Says, No hiding place for kidnappers in Lagos
By JIDE AJANI, EMMA NNADOZIE & LEKAN BILESANMI
Kidnapping is a relatively new phenomenon in Lagos State. Last month, a local government chairman was kidnapped. The state commissioner of police, Mr. Umar Manko, in this interview, says his command is up to the task of containing all forms of criminality in the state. He acknowledges the collaborative efforts of the people and government of the state to curb crime. On the kidnapping of the council chairman, Manko says the gang that did it came from Ghana, and that his men were on their trail before a ransom was paid to secure the release of the top government official. Excerpts:
How does it make you feel that there is this sudden but creative ways of criminality in Lagos now occasioned by kidnapping and the rest?
I think it is a new challenge and a new phase. Naturally I should feel bad being a commissioner of police, but one thing I always tell people is that these things are not as bad as they are painting it, but even if it is one out of many, that is bad enough for somebody who is on my seat. If you have zero crime return, it is better for us. By and large, while it is sad that we have such, I also want to put it on record that things are not yet out of hand contrary to what some people are thinking and that, for every challenge in Lagos State ,we have a strategy to counter it. We are also dealing decisively with the new phenomenon of kidnapping and abduction. We have started making in road into the identities of these people who probably had the feeling that they could come here, just as they are doing in other places. Of course you remember the group that kidnapped the mother of finance minister was cracked here. Some of the suspects who had been very evasive for a long time were arrested. After we finished parading them here, my colleagues from other commands have been calling me to see how we send them to them to face charges preferred against them before returning them here.
Now that kidnapping did not happen in Lagos but we had an information which we followed and we were able to decisively crack that group. We also paraded another group of kidnappers that migrated from two states in the east, they came here trying to see if they could have a base, they were picked one by one from their hideouts and we followed them to other states where their mates were and we brought them here and they were paraded some weeks back. And we also have the identities of some of them on the run. We have reasons to believe that some of them came from their base in Ghana, and taking on council chairman. Of course we know that anybody in captivity, relations of such a people will not find it easy but we were telling them that we were already on the trail of these kidnappers, ‘don’t pay ransom, but they went ahead and paid and I think after collecting the ransom, they (kidnappers) returned to where they came from. But, as we speak, I have a team in Ghana in collaboration with the Interpol with a view to locating and bringing them here. And from the report reaching me, we are making headway. God willing, they will be brought here.
The way your men are tracking kidnappers these days makes one to wonder the magic behind it?
Lagos has the best of everything. Even though some people say my face is not fine, we have been able to demonstrate quality leadership, we allow people to do what they are supposed to do without molestation, that has gone a lot way in helping us to do our work.
Why do people ignore police advice against paying ransom to kidnappers?
Fear. If somebody is captured, the relations would try to do all they can to get the person out. And I think it is in the process of that that they panick and pay ransom. When the chairman came out and said the sophistication of the kidnappers operation was beyond the police, I quickly reminded the people by asking them where was the chairman when we picked the kidnappers of the mother of Dr Ngozi Okonjo- Iweala? There is no crime that is beyond the capability of Lagos State Command.
What you have said now relates to intelligence gathering. How cooperative have members of the public been in intelligence gathering?
I am grateful to citizens and residents of Lagos for their partnership in the fight against crime because if you look at some of the breakthroughs we had, they were all based on intelligence gathering, people giving useful information which led to recovering of arms and even being able nip some of those crimes in the bud. It is very encouraging that Lagosians are on the side of the police by giving information that is critical and I think that has gone a long way in helping us. Now, not on this alone, I think the future of police in Nigeria is going to be based on intelligence, more than physical. I think we are also grateful to have a governor and government who are interested in the security of the citizens because we have been able to partner with the state government such that most of our requirements are given to us without delay. The governor ,I want to single him out for commendation for his interest in the security of the people of Lagos State, that has helped the police in a long way.
The way the I.G has positioned himself since coming to office, Nigerians have never had in so good in quote, it could be better. When you look at what comes from the top, that is, the I.G office, how does that affect the others below like the DIGs, AIGs, Comms, Area Commanders?
If you want to assess anybody or a body, you look at the head. And I think the police today is very lucky to have the calibre of the kind of personality occupying the IG office now who is so passionate about effective and quality service delivery. He has done so much since he came in. He started with the reform agenda and I think the agenda is taking the police from where he met it to where it is now and I hope it will still go places before he leaves office. The initial actions he took which some people thought were just smoke screens have manifested clearly that he meant well for this country. I am talking about road block, they thought that road block has become part of our culture and that it cannot be removed, but the man insisted that it should be removed, and here we are today, everybody is benefitting from it. The police code of conduct he re-launched, it is not as if the thing had not been there, it has but nobody had the courage to say look let us revisit what we used to have,’ he brought it up and every police man today knows his limit.’ Those things some of us used to take for granted have been brought back to focus. You also saw the police week, that was another one. The last time that event ever held was about 30 something years ago. The I.G had not joined the police then. He has partnership with you guys (media). Sometimes where he said,’ look, come and tell us where we are wrong; if you tell us where we are wrong, we can know how best we can improve.’ I think that is humility. He was very bold to have brought in people like Femi Falana, Adams Oshiomole, natural critics of government, to come and tell us to our face where are going wrong. I think these are some of the qualities that every leader thinking good about his organisation will certainly go. I think if he has more time, the police will be better served and it will be in overall interest of the public.
Again, people talk out of ignorance. I laugh at their ignorance. And that is why one would have to forgive them sometimes because if you live here in Lagos and you say the Lagos police command still mounts road block against the I.G’s order, and to think that this is Lagos with an increasing population, he never said we should not stop and search. He did not say also that if we have reason to block a place when crime is committed, we should not do it. But the traditional road block that had become a culture and probably an avenue where people extort money is wiped out. I came here when the law was introduced and we went to the level we did to make sure that the I.G’s order was obeyed and, till I remain in this office, I don’t think there is anybody that will flout that order. Other aspects of that write up was the attack on my person.
Talking about the I.G and other officers, the I.G cannot be every where, just as you too cannot be every where. How do you check the excesses of your men on the field.
I told you earlier that the aim of a leader depicts what the followership will do. I made myself clear when I came in that I am here on posting like every other ones; the I.G who sent us here has reasons for bringing me here, just like every other person that he has sent here to come and work and I told them how best to run the command while I am here. My mission was so clear that everybody knew where he will start and stop. We also told them clearly that anybody who decides to go beyond his limit will be adequately sanctioned. I try as much as I can every week to interact with the area commanders and the DPOs, and I always emphasise what I think Lagos State Command should be while I am here. We are not going to take incivility on the members of the public lightly as I will implement the IG’s instruction about corruption to the letter such that people found wanting are sanctioned. If I don’t sleep, I don’t see how an area commander will sleep and if you decide to sleep, then you leave that office so that I will give you a place where you can sleep comfortably; this has been working including the area commanders. If I cannot remove you, I can tell the I.G I don’t want to work with this one and he goes, that has been the magic. And if you send a constable or corporal to go and collect bribe for you and the thing boomerangs, if we find reason that you sent him, we will extend the sanction to you. I also went round to the area commands and some divisional headquarters and I told the rank and file that if you allow your DPO to use you to go and collect money under the pretext that he is going to give me money, I have not asked anybody to give me money and I didn’t send any DPO to go and look for money for me and I don’t want, so if anybody sends you to go and collect money, tell him you are not going; if you are caught, you will be dismissed and prosecuted. That has been my approach.
How accessible are the members of the public to you in terms of information gathering?
When I came here, I gave out my numbers. I don’t have any private line that the public does not know. Even if I buy a new line today, I will advertise it through you and your colleagues so that the public can have it and I think that has brought about tremendous assistance from the public. People call me any time of the day and I take immediate action. There was a particular day, somebody, around 4.30, called me to say a police man was hanging around her house and given the kind of kidnapping going on, she didn’t know what the police man was waiting there for, especially now that there are fake policemen here and there. Fortunately I was around that neigbourhood on patrol, so she was surprised to see me. She asked me repeatedly if I was the commissioner of police until she saw me through a hole on the gate and said I might be the one because of my glasses. She said,’ yes, it is you because of your glasses because your face is not always good on television’. I tried to reorganise the X-Squad when I came in, I brought an officer whom I knew very well in my days here as a middle class officer, one Kola Ogunmola.
If we are going to follow Nigeria police history, you will discover that the citizens tend to have more to say in the affairs of policing the country. And one the cardinal points of the IG, as you rightly pointed out, was community policing. If you give this force 10 more years, I think the police we have today will be one that will be called people oriented force. If you go to Isokoko Police Station, the flagship programme of community policing in Lagos State, you will discover that citizens of Agege have active participation and singing a different tune about the police now. They are involved in patrol with us, they are involved in arrest, investigation and, to some extent, prosecution of suspects. If we expand it further as we are doing now, I think it is going to be a model that others will be coming to copy.
There is information that you have been embarking on tours of some ells in your command. What brought about such?
Lagos State Police Command is the only command that runs human rights programme for policemen. That has been going on even when the I.G was commissioner here. I think that was his brain child. We sent officers and men on six weeks intensive training where fundamentals of human rights are taught. At the end of the day, they sit to write examinations, so that those who passed, they are issued certificate, and those that could not make would take handshake and return to their offices. I always tell them that they are going to be in the vanguard of human rights protection in the protection of citizens rights in Lagos state. So we have a human rights desk headed by a DSP, a lawyer. We ensure that peoples rights are not violated unnecessarily. But coming to your question, I think I have a responsibility for suspects detained in our cells, wherever they are in Lagos State, so I take my time to go into where I think there are major crimes to check the suspects; are they are faring well?, because even if they are suspects they are Nigerians. That is why on the 1st of January, I told all area commanders that they must feed all the suspects in their custody for that day. At the headquarters here, I served a suspect myself. We all sat down with them and ate together.