‘Govt should be bold, call them terrorists not bandits’
Former Commissioner of Police, Niger State, Mr. Sola Amore, was on the Nigerian team that studied the practice of community policing in the United States. In this interview with BIYI ADEGOROYE, he shares his experience in policing the Power State which has become a danger zone in recent time and other security issues
What is your impression about security in the country right now?
The purpose of government is to ensure the security and welfare of the people, but this has not been the case with Nigeria. Let us look at the issue of personnel. All the security agencies, especially the police, have been neglected over the years. If you look at the manpower of these agencies, you will agree that their personnel die, retire or are dismissed every year.
On the other hand, there is poor utilisation of police personnel in the name of executive protection. If you look around, you will observe that a VIP has five to 50 police/security personnel, whereas the entire populace is left unprotected. This is at variance with what you find in other climes, where police occupy the security place not trooping behind one individual.
In developed countries, various areas, especially crime prone areas are mapped out for effective patrol. Police will occupy those spaces. When I was CP in Nigeria, we carried out such a strategy of effective occupation, “Occupy till the Kingdom comes” and it was effective.
At that time, we had some area boys or almajiris occupying some places. So what we did was to maintain police presence in those places through patrol and that way we were able to prevent them from committing any criminality.
We need to occupy volatile areas, the security space, but when we post policemen to politicians, businessmen and the likes, we are depriving the general populace of the security they deserve.
Some of the states in the country are in the red, security wise. Why do you think kidnapping, arson and terrorism are commonplace in some most part of the country?
So many factors are responsible and the key one is unemployment. The kind of democracy we are practicing where the political elite gathers thugs, buys guns for them for election purposes and abandons them thereafter is a major cause. So what will they use the gun for after the elections?
So, they use the guns to fend for themselves, kidnap people and move them into the forest where they now demand for ransom. Look today, kidnapping has become a very lucrative business. You can see that bank robbery has reduced drastically. If a single kidnapping gets them N20 million, N50 million, why risk your life going into bank robbery?
Niger State where you once served is one of the states witnessing high level of kidnapping due largely to the Kumuku forest which has become a lurking place for criminals. What strategies did you adopt during your period?
Then, all the governors and security chiefs of the states bordering that Kumuku forest like Sokoto, Kaduna, Niger, Kebbi and Zamfara, had joint meetings in Kaduna to address the peculiar needs.
This is because the forest extends along that belt and we carried regular joint operations with the police and the military and made the forest uncomfortable for them. Unfortunately, this had not been maintained. Today, police has been drained and the military is involved in internal security duties in almost all the states of the federation.
Whereas, they are not supposed to be involved in internal security, but of course, what did you expect when police are having the problem of acute manpower shortage? I can’t remember the last time the police carried out any recruitment. You can imagine, policemen are dying, and others are being dismissed from service while many retire from service without being replaced.
If there is no regular recruitment, the hoodlums will occupy the space and overrun the police left by the security agencies. Look, when I was in Niger, there was nothing like this and even recently, some people had called me and asked ‘is this not the same Niger State where you served as commissioner?’ Recently when there was a flurry of kidnapping in Niger State, I advised the governor to close down all schools for a period. Otherwise they will move from one embarrassment to another.
Is it right to describe these kidnappers attacking schools as bandits?
Crime is crime and there is no other name for it. The idea of describing them as bandits begs the matter, playing down the enormity of the trouble we have on our hands. Whether you call somebody a terrorist or an armed robber, a crime has been committed and as long as you continue to pay ransom, you can never overcome the crime. It is like blackmail.
A blackmailer will return. If you call them bandits and you continue to pay them ransom, you will be providing them with the resources to perpetrate crime against the state. Government needs to take these criminals out.
I am aware that there will be collateral damage, yet we must deal with them to put an end to it. These people are criminals and they should be treated as such.
What role does impunity plays in this regard?
The main problem is lack of good governance. When you look at it critically, when you buy guns for boys to rig elections, what do you think they will do with the guns after the election?
What happens when you give criminals a pat on the back instead of making them face the law?
The money you continue to romance criminals calling them bandits and asking for amnesty for them, the more you continue to encourage criminality. Today, which road is safe in Nigeria? Is it Kaduna- Abuja, or Lagos- Benin? Name it. Many people now prefer to go by air because of safety and security issues.
They want to avoid kidnappers and of course that is telling on the road transport business. We are not talking about farming because right now people are scared of going to farm again because of fear of being kidnapped, raped or killed. Kidnapping is also commonplace in many schools.
For instance, recently, about 27 students were kidnapped in a private university, and you are aware of the students of School of Forestry who have been in kidnappers’ custody for the past few months in the same Kaduna. While the kidnappers of the former are demanding for N800 million, the latter have even killed three of their victims! So which area is safe?
There was this Operation Safer Schools as part of a school protection measure. What has become of it?
Do you have the manpower to police every school? Do they have the wherewithal and arms and ammunition to protect the schools? You heard recently from the Minister of State for Education that about 200 schools have been closed down in the North.
Do you know the implications of this? That is why I said we are paying for the neglect of the agencies. Look, even the military, if you know how these people are suffering you will marvel. Look, it is during the period of peace that you prepare for war. You don’t wait for wartime to buy arms and ammunitions.
Rather, you can have a 10-year plan that in this period, the population of the country would rise to this number and the country’s influence in the region will increase, just like its enemies and other challenges. Such foresight normally enables governments to plan ahead and make its weapon procurement. You don’t do that during wartime.
Now, we are not talking about the fact that we have been attacked in the last 12 years. The question is how many arms have they purchased for the military?
Rather, the country has been moving from one scandal to another on the management of funds allocated to the military for the purchase of weapons. It has become so discouraging that people now liken efforts to join the military to standing in front of a truck- something like committing suicide. The truck will run over you.
With the volume of guns in circulation and attacks even on security formations, what do you make of this?
We are all in danger because the guns are going into the wrong hands. It can be controlled when they are in the hands of the police, civil defence, the DSS, but when guns go into the hands of criminals and hoodlums, society becomes unsafe. And that is why the government needs to be more serious about security and gun control.
They need to stand their ground. Government will step on stones but don’t try to pacify or pander to any interest. Look at this issue of naming and shaming.
They told us they had the names of Boko Haram financiers, have they been able to release the names? The whole thing has now been mired by politics. As long as you embark on double standards, you can’t get it right.
How do you see the formation of regional security outfits like Amotekun and Ebubeagu?
We can never have enough security outfits. What is the population of this country and do you think the over-centralised police can handle it? Even with these security outfits, don’t we still have security issues in the states? The other day, two operatives of Amotekun were shot in Oyo State while escorting people to a farm. In Ondo State, a patrol vehicle of Amotekun was attacked. It is only a stupid family head who will fold his arms and allow his family members to be assaulted or kidnapped one after the other. I think that is why the governors are responding with the creation of those security outfits.
The country is too large to have one police because those from the centre cannot handle it effectively. Look at the court system. It is devolved to all levels. We have Magistrate Courts, State High Courts, Federal High Courts, Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. Why can’t we have such in the policing system?
Why can’t we devolve policing like that and ensure that state police investigate certain offences and prosecute according to those levels? Look at the US, when it gets to certain cases, FBI moves in, but in Nigeria we like to copy things half way because some people want to use that to control the other part of the country.
We should just be nationalistic and devolve power for effective security and criminal justice administration. We can have local government police with limited power; we can have state police with limited power before it will get to the federal level just as we have in the judicial system.
You were involved in the formation of the concept of community policing. But it seems to have been muddled up. What is still all about?
Look, today, they stand community policing on its head. Community policing is not state police. Rather it is a strategy of policing. You can have a state police and not have community policing. You can have federal police and have community policing and you can have federal police and not have community policing.
It is a system where the police are staying in the communities as part of it and the people see the police as their own. In fact, community policing graduated into geographical area policing.
In community policing, areas are designated and you can have two or three areas.
They are always there such that if a strange person moves to an area, the police will easily know and it means that he has to be profiled. In most cases, community policing also negates the idea of building barracks, rather they police live with the people in the communities.