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How IGP, Governor Soludo’s support enables my success in Anambra – CP Adeoye

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Aderemi Adeoye is the Commissioner of Police, Anambra State Police Command. He hails from Modakeke in Ife-East Local Government Area, Osun State. He has served in various capacities and in many different parts of the country in his robust career. In this interview with ZEBULON AGOMUO and CHIJIOKE ONYEOGUBALU, Adeoye spoke on many issues, including his experience in Anambra, his relationship and cooperation with the state governor, and the people. He expressed gratitude to the Inspector General for finding him worthy of serving in the state and what it would take to end insurgency in the South East geopolitical zone.

You were posted to Anambra State last year as the Commissioner of Police. What does it take to be a CP, and how does it feel to be in that capacity in a state like Anambra?

So, as you must have guessed, being a Commissioner of Police in Anambra State or any state in the South East is not a tea party, basically because the South-East states are faced with a peculiar kind of challenge, security-wise: what we generally describe as insurgency—fighting against the state and employing high-handed methods that are not limited to simple weapons. You have the use of dynamite, improvised explosive devices (IED), locally fabricated grenades, rocket launchers, etc.; so, that is a war-like situation—a gorilla kind of warfare that is not continuous but sporadic, that is unpredictable, and as such, anyone who is the commissioner of police in any of those states faced by such challenges is not sitting pretty.

The role of a police commissioner requires constant vigilance, exceptional leadership, and strong community engagement to secure lives and property. The Nigeria Police Force is known for its ability to tackle major challenges, and the commissioner feels privileged and honoured to be considered for such a challenging position, ensuring the best outcomes are achieved in addressing the country’s major challenges.

Read also: Insecurity: Intelligence-led policing has yielded good results in Anambra – CP, Adeoye

During the Chinwoke Mbadinuju era, there were cult activities where people were just killing people anyhow in the state. Although that has since been contained, there are other variants of criminal activities where some people are preventing others from carrying out their legitimate activities; they impose compulsory sit-at-home on the people on certain days. Since you got there, what has been your experience?

I think we will need to make a distinction between killings during the Governor Mbadinuju era and the current challenges being faced by the Anambra people. During the Mbadinuju era, those doing the killings were called the Bakassi Boys. The Bakassi Boys were not really a cult group, but their methods were horrendous—beheading, extrajudicial killings, and everything. What made the governor then resort to drastic and extreme measures was the fact that security virtually broke down due to major factors and reasons. Then, based on wherever and whomever he got his advice from, he decided to onboard the Bakassi Boys, and basically, it worsened matters. It made killings the order of the day. If you remember, the Igwe couple (the lawyers) were both assassinated by hoodlums, and the Bakassi Boys would tell you they are testing the guilt of a person by waving a machete around his head, and if it shows blood, they behead the person. So, it was the Hobbesian state of nature that was brutish and violent. I want to say that it was not desirable.

The current situation in the Southeast is marked by violence and atrocities, not just machetes and beheadings. The people who claim to be fighting for liberation, Nnamdi Kanu, are claiming to be freedom fighters and have initiated the sit-at-home movement. Initially, they declared a sit-at-home on Mondays to protest his incarceration. However, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) later called off the sit-at-home, but criminals continue to enforce it. Those who do not sit-at-home face attacks, burning of vehicles, and violence. The long-term effect is that it paralyses the economics of South-East states, as Mondays used to be the busiest day for people to patronise markets in Anambra State.

Sit-at-home became the norm in Anambra State, causing economic, IGR, governance, and job losses. To address this, the government implemented strategies such as empowering security and providing logistics for operations. The goal was to open markets, parks, and banks to boost economic activities and end the harmful sit-at-home behaviour. Although major markets are not yet fully open, there are skeletal openings and transportation is almost back to normal. Awka, Onitsha, and Nnewi have seen a surge in life, while Awka and Onitsha continue to thrive. Progress is being made, and progress is being made in various areas, including transportation and economic activities.

There’s a police station at Awkuzu that used to be dreaded, occupied by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). What level of reform and sanity has been carried out to give it a human face, at least, since you got to the state?

The station at Awkuzu was once occupied by SARS, but reforms began before the author’s duty. The Inspector General of Police disbanded SARS and reformed the Special Weapon and Tactic Team (SWATT), redeploying them across the state and implementing a new operating code. I emphasised the importance of zero tolerance for extrajudicial killings, brutality, high-handedness, and subverting justice. They provided modern policing equipment, regular training, and meetings, ensuring consistency and feedback mechanisms. I also made it clear to the public that they were open to hearing grievances.

As complaints poured in, I forwarded them to the commander of the Rapid Response Squad (RRS), and I said I wanted to hear the feedback; I wanted to get details of each case on which complaints came, and I took my time to review each of such cases and ensure justice was done. So, when they saw that my approach was for fairness, justice, openness, and accountability, they imbibed the new approach, and they delivered tremendous results. As of today, I can tell you that I feel so proud of that unit. It is the Rapid Response Squad, and it is the Anti-Kidnap Unit in Awkuzu.

In 2021, there was a politician, a governorship candidate of the Labour Party (LP) in the state, who was to stand for the off-cycle election in the state that year. His name is Obiora Agbasimalo. He was kidnapped before the election. Has the search ended, and where does the disappearance leave the role of Intel in policing?

First and foremost, I was not there when the abduction happened. Even though I got to Anambra in 2021, the incident had already happened. But I was monitoring events; it happened at a time when IPOB declared there would be no election there, and they were attacking campaign venues, disrupting political meetings, and abducting those engaged in political activities because they did not want any political activity as of then. It was during that period that this politician, while returning from a campaign trip to the insurgents’ stronghold on the Ihiala-Osumogu axis, used to be the headquarters of the IPOB and ESN (they call the place Mother Valley); which used to be their major den where this politician was abducted and has never been seen.

The military recently overran a location and the man was not found. The case remains open for up to seven years, and the investigation will continue until evidence is found. New leads and clues will be followed. Intelligence reports suggest the man was abducted, but no key perpetrators have been brought to justice. Efforts will continue until the culprits are apprehended, the man’s fate is ascertained, and anyone involved is brought to justice. The man’s life is certain unless found alive, and those involved will face the death penalty.

Many Nigerians believe that the reason insecurity generally has festered is because powerful individuals in society are part of it. They are neither tried in court nor punished. They easily secure the release of the boys they use to perpetrate these crimes whenever they are arrested. Generally, kidnapping is said to have become a big business in Nigeria. As a police commissioner, what is actually your prescription?

Society faces a problem where certain individuals believe they are above the law, leading to them believing they can get their wards or mentees off the hook for crimes. This is a disservice to society, as punishment can only be a deterrent when it is meted out without fear or favour to those who break the law. As society continues to provide soft landings for criminals to mitigate punishment, they become more emboldened, putting innocent people at risk and putting society at risk.

In fighting cultism in Anambra State, I had cause last year to issue a riot act, warning influential citizens who were in the habit of intervening each time a cultist was arrested, pleading for their release. I had to warn them that if they tried it with me, they would be disgraced, and I stuck to it. And when we went all out, arresting about 44 of them, arranging them in court, and the court remanding them in prison custody for six months, there was not a single killing in Awka. And then recently, probably believing that the heat had cooled down and attention had shifted elsewhere, they started their surreptitious moves to get these people released.

A young man arrested for serious crimes, such as cultism, murder, robbery, or gun possession, was released in April. However, some others arrested have since regained their freedom, and their trial is still ongoing. This situation highlights the influence of the judiciary in remanding individuals in prison, sometimes under the guise of human rights enforcement or court discretion. Despite this, the group intercepted weapons used in rival gang wars, including an AK-47 rifle, in Owada, Onitsha suburb.

The young man opened up to say that somebody abroad sent money for the purchase. It was for the showdown they were going to have with the rival cult group. Imagine what a loaded AK-47 rifle would have done in a crowded market or a park. Apart from killing their opponents, they want to create fear and panic so that society will fear them. It is about how many casualties they were able to achieve—innocent people, mostly. But we will not relent; we will not give up. I have issued another warning recently that if we find anybody subverting justice, whether in the judiciary or in the civil populace, they will face the music. So, if anybody sits in his exalted chair and commits a crime, he will be brought to account. Fortunately for us, our hands are not tied. Nobody has told us not to move against anybody.

The Anambra State governor’s intellectual depth in security matters is stimulating and understanding. The Inspector General of Police (IGP) is given the task of raising eyebrows against criminals. With the IGP’s support, the Governor has achieved what has been achieved so far. The people must feel safe and the governor’s support is crucial for restoring normalcy in Anambra State.

I was to ask you about the level of relationship you enjoy with the state governor. You know, in some states, there is this cat-and-mouse relationship between the governors and the commissioners of police. So, what is the case in Anambra State?

In Anambra State, I want to tell you that the relationship couldn’t have been better; the relationship is a delight for me because Mr Governor is so accessible and responsive, and he has a deep understanding of security matters, as I mentioned earlier. When things happen, sometimes he is the one who gets to me first to say my CP so, so, so report is what I got from so, so, so place; what is happening? And I would brief him. Sometimes, I am the one who will send a report to him to say, Mr Governor, we have A, B and C. These are the facts; these are what we have done; this is where we are going; and sometimes he will reply, Well done, CP, you are doing well; sometimes it is a sign of applause he will send. Sometimes, he would just say, Let’s find time to discuss.

Insurgents use bombs and machine guns to attack police stations, setting vehicles on fire and delivering IEDs. ABCD, a group known for their identity, was targeted by the attackers. The attackers attacked their camps, destroying them, entering the forest, and combing their areas. They recovered IEDs, arms, ammunition, and stolen vehicles, resulting in casualties. The offensive led to most of the attackers leaving the state, posing a threat to the attacker’s station if they were outside the state.

The attack stopped; up until some days ago, it was not yet public knowledge. Up until a few days ago, we still carried out joint operations in conjunction with the Navy, Army, Civil Defence, and police special forces. It was a collaborative effort with the DSS, and we swept the whole place that had been on the hostage list for months. The reason we have not done that before now is that we had no pointer to tell us where they were.

So, if you do not know where they are and you just go in blindly, you run into an ambush; you suffer heavy casualties, yet you do not achieve the objective. It is counterproductive. So, we are intelligence-led. When we have first-grade intelligence, we move in with outstanding results. Now, Ogbaru, the Ogwu-Aniocha axis, has been liberated, and we recovered 10 improvised explosive devices from that recent operation.

It would seem to many Nigerians that this great result you record in Anambra is not being recorded at the centre when you look at the level of insecurity and activities of criminal elements across the country. Citizens accuse security agencies of not employing intelligence in resolving the insecurity scourge. Is there anything the citizens need to know about this?

You know, when you say it at the national level, it is a different ball game. The national level is so vast, with each state having its own peculiar challenge and different agencies having specialised roles to play. An agency is charged with gathering and sharing intelligence; even the police have an arm that deals with criminal intelligence, security intelligence, and so on. And as an actor and player on the field, I will tell you that those intelligence apparatuses have been very effective. While a lame man would access and say the situation is terrible, I as a practitioner will say imagine what it could have been like if not for the ongoing efforts; for example, intelligence has gotten to that level where they are able to intercept phone conversations and know who is planning and pre-empting them. So, for every crime that happens, not less than 25 were averted.

And these are not made public?

Of course, if you make it public, you will no longer be effective as an intelligence-gatherer. Some things must remain under wraps.

Are you saying that the situation we have found ourselves now is the most desirable?

Of course not. Do you know already, security is gulping a considerable portion of the national budget, and the people deserve development. We agree that development cannot take place where there is no security; but you will not tell people to remain hungry; to remain without health; to forget about going to school; to forget all the responsibilities because you are tackling insecurity; alright? What is desirable is to clear the country of bandits, because most of them are foreigners (so they are invaders); we must have a holistic plan to clear the country of bandits, wherever they may be found. That is number one. And that may require declaring a kind of mini-war going into the forest and clearing everywhere they have enclaves until we are sure not a single one of them remains on our soil. For insurgency in the South East, the protagonists are Nigerians; there’s no way driving them out of the country. It is to therefore, take steps to rehabilitate, re-orientate, and redirect their energies. If anyone has committed a crime, so it should be made to face the music; but the generality who are mere sympathizers, support groups, it is to show them sense of belonging and win them back to nationhood, address their grievances and provide amenities, and let everybody have a sense of belonging and insurgency in the South East will die.

What is the place of the public in the fight against insurgency?

It is important to carry the public along in both what you are doing and what is happening. When the public is properly sensitised as to what is happening, you can control fear and panic from spreading among the populace, and that is very critical. If a police station is attacked, for instance, you don’t release it to the public because it will create the effect of so, if a police station can be attacked, where is safe?’ So, instead of making a release on the attack on the police station, we go on the offensive against those who attacked the police station. It is the result that we now share with the public.

We say something like this: ‘A week ago, our station was attacked, and we went after the insurgents. These are the results; the area is now safe.’ That reassures the public; it gives them confidence to go about their daily vocations. If they wake up today to hear that this place has been attacked, that place has been attacked; nobody will go out; they will stay indoors, and that paralyses the economy and creates a sense of insecurity. If you are a transporter and you bring out your vehicle and the road is deserted, you don’t see anybody; you go back home until you ascertain what is happening. They call it fear of the unknown; that is why community engagement is key to our success.

We carry the people along, and people repose so much confidence in us. I have not had any reason to tell people, The police are your friends; cooperate with us; give us information to succeed. No, they do it willingly and naturally. It flows seamlessly, and my doors are open; anybody can come to my office, and they are guaranteed to see me, no matter how frivolous or important your mission is. So far, so good; the reception has been so cordial, and the report has been unprecedented. I must say I am very grateful to the people of Anambra State; they accepted me as one of their own. I must tell you, they are my mouthpiece, my advocates; they are the ones that campaign for me; they tell others about me. I don’t need to blow any trumpets. They are the people who do that for me. I am grateful to them.