Is There Really Anything Like A ‘Repentant’ Thug? By Jideofor Adibe


A RECENT report that no fewer than 50 “repentant thugs” in Kano were converted to Police Special Constabulary, PSC, by the Kano State Police Command has generated understandable concerns among the populace. The Kano State Commissioner of Police, Usaini Gumel, while addressing the “repentant thugs” at a ceremony held at Sani Abacha Stadium was quoted as saying: “Today is a happy day for the good people of Kano State and the Police Command because we passed out 50 youths from the 222 repentant thugs, who have since surrendered themselves and promised never to engage in thuggery and other social vices that have been bedevilling the state, especially during the second quarter of the year 2023.”

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The CP recalled that about three months earlier, the Command invited some identified “notorious individuals” believed to be “behind the escalation of thuggery and other heinous crimes” in the state for dialogue. “We forwarded their details to the state governor for them to be supported by way of engaging them in some life-changing programmes…. It is from this number that 50 volunteered to work with the police and to contribute to the security and development of the state. Taking into consideration their commitment to ensuring peace in the state since their repentance, we trained them in classes and the field and kitted them as members of the Special Constabulary.”

It was not clear from the reports how long the ‘thugs’ had been repentant or the duration of their training before they “volunteered to work with the Police”. Kano State is, however, not the only state that has tried to rehabilitate ‘thugs’. The Daily Nigerian of September 5, 2022 reported that “two gangs of political thugs in Zamfara State embraced peace and urged the state government to engage them positively so as to contribute positively to societal development”. Members of the gang reportedly said they regretted being used by some politicians to cause mayhem on innocent citizens. The groups, said to be led by one Baba Karami and Garba Lawal, aka Vice, said they have joined the All Progressives Congress, APC, and would “support government efforts to restore peace in the state”.

There are a number of issues involved here: One is the notion of thugs. It would appear that the Kano State government used the word ‘thug’ as a generic sense to encompass all manner of socially unacceptable activity – from ruffians who may not necessarily have engaged in crimes to those suspected to be behind sundry crimes. For instance, the International Centre for Investigative Reporting in a report on October 17, 2023 noted: “On Monday, October 16, the ICIR saw pictures of Nasiru Abdullahi, popularly known as Chile Maidoki, donning a Kano State constabulary uniform alongside the State Police Command Public Relations Officer, Abdullahi Kiyawa. Sometime this year, Abdullahi and two other notorious criminals were declared wanted by the Kano State Police Command with a bounty of N100,000 each. A subsequent statement by the command confirmed that he surrendered himself to the command upon hearing the bounty placed on his head.”

While in Kano State we were told of “repentant thugs”, in Zamfara State, it seemed that the focus was more narrowly on “political thugs”. Though this is narrower than the concept of ‘thug’ it is still broad because it could be an umbrella term for all manner of people working for politicians – from private security men to political enforcers, hangers-on and hired political assassins. Again, like in Zamfara, it is not clear if the political thugs had committed any crime, and if so, whether they have been convicted by a competent court of law.

It would seem that in Kano State, the apparent inability of the police to segregate the ‘repentant thugs’ into groups according to their suspected levels of involvement in crime and then convince the populace that those allowed to become members of the Special Police Constabulary are no threats, is one of the reasons for the push back by the people. The truth is that not all thugs are criminals – which may partly explain why ‘agberos’ these days want to be called ‘road transport workers’.

To be “repentant” means that one is conscious of having down something wrong. An average motor park thug or political thugs will most likely opt for a more respectable job if offered the opportunity to do so, which means that in their own case, there may be nothing to ‘repent from’. The notion of ‘repentant thugs’ thus unfairly criminalises the dregs of the society who have never committed any crime but took to a life of hustling only because they have no other options.

Two, related to the above is the question of recidivism. Recidivism in penology and criminology is the act of a person repeating an undesirable behaviour after having been trained to abandon such. It is also used to refer to the percentage of former prisoners who are rearrested for a similar offence. Since the terminology of ‘repentant thug’ implies association with crimes, there are legitimate concerns about the said ‘repentant’ thugs returning to their old ways.

Recidivism is in fact a general concern across the world in conversations about the rehabilitation of offenders such as former prisoners or terrorists. For instance, in Norway, which has one of the lowest recidivism rates in the world, about 20 per cent (or a fifth) of former offenders, still end up re-offending? In the United Kingdom, figures from the National Statistics show that proven re-offending statistics for the period January to March 2021 was 24.3 per cent – meaning that nearly one-fourth of every rehabilitated offender ended up re-offending.

In the US, which has one of the highest recidivism rates in the world, almost 44 per cent of criminals released returned to prison within their first year out. In Nigeria, though there is a dearth of reliable data, a 2021 study of recidivism published in the African Journal of Social Issues, found that recidivism rate increased from 37.3 per cent in 2005 to 52.4 per cent in 2010, meaning that more than half of offenders released either from prison or under various reformation programmes, re-offended.

These figures will, therefore, seem to validate the fears about injecting “50 repentant thugs” into the Police Special Constabulary. As mentioned earlier, these concerns were exacerbated by the Police’s failure to segregate the thugs according to their levels of exposure to crime, and ensuring that only those who had not taken part in crimes or been convicted of crimes were recruited into the PSC. In fact, had the Police segregated the ‘repentant thugs’ according to their levels of exposure to different forms of crimes, it would have been easier to discuss integration programmes that could be appropriate for each category of the ‘repentant thugs’.

Three, given the unsavoury image of the Police, there is a special angst about the ‘repentant thugs’ being integrated into the Special Constabulary Police. Typically, Special Constables are volunteer Police Officers who have the same police powers, uniforms and equipment as regular Police Officers but sacrifice their free time on a voluntary basis. In the United Kingdom and most parts of the Western world, they do not get paid, but are reimbursed for expenses. A Special (as they are often called) is someone who will be valued, supported and integrated into the wider policing family.

In Nigeria, there remains a lack of clarity on the status of the Special Constabularies such that in August 2022, some 1,056 Special Constables recruited in Kwara State took to the streets to protest the non-payment of 18 months’ salary by the government and police authorities. It should be recalled that the idea of Police Special Constables was mooted in October 2020 when President Buhari directed the police hierarchy to commence recruitment of some special constables with a N13 billion take-off grant.

It is obvious that the Police Special Constables cannot work on the basis of volunteer scheme in Nigeria as is the case in other parts of the world because most of those recruited into the scheme do not seem to have any other visible means of livelihood. Whatever may be the status of the Nigerian Special Police Constabularies, the mere fact of giving people considered to be “undesirable elements” police uniforms, after only two months or so of training, is a legitimate source of concern.

Four, what are the options for the government when it comes to rehabilitating and re-integrating undesirable elements into the society? A starting point will be a proper segregation of the undesirable elements into their levels of exposure to crimes and then targeting each group with a rehabilitation programme appropriate for each category. For some categories of offenders, the state will have no option but to accommodate a community’s often justified unwillingness to welcome such elements into its fold

Naija247news is an investigative news platform that tracks news on Nigerian Economy, Business, Politics, Financial and Africa and Global Economy.

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