Commandant Hameed Abodunrin, a quintessential journalist now a crime fighter is the Ogun State Commandant of Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC). In this interview with Bankole Taiwo, the Osun State born crack detective and crime burster spoke on efforts being made by his leadership in the last one year to tackle crime and criminalities in the state among other topical issues. Excerpts
Let’s please have a bit of your background sir
I was born some years back at Iresi in Boluwaduro Local Government Area of Osun State. After my A-level studies at Osogbo, I got admission into University of Lagos where I studied Geography and Planning. I was later at University of Ibadan for Master’s degree in Humanitarian and Refugees Studies as well as another Masters degree in Peace and Conflict Resolution. I have also attended a University certificate course in Conflict Management in Thailand. I have attended various trainings too in Philippine, Cuba, Ghana, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps Training Colleges among others.
I had a Diploma too in Journalism from the International Institute of Journalism. I was fully practising journalism for 15 years, starting with Cradle News, Ile Ife, then to This Day newspaper as Osun State Correspondent and then to The Sun newspaper as Osun State Correspondent. I have however all along been a volunteer of Civil Defence because I have always been a paramilitary person. I was in Boys Scouts while in secondary school and Man O’ War in my university days and as a volunteer, I joined Civil Defence around 1993/ 1994 and was made the Training Officer. So, in 2006 when Civil Defence became regulated, when it became a paid job as one of the security agencies of the federal government, I left Journalism for the paramilitary work and given my background, I became the Public Relations Officer for the Osun State Command of NSCDC and later Head of Training. I later went for further training at the Staff College, Jaji after which I became Head of Intelligence of Osun State Command. My experience as a journalist really proved handy here. I was later transferred to Kwara State as head of administration, later made head of operations. After some years, I was transferred to Oyo State as the head of Education, Research and Training and worked directly with the office of the Commandant General. After which I got another transfer to Plateau State where I also headed the Intelligence and Investigation office. I was later moved to our National Headquarters, Abuja as the Second in Command in charge of Peace and Conflicts Resolution department and then Disaster Management as Second in Command too. It was from there I got to Ogun State as the substantive Commandant, NSCDC for the state.
How has your experience in journalism helped you in your new found role as a security officer?
It has helped in a way because in journalism and security what we both look for is information. The only difference is that while journalists look for information to publish as news but in security, we look for information to process to detect and nip crime in the bud. I just told you that as head of Intelligence and Investigation department, my skills in investigative journalism was really helpful. Again, as media practitioner, people look unto you as someone that can rescue them just as it is with the security too so, I never had any problem when I switched over to do full time security work. My only challenge was that I lost my freedom so to say, I can’t really express my opinion sometimes, though I later found out that expressing my opinion too could jeopardise my investigation because when I am working on a case, I am working on fact and not opinion, so if the case want to go to right or left, I must allow it. It doesn’t matter even if the case involves my opponent, what matters is the fact of the case that must be made to speak for itself but in journalism you can inject your opinion, advertise and even promotes…
(Cuts in) So, how have you been tackling crime in Ogun State in the last one year since you came on board?
It has been very challenging and motivating at the same time because of the uniqueness of the state. It is a Gateway State, nobody going in or out of the populous Lagos State that won’t pass through the State. It also shares International boundary with Benin Republic so you have different types of people to deal with here. Recently, I was at the Federal Medical Centre, Idi Aba, Abeokuta and I was told that some of their patients come from other neighbouring African countries, so you have bit of foreigners to deal with. During Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, our Marine unit overworked themselves because we were busy sending the people back that they could not come to Nigeria at that time. It was that time we discovered that there were another nine illegal water ways to Nigeria from the Ipokia side, we only knew of one, that of Akere before. We discovered that after sending these people back, they would go back indeed but would still be waiting at the other end, we felt that but these people knew we wouldn’t go anywhere so, how do they think they could still beat us to it, that is, crossing to Nigeria so this made us to launch our intelligence and we find out that there are additional nine illegal routes these people can take to Nigeria, so you have this challenge of dealing with criminals you don’t even understand their language. There is also problem of transborder criminals, those who will commit crime elsewhere and run to Nigeria or commit crime in Nigeria and run to neighbouring country believing that the security agencies can not come and arrest them in another country, you know that in some border communities, half of their house can be in Nigeria while the other half or even their kitchen is in Republic of Benin, etc. Ogun State also has a long stretch of petroleum pipelines and gas lines too, so the vandals are always on the prowl, they want to commit all sorts of economic sabotage but God has been helping us to curb their evil intentions. There is also the challenge of spill over from Lagos because in some parts of Ogun State like in Berger area, one minute you are in Lagos State and the next minute, you are in Ogun State. These are some of the issues we deal with. So, in the last one year, it has been challenging but motivating too because of the cooperation we have received from the people of the state and particularly the support from the state government. There are also a lot of private guards companies here because of so many companies that are here and would definitely need the services of these private guards and it is part of our core duties to regulate the activities of these private guards and ensure that they comply with the law of the land. Again because of the high volume of movement here
we have also been training and retraining our disaster management officers so as to make them more effective. As against the old tradition of carrying around one big First Aid Box that may even require two people to carry, what we now have is First Aid kit that an individual officer can fasten to their side just as it is done in other countries of the world and it still contains all those things that are supposed to be there like iodine, paracetamol, plasters, etc. There is also a lot of farming activities going on in Ogun State so we sometimes have farmers/herders clashes around border communities like Imeko, Ketu, Igan-Alade, even at Alabata here in Abeokuta and some communities in Ijebu, so we have our Agro-Rangers unit who has been helping us to nip some of these crisis in the bud
All we have been telling the people is to always come forward to report whenever there is problem in this regard. If you were here three days ago, you would have seen some cows that were arrested. So the owners will come, the farmer too will be here. The farmer might say for my crop destroyed, I will collect N20,000 and the herder might say for this and that I won’t pay more than N10,000 so we would then come in and say for this and that, please give this man N15000 for his crop destroyed and when it is also a case where the animals died or were poisoned, we do same thing and this really has helped not to have major farmers/herders clash in the state. Similarly, we have also not allowed the vandals to operate, we have equally been doing enlightenment in this regard warning residents of the communities where we have these pipelines of the hazards and danger of tampering with the pipelines.
Can you tell us about arrest and prosecution made so far about the vandals?
In the last one year, we have been able to make some arrest and about three or four cases are pending before the court. We have also secured about three convictions where these vandals were sent to jail in the last one year. Vandals have also forfeited 12 vehicles to the federal government via a Federal High Court, Abeokuta in the last one year. The law is that when any of your properties are used for vandalism, you will forfeit such to the federal government. You know we are also into protecting critical national assets such as the electricity cable, somebody was also sent to jail, I think in February for stealing armour cable of transformer. So, we have been on top of our game.
How will you describe the relationship between the state government and Ogun State Command of NSCDC since you came on board?
The relationship has been great.
We have been serving the people and the government. You know the government has two roles to play: provision of welfare and security for the people. In the last one year, the government has given us six operational vehicles and quite a number of motorcycles with some communication gadgets and these have really enhanced our effectiveness so we thank the state government and also crave for more support especially in capacity building training. During International Civil Defence Day, we trained 500 secondary school students on security consciousness and First Aid. We gave two of these smart First Aid kits to each school represented at the training. We are also proposing to train all the secondary school students in the state on security consciousness and awareness. Since we may not be able to go to all the schools, we have identified 2,100 teachers who we shall train on security consciousness and awareness and then go ahead and train other teachers and the students, it might be two or three teachers per school. The beauty of this is that if anyone is opportuned to attend secondary schools in Ogun, he or she will be coming out as a mini- security operative just like it is done in the US and some other countries of the world. By the time you are leaving the college, you would have known so much about security agencies and if it is your wish to join any of the security agencies, be it Police, Army, Civil Defence, etc it would have been easy unlike when security agencies want to select people for training, they will ask people to come and run and the person that came first is taken. But if this type of training has been adopted by the schools, from the outset it would have been easy to identify those cut out for security work, it is people who have passion for the job that will now be joining the security agencies and not people looking for jobs. We are starting this training very soon. The curriculum for this training will be for 13 weeks and we have structured it in such a way that it will not eat into other school programmes. The teaching will be done on the assembly may be for four or five minutes and we will ensure that the same topic is taught same day across the state. What is bringing us to this was an incident that happened not long ago in one of the Asian countries. The 14 year school boy saw someone coming and said “look, our teacher has told us that this is how terrorist walk and I am going to challenge him and as the boy approached the terrorist, the bomb went off and killed the boy and the terrorist. The government of the country then decided to honour the family of the boy saying that but for the boy, the terrorist would have killed more students and even the teachers. If such happen here, the students might have even taken the terrorist to the principal’s office. It is time we begin to build security consciousness and awareness into our people. We also hope to take the training to our communities through Community Development Associations. We will come around during their meetings and speak on some of these things for five minutes.
Given the usefulness of this security consciousness and awareness training, will it not be better if it is part of our school curriculum in Nigeria?
We have consulted widely but we have been told that the curriculum is saturated already and that is why we have also devised a way to ensure that this thing is done, four, five minutes on the assembly, the message would have been passed. For instance the message can be your Red Area. The Red Area of the body starts from neck to the knee so the students are readily aware that anybody touching any part of their body in this area such as their thighs, breasts among others could rape them especially the girls likewise the boys. So every kid in Ogun State will know what the Red Areas of the body means and the danger inherent.
Our Commandant General has even ordered that 10% of the population which is about 20m people must be trained in security consciousness and awareness before the year runs out, Ogun being always the first should snatch this Initiative, the government should give us this support on time, we should have even started the programme early this year but for the pandemic. So, public security education remains key to fighting insecurity.
What are your reactions to the widely held opinion that NSCDC operatives are under utilised?
That is not correct, that you see people around does not mean they are not working, may be the person you are seeing is just coming from where he has been monitoring the pipelines and want to rest a bit while another one is about moving to his or her duty post. The fact that you can wake up and do what you have to do without any form of disturbance confirmed that someone is also not leaving undone what he or she suppose to do. Some officers are not even in uniform but they go about doing their work quietly. You know building of a house is in stages, while others are working let’s say during the foundation laying, you may see one or two people just standing doing nothing, you may say these two guys are lazy but they are not because they the one to paint the house and until the house is completed their own work won’t start. When last did you hear about pipeline fire due to activities of the vandals in the state? It shows that someone is doing what ought to be done. You hear of guards killing those who hired them but you don’t get to hear such happening in the state. This is because we have told the people to always come to the Civil Defence office to make enquiry before they hire any private guards. We will be able to tell them whether such private guard is registered with us, whether we have done profiling of their staff among other things just to ensure that such private guard company could be trusted and safe to work with. Even when the state government want to hire these guards, they do contact us and we will advise them correctly, we can say oh this one is under training, that one is not licensed, the license plate of that one has expired, yes you can hire this, this and this, and this is one of the reasons why we have this relative peace around here. It’s not about seeing people around or not but rather are those people doing what they ought to do? Are we getting result? Yes, we are. We have our own ways of doing things…it’s over five years now that we have been carrying firearms, did you hear of any accidental discharge? There could be an accident and when that happens everybody will know it is an accident. We have procedural standard for things like this. The Commandant General has directed that officers bearing arm must be 50 metres away from the people so even if there is a discharge which should not even happen because there are about five or six processes before bullet is released from the nuzzle of a gun, the bullet will just hit the ground… don’t forget that Civil Defence is the youngest of the security agencies and it will take some time before people can get to know what we can truly do. Do you know that aside tackling security problem from the hardware point of view, we also do this through software point of view. We do this through our department of Peace and Conflicts Resolution. So when you have issues and you don’t want to go to court, you can approach this department for help. From January to this November, we have handled over 500 cases bordering on breach of contracts, land disputes, indebtedness, matrimonial issues among other issues that could cause breach of peace. We have been mediating on these issues and the result has been the peace we enjoy all around us, so we have always been on our toes fulfilling our constitutional mandates.
What will you term as the challenges towards securing the state?
The challenges are that people lack security consciousness, it is so difficult dealing with those who don’t know what next to do, every other challenge is surmountable. Yes we don’t have enough vehicles but the state and federal government are providing us with some, even in your house or at personal level it’s not all that you need that you have, even at that, you may need to carry out some repairs too in your house. So, much of the problem lies in people not having this security consciousness, people leaving themselves vulnerable to attack. For instance, must you be told that as a rider of motorcycle you must use helmet? Must you be told that with the challenge of bad road, your speed must not be 160? However, my happiness particularly in Civil Defence is the cooperation that we have been enjoying from the members of the public. Our integrity is intact and the goodwill has been massive. I have moved round our about 67 Divisions and all that we have been getting are good hands of friendship, I just completed public security training with Saapade Polytecnic.
What is your final message to Nigerians?
Let’s remain positive about the country, Nigerians should stop hating their leaders for nothing. Yes we have our challenges but we should not be behaving as people who have alternative, these are the people with dual citizenship, when they cause trouble or set the nation on fire, they will run elsewhere. Even the US we are now comparing ourselves with didn’t get here over night, it is what they have worked upon for over 240 years while ours is just 60 years, even at that, there are some things you can’t do in the country 20 years ago but can be done now. Enough of cursing the country, let’s stay positive and concentrate our energy on building Nigeria of our dreams