Chief Superintendent of Police, CSP Akin Fakorede, is the Commander of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, in the Rivers State Police Command. Fakorede who has served the Nigeria Police for 26 years, spoke with NATH OMAME, Jr. on many issues relating to the operations of the anti-robbery squad.
How would describe your experience as a police officer serving in Rivers State?
Well, it has been a worthwhile experience in patriotism. I consider it an experience in service to my fatherland, an experience in brotherhood and a worthy experience in helping those who are vulnerable in the society. There is no greater joy than to be there for the needy, for people who need help and for people who are in distress.The action of the Police is to make a difference in the life of a family, society and nation at large.
It is has been a rewarding experience for me. I have been privileged to serve in Nigeria and outside Nigeria, in Africa and outside Africa. Policing is about one thing, globally:saving lives, protecting people and creating order for the general good.And that is something to be thankful for.
Considering the negative perception of the public about SARS, what really is the duty and responsibility of SARS in the Nigeria Police?
The SARS unit is created to respond to extreme violent crimes in the society. The unit is tasked with combating armed robbers and criminals using extreme violence to have their way. That is breaking the law in a very violent manner. SARS is a specialized team designed to give muscle to the rest of our colleagues carrying out regular policing activities in the society. Policing is actually not supposed to be a violent action because you are dealing with your citizens.
The Police are supposed to be a friendly security arm of government. Our people are not supposed to be the enemy of the Police. Even the vilest of us is still not regarded as an enemy because he or she is still one of us, a citizen of our state and country, so you are expected to be civil and professional in dealing with them.The criminal is still a citizen of our country, so, you are expected to treat them properly as fellow citizens. But in dealing with some of these criminals, they become enemies of the state.
How do such criminals become enemies of the state?
A criminal who kills a citizen of the state is an enemy of the state. Those who are involved in kidnapping and killing their victims are enemies of the state. In such a situation, we are expected to respond in a very tough manner, too. And it is in these situations that SARS comes in to give the required support and bring the situation under control.
There are complaints that your operatives are arresting people because they keep beards or have tattoos on their body. Is that also part of the operational methodology of SARS?
Our society is dynamic. Some of the things we do now were not part of us 10 years ago. Things change; people change and society changes, too. Every society tries to deal with threats that emanate from time to time. In Rivers State, one of the challenges that we have been trying to deal with are the activities of secret cult members.
In fact, the Rivers State House of Assembly has actually passed a law stating that the mere membership of some secret cult is a crime against the state. Secret cult is really a worrisome issue for us. It threatens the very fabric of our society. It is so sad that you have children in primary schools being initiated into cult groups in Rivers State. And we cannot allow that.
How do you identify members of these cult groups?
In the past, you hear about adults who belonged to certain secret cult groups, but even that these adults were not violent people. They went about their activities, peacefully. They were just associations of people with like minds. We hear of Freemasons; they are not violent people. You hear about them and there is nothing more to it. But things have changed. Now, a group of people will invade a community and kill innocent people in the name of cultism. So, it is a legal and moral obligation on our part as law enforcement agencies to bring this insanity to an end.
Now, in the course of dealing with these groups we found out that they have certain identification marks either in the apparels they were, or have some drawings or tattoos on their bodies; some insignia of some sort. Sometimes it may be a bow and arrow; sometimes cross swords; or even a bird, or some kind of features tattooed on their bodies. It is our duty as law enforcement agencies to identify these people and rein them in for questioning.
What of those who just want to keep beards or have tattoos on their bodies? Some people with beards or tattoos who are not cult members have been arrested by men from your unit and such people have had to bail themselves from your custody with plenty of money. Is that fair?
One of the provisions of our laws is that the Police have a duty to suspect and to act on reasonable suspicion. A Police man can call you up for questioning if he or she has reasonable grounds to suspect you.
Can growing a beard or having a tattoo amount to reasonable suspicion?
Of course, yes! Having a tattoo may amount to reasonable suspicion depending on what the person is being invited for. Having a tattoo could mean the person in question may belong to a cult group. Having a beard can be overlooked, but having some particular tattoos could mean membership of certain cult groups, so, we can invite such persons for closer investigation, and they are released once we are convinced that they do not belong to any cult group.
There is no law that says one should not keep bears or have tattoos on their bodies, but we have found in our environment that one of the ways of identifying cultists are the signs on their bodies. In any event, if you are invited and we discover that you do not belong to any cult group, we let you go unconditionally. But, we are going to invite you and ask you some questions.
The methodology of SARS in the state has always come under harsh criticisms by members of the public. Are you not aware that some of your men demand bribe from innocent people?
We cannot deny that these things happen. One of the things the Force has done is to identify corruption as an issue that the Force needs to tackle head-on. The Inspector-General of Police has created several platforms to tackle the issue of corruption in the Force. The Police have multiple platforms for members of the public to make their complaints. We have already accepted that corruption is an issue that we need to deal with in the Police Force.
The federal government has also created several platforms to handle the issue of corruption, and such platforms include the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC; the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC; the Police and other law enforcement agencies.
In dealing with corruption the first place to start from is our homes. We must learn to fight corruption in our homes. Let us deal with ourselves, first. Nigerians agree that corruption is one of the challenges we have as a nation. But the question is what are you doing about it?
How often do you re-train your officers to keep them abreast of global best practices in policing?
Training and re-training is a continuous process in the Police. And it is not restricted to officers. The police organise regular training across board for all Police personnel. Training is a continuous thing.
We recognise training as a key aspect of improving our performance. No matter how good you are at what you do, you need periodic training to catch up with the latest technology. But, no matter how much you try, in a Police Force of almost 500, 000 personnel,you are bound to have some persons who will default and there is nothing you can do about that because it is an organisation made up of human beings and not angels.
How do you track down hardened criminals that may not have been arrested but are on your wanted list?
Well…one of the reasons we pick up suspected persons for investigation and interrogation is that we have a database of criminals. In some cases, suspects are picked up for profiling to determine if such a person is on our wanted list. Anyone that is called in by the Police and has no criminal history and adjudged not be connected with a crime under investigation is duly released and allowed to go unconditionally.
Do the Police pay compensation for the rights of those who have been unjustly detained by the Police?
We have even paid compensations running into millions of Naira when the court in its wisdom and judgment felt that the Police had committed an infraction on some one’s human rights. I was the head of our legal department at that time. The court had to even garnishee our account, stating how much to be taken from our account to pay judgment debt.
What some people want is simply an apology. And the role of apology is even in one of our procedural laws, which demand that a public officer of high ranking should tender an apology if the right of a citizen is violated. And we are humble enough to do that. Sometimes, we even go to the homes of the victim and we apologise for the wrong we have done. We are not perfect. And in having to deal with multiple situations mistake happens in the form of wrong judgment, sometimes misinformation.
Why do policemen on checkpoint duty take to flight when armed robbers or criminals are operating and shooting sporadically, killing people?
If policemen take to flight when criminals are operating, it can be attributed to one of two reasons: the policemen do not have adequate information as to the strength, capacity, and the preparedness of the armed robbers or criminals so it makes sense to call for re-enforcement and you do that all the time. The policemen will comeback more prepared with additional re-enforcement.
We have not enlisted people in the police to go and commit suicide. If there is a problem, there must be several solutions. And one of the solutions the world over is to call for backup. If you go to the scene of crime and the firepower is much, the best thing to do is to call for backup. The backup will be provided and the problem will be dealt with.
Does SARS intervene in family matters: husband and wife?
No, we don’t get involved in family matters. Any SARS operatives found engaging in settling family disputes will be dealt with appropriately. Civil matters are not within our core responsibilities.
Why doesn’t SARS respond during the commission of violent crimes?
That is the way it is all over the world. And why is this so? This is how the mind of the criminal works: the first thing a criminal does when about to commit a crime is to look to the left and right to make sure that there is no law enforcement officer around. The Police can only get to the scene after the crime has been committed. The best we can do is to endeavor to respond in good time because the response time is also key because the purpose of combating crime is defeated if your response is not quick enough.
Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, alleged recently that SARS (operating with exhibit vehicles) is behind most of the armed robberies and kidnapping incidents taking place in the state. What is your reaction to his allegation as the officer in-charge of SARS in the state?
SARS has never kidnapped or robbed any one to the best of my knowledge. If there is any such incident, the victim is encouraged to come forward with verifiable evidence for investigation by the authorities. SARS does not use exhibit vehicles but under cover vehicles for special under cover patrol which is a policing standard practice all over the world.
The governor further alleged that SARS operatives under your command were intercepted by the Inspector-General of Police, IGP X –Squad, and that your men had taken one Ifeanyi, allegedly abducted by your men to a Fidelity Bank ATM to withdraw N500, 000 as ransom. He also said “one SARS operative was killed during the shootout with the IGP’s Special Squad while Inspector Nyeche, who led the IGP’s team, was injured.” Did your men at anytime engage the IGP’s X-Squad in a shoot-out that led to the death of one of your operative?
The allegation of interception and taking suspect to the bank is false. No suspect was taken to any bank.Any one making such allegations should please produce evidence of cash withdrawal from the bank. This narrative is an afterthought designed to fit into the pictures being painted. Suspects were arrested at a criminal hideout at Orazi, where a proper search was conducted and a search warrant executed by the suspects and the operatives. How can a suspect who endorsed a search warrant turn round to allege he was kidnapped? Does it make sense?
He further alleged that SARS Commander, Akin Fakorede, was planted in the state to sabotage the security architecture of Rivers State and create an atmosphere of fear. As the commander of SARS in the state, how do the allegations affect you?
The allegations are completely false. Very many false allegations have been made against other high profile personalities.
The governor also showed the photograph of a SARS operative killed during the shoot-out with the IGP X-Squad. What is the name of the operative that was killed? And If so where and how?
The operative by name Inspector Fyneboy Nnam was killed in the line of duty at a crime scene. And the circumstances surrounding his death are being investigated properly and independently by the appropriate police department.
How would you refer to the rate of crime in Rivers State since you resumed as the commander of SARS?
The rate of crime in Rivers State is not different from that of any other state. It is a challenge and we are dealing with it. We need to encourage our citizens that the task of preventing and combating crime is the responsibility of all of us: it is a partnership.
It is not a task that should be left solely for the security agencies. All citizens should be involved in the process of curbing crime and criminality. The fact remains that the people are the greatest asset of the Police. We talk about community policing because it is not possible for the Police to be everywhere at the same time. Good enough, the advent of modern technology has made crime prevention a lot easier than it was in the past.
Recently, the Police launched an application known as the Hawkeye, which makes it easier for members of the public to transmit relevant information to the Police without disclosing their identities. Hawkeye will enable us get more feeds from our citizens from even the remotest creeks and crannies.
Criminals by their very nature try to hide what they do. The beauty of Hawkeye is that our citizens can see what the Police cannot see. The Police will be able to tackle crime more effectively with the cooperation of our citizens. Even those of us in the security agencies also need our families to be protected. So, security involves all citizens in the country. Crime control is far more effective when there is a partnership with the public. Remember that the Policeman out on the street is somebody’s father, husband and brother.
Is SARS supposed to be involved in stop and search?
It is our duty to strive to prevent the occurrence of robbery, kidnapping, rape and other violent crimes in the society. Since you cannot always prevent crime, the next line of action is detection. So, stop and search enables you to prevent crime from happening. The security agencies have prevented a lot of crimes from taking place through the stop and search routine. The Police have discovered and confiscated weapons through stop and search on the roads. Every bullet recovered is one life saved.
Why do SARS operatives drive against traffic?
One of the duties of policing is to respond effectively to distress calls. If you don’t respond on time, then, the purpose of your intervention is defeated. Police teams may have to drive against traffic to ensure they get to the spot where the crime is taking place on time to prevent t damage. The purpose of the intervention would have been defeated if the Police gets to the scene after the damage has been done. And that is the practice the world over. Theeffectiveness of a Police organization is determined by how quickly you are able to respond to distress calls. It is unlikely that any Police officer will want to drive against traffic in his personnel car.
Can a member of the public report to the police high command any policeman seen driving against traffic?
Of course, yes! You can report him because he has violated the law. Law enforcement agents are not above the law. We have no immunity. We are all subjected to the laws of the country.
Does SARS torture suspects to glean confessional statements from them?
No. Some of these complaints about torture are mostly exaggerated. Torture is not allowed in standard Police practice. Torture is prohibited in the Police. What we do is to interrogate suspects.
Why don’t SARS operatives have nametags on their uniforms?
We need to protect the identity of our operatives from criminals who are extremely dangerous. SARS operatives are human beings like you, too. And they have families, too.
Kidnapping of all the passengers in a bus and the driver is becoming rather frequent along the Elele-Isiokpo and the Ogbakiri-Emohua axis of Rivers State. What do you think is responsible for this trend?
We have increased surveillance and stop and search at checkpoints along the road. Our investigations have revealed that there is implicit connivance between some of the drivers and the kidnappers in some cases. Passengers should not allow drivers to stop at lonely spot should any of the passengers in the bus say he is pressed and want to urinate. The other passengers should insist that the driver stops at an open place where human activity is fairly noticeable. And we have also spoken the leaders of transport unions to inform their members to stop only at designated car parks.
Have your investigations revealed any connivance between policemen at checkpoints and kidnappers who abduct passengers along these flashpoints?
We have not received any report to that effect and we have no reason to suspect any collusion between policemen on checkpoints and kidnappers. However, we are willing to listen to complaints from members of the public. We believe there is no such thing. Any policeman doing that is living on borrowed time.
What exactly would you say is the appropriate uniform for SARS operatives?
SARS dress code is black top upon black trousers. Our colours are black because of the dangerous and difficult terrain that we operate in. SARS operatives are mostly on the field–in bushes, forests and, and at times, in the creeks.
Can SARS operatives be used for debt collection?