The Akwa Ibom Security Success: A Lesson For Nigeria
29 Feb 2012: Ata Ikiddeh
In August 2011 at an Akwa Ibom conference in Houston organized by Akwa Ibom Diaspora Network ( AIDN). The Governor assured concerned diasporans that he was going to tackle the criminal elements in the State head on. Very few believed him.
A year on things have changed dramatically, night life in Uyo is back. People are out and about from 1am to 5am. During the 2011 Christmas celebrations Uyo was declared the safest city in Nigeria, because there was no reported case of armed robbery or kidnapping throughout the month of December.
QUESTION: What has brought about this change and how can Nigeria draw lessons from the Akwa Ibom security success story in order to tackle the current security situation that is threatening the very fabric of the Nigerian federation.
Until recently, Akwa Ibom State was in the league of States with notoriety for kidnapping. Statistics showed that in 2008, 14 kidnapping cases were officially recorded in the State. This figure jumped in 2009 and skyrocketed in 2010. Beyond the usual demand for huge ransoms from their victims, kidnappers soon developed a deadly character and fatal effrontery wherein they attacked and killed security agents almost at will, carting away their weapons and engaging such weapons in the commission of further crimes. In some instances, they also murdered their victims in cold blood even after collecting ransoms.
To the kidnappers, no place was sacred and no person was immune. They targeted churches, educational institutions, business premises, hospitality industry, social/relaxation centres, private residences, and public space. They kidnapped locals as well as expatriates; children and the elderly; rich and poor; politicians and non-politicians; business men, clergymen, academics, serving or retired public officials; male or female, and at any time of the day. They also extorted ransoms in millions of naira from their victims.
The impact of the criminal escapades of kidnappers on the psyche of Akwa Ibom residents, and the social, political and economic landscape of the State soon became manifest. Aside the huge financial strain that kidnappers imposed on the ransom-paying victims, the fear of becoming the next victim impacted on the psyche of citizens so much that night life in the once socially bustling state suddenly went dead. Investors and prominent citizens fled the state, and political points were being made out of the disturbing criminal scenario. It got to a dangerous point where the ability of the state government and security agencies to curb this highly organised crime was called to question. This is in spite of the huge material and financial commitment of the State Government towards combating the crime over the years. In consequence, the State House of Assembly had to pass a Resolution calling for a reengineering of the leadership of the Akwa Ibom State Police Command.
For a Governor known nationally for his unrivalled commitment to the security of the state, and for his courage, vision, pro-active and problem-solving approach to governance, Governor Godswill Akpabio, CON., re-ordered his vision, and re-defined his strategies leading to the strengthening and reinvigoration of the leadership of Akwa Ibom State Police Command. The new vision of His Excellency was aimed at enhancing the competence of the Command with a view to restoring police primacy in the renewed onslaught against kidnappers and other high-level criminals in the State. This new vision became manifest with the resumption of CP Solomon Arase, fdc., as the new Commissioner of Police in Akwa Ibom State in September, 2011.
CP Solomon E. Arase, fdc., who is widely acknowledged as a crime-buster and a super cop, is a 1980 Political Science graduate of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. He has an LL.B degree from University of Benin, and LL.M from Lagos State University, specialising in corporate management and finance law. He was called to bar in 2000. He enlisted in the Nigeria Police in 1981 and has served in various sections at State Command and Force Headquarters levels including operations, intelligence, investigation and administration. He is a Fellow of Nigeria Defence College, fdc., and holder of Master’s degree in Strategic Studies from University of Ibadan. His Course Essay at the Nigeria Defence College won an Award for the Best Essay on Internal Security. He was at the United Nations Mission in Namibia and he is a Member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the International Bar Association (IBA) and the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA).
CP Arase served as the Secretary to the Presidential Committee on Nigeria Police in 2006 and was a member of Nigeria Police Committee on Review of the Nigerian Constitution/Police Act, Special Investigation Team into the Murder of Late Bola Ige, and, Failed Bank Inquiry. An officer with passion for research and intellectualism, he co-edited ‘Policing Nigeria in the 21st Century’ and was the editor of ‘Monograph on Criminal Investigation’. He has contributed several scholarly essays to various local and international publications and has been a facilitator at the USA Harvard Kennedy School’s Programme on Criminal Justice. He served as the Principal Staff Officer to a record three different Inspectors-General of Police between 2002 -2008.
An officer known for his in-depth professionalism and very sound intellectual profile, CP Arase promptly brought to bear his experience and competency on the security landscape of Akwa Ibom by prioritising kidnapping and armed robbery and tackling developing potent strategies targeted at tackling them head on. Within less than five months of his taking over the mantle of police leadership in the State, he has not only succeeded in restoring public confidence in the police, he has been able to reduce the menace of kidnapping and sundry crimes to a minimum level such that today in Akwa Ibom State, night life has returned, economic activities have picked and a sense of general security has been restored. For the first time in recent years, Christmas and New Year Celebrations were held with pomp and pageantry across the State without any record of kidnapping and armed robbery. This is widely acknowledged as unprecedented in the recent history of the State.
The question on the lips of all, however, is what has been the secret of this breakthrough in the onslaught against kidnappers who for years practically held the state hostage? The answer lies in the renewed vision and will of His Excellency, Governor Godswill Akpabio, a vision that was professionally advanced by CP Solomon Arase, the Commissioner of Police of Akwa Ibom State. The professional master work that accounted for this success, is premised on the policing style and strategies evolved by CP Arase, and his initiatives and courage in thinking ‘out of the box’ to achieve what he, at various fora, described as his ‘bond with Akwa Ibomites’ – the commitment to facilitating the citizens’ demand for a secured State. This he has done brilliantly through a number of strategies.
Firstly, he dissected and embraced the renewed vision of His Excellency, Governor Godswill Akpabio, CON, and worked assiduously towards aligning his policing strategies to the mandate of restoring the State to its erstwhile status of a secured and peaceful haven for residents and investors alike by tackling with all sense of professionalism, the menace of kidnapping and related violent crimes. In furtherance to the attainment of this mandate, he undertook a detailed analysis of the modus and pattern of kidnapping cases based on profiling of victims and a number of arrested suspects. Encouraged by the express support of His Excellency, and the good people of the State, CP Arase, undertook a comprehensive internal restructuring of the Command and introduced the concept of reassurance and visible policing which saw the massive reduction of office personnel and the deployment of more men on field operations. This strategy, according to him, was to engender visible policing, and to dominate the public space with adequate number of uniformed and undercover operatives with a view to deterring criminals while assuring prompt response to distress calls within the neighbourhood. As a follow-up, he initiated the concept of ‘show of force’, wherein the human and logistics potentials of the command are mobilised to undertake routine patrols of the streets across the State.
A particularly innovative element of this strategy was on display during the Christmas and New Year Celebrations wherein in a rare show of inter-agency cooperation and the ability of CP Arase to build a strong synergy between the police and all other security agencies as a way of addressing the challenge of high-level crimes in the State, a joint ‘show of force’ exercise involving detachments of the Police, Army, Navy, SSS, Immigration, Prisons, Customs, FRSC, NDLEA, and NSCDC was carried out. The exercise saw all the Services engage in joint and massive convoy patrols across the length and breadth of the State. This was an unprecedented anti-crime initiative which largely aided the suppression of kidnapping, armed robbery and other violent crimes during the past months.
Furthermore, CP Arase re-organised, fully equipped and gave a new orientation to the Anti-Kidnapping Section and Anti-Robbery Section of the Command. With enhanced fire power, and motivation, these two Sections are the nucleus of the anti-kidnapping and anti-robbery operations of the Command. In addition, a Patrol and Response Team, operating under the code name of ‘Raider Team’ were set up in the Operations Department of the Command to complement the striking potentials of the Anti-Kidnapping and Anti-Robbery Sections and to respond to distress calls. These Teams have been extraordinarily effective in the full scale onslaught against Kidnappers and armed robbers. Working in close liaising with other security agencies, particularly, the SSS, these Teams have successfully carried out several high-profile search and rescue operations leading to the smashing of several kidnapping and armed robbery syndicates in the State.
CP Arase has also been pursuing community policing practices by encouraging the involvement of the local communities in policing. Accordingly, he has consistently encouraged the establishment of vigilante groups while working closely with local elements in addressing peculiar crimes. In addition, he has been advancing the practice of intelligence-led policing. Aside the full utilisation of the Criminal Intelligence Bureau of the Command, the CP has been coordinating effectively with the SSS in the State leading to complementary and coordinated operations between the two sister agencies and creating a model in inter-agency cooperation.
The CP, pursuant to his ‘zero-tolerance’ policing strategy, developed a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) which contained a uniform response plan to be adopted by all Divisional Police Formations across the State in the onslaught against kidnapping and armed robbery. He also initiated capacity building programmes for Divisional Police Officers and Divisional Crime Officers with a view to enhancing their professional output in relation to the implementation of the SOP. In addition, the State CID and Legal Section were reorganised with a view to enhancing the ability of the command to competently investigate complex high-level crimes and to ensure conclusive prosecution of arrested felons. Nipping Points, manned by Mobile Police Operatives were established at all major entry and exit points across the state, making it easy for the command to, in the language of CP Arase, ‘dominate, lock-down the state, track, and arrest mobile criminals’. Today, as a result of the effective implementation of these response strategies, a wide security net has been weaved around the State, making it practically impossible for armed robbers or kidnapper to operate successfully in Akwa Ibom State. And if they do, there is a very high possibility that they will be engaged with superior fire power, taken out or arrested and prosecuted to conclusion.
In addition, CP Arase has introduced a criminal profiling system whereby a computerised record is kept of all arrested or suspected kidnappers and armed robbers, particularly, those being prosecuted. This strategy aids planning and surveillance. Through this strategy, it has been easy to pin localised crimes to particular criminal syndicates for purpose of investigation and it has been possible to keep monitoring the activities of suspected individuals with a view to taking pre-emptive actions against them should intelligence link them with any criminal machination.
Equipped with these strategies, the Akwa Ibom State Police Command has undertaken a massive onslaught on kidnapping and armed robbery syndicates, smoking them out of their hideouts, dominating the public space and making the State unattractive for their criminal escapades. Accordingly, recent records show a steady decline in the spate of kidnapping and armed robbery and a massive arrest and dislodgement of criminal cells in the State. Between September and December 2011, for instance, the Akwa Ibom Police Command has –
• Smashed over thirty (30) criminal cells of kidnappers and armed robbers;
• Located and destroyed five (5) criminal enclaves used by the kidnappers to hold their captives;
iii. Searched, located and rescued fifteen (15) kidnap victims in well-coordinated special operations driven by application of modern intelligence and tracking devices;
• Recovered four (4) AK 47 Rifles; fifteen (15) locally made pistols; ten (10)
AK 47 Magazines; One hundred and twenty two (122) 7.6 calibre live ammunition, and One Hundred and Fifty (150) live cartridges.
v. Recovered five vehicles engaged in kidnapping and armed robbery, and currently keeps a dossier on other suspected vehicles.
CP Arase is passionate about sustainability of the current strategies. The idea, according to him is that the current successes recorded can only be sustained with well-laid out institutions, clear vision, policy directions, adequate training, and appropriate positioning of manpower potentials. This underlies his push for the establishment of a ‘Quick Response Squad’ (QRS) for the Command to advance the anti-crime strategies of the Command on sustainable basis. His Excellency in His usual commitment to security of the State has approved and provided fifty purpose-built patrol vehicles, five Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) and other logistics for the take-off of this Squad. It is CP Arase’s vision that this Squad will not only advance the concept of visible and reassurance policing, it will also synergise with the Anti-Kidnapping Section, Anti-Robbery Section, Raider Team and the Divisional Police Formations in deterring crimes and responding forcefully to any distress calls across the State, thereby effectively aiding the sustenance of the current low-level crime profile of the State.
Aside the potency of these strategies, CP Arase acknowledges that the successes recorded would have been impossible without the support, determination, and commitment of His Excellency, Governor Godswill Akpabio, CON, members of His Cabinet, the Judiciary, Sister Security Agencies, the Press, officers and men of the State Police Command and most significantly, the people of the State who for too long, have been bearing the pains inflicted on them by these mindless criminals and who have shown a strong determination to work with the police to finally confront the challenge frontally. While the war against kidnapping and armed robbery might have been won, and the State is rapidly regaining its socio – economic profile, the battle against crime in the State is shifting to house breaking, burglary and stealing. Like the ‘broken window’ concept associated with the zero-tolerance policing strategy, it is the conviction of CP Arase that promptly nipping these mid-level crimes in the bud will prevent the risk of burglars graduating to kidnappers and armed robbers in the near future.