Surrender your guns now, Edgal tells illegal owners
Sequel to the recent order by the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, directing all owners or holders of illegal firearms in the country to surrender same, the Lagos State Police Command has embarked on measures to implement the mop up order. In this interview with ODITA SUNDAY, the State Commissioner of Police, Imohimi Edgal advised affected persons to take advantage of the period of grace for the surrendering of arms and peacefully comply to avoid any unseemly reaction from the police. He spoke extensively on the issue and other related policing activities in the state.
You assumed office as Lagos State Commissioner of Police six months ago. How has it been policing the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria?
WHEN I came on board September last year, there were a lot of security threats. There was the issue of the ritualists in Ikorodu part of the state whom the press tagged Badoo Boys. We had issues of kidnapping, sudden rise in cultism and cult related violence. We also had problems associated with robberies especially traffic robberies occasioned by traffic snarls caused by construction work going on all across the state. These were some of the challenges I met when I became the commissioner. I am happy now to state that we have been able to contend with those challenges to a very tolerable level. Between the period I became the commissioner of police and now, based on credible statistics at my disposal crime rate has been reduced by well over 45%. We are talking about statistics which is more than 70 PER CENT correct. Since we know that not all cases are reported to the police, yet with 70% statistics, you can make correct and acceptable deductions.
The first thing I did when I came on board was the convening of town hall meetings. I instituted and attended over 13 town hall meetings across the state. The purpose of initiating the town hall meetings and attending same which were very well attended; was to sell my policing plan based on the philosophy of community policing and safety partnership. Between then and now, I have established community policing and safety partnership as the policing strategy for Lagos State Police Command in line with the instructions of the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris. All across the state now you will notice that people are more interested and involved on how their communities and localities are policed. In addition, I have recognized the fact that you must not throw away some of those traditional aspects of resolving disputes and community problems because of urbanization. In those days, traditional rulers, elders, religious leaders played very vital roles in ensuring peace, stability, security in their neighbourhood and localities.
In Ikorodu and other areas of the state, traditional rulers have been in the forefront of my partnership with the people in solving community problems. Moreover, I have also recognized that the police cannot do it alone as crime is being committed because we have un-policed areas. Why do we have un-policed areas? In Lagos for instance, we have a population of well over 23million and still counting. Our staff strength including general duty policemen and everybody is about 28,000. The police alone cannot take care of the policing need of well over 23million people. Do not forget that Lagos is expanding daily with average of 78 people arriving daily to reside in the city. Now taking this into consideration there was therefore the urgent need for me to deepen this concept of community policing and safety partnership which emphasizes partnership to make up for the shortfall. I now recognize that in Lagos we have a strong informal policing sector which is made up of the vigilante group, Oyabo, OPC and other neigbhourhood groups. However, they have not been properly profiled, or properly integrated into the general security architecture of the State. So what I did was to ensure that I bring them on board. So now in various divisions in the state there are joint patrols and security operations and efforts between the police on one hand and other security agencies such as the military, DSS, NSCDC and so on. On the other hand are the vigilante, the Lagos State approved Neigbhourhood and Safety Corps (LNSC). Now, this synergy has ensured that areas that were hitherto under-policed or uncovered are now being taken care. Now we have strong patrols even in the hinterlands especially between 12mid-night and 5am when residential robberies usually took place. One of the problems I inherited was residential robberies which have now reduced drastically in Lagos. So these are some of the challenges I inherited and some of the achievements recorded so far, between when I became the commissioner and now.
In what ways are you carrying out the directive to mop up illegally acquired firearms in the state?
It is a directive from the Inspector General of Police that illegal arms, unauthorized and unapproved arms with citizens across the country be mopped up. It is not specific or peculiar to Lagos. However, prior to the directive, I had personally been in the forefront and proactive on this issue of illegal arms. The reason is clear. Gang wars, supremacy wars of cultists, robbery is fuelled primarily by two things namely availability of arms and drugs.
That was why immediately I became commissioner of police, my first action was to go after arms and also fight the sale of drugs. That was what led me to the first raid at Akala which is like the headquarters of drug peddlers in Lagos. So when the directive came, it was a welcome directive. Now let us look at the law. For long, many Nigerians have been used to disobeying the law. I do not even want to go into the nifty gritty of the security problems we are having all across the country and how unauthorized persons are now being armed by certain authorities without recognizing the law. In some states, I am aware that their houses of assembly have passed laws establishing armed state vigilante groups which is wrong. The law on firearms clearly states that only Forces statutorily established by Act of the National Assembly to bear arms are the only authorized entities to bear firearms. Secondly, for personal fire arms, the law is also very clear. There are certain categories of weapons that are prohibited, that no individual can bear as personal arms. What the law says is that any arm licensed for you is for gaming (i.e. hunting)and that must be in the category of double or single barrel. That means therefore that every category of pump action, automatic rifles, grenade launchers etc are all banned. Regrettably, we now have a situation where communities were approaching police commissioners with false information and were getting license for pump action rifles which are prohibited and giving impression that they had the legal right to be in possession of such weapons. That is against the law and no responsible police Force will sit back and fold its hands and allow such category of weapons to be in the hands of just anybody. That was why the IGP gave that warning and the grace period for people to voluntarily surrender their weapons.
What happens if they fail to voluntarily turn in the arms?
If they fail to voluntarily surrender the arms, we will go into stage two. In my press release, we stated that the police will be empowered to enter any place, office, building with duly signed warrant to search for such weapons and seize them. When it gets to that stage, whoever is found in such building in possession of such arms will be prosecuted under the Fire Arms Act, but I just hope it does not get to that point. So I am advising members of the public to return the illegally acquired arms peacefully in the interest of public safety and security.
There was a time activities of Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) men were being criticized by Nigerians but immediately you took over, the criticism reduced drastically such that SARS operatives became more humane. How did you achieve this?
I adopted the strategy of engagement. Before now, commissioners of police had the impression that because SARS is federal SARS and heads of that department are being deployed from Force headquarters, they gave them some latitude. No, it is wrong. Any police team in Lagos is under the Commissioner. It does not matter where the officers are posted from. I engaged them and brought the officer in charge of SARS closer. I am aware of his daily activities. I have supervised that section personally and closely. The issue of putting round pegs in round holes also matters. The officer in charge of SARS is not only a lawyer but a professional police man, a devout Moslem and a good man, which is very important too. In addition to this, I integrated them into the training curriculum of the Lagos State Police Command. All the trainings going on now, SARS officers and men are beneficiaries. Once you do this, of course, the level of conduct will improve. Level of training and scrutiny has improved and ultimately level of service delivery will also improve. Now nobody in SARS can just detain people in the cell without scrutiny. They cannot involve themselves in civil matters without expecting query for it. That is what I mean by supervision. They have improved but there is room for further improvement and I am working towards it.
As commissioner of police, you have laid much emphasis on training of police rank and file and senior officers on human rights. What has training of your men done for you?
Personally, I am a product of training. If I am making any achievement today, it is because I am well trained. I have attended many training courses. As for my officers and men I must say that you cannot give what you do not have. You can only improve service delivery of your men if you equip them with modern day policing techniques. If you train them to respect human rights, gender related issues, benefits, trends and norms in democratic policing, that is what can improve their service delivery. Between when I became commissioner of police and now, 475 officers and men have undergone re-orientation at the Police College, Ikeja, 250 officers and men have been trained on human rights by Crime Victims Foundation of Nigeria while 156 officers have been trained on value based role for the police. Similarly 117 personnel have been trained on issues bordering on human rights, 100 officers and men trained on handling issues of sexual and gender related violence, 27 trained on computer based infotech in Abeokuta and 15 personnel trained on advanced analysis of forensic evidence all within this period I have served as commissioner of police, Lagos. This also includes the ongoing training at the officers’ mess of key officers by the Crime Victims Foundation of Nigeria.
I dare say that trainings that have occurred within the command before, were not up to this number of officers that been given opportunity to acquire this diversity of knowledge. When you train an officer, everything he has learnt comes to bear on his policing activity. That is where you see marked improvement. That is why across the state, people are saying the conducts of policemen have changed. I intend to continue on training.
The 2019 elections are gathering momentum. How do you intend to police the state during the electioneering period?
This is an important question because of a truth; major elections are coming early next year. I have started another round of hall meetings and some of the issues that normally come up at such meeting is sensitization, talking to the people on the need to eschew violence, the need for them to talk to their children/wards not to allow any body use them easily for election malpractice or violence. Secondly, we are organizing series of meetings with political parties and leadership of the parties. These are projections. More importantly, in the first week of April, the Lagos State Government in conjunction with the Lagos State Security Trust Fund, Nigeria Police and other agencies will have a security summit in Lagos. The summit will be all encompassing but a very important aspect will also relate to conduct before, during and after elections, advocacy, information education and orientation will also be highlighted.
We also have partnership with INEC and the commission has been meeting with us. So the process is on and again, we are happy that Lagos has not been known for election violence. We intend to sustain that.
At the height of incidents of incessant kidnapping of students from Lagos boarding schools last year, the state police command deployed armed policemen to such schools. What is the update now?
The deployments are still there. In fact, in schools that are most vulnerable, during the state security council meeting which comprise the Executive Governor, the military, DSS, the Attorney-General and myself, I did a threat analysis and submitted to the governor. It was decided that a few of the schools that were upper most in the security threat analysis should be policed by armed static guards while the military and DSS should complement police effort apart from covert and overt activities all around the creek areas. So those deployments are still there. We will sustain them as we do not want to be taken unawares.
Due to the peculiar nature of Lagos, it is a known fact that any commissioner of police who does not cooperate with the state governor barely lasts in office. What is your take on this?
Earlier, I had commended the state governor, His Excellency Akinwumi Ambode and the entire Lagos State government. That tells you that I have very cordial relationship with the governor and his officials. I could not have it any better. I enjoy very cordial official and personal relationship with the governor.
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