“Organized crime threatens peace and human security, violates human rights and undermines economic, social, cultural, political and civil development of societies around the world.” ~ UNODC
In the last century, organised crime has drawn a lot of attention globally, with its transnational dimension as the main focus. According to Howard Abadinsky, an American professor of criminal justice and legal studies, organized crime is a non-ideological enterprise involving a number of persons in close social interaction, organized on a hierarchical basis, with at least three levels/ranks, for the purpose of securing profit and power by engaging in illegal and legal activities. There is a blurry line in identifying the perimeters of organised crime; members of such networks may be involved in legal activities that serve as potential covers for their activities. The Interpol defines an organised crime group as any group having a corporate structure, whose primary objective is to obtain money through illegal activities, often surviving on fear and corruption. Several academics, countries and global institutions have gone on to define organised crime in several contexts.
Organized crime is usually associated with drug trafficking, human trafficking and murder. Several global indices have been applied to discuss and understand the context in which these activities thrive. There is a much broader concern today in tackling these activities, with focus moving away from the traditional mafia thinking to a global trend across several countries. It is not surprising to find internet scams classified as organised crime – commonly known in Nigeria as yahoo-yahoo. The FBI states that the face of organized crime has changed, and the threat is broader and more complex than ever with an estimated $1 trillion illegal profit per year. New trends include:
- Russian mobsters who fled to the U.S. in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse;
- Groups, from African countries like Nigeria, that engage in drug trafficking and financial scams;
- Chinese thugs, Japanese Boryokudan, and other Asian crime rings;
- Enterprises based in Eastern European nations like Hungary and Romania.
No surprise, Nigeria is listed by the FBI as one of the countries evolving the new trend of organized crime across the world. The notorious scam emails have definitely not helped this perception. Nigerian organized crime is known for forged documents, human trafficking (with Italy as a major destination) as well as arms trafficking. The trends of extortion, kidnapping and other criminal activities with similar patterns cannot be attributed to individuals or one-off activities. My concern borders on the murder index used in organised crime analysis, very much an activity within the borders of a country. The correlation between large scale violence, unresolved murders and police response brings up an interesting angle to recent murders in the Nigerian state. In the last 12 years, the attorney general of the federation and the personal secretary of a state governor were murdered. The list of unresolved murders is countless. In countries where the numbers of unresolved murders are on the increase, it has been discovered that the community and/or citizenry have lost faith in the police force; hence information flow to the police is limited.
No accurate data is available for the number of murders in Nigeria; however citizens and journalists have taken it upon themselves to relay such information via social media and related platforms. Screening through daily blackberry broadcasts from serial broadcasters in Nigeria to twitter feeds and my information network, there is hardly a day without a suspicious death report. Countries like Mexico and Honduras have openly berated their security agencies for corruption and colluding with organized crime groups over criminal activities in their countries. This may or may not be the case in Nigeria but the Nigeria Police does not have adequate resources to investigate murders nor keep data of prevalent murder cases across the country. There are several efforts by the police to report murder as armed robbery, in order to present themselves as an effective force by covering up their lapses.
Killings are not only politically motivated. There are revenge killings, violent disputes over controlled territories and properties, repression of political opponents and street gangs. I don’t have statistics to back the extent to which organized crime may be operating in Nigeria, especially with regards to murder. Murder by organized crime is however prevalent in societies where corruption thrives, where checkmating the interests of corrupt individuals and groups is met by stiff opposition which results in calculated assassinations of incorruptible officials. It would be in the interest of the state to connect the dots.
Another dimension to the activities of organized crime groups is that they act as beneficiaries of cash rewards for executing hits – implying that there are individuals or groups paying for their services. Detailed and accurate information on these activities in Nigeria is an essential prerequisite for designing appropriate responses especially involving collaboration between security agencies. A state rife with social inequality, social injustice and economic impoverishment, coupled with the absence of the rule of law, is a fertile ground for organised crime.
While advocating a better police force (though not the primary focus here), the availability of identity data also plays a pivotal role in addressing organized crime activities. In several countries official identification is no longer through a physical representation but a series of numbers and other information stored as a unique data set. In the wrong hands this information can be criminally employed but in the right hands it is useful for tracking criminal activities. Basic data starts from having a credible birth and death registry
Nigeria is a signatory to relevant international treaties on combating organised crime and human trafficking however much is left to implementation and domesticating such. There are no straight forward solutions to the challenges of organized crime and murders yet it poses a serious threat to our existence as one nation, cardinal reforms must be carried out in our judiciary while the rule of law becomes the order of the day. The Nigerian Police must be equipped and trained to pierce the perimeter of secrecy surrounding organized crime by recruiting the best hands to join the force. Other social factors i.e. family pressure, marginalisation/alienation, national identity crisis, conflict, ethnicity and weak state which largely influence the birth of organised crime will be examined in subsequent articles.