• Insurgents’ plan to blast ex-federal capital city with 17 suitcases of explosive failed
There were fears in the height of the Boko Haram menace under the Goodluck Jonathan administration that the insurgents would bomb Lagos. They tried to, Minister of Works and Housing Babatunde Fashola revealed on Thursday. PRECIOUS IGBONWELUNDU reports.
Minister for Works and Housing Babatunde Fashola has narrated how an attempt by terrorists to bomb Lagos State in 2013 was foiled.
Fashola, who was governor of the state at the time, said the security intercepted 17 suitcases loaded with explosives which were smuggled in to wreak havoc.
He spoke while delivering a lecture titled “Insecurity: Taking actions against organised crime” at the fourth annual public lecture of the United Action for Change (UAC) in Lagos.
Fashola said the suitcases were discovered with the help of citizen information.
“It is when information is offered that law enforcement must act to check, recheck and verify. So, when 17 suitcases loaded with explosives were brought into Lagos in 2013, law enforcement missed it.
“It was citizen information, which we did not discard, that led to their seizure, apprehension of the suspects and their cargo of terror. They were tried in Lagos without public show. That was the period new courts were being built in Badagry and we prosecuted them there. They were given a fair trial because they had lawyers representing them. They were over 20 and were convicted and this enabled government put them in a place where they could no longer harm residents of Lagos,” he said.
According to the minister, the collection of information and the use of it to prevent crime or apprehend criminal activity were often discussed as if it was the prerogative of law enforcement agencies alone.
“Let me be clear that this is the duty of the citizen and it starts with all of us being interested in our wellbeing and security. It involves not only careful choices about lifestyle which will prevent us from being attractive as victims to criminals. It requires us to show more interest in what/who is around us and to pay more attention to unusual things.
“It also requires courage, a lot of it, to be able to share information no matter how innocuous, with law enforcement, to enable them to keep us safe. There is no magic to Intelligence gathering, it is rooted in civic responsibility.
“One institution of civic participation that we must revive, reform and reuse are the Residents/Landlord Association. We need them very quickly. Know your neighbour is a critical first line of defence against any criminal activity and in particular against organised crime.
“It helps to occupy the space of anonymity in which all criminals thrive and provides information or suspicion about irregular or abnormal behaviour that requires attention,” said Fashola.
To contain insecurity, the minister said multilevel policing must be allowed to thrive, noting that those opposing the creation of state/community police were denying a reality they were currently living.
He endorsed the Southwest security network code-named ‘Operation Amotekun’, adding that there should be a legal framework to outline the creation of state police for those may wish to do so.
Fashola also advised states and local governments must take control of open spaces, empty buildings, which usually provide free and unmonitored accommodation for criminals, as well as storage for weapons, drugs and proceeds of crime.
He said laws should be put in place to compel people to identify themselves in public buildings, guest houses/ hotels and have surveillance systems in place, adding that unregistered vehicles or covered number plates should not be tolerated.
“We must recognise that organised crime is a business that we must put out of business because it thrived at our collective peril. The people behind organised crime earn their livelihood from it and also employ people, including the young and able-bodied who play critical roles in the value chain of its operation.
“They have collaborators in critical institutions of the state and at sensitive placed like our borders. Seizures of containers of arms and tramadol at our ports are not accidental. They are the product of vigilance and dedication by border security against organised crime.
“But the question to ask is how many got in undetected? Therefore, the case for immediate action by the budgetary commitment and spending against an illegal business that is investing must be a compelling matter of national consensus.
“The United Kingdom recently made the case for investing £2billion to its existing budget, to fight organised crime. Because of the rewards that organised crime offers by way of illicit funds, and its appeal to the young, old, unemployed and vulnerable, we must move financial controls to another level.”
There must be community policing, says Arase
Former Inspector General of Police (IG) Solomon Arase (retd), who chaired the event, said the police as constituted cannot effectively handle internal security, insisting there must be community partnership.
He endorsed the creation of regional security to complement the police but noted that having many armed security outfits may compound the issues.
“That is why I said the regional arrangement is the hybrid between those people agitating for state police and having federal police. I would not advocate for a situation where you have a proliferation of organisations that are allowed to carry firearms.
“The training and importation of those firearms is also a very critical issue. That is why you could situate those security outfits or whatever they are under the command and control of our current policing system so that way there will be no argument about it.
“It will complement the federal police if you look at the way our present policing is structured, the state governments play a very crucial and fundamental role when it comes to funding. They buy vehicles, they fuel these vehicles. Lagos State has the Security Trust Fund which means that when an officer is incapacitated, they have an insurance scheme for dealing with those issues so these are interventions we do not have to throw away.
“All we have to do is to harness it and fine-tune it. Look at those areas where there are differences in opinions and then chart a pathway on how we can get the whole thing work. We face an extinction threat and that we all have to face and if we want to accept that, it means that we have to do something, think outside the box.”
Arase decried the lack of policy sustainability in the country, noting that it was responsible for the absence of a central crime database and effective tracking system, just as he urged politicians to stop the habit of demanding police protection and by extension robbing the masses of more cops to secure them.
“I remember when I was at the State Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (SCIID) Panti. We had this case tracking system a professor from Harvard Christopher Stones helped establish and the process was driven by Fashola and his government.
“It was a very good initiative where you can track people who go through the justice system. If we arrest you in Panti, we prosecute you and if you are remanded in prison, people know when you are supposed to go to court.
“Then when you leave, there’s what we called the supervisee system where tabs are kept on the suspects. But that was not sustained. The problem is that once the person who initiated it leaves, there will be no continuity.
“When I was the IG, I know I developed a database where people who have firearms and those looking for a tinted permit had a place where they could do so from the comfort of their homes. It was such that even while driving on the highway, all an officer needed was to check the authenticity of such documents through their phones and all the car details will show.
“But like I said, we do not sustain anything in the country. If we have a country that does not sustain its legacies then you have very serious internal security problems. We must develop a succession plan in every organisation.”
Arase also tasked the government on the provision of basic amenities that will enhance the economic, social and general wellbeing of the citizenry.
He said: “Security as a social contract has moved from its traditional position to include economic, social and environmental security of the people. It is a fact that when people are gainfully employed, they will not take to crime. Hence, the crime rate will reduce.”
Banire: there is tension everywhere
The convener of the public lecture, Dr. Muiz Banire, said everybody and organisations interested in public safety and security should review issues in the country.
“We are in a period when the internal security of our citizens in Nigeria as a corporate entity is most challenged. The tense atmosphere in both the north and south requires that we all ponder in the role of the government and the duties of the citizens in nurturing and preserving the security of citizens towards ensuring the preservation of humanity,” he said.