional rulers, especially district heads, had knowledge of people living in their communities and any stranger had an obligation to introduce himself to the chief of the community,’’ he said.
Also commenting, Malam Salisu Sani, a youth leader in Rigasa, Kaduna, said parents must share in the blame for the lack of good neighbourliness because they now prefer to discipline their children on their own.
He recalled that in the past, it was the collective responsibility of neighbours and the entire community to ensure proper child upbringing.
“Parents, nowadays, show too much love to their wards, which blinds them to any fault in their children,’’ Sani said.
Also, Malam Hashim Hussaini, an Islamic cleric and Imam of Al-adamawiy Juma’at Mosque Kaduna, and Ephraim Pama, a pastor of ECWA Church, noted that both Islam and Christianity admonish faithfuls on the importance and essence of good relationship with neighbours.
According to Hussaini, Islam emphasises that “a neighbour must not harm his neighbour’’ while Pama says Christians are commanded to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might and your neighbour as yourself.’’
The pastor explained that Christians are expected to love their neighbours irrespective of their religious beliefs.
However, Malam Aminu Sani, Commander, Kaduna State Civilian Joint Task Force (JTF), observed said good neighbourliness goes hand in hand with security of lives and property.
He said that traditional rulers were in a better position to restore good neighbourliness in communities and ensure security.
“Some of the crime cases we come across are mostly reported by community members or district heads. All hands must be on deck to make sure people are safe from criminal activities that could disrupt the peace and stability of the state.’’
Sani added that the JTF had begun sensitising people to the dangers of thuggery, kidnapping, cultism and other criminal activities.
In Kebbi, the respondents attributed the relative peace in the state to enhanced collaboration between communities and security agencies.
DSP Mustapha Suleiman, the Spokesman of the Police Command in the state, said security agencies, members of the public and other stakeholders collaborate to uphold good neighbourliness and ensure a violence- free society.
“The people of Kebbi are peace-loving people; and they understand the concept of living in peace with one another, because if there is no peace, there will be no development.’’
He said the command had sustained the sensitisation of the people on the importance of being security-conscious.
According to him, the command has also encouraged neighbourhood watch groups in the security architecture, adding that it has yielded good results.
“The command has remained alert and responds to distress calls within five minutes and we are always in touch with members of the community. We meet regularly with stakeholders to share ideas and equally exchange telephone numbers; that has built a lot of confidence in members of the public.
“For instance, any resident in a community that returns home late or goes out at odd hours or is living above his means, people who are suspicious report to the police for further investigation and surveillance.’’
Similarly, Maj.-Gen. Dan Hanne (rtd), the Chairman, State Security Committee and Special Adviser to the Governor on Security, noted a strong collaboration with communities in ensuring timely tracking of criminals across the state.
He said that the absence of violence and conflict among communities in the state was due to the collaboration with traditional and religious leaders, vigilance groups and support by the public.
From Jigawa,Sammani Ringim, the Commandant, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, said that the command had maintained cordial relationship with the public and other security agencies and stakeholders thereby ensuring peaceful co-existence in the state.
Also, the Commandant of the state vigilante group, Mr Sanusi Geza, said 15,000 volunteers help protect neighbourhoods across the state.
“Our activities have been successful due to the cordial relationship with other security agencies, traditional leaders, opinion moulders and the public.
“The settlement of disputes amicably has earned the group support from the public and that has contributed to the sustenance of peace in the state,’’ he said.
In Katsina State, Mr Anthony John, a lecturer in the Department of Sociology, Federal College of Education, Katsina, said that the concept of neighbourliness meant brotherhood in communities.
He underscored the need for community members to be their brother’s keepers and for community patrols to be constituted to complement the efforts of security agencies.
He commended the role being played by vigilante but expressed concern over the attitude of the group sometimes in taking the law into their hands.
John said that such attitude created more harm than good.
Also commenting, DSP Gambo Isah, the Spokesman of the Police Command in the state, said the Police maintained good relationship with neighbourhood vigilante groups, traditional and religious leaders in ensuring security across the state.
In Kano state, Alhaji Mohammed Kabiru, the State Commander, Neighbourhood Watch Vigilante Group of Nigeria, advised residents to devise a means of sending danger signals to neighbours as part of measures to address security challenges.
“It is advisable to device a means of alerting neighbours of possible danger.’’
He expressed concern over the growing lack of security consciousness by various communities.
He, therefore, advised parents to educate their children and not allow them to mingle with bad peers.
“Education can reduce the spate of insecurity in communities drastically.
“Our traditional rulers should be part of security as peace keepers who give information to other security agencies,’’ Kabiru said.
Similarly, Malam Ahmad Bilyaminu of Ansarulah Society of Nigeria Mosque, Sabon Gari, Kano, advised people living in violence-prone areas to be conscious of happenings around them, to ensure safety of their lives and properties.
He explained that neighbours should relate in tackling security by organising vigilante groups and “become more vigilant in identifying possible threats and responding appropriately to neutralise same.
“Most neighbourhoods nowadays organise or employ vigilante groups to maintain security in their areas.’’
He explained that inter-personal relationship and regular meetings on issues of common interest help in building trust among neighbours and encouraging relationships.
Bilyaminu further advised that newcomers to the neighbourhood should be visited and briefed on the security arrangement in the community as well as for better acquaintance.
A Muslim Cleric, Ustaz Muhammad Abusalma, noted that good neighbourliness promotes brotherhood.
Abusalma recalled that when there was insecurity in Kano some years back, residents considered their personal safety and that of their communities.
He further explained that the interpersonal relationships that increased at the time, helped in building mutual trust and confidence among community members.
“We were each other’s keeper as neighbours, not minding religious differences, tribe or ethnicity, everyone was at alert, watching each other closely both at home and work place, ”he said.