By Enyeribe Ejiogu
On Wednesday, campaigns for the 2023 general elections will kick off.
Recently, the nation was shocked by the dastardly attack on Senator Ifeanyi Ubah, who escpaped being killed by the whiskers. Several policemen attached to his convoy and some of his aides were killed and others sustained varying degrees of gunshot injuries.
The audacious attack brought back memories of past assassinations and deadly attacks on various personalities.
In this interview, a criminologist and security consultans who is also the Chancellor of the Southern Atlantic Polytechnic, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, Pastor Bassey James advised on what needs to be done to further improve security across the country.
In the light of the recent assassination attempt on Senator Ifeanyi Ubah, what would you say this portends for 2023, considering the widespread insecurity?
Insecurity in the country is getting worse by the day. It’s getting to the point where anybody that goes out and comes home safely should be doing daily thanksgiving. Looking at the specific case of the Southeast, there is clearly a great need for Igbo political and religious leaders, the security agencies, and others to join hands with the police to fight the common enemies who are bent on the destruction of lives and property. Today, the Southeast is losing hundreds of billions as a result of sit-at-home, insecurity and other social vices. A region that has been known for entrepreneurship and development is now gradually descending into a state of anarchy. I challenge the governments in the geopolitical zone to declare a state of emergency to halt these killings.
Notable people have advocated for the creation of state police. Some have also suggested that operatives of vigilante groups should be adequately armed, to assist the police in checkmating the activities of marauding gunmen. As a criminologist, do you share this view? What alternative solutions can you proffer?
I am one of the few voices against state police because it will be subjected to abuses, manipulations and crises. Look at the state electoral bodies and judge if we are matured for state police. I recommend a community police service. My experience in security management, information and communication consultancy has exposed me to know more about the system. A community police service will be the best because it will involve everybody from the bottom to the top. It will involve the youth leaders, market leaders, religious leaders, traditional rulers, students, the local government chairmen, ward executives, all of who will form the security council and information updates will be shared, actions taken and the Commissioner of Police in the state will be briefed while the government will manage and coordinate the operations of the community police service. I support the arming of vigilante, but they must undergo training by the army and police. They are also to operate with the backup of the police and other security agencies As a criminologist and also an expert in the field, I don’t support any alternative. Rather criminologists, security consultants should be encouraged to contribute their ideas in the national interest. The president and governors should be encouraged including the security chiefs. They need our moral support. I have constantly recommended adoption of the border security management information system and highway security control network to support the states. The border security management information system is simply designed to interconnect the borders into a single system and linking the same with a community coded mechanism for easy access and communication. It will help to interface, monitor and control from one point to the other. It is a system that I tried to develop with my partners and it is being implemented in my local government in Akwa Ibom State. Security operation is dynamic, it grows and develops, to reach sophistication. In my particular case, I built and donated a standard police station, equipped with a highly integrated and modern communication equipment. I also donated to the army in my state. I pray that Nigerians, especially politicians and corporate bodies should support the army, police and other security agencies.
Can community policing that has been touted so much really be useful under the current scenario of heavily armed gunmen who operate boldly in daylight?
The solution today is community policing. This is my area of competence, let us take security to the people, give the locals the opportunity to manage their community, this has worked in the past. The traditional rulers will act as watchdog because they know everyone who is a stranger. They know the good and bad people. If you send an Akwa Ibom man to Borno State, it will take months if not years to know the culture, tradition, religion and other factors, but a Borno man can easily police his community.
At the height of politically motivated assassinations in 2003, Prof Wole Soyinka referred to a particular party as a nest of assassins. Are we beginning to see a resurge of those days, given the gruesome attack on the convoy of Senator Ifeanyi Ubah?
Definitely, if one falls back to what happened in the run up to the 2003 general elections when notable political personalities were assassinated, I have this worrisome feeling that the desperation of some politicians may push them to engage in certain untoward things to gain advantage and this may lead to increased incidence of assassination attempts. So, naturally, I expect politicians to take necessary measures to raise the level of their personal security, take steps to secure their families and their aides. Having said that, I believe very strongly that the army, police and other security agencies are up in the game, and there is so much hope now. The news coming out from the Northeast and Northwest is good because the military is taking the battle to the bandits and terrorists. As a security consultant, and a man who works closely with security agencies, I am optimistic that things are getting better by the day. Don’t forget that security is everybody’s business, from the homes, villages, towns, communities, local government areas and states up to the Federal Government. With the sustained push of the military and other security agencies, elections will be conducted safely in all the 774 local government areas in the country. There is, therefore, a need for all of us to engage in active awareness campaigns in our various localities, to educate people in our communities to assist the security agencies, by providing actionable intelligence on the movement of suspicious elements in the communities. Members of the security services need the ardent support of the public. In the United States, for example, citizens as a routine discreetly provide information to the local police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the United States Secret Service which protects the American President and other high level officials of the government. That is how those specialised agencies are able to keep tabs on not just criminals, but spies and other elements whose activities are inimical to the national security of the United States. Our people should begin to do the same for our own safety. For instance, in the Southwest, people in border communities have been giving information on the movement of suspicious individuals to the Amotekun operatives. Such timely information led to the interception of truckloads of dangerous weapons. I don’t want to join issues with anybody because security is not speculative and cannot be subjected to public abuses, we must support and encourage the security agencies.
Given the level of insecurity in the country, there has been an astronomical increase in the purchase and installation of CCTV equipment and other security devices. Obviously dealers in these devices and equipment are happy and possibly praying for their business to grow more. What is your take on this?
CCTv is good, but we need steady power supply to enable the equipment function optimally. Anyway, installation of solar technology as primary source of power for the CCTv camera and video recording and storage units has essentially solved the issue of stable power supply for the equipment. We have just signed agreement with three major manufacturers in China, South Africa and Malaysia and in few years Southern Atlantic Polytechnic and Ebcom Technologies Limited will start an assembly project in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. Our partners are coming in December to look at our facilities. Today’s technology is transferable with ease.
The Catholic Bishops Conference recently advised churches to vastly beef up security around their premises. Do you share the view that churches should engage armed guards?
Yes, I support the idea by the Catholic Church; this is good, including policing the mosque and other religious places because they are soft targets. Let the churches and mosques set up security teams that will liaise with the security agencies to monitor the places of worship.