• Disun Vera-Cruz

Safety in numbers: how do 200million people keep one another safe?

Any dangerous situation becomes more life-threatening when you face it alone. However, loneliness in this instant does not compare to the persistent sense of insecurity in the country today, where the lack of adequate response channels breeds anxiety. In the absence of such response channels, Nigerians have begun turning to one or more groups that provide alternative forms of support and safety. But, unfortunately, these groups remain fragmented and ill-equipped to support their members in the current security climate.

Why are groups important?

Initially, people gathered in clans to keep their kin safe from known threats, perhaps wild animals. As our threats continued to increase in frequency and complexity, we created new support groups such as groups within our families, vigilante groups, NGOs, economic interest groups, and even virtual communities where members provide emotional and sometimes physical support to one another. Oftentimes, these groups fill or complement gaps in emergency response channels left by government authorities who are stretched by the more widespread crises.

Support groups are under attack.

Vigilante groups identified in 2021
Number of Vigilante Groups

Many small towns and farmland are defending themselves from daily attacks on their source of livelihood. Like residents in suburban Lagos, farmers in these rural areas have resorted to vigilante groups to protect their families and homes from regular threats. However, these vigilante groups are not only out-weaponed; they are not recognized as legitimate security groups and not given the protection of the law as in the case of government-funded vigilantes such as the Multinational Joint Task Force in the North East of Nigeria.

Chart of Organizations
Chart of Organizations that were compromised

Our virtual support groups are also under attack as the spread of misinformation often misleads members of groups into false perceptions or egregious acts against other groups. In addition, social media posts without any verification misrepresent images and videos across place and time, putting state and non-state actors under increasing strain to decipher fact from fiction. These threats to our virtual communities are amplified by increasing spates of cyberattacks that target group data for profit and behavioural exploitation.

Fostering collaboration and mutual support

Support systems and response channels currently available remain fragmented, and tools that enable collaboration are increasingly under threat by malicious intent. This severely inhibits their ability to provide real-time support during emergencies - making them only useful by choice and in less threatening situations.

Area! by Towntalk is a multifunctional safety app. We are currently engaging various groups, support systems, and security agencies in Nigeria to provide safety tips within our mobile application and USSD ecosystem. Our technology enables collaboration between groups where members of one group can support members of other groups by:

1. Sharing information within closed or open groups

2. Providing early warning alerts to other users

3. Setting up SOS push notifications to emergency contacts

4. Updating location-based emergency responders

5. Submitting reviews of location-based emergency responders

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