Nigeria Needs All Society Approach to End Insecurity  –  Former Director, DSS, Dennis Amachree

Security is a huge topic of discussion and deliberation in Nigeria. As a Diasporan and Pan Africanist, I have monitored the security issues here even before arrival not just for my own security but because it breaks my heart to see such a great country internally disintegrate due to the breakdown in security. And of course, the world will exploit the insecurity issue in Nigeria to profile the nation and make Nigeria appear to be so insecure that security alerts are issued worldwide.

These ‘alerts’ only serve to cause potential tourists to not visit, potential investors to not invest, international financial alliances to reject membership into their midst for the purposes of national financial empowerment. More discussion and roundtables are even necessary if Nigeria wishes to help resolve the insecurity issues. ALL perspectives of people knowledgeable and experienced in the area of security need to come up with viable solutions – no matter the religion, tribe, clan or culture.

 Insecurity affects us ALL – from the village people in Izzi village to the merchants in Jos to people living in the Gwarimpa. With this in mind, Wenona Russ has the honor of gaining insights and knowledge regarding Nigerian security from someone with over 20 years of hands-on experience in the field, Dennis Amachree. He was gracious enough to respond to my request to answer my questions surrounding Nigerian security. I am indeed honored!

Can you share your experience with security in Nigeria?

My experience with security in Nigeria: About 80% of my security experience was attained in Nigeria. I grew up in a Nigerian village and imbibed the culture and tradition of the Kalabari people of Rivers State, while attending primary and secondary schools. After graduating from high school, I traveled to the United States of America and earned my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees and returned back to Nigeria and joined the Nigerian Security Organization (NSO). The NSO gave me the opportunity to travel round the 36 states of Nigeria, including the Federal Capital Territory. The NSO has since been restructured and named State

Security Service (SSS) and recently changed to the Department of State Services (DSS). The agency, just like the American FBI, is responsible for internal security and counter-intelligence. I retired from national security practice and ventured into industrial security, which added more experience in the art and science of asset protection, loss prevention, risk management and covert operations.

What did you learn about the Nigerian criminal? Do you believe most of the criminal activities are being done by Yahoo boys? Particularly in Abuja?

From my experience, the security environment has matured over the years. I remembered when my father was working in Ogoniland. On our way home through the bush path, you will find bottles of palm wine, left by the palm wine tapper for sale. If you are thirsty, you can help yourself to a bottle or two and place the money on a table, next to the palm wine. Nobody was visible, and nobody stole.

That was Nigeria, immediately before the civil war, and Nigerians believed in brotherhood and integrity. After the war, things degenerated with the introduction of armed robbery, ethnic animosity, religious bigotry, etc.

As we progressed, professional scammers came into play, pushing the criminal boundaries into cybercrimes. These are the threats to national security. Let us not forget that criminal activity exists everywhere in the world, including Nigeria. While there are some Nigerian criminal enterprises that are very well organized and widespread, such crimes are also common in many countries especially in South America, the United States and even India and Malaysia.

One thing I can attest to is that most Nigerians are law abiding citizens. I have met them in Nigeria, the United States, South Africa and Britain. The very few criminal elements cannot dominate and stereotype Nigerians as criminals.

In the United States, I have been made very proud, about the exploits of Nigerian doctors, artistes and engineers. I feel so proud, driving through the back roads of rural Upstate New York and Rema’s  “Calm Down” music will be playing over the radio. I will tell anybody in the car, who cares to listen to that, that’s Rema, a Nigerian musician. Believe it, Nigerian afro-beat rules the airwaves, here in the USA!

Do you have any experiences and insights into the Nigerian Police Force?

The Nigeria Police Force (NPF) is the lead law enforcement agency in Nigeria. At present, the total number of officers is not up to 500,000; in a country of more than 200 million people. The police try to have a nationwide reach in all the 774 local government areas of the country, but this is thinly spread, making the NPF ineffective in handling its duties like crime prevention, investigation, arrests

and maintaining public order. A local government area may not have up to 15 policemen and in a case of 200 bandits attack, they become helpless. Rather, it looks like the police is maintaining its colonial legacy of protecting those in power. As maintained in many countries, the motto of the Nigeria Police is not to “Serve and Protect.”

For instance, of the inadequate number of policemen in the country, about 150,000 Mobile Police officers are deployed to VIPs and other high net worth individuals. There is a serious trust deficit between the NPF and Nigerians. Many see the police as corrupt, but also have some fine officers of high integrity. Due to public outcry, there is a deliberate effort to balkanize the unwieldy management of the police and create State Police and Local Government Sheriffs. State Police will bring law enforcement to the grassroots and improve police – community relations. There is also a serious effort to recruit more personnel into the police.

However, for this to succeed, deliberate attention needs to be paid to retraining, condition of service and improved salaries, to attract young graduates who would want to pursue a career in criminology and law enforcement. Every country wishes for a responsible and accountable police.

In the U.S., I have had the pleasure and responsibility of serving on Police Accountability Taskforce that eventually caused laws to be created that made it mandatory that police wear webcams at all times and they must be on recording events while officers are on duty. Do you believe that police accountability, investigations into police misconduct and mishandling of citizens is something that can happen in Nigeria? If so, how effective  would it be?

Without effective law and order, society will move towards a Hobbesian state, where life is brutish. However, unlike the USA, where body cameras are becoming mandatory, the NPF has not started to think in that direction. The current Lagos State Government introduced body cams for their Traffic Officers, but that too did not gain traction.

Apparently, introducing body cams could help in transparency and accountability of police officers. The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the police was disbanded because of high-handedness and corrupt practices. If  body cams were in use, it would reduce the use of force, by collecting concrete evidence and strengthen the battle against armed robbery.

Before body cams are introduced, the authorities should also address the challenges of privacy and data storage cost. Police accountability and respect for the public, by pledging to serve and protect is the future of the Nigeria Police Service.  This can be achieved by a total restructuring and re-orientation of the police.

Why have the kidnappings in Abuja – Nigeria’s Capital – and just criminal activities gone unpunished? How are these things happening?

The Police can also be trained to deal with cases of kidnapping. The basic problem, as seen from the prism of security, is that the Nigerian government has been playing with kid gloves with kidnappers. There are no dedicated police units to fight the scourge of kidnapping. The laws are weak, so the judiciary is complicit. There is no national or State anti-kidnapping response policy. Most times,

people look up to the Federal Government to solve kidnap cases, which, statutorily should be that of the States, handled by Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Teams of the State Police.

So with the ineffective structure, and few ill-equipped policemen, situated in faraway stations from ungoverned spaces, kidnapping will continue to have a free day. The NPF lacks the capability to keep kidnappers on their toes. Kidnappers will kidnap people, knowing that no one is pursuing them. They become relaxed, with some local chiefs complicit to the crime. Imagine kidnappers moving into the FCT, with impunity to ply their trade.

I am a student of the Boqer School of Governance founded by China Christian. He said some things in a lecture that was very profound.

People (in Nigeria) tend to not care about security issues until insecurity happens to THEM. He stated that ALL NIGERIANS… whether in Jos or Plateau State. Or in Abuja need to realize that insecurity is ALL our problem.

We can’t just hire security, put spike wire on our fences, and then take on the mindset of “I’m safe…who cares about anyone else?”

Security has to be something we ALL work on TOGETHER and we must hold those who are in charge of securing us responsible to make sure that everyone is accountable as doing their job. What do you have to say in response to what Mr Christian said?

He would have been 100 percent correct – some 15 years ago. Not today. Most Nigerians, because of a pervasive criminal environment, are security conscious. Most people are aware of the security problems and are devising ways of protecting themselves and their families. The only problem is that they are not doing enough to be part of the solution. The solution is not systematic. Everyone is doing what he thinks is best for himself. The National Orientation Agency needs to stimulate the citizens not to be bystanders on the issue of national insecurity. What Nigeria needs now is an all society approach to get rid or ameliorate insecurity.

Thank you so much, Mr. Amachree, for taking the time to avail us of your wisdom and knowledge in this very important subject of national security.

We honor your lifelong commitment to security here and in the U.S.!

Prime Times

Abdulrahman Aliagan is an Abuja-based seasoned Journalist with close to two decades of uninterrupted practice in Journalism, a PR Expert, a Development Coach and a Media Crisis Management Consultant.
A holder of Bachelor degree in History, a graduate of International Institute of Journalism, IIJ, Jahi, Abuja, he is well trained in various aspects of modern day Journalism including Digital Media and Solution Journalism.
Aliagan is a member of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and is currently the National Secretary of the Nigerian Guild of Investigative Journalists (NGIJ).

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