In this interview with Ben Agande the Kaduna state commissioner of Police, Austin Iwar explains how the new strategy he has brought into policing the state is yielding results as seen in the decline of kidnapping and other crimes. He also speaks on the security challenges in the state and other issues.
Since resuming in Kaduna state, you have emphasized the need for community policing by involving all traditional and religious leaders. What has been your experience So far?
The experience so far has been beneficial. All the stakeholders have been receptive to this new approach. I am not surprised because everybody wants to be involved on how they should be policed and that is one good thing about community policing.
The main challenges in Kaduna state are the issues of kidnapping and herdsmen attacks. What new thing have you brought on board?
First of all, kidnapping is as a result of dysfunctional problems that have happened in the society. It is a reflection of the breakdown of values in the community and other ethics.
We have the issue of drugs, regular drugs that are abused and the prevalence of guns. Unfortunately, kidnapping for ransom looks like an enterprise. In approaching this menace, different sectors of the Nigerian society need to come together either through policy facilitation’s or other ways in order to manage this problem.
From the point of the police, we are approaching it from two perspectives; reactive point of view and proactive approach through the use of intelligence and others. I must say that we have recorded success in this area to the extent that kidnapping has been reduced tremendously in the state. Seven or eight months ago, it was virtually impossible for anybody to pass through the Kaduna-Abuja road but that has been brought under control to a large extent. Even the airport road which used to be a den of kidnappers has been secured. The last kidnapping that took place on that road was three months ago. We have put in measures on that road to check this. We have increased patrol on that road and made it safer. There are other measures that we cannot talk about in the media.
While there seems to be a reduction of kidnapping on the Abuja-Kaduna road, criminality in the Birnin Gwari axis in the state seems to be on the increase as exemplified in the recent killings of soldiers and police men. What is the command doing about this?
The Birnin Gwari problem is solvable and very soon, we will begin to see a difference in both Police and government actions. Recall that two weeks ago, the minister for Interior was there on the instructions of the president to assess the situation so that government can intervene. There is a strategy that is being worked out from the minister’s office. Also at the state government level, we are working out a strategy.
But you will recall that the Birnin Gwari thing is historical. It is not something that started a year ago. It has been there for a long time. As a town, Birnin Gwari is an isolated urban area surrounded by thick forests and parks that stretch to Zamfara, Niger and parts of Katsina. Policing these parks is a problem. Bandits come in from the parks and attack motorists on the Kaduna-Lagos highway. But like as I said, there is a lot going on now to see how we can bring it down to a manageable level if not totally solving it. It is not a walk through problem. It requires a lot of planning and sustained policing of that area. The military is also there and together, we will solve the problem.
Recently, over 700 kidnappers, armed robbers, cattle rustlers and other bandits renounced violence and swore by the Quran and the Bible never to go back again. How did the police achieve this?
We have a strategy that is aimed at renunciation of violence and crime as well as recovery of arms that are illegally acquired. You will recall that the inspector General of Police directed that we should recover arms that are in wrong hands and the state government also has its disarmament programme. But we felt that at our command level, we should not just stop at recovery of fire arms. We should develop a process where these criminals will renounce violence. There is a psychological aspect of encouraging them to renounce violence and embrace new positive ways of doing things.
Before we arrived at the renunciation of violence, there was a lot of negotiation and talking to people at the grassroots level. We spoke with ex bandits, religious and community leaders and other opinion molders. We held several meetings to assure them that no body would be arrested because there is still a window open to people who want to renounce violence and return arms not to be prosecuted. It took us almost three weeks. The success of the first one led to the second one to be held and we are working on the third one which we hope will be held soon. We want to take this to all the states.
Because of the renunciation of violence by these people, some kind of crimes have reduced in the state. I think it is a good programme that other states can emulate. It is not just about handing over of guns because you can hand over your gun and still go into other forms of crime that do not need guns.
Apart from the obvious challenge of funding, what do you find as a peculiar challenge to policing in Kaduna state?
From the police point of view, I discovered that the state is under policed. We do not have enough manpower to spread across the length and breadth of the state. So what we are doing now is developing a new strategy for deployment. We are saying that 80% of our personnel should be out policing because that is what we are employed to do, while 20% should be in the office doing administrative work. Policing is a local thing, addressing local issues. It is when we are incapable of addressing local issues that they snowball into big issues. Policing should be brought closer to the people. That is why we are reviewing all the areas that need more police stations. Right now, we have 46 Police stations. Before I came, there were 44. The Inspector General of Police has approved the creation of more police stations in the Zaria area. We have done an assessment of all the areas that need more police stations and we discovered that we need additional 25 police stations. Kaduna state needs at least 65 or 67 police stations. For example in Rigassa, we need additional four police stations. We are also looking at the redistribution of some of our staff. There are some of our personnel that are not in essential duties. We are looking at bringing them to do patrol duties now. We are marking the city into micro beats with two or three police officers in charge. If you go to Lagos street for instance, you see policemen patrolling. That is visibility policing. They engage the people in a positive way. We need to reassure people we are policing. It is not easy but we will do it.