By Emma Nnadozie,Crime Editor
Recently, the jointÂ Lagos State crime fighting outfit, Operation Mesa was in the news for snuffing life out of a bureau de change operator in Alade Market, Ikeja.Â Different versions of the incidentÂ were dished out to the public.Â The Co-ordinator of the outfit, Lt. Col. Stan-Labo spoke to the reporters on the issue and other related issues .
CouldÂ you tell us what OP MESA is all about, when it was formed and possibly why?
Operation MESA or OP MESA as it is commonly referred to is a joint Internal Security Operational platform with the sopport of the military andÂ civil authority curb crime or public unrest. It calls for operational synergy between the Nigeria Police and the military. It is meant to complement theÂ effort of the Police in meeting exigencies in the society.
It is an operational structure that could be activated only through a presidential consent. It therefore means that, a State Governor who finds it expedient to have such a structure in place must seek the consent ofÂ the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces – Mr President.
OP MESA is currently in existence in several States today. Though in some states, it has under gone transformation in nomenclature. Itâ€™s presence in several states today is simply due to the astronomical rise in crime level. However, its success level has remained commendable and endeared it to many citizens
So, what success have you recorded so far?
I think we could have let the Lagos public be the judge here. However, I must say we have recorded quite some modest achievements on ground. Since the activation of OP MESA on 10 Oct 08 we have contributed in no small measure in bringing down the crime level in Lagos State.
Our presence on the streets and trouble spots (black spots) alone serves as deterrence to hoodlums and other trouble shooters. Our patrol teams penetrate motor parks, notable notorious nooks and crannies, estates and communities noted for restiveness.
We have responded to distress calls at odd hours from members of the public or even estate dwellers who are under threat of attack or armed robbers. We have had the course to assist in traffic control especially at peak hours in areas like Ojo Alaba Rago junction, Mile 2 etc.
We have played the Samaritan role of conveying accident victims to hospitals at odd hours of the night. In communities like Idi-Araba we succeeded in preventing the burning down of Access Bank by a mob group a few weeks back, when a member of the public was accidentally shot dead by the Police guard on duty. I could go on and on Emma. Like I said the discerning public should be the judge please.
How do you check abuses by your men?
As the Chief Coordinator of OP MESA in Lagos State, I am answerable to Brigadier General JAO Ochoga, the Commander, 9 Brigade. The entire 9 Brigade is also answerable to 81 Division where Major General ECG Nwaguma prevails over as General Officer Commanding.
These two personalities are well noted for their zero tolerance for indiscipline. The Army as an institution also has no room for indiscipline. To this effect, the Army has along the years evolved, well laid down procedures in handling all forms of recalcitrance.
To guard against abuses by own troops on OP MESA, they are often well tutored on their doâ€˜s and dontâ€˜s before setting out. Besides, an Operational Order detailing their mission and intent of the Higher Commander is availed every Patrol team.
A Rule of Engagement (ROE) is also available and often read to them. The ROE spells out to you under what circumstances to engage an adversary, be it in self defence, when the life of your colleague is in danger etc. Besides these, every OP MESA patrol vehicle you see moving around has a commissioned officer on board. Such an officer is responsible for the conduct and behavior of the men. Given the metropolitan nature of Lagos, and the high concentration of the expatriate and diplomatic community, it is expected that security agencies maintain requisite and acceptable standard of civility in their daily dealings with the general public.
These go along with the consciousness and respect for the fundamental rights of the citizenry. As soldiers operating in a democratic environment, we are very much oblivious of these tenents, and take the pain to remind the men before they pull out.
We constantly hold interactive sessions on a weekly basis every Saturday to be precise. During such sessions I do an overview of the previous week, rebuke where necessary and commend worthy actions too. The troops are also further requested to be accommodative of the larger public.
Show concern over all safety demands. Let your presence elicit confidence and reassurance of safety to the good and innocent citizen. At the same time your presence should elicit fear, discomfort and lack of safety to criminals. So frankly speaking, we have done a great deal in checking abuses.
To enhance on our credibility profile, our vehicles carry boldly written body Code numbers from 001 to end. Every vehicle carries a bold inscription: OP MESA. In the case of any problem, members of the public are advised to capture the Code Numbers on the vehicle body and if possible the plate Number too. You could then call 0802-339-3239 for assistance.
That brings us to the issue of the recent killing of bureau de change operator last week in Lagos. What reailv happened?
Haba! I thought this matter has been laid to rest? So you press men are still on it despite all the explanations by the Army Public Relations Officer? Well let me just say a few things here. First, may the soul of the deceased rest in perfect peace.
However, I must quickly correct the wrong impression created in the minds of the public by some sections of the press that the deceased was a bureau de change operator. No Sir! He was a quack, a tout, playing the spoiler in an ongoing genuine business of money exchange at Alade Market You are please requested to cross-check these facts with the leadership of the money traders there.
Please do some investigative journalism. Donâ€™t join your colleagues who have chosen to remain in the comfort of their study rooms and write sensationally to impress or meet the dictates of their fantasy.
The truth of the matter is that; an OP MESA patrol team was going about its legal duty along Alade Market when two persons(a male and female) beckoned at them in a distress manner, pleading for assistance, that they had just been robbed.
I repeat, for emphasis and clarity ROBBED! Naturally if you are a security personnel on the street with the official directive to quell crime, you would be compelled to show interest and follow through on such information.
Immediately the soldiers came to the aid of the complainants. What is the problem? They did explain. The Commander of the team dispatched one or two men to go and find out what could be happening.
As they were approaching where the deceased and other hoodlums were gathered, they all rose in challenge of the couple. Accusing them of bringing soldiers. They instantly bounced on the soldier in front, beating, hitting and struggling to dispossess him of his weapon. Frankly speaking, no well trained soldier would willingly let go ofÂ his weapon to an adversary or enemy.
In the ensuing scuffle which lasted about ten minutes, the soldier was over whelmed and the shot had to be released to enable him extricate himself and the weapon.
It was the sound of the released shot that drew the attention of his other colleagues to come to his aid. Meanwhile, the second soldier with him was also being attacked and left with a broken left leg. I will urge you to talk with other participant observers, the market leadership, the DPO – Mr Edger Imohimi, and a host of others if you are interested in unearthing the truth on this matter. Donâ€™t be led by sentiments and emotions. Be guided by facts, objectivity and clear reasoning. Yours is a noble profession that has transformed beyond sensationalism and subjectivity.
Professionally, were there other options open to the soldier than killing the man instantly?
That soldier released that shot as a last resort in his bid to extricate himself and his weapon from the gang of hoodlums that were on him. If that weapon had been taken by those hoodlums do you know how much risk that would portend to the Lagos public? Of what use in your wildest imagination would that weapon be put to? And by the way which military authority is the soldier going to explain such a seizure to?
That bloody hoodlums on the streets of Lagos rounded you up and collected your weapon? That is a chargeable act of cowardice. The soldier acted in line with the dictates of his Rules of Engagement while on a legal duty. It is how ever unfortunate that the deceased died. May his soul rest in perfect peace.
What action have you taken against the soldier that killed the man?
The soldier is under the custody of the military police who are handling preliminary investigations. A Board of Inquiry (BOI) has also being constituted and its finding would in due course be made known. In addition, the Civil-Military Relations Committee is coordinating a reach ~out with the deceased relations. All machineries are being put in motion to see that the issue is well addressed and nerves assuaged. It is rather unfortunate.
How do your men relate with the police in terms of this jointpatrol?
We relate well. We have a very cordial relationship. The level of operational synergy exercised, impacts positively on our delivery capacity on the job. We engage in information and intelligence exchange when required to our mutual benefit.
On the human angle, looking at the hierarchy of the Police in the State, the CP in such a fine gentleman who is surrounded by a crop of polished and experienced officers with a huge capacity for â€œout of the box thinkingâ€. However, efforts are seriously on to see this level of understanding replicated down the rank and file. At OP MESA, I can say with some certainty, that we have achieved this.
Thanks to the daily interaction that prevails between us. Initial preconceived notions and fixations have given way for mutual respect and accommodation. These could not have been achieved without the vehement position adopted by the Commander 9 Brigade Brigadier General JAO Ochoga over the need for cordial relations with all security agencies, especially the Nigerian Police.
How would you describe a typical patrol day bv OP MESA?
A typical patrol day by OP MESA starts with the initial briefing in which the men are reminded of their DOâ€™s & Donâ€™ts, expectation of the public from them and the military authorities too. They now depart for their various sectors. It is important to note that OP MESA operates a Tri-sectoral arrangement in the coverage of Lagos metro-pole. We have the Island sector, the Ikeja Sector and Ojo Sector.
Each sector is further stratified into sub-Units. At the end of the day, each patrol vehicle is assigned a patrol area of Responsibility or Catchment Area within which it operates.
What are the Impediments/Problems so far?
Well, you call them problems I refer to them as challenges. Since they are challenges they would definitely be overcomed. First is the need for the Public to divulge information to OP MESA. We have been receiving but given ember months ahead now the public must be ready to assist in thisbusiness of crime mitigation. You can use the GSM No: 0802-339-3239. Secondly, the public must understand that like every other organization OP MESA operates within available resources. Reaction to distress calls maybe delayed due to need to probably move accident victims to a nearby hospital.
What plans do you have for the ember months?
OP MESA has been repositioned to meet the challenges of the ember months. The Commander Brig Gen JAO Ochoga has directed the establishment of operational static patrol bases at some traditionally noted trouble spots (black spots)
To this end, we have established operational bases at Idi-Araba, Gatan-Kowa, Mile 12 Market, Aiaba market, mile 2 etc.
you will always find our vehicles positioned in these places to ensure swift reaction to distress calls. We intend to meet the desire of HIS Excellency in guaranteeing a crime free ember months as the Sallah and Xmas approaches.
It is our hope that, Lagosians in diaspora who are looking forward to returning home after numerous years abroad, will feel adequately safe to move from one entertainment spot to the other at odd hours of the night.
It is our responsibility to make the environment safe for him. When he is convinced, next year he would come with a friend. That would mean more foreign exchanges, more investment, and by so doing OP MESA will be supporting the tourism initiative of His Excellency and thereby broadening the tourist potentials of Lagos State.
Advise to Members of the Public?
Please assist us to serve you better. The Lagos State Government sustains OP MESA from the tax payers money (your money) so assist us to maximize your derivable gains from OP MESA.
This you can do through information sharing .
Let me also use this opportunity to thank His Excellency for his continuous support to Operation MESA both in terms of logistics and other administrative requirements.
I want to pledge our continuous commitment to service delivery and support of his laudable initiatives in bringing safety and security to the ordinary Lagosian on the street. EKO o ni baje o!.