By Enyeribe Ejiogu
The new wave of killing of policemen by gunmen and carting away their weapons in some parts of the country has expectedly set off alarm bells among security experts and many other Nigerians, who are bothered about what the trend portends for the general populace.
In this interview, Founder of Southern Atlantic Polytechnic, Uyo, Akwa Ibom, Pastor Bassey James, a criminologist and security consultant, proffers solution on the troubling issue of insecurity and counsels that governors should invest their security votes in establishing well-funded security networks that would collaborate with the police in intelligence gathering.
He also gives insight on how the concept of Inter-Community Border Security System, first deployed in his Mkpat Enin Local Government Area, Akwa Ibom State, can be useful to other states under the community policing policy.
With your background as criminologist and security consultant, what thoughts come to your mind as you hear news of fresh killings of policemen by gunmen who also cart away their guns?
It is a dangerous dimension to the security challenges that the country is confronted with, and it must be condemned by all and sundry. It is a heinous crime that must be combatted squarely on all fronts. The government and all law abiding Nigerians must stand together against this form of violence against the police and security personnel because if we don’t move urgently against it, this dangerous development can imperil the whole country. Don’t forget that we need the police and security agencies for protection and national security. You can easily recall what happened after the policemen were withdrawn during the #EndSARS protests and hoodlums hijacked the peaceful protests. That is why I have consistently advocated for the community policing policy. Can you imagine a situation where police officers and other security agencies are withdrawn? The result will be total anarchy across the country. Such outcome must be avoided at all costs. Moreover, the policemen being killed are patriotic citizens serving their country and they have families too.
What is the way forward?
What I think is that the state governors at geopolitical levels should come together and build integrated security networks driven by information technology, to link every community, so that at any point in time people can call for assistance. I must commend the police, army and other security agencies for the great efforts they have been making. We need as a nation to get serious with the issue of security as their number one priority and stop playing politics with it. That is where the issue of community policing comes in. Clearly, the time has come for the security agencies to re-strategise. First, by ensuring that 90 per cent of the personnel deployed in a community are natives of the place, so that they can intimately interact with people and be able to gather intelligence. The police personnel from Kaduna, Sokoto, Kano, Katsina, Bauchi, Gombe, Borno, Yobe, etc should be kept in the North and spread across the northern states. The same should happen in the southern parts of the country. There must be collaboration between the people and the security agencies. The basic thing that needs to be done now is to relocate the bulk of police personnel from the North and South to their localities of origin, to engage in profiling and intelligence gathering. Secondly, the government needs now, more than ever, to establish inter-community border security network system. There must be communication link between communities at state borders, so that whosoever that is coming in from any state can be profiled, if thought suspicious. The security personnel at the border points can electronically crosscheck identities with the other units.
This suggestion you are making sounds outlandish given the peculiarity of Nigeria…?
(Cuts in) You see, in 2015-2016, I developed what I call Border Community Security System, which we tried to promote to the government at the material time. We can revive and upgrade it. Anybody travelling by road has to pass through a border community. There is need for proper profiling mechanism at the borders between one community and another, one state and the other, so that you know the people coming in. As a vehicle is coming in from one state, a message will be sent to the other state. If you are not sure, you just make a call to the centre to crosscheck. We are in a crisis situation. That is why every state should collaborate to build a security system in which security consultants, criminologists and retired intelligence officers will play a major role. We must recognise that no one governor can solve the problem. There should be collaboration between state governments, the security agencies and the people.
Given what is happening in the North where groups of school children are being kidnapped, what should southern governors do to prevent copy-cat kidnapping of groups of children in the south?
Southern governors should begin to develop and implement the border community security system which I explained earlier. Security is not magic and can never be magic. In America and Europe, most crimes can be monitored and tracked on CCTV cameras. The recordings then help the security personnel to take necessary action, to apprehend the culprit. Security is very expensive and that is why the government must involve experts, who understand the mechanism of security management and intelligence gathering, processing and application, to enhance the security. This is what we have done in Akwa Ibom State. We have security village, where in the event of a security situation, you get a response within 10 minutes. This has become a reference point that other states can understudy and adapt to their own situation. When a crime is committed in America, within 10 minutes you get police response. You must manage crime right from the point of the borders. In the South-south geopolitical zone, we need to have waterways security management system, to network the riverine communities. There is need for access to emergency response numbers. We must recognise that security is everybody’s responsibility. That is why Corporate Nigeria must be involved in this. Without a secure and conducive environment, companies cannot do business. Oil companies in the Niger Delta should work with the state governments in this regard, to build a solid security network system.
Community policing and vigilante services have gained currency. These operatives will confront the criminals who are armed. Some people have posited that community police personnel and state-controlled vigilance services should also be armed. What is your view?
I do not agree with the view at all. The focus should be on intelligence gathering. You can’t have 10,000 guns in the local government area. The major criminals are in the minority. If you have 99 per cent of the people on one page and believe in the security of their community, they will checkmate the criminal 1 per cent. Therefore, if there is no intelligence and information connectivity, the people will be at the mercy of the 1 percent which is armed. The basic thing is that community police operatives should be alert and active in intelligence gathering at the local level. If we implement community policing effectively, we will solve 80 per cent of our problems. I support the community policing initiative as against state police. From what we have seen about the State Independent Electoral Commission, state police will be a disaster for the country, because it can be subject to abuse. Under community policing, the people will become responsible for driving their security. Take for instance, Mkpat Enin Local Government Local Government Area, Akwa Ibom, where I come from, the chairman of the LGA will be the head of security with the councillors and clan heads being part of the security committee. Then each village will provide about 10 people and they will form a network that is integrated with the Divisional Police Officer and his men, to respond to any security issues. There is no way that 10 people that are patrolling the village cannot have a link with other villages. With this sort of monitoring mechanism in place and information is shared, you cannot have criminals operating in the area. The villages will contribute about 30 percent of the funding through quarterly levies while the local and state governments also contribute a substantial part. If we applyI believe that we must encourage community policing and make it work. The most important component in security management is intelligence because members of the community know themselves; they know the nooks and crannies of their villages and can easily isolate the bad individuals among them. Even now, when the people arrest a bad person, they hand over to the police for investigation. So, what is required is to bring in the youth leaders into the community policing architecture and give them responsibilities; a lot the bad things will disappear.
Today, we have a large population of educated, unemployed people, who have no employable skills. With national security in mind, how do we redress this situation going forward?
I founded a tertiary institution, Southern Atlantic Polytechnic, SAPOLY, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State with the sole purpose of giving education to young people and also equipping them with skills that would in turn enable them employ themselves and earn income by deploying their creative abilities to solve problems and render services that meet human needs. When you meet human needs with either products or services, there is always an exchange of value quantified in monetary terms, and that is how you earn income. Today, people in Nollywood (most of them are graduates) make movies that entertain us and we pay them money; somebody creates a digital app and we pay money to download it into our phones. For instance, somebody created the software called Remita, which made it possible for the Central Bank of Nigeria to set up the Treasury Single Account for the Federal Government. The individual who owns it is today making millions from it; same goes for Quickteller, which enables people transfer money through ATM cards. With a phone you book a taxi (Uber, Bolt) that comes to your house to pick you. In essence, our educational curriculum must change from what it is now. We must incorporate skills training into the standard educational curriculum.
While studying Biochemistry, Economics, etc, our students must learn how to make clothes, write business plans, package applications for grants, web designing, video production/editing, digital photography, animation, book keeping, creative writing for magazines, ebooks, etc. We must stop producing educated but skills-deficient graduates, who end up being unemployable. Organisations are looking for people who are able to solve problems with their creative skills, not those who know how to write memos – as you have in the civil service. We must begin to produce graduates that can function in the digital economy that is fast unfolding. Today, a young entrepreneur in Uyo can make a fine dress, use Instagram to advertise it and a Nigerian in Houston, Texas, USA will order for it, pay and the dress is delivered to the person. Somebody created the delivery logistics, comprising okada, cargo consolidator, airline and US-end courier delivery. All these involved information technology. In several different ways, people are…. So, today, under the entrepreneurship development unit of Southern Atlantic University, we are teaching young people skills in various areas – farming and agro-produce processing, information technology applications, garment production, etc. More than this, the Federal Government in collaboration with the Central Bank, the Bank of Industry and Corporate Nigeria must do something urgently to create the enabling environment for the educational institutions to establish a good link between town and gown, to reduce the mass of unemployable graduates and other school leavers. Otherwise, we will only be postponing the evil day. What happened after the #EndSARS protest was hijacked would be child’s play. When young people are engaged in legal and beneficial endeavours they become a force for development and national growth.