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Armed private security guards: A bold and credible option?

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If you feel safe and secure living and working in Nigeria at this present time, this article may not interest you. However, if you have lost a sister to armed robbers, or had to contribute to pay the ransom for an uncle who had been kidnapped, and consistently concerned about the safety of your children and spouse, then please read on.

Let’s start off with some hard facts.

Our country is currently third on the Global Terrorism Index (GTI), behind Iraq and Afghanistan. Third. The GTI focuses on measuring the global impact of terrorism. We hold the 4th position on the international list of black market traded AK47 rifles. It costs $1,292 to buy one of these rifles on our black market. In 2018, the Federal Government estimated that there are a whopping 350 million illegal weapons in our country, of the 500 million in West Africa. Yes, that’s right, three hundred and fifty million illegal weapons in the hands of criminals, militants, terrorists, kidnappers and those who have chosen to illegally procure weapons for personal protection. 350,000,000 illegal arms. This is what we are now up against.

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The statistics show that incidents of arms-related, and violent crimes have spiked exponentially. Today we are battling to contain terrorism, bombing attacks, car jackings, insurgency, cattle rustling, armed robbery, kidnapping for ransom (K4R), assassinations, ethnic and religious conflict, political violence, cultism…and the list goes on. Research indicates that almost 26,000 people were killed over the last 5 years due to various violent crimes.

Let’s be honest, it’s a grim picture. Nigeria on the news is mostly bad news: A Boko Haram bombing and scores of people dead, gunmen raiding villages or an abduction. This is our current reality. The good news is that reality is not necessarily a constant. It can change. In other words, our current story of crime, violence and increasing fatalities is just one reality. There are other possible realities. One other possible scenario can be culled from a Newsweek Magazine story, Black China: Africa’s first superpower is coming sooner than you think, written by Sam Hill. Feel free to Google it.

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It’s an interesting read. In this alternate reality, Nigeria surmounts its national challenges like China did and goes on to become a global superpower. Mr Hill takes the time to compare some of China’s challenges 40 years ago to our current reality. He makes a good case to show that great success is the product of diligence, resilience and most of all – creativity.

Our current national security equation is a complex one, no doubt. There is no silver bullet that will deal with the situation all at once. Security problems are rooted in economic, socio-political and even psychological issues. This oftentimes means that security solutions can be quite limited in terms of measuring their success. It is, therefore, necessary to continue to modify such solutions as crime and anti-social behaviour mutates. The existing security architecture may need some modification and consistent review, which may have implications for legislative expediency.

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Who will protect us from the criminals; bring back our policemen?

The United Nations (UN) recommends 1 policeman for 450 citizens. The stats show that Nigeria can boast of surpassing the international standard with a 1 policeman to 400 citizens. However, a few Nigerians may argue that the figures don’t add up. Nearby Ghana has one policeman for 1,200 persons while Kenya has 1 for 1298. It’s a huge financial commitment to provide and maintain proper equipment for police forces to carry out their jobs effectively. Police salaries may be an easier financial burden to carry. In the more advanced police forces, they have been able to achieve total radio communication for all policemen on duty. In the next phase, some of these forces are working to provide webcams for all policemen on patrol duties. These are no small costs. This means that the UN magics numbers may not add up without adequate technical and training support. Furthermore, it could be that the UN ratios are for the average situation and may not work for a nation that is under intense and diverse security threats like Nigeria has been in the last 10 years.

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Where are our policemen?

Check the shopping malls, nightclubs, VIPs, politicians, worship centres, Cash in transit trucks, CEOs, escort duties, weddings, funerals, engagement parties, office premises, expats, town houses, country homes. And of course, the checkpoints.

It is an auspicious time to consider an alternative security arrangement: armed private security guards with very specific assignments, bespoke training, adequate technical support, and most importantly strict regulation.
The Private Guard Companies (PGC) Act enacted in 1986 gave private sector companies the legal backing to offer security services to clients. This created the opportunity for a whole new business sector: private security services. The new generation banks gave the industry a boost by hiring thousands of security guards who dressed corporate and were able to provide low-level security services. This sector has since been regulated by the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC).

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The services rendered by these private security guards began to fall short with an increase in arms-related crimes which dates the to mid-1990S where incidents of armed robberies, especially against the banks began to occur. This necessitated a modification of the security arrangement such that the armed policemen were deployed to banks for transportation of cash, and in other cases, protection of the bank assets.

The armed robbers also focused on another lucrative target: The Night Bus. At this time a whole lot of traders carried cash to pay for products. This led to transport companies working out a special arrangement with the police authorities, to have armed policemen on board each bus akin to the armed US Marshalls deployed on all domestic flights since the 9/11 attacks.

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Then came the assassinations. Hit men struck quickly and mercilessly, taking out their targets in a hail of bullets. In the new security arrangement that followed individuals could be assigned armed policemen to provide Close Protection.

This security arrangement has become even more important with the spike in kidnappings over the years. In a nutshell, we have these security arrangements which have thousands and thousands of policemen deployed to the full-time duty of protecting individuals or businesses. This comes at a huge expense to the man on the street who is more vulnerable to violent crime that ever in the history of this nation. The crime statistics are spiralling and unlikely to reduce drastically without new security arrangements being introduced to offer an extra layer of protection.

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This case for armed private security guards should be considered, weighing very carefully the pros and cons. It is not intended as an alternative to the state policing model. That is a different security arrangement that has its own applications and implications. The role of the police is very diverse That’s a discussion for another day.

There are various models that provide a case study for this proposed arrangement. However, it is important to keep in mind that the
Nigerian situation has its peculiarities, which could work for, or against such an arrangement. It may be possible to create a system that will work for us and become a global standard.

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Such an arrangement may afford us the opportunity to free up policemen to fight off the kidnappers and the terrorists that pose a major challenge to our national development. But there is more: armed private security as a business model could provide a projected 400,000 jobs, with an annual remittance of over 100 billion naira to a special police technical support fund. Most of all, armed private guards could provide an option for protecting lives and property of those that need extra protection based on the accredited risk assessment.

So, what are possible pitfalls to such a security arrangement, and what could make it work as an innovative system? Over the next few weeks, we will explore this concept in more detail and possibly get constructive conversations going.

Captain Akhigbe is a retired military intelligence officer, terrorism researcher, and CEO of Beacon Hill Consulting.

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