By Ebele Orakpo
Dr George Uboh is the Chief Executive Officer of Panic Alert Security Systems Limited, a technology-driven security solutions and services and a joint crime-fighting venture with the Nigeria Police Force. The outfit secures banks, embassies, businesses and homes through technology. Their electric fence, panic buttons, smoke detectors etc., communicates their control room whenever there is a security breach, and through that, emergency alert is disseminated to the client and then the police can respond to it just as you have ADT in the US and UK. In this chat with Vanguard, Uboh speaks on sundry issues including security and says Nigeria cannot solve any crime without database.
Tell us a bit about yourself
I am Dr. George Uboh. I attended the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, NIPPS, Kuru in 2008. I led the group that reviewed the extant policies on security and defence. Thereafter, I wrote a technology-driven blueprint, Bureau of Integrated Technologies for Security and Anti-Corruption, BITSAC, because of what the group found out. It goes into the whole gamut of securing any nation through modern technologies from database.
We can’t solve any crime without database so if we don’t get the database of Nigerians, foreigners and Nigerians in the diaspora, we are wasting our time. No crime is committed without someone touching something or speaking or making any form of contact, so when you are able to gather the raw materials and put them into the system, you will catch the culprits. Somebody calls you, trying to extort or threaten you, you have the voice recording. We need a more robust database where we get your fingerprint, your iris and voice and once we gather all that, there is no way you can commit any crime without us knowing who you are. It’s a big crime if you are caught in Nigeria without having registered. In the US today, the biggest threat you can pose is for you to have interaction with law enforcement and you don’t have your social security card or you are not in the system. It scares them. So when you have a database, you can solve crimes swifter.
Emergency transmission, response and evacuation
From database, you go into emergency transmission, response and evacuation. This has to do with your normal emergency. In the US, you have 911, your emergency number that even a market woman or farmer in his farm can access in any dialect. The national grid would have operators that can speak, say 40 Nigerian languages and dialects so that when you register, even if you don’t speak English, if you call, your call is automatically routed to the operator that speaks your dialect, he will speak to you in your dialect and you will be able to tell him you are faced with a clear and present danger, that will push through the operator, and an emergency response will be pushed to you.
I understand that the pilot of the Dana plane that crashed in Lagos actually sent out a message that they were hovering in the air, so if a rescue helicopter with fire-fighting gadgets had been deployed, some lives would have been saved.
Our borders are quite porous and we have a situation in Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon where people just go in and out. So when you are talking of Boko Haram, banditry and the rest, how do you know the Nigerians and the foreigners? We need to have better border protection to curb insurgency and smuggling.
Securing arms and ammunition
I was heavily involved in the armory project in the Nigeria Police Force, NPF, and I’m aware that because we do not have armory, the DPOs keep their weapons in cupboards and say it’s an armoury. So unscrupulous policemen collude with armed robbers, give them arms to rob and return after operations or they outrightly sell it to them. But if there is proper armoury and proper tracking, and arms are bar-coded, any time arm is given to any police officer, it is tracked so even if the police officer is in a hotel room trying to sell the arms to the bad guys or hides it underground, you will be able to track it.
In this aspect, you have well trained officers to man the database collection, national grid for emergency response etc.
I was engaged in the fight against corruption because I don’t believe law enforcement agencies should get involved in prosecution. As dreaded as the FBI is in the US, it is purely an investigative agency; they investigate and hand over to the Department of Justice to prosecute. Here, an agency like the EFCC would investigate, arrest, prosecute, seize, go through interim forfeiture, final forfeiture and assert what I call perpetual dominion over forfeited assets. It’s what I call sweeping powers. It has to be separated. All the National Prosecuting Authority in South Africa does is prosecute, so there is division of labour or checks and balances.
If you are an investigative agency, a different agency should prosecute so there won’t be bias. I watched a murder case; the prosecutor kept kicking the case back to the investigators for more investigation and when they got a piece of evidence that was like the final nail in the coffin, the prosecutor went to prosecute because he didn’t want to embarrass himself going to prosecute a case without proper investigation. Imagine if the investigator was the one prosecuting, they would have rushed to go and prosecute. So we need strong institutions that are not involved in what I call incestuous relationship, in the sense that they are doing so many commingling things together and in so doing, they compromise; BITSAC addresses that.
The investigation department is so huge that officers are trained to investigate different crimes – homicide, fraud, forensic, cyber etc., so any case you have, you have experts to investigate.
When you are investigating and get to the point where you are going to arrest, you must follow a decorum. You can’t just arrest someone without reading them their rights; you can’t detain someone for more than 48 hours, you can’t force someone to make a statement, you can’t arrest and be seeking for perpetual order to investigate because you should have investigated before arrest. That is why if FBI knocks at your door, you are under arrest; trust me, they have done months or even years of investigation so that when they are taking you in, they confront you with the evidence. So in the US, about 65-70 per cent of cases are plea bargained. When you get the evidence, you then plead guilty so you get a lower sentence. But when a suspect is in detention for a month or more, he will know you have nothing and he may sue you for fundamental human rights violation.
It’s paiful because we don’t have statutes of limitation in Nigeria so a prosecutor shouldn’t be scared of running afoul of the law. In US, if you don’t bring up most crimes, within five years, you can’t bring them up again but in Nigeria, they can bring up a case of over 20 years so what stops you from doing proper investigation knowing that you are not barred by the statute of limitation?
Should government negotiate with the terrorists?
I was one of the few people who kicked against amnesty for the sole reason that in the US, when Americans say ‘we don’t negotiate with terrorists,’ they have a reason. You don’t look at a solution/problem in the short run. When the bad guys see you are negotiating with other bad guys, the problem escalates. In the short run, you may think you are getting them to stop committing crime but what about others? Some will go and do the same thing, after all, you allowed those other people to go free, what about us? That was what started happening. After we did that with the militants, government wanted to give amnesty to Boko Haram, they rejected it. I am of the opinion that if you are a violent criminal, government should have the capacity to engage you. Look at how long it took to get Osama Bin Laden; the US engaged him outside US territory.
Amnesty doesn’t solve any problem; we have not had a robust and multidimensional approach to solving the security problem. We need a blueprint. After 9/11, as good as the security apparatus was before 9/11, the US still found something wrong with their system hence the Department of Homeland Security, DHS. President Bush called all the security brains in the US together and said ‘look guys, 9/11 is a slap on our faces. What do we do to boost the security apparatus?’ They discovered that the biggest problem they faced was the overlapping functions of security agencies. Before 9/11, they gave a scenario that if a ship is coming to the US, about 5 or 7 agencies would have jurisdiction over the ship – US Coast Guard, Immigration, Custom etc. Instead of working together, they saw themselves as rivals and in so doing, a dangerous person or weapon may slip into the US, so they set up one agency under which all these agencies will operate and see themselves as one. This gave rise to the Department of Homeland Security, DHS; 22 organisations were merged together to form the DHS so if you enter the US today, you see DHS Customs, DHS Immigration etc. They function better now.
Nigeria is still trying to find out the crimes EFCC should investigate and the ones ICPC should investigate; they are performing overlapping functions. I blame ex-President Obasanjo for this because he balkanized the security apparatus in Nigeria. He gave us EFCC and ICPC and didn’t define clearly their functions. In the US, if it’s a petty thing, the local police handles it but if it’s inter-state, FBI steps in. If you are dealing with fake currency, Secret Service steps in so you know clearly what you are faced with. We have a huge problem on our hands and if we have a robust legal system, most of the suspects will be getting acquitted.
Are Nigerians security-conscious?
Well, to a certain degree, yes. I speak for myself. But are we really security-conscious in the true sense? No. Nigeria is a country where someone will spend N200 million to build a house but cannot spend N40,000 to buy fire extinguisher. I have so many cases of mansions razed down because there was no fire extinguisher. We are reactive by nature instead of proactive so we don’t take enough preventive steps.