Davidson Isibor Akhimien is managing director of King David Group, a private security firm based in Lagos. He was recently elected as the national president of the Association of Licensed Private Security Practitioners of Nigeria (ALPSPN) during the group’s 2014 Annual General Meeting in Abuja. Among other responsibilities, Akhimien is expected to harmonise activities of the registered private security firms in the country. He attended the Nigerian Defence Academy, and later held various Army intelligence positions, including those of officer in charge of security and operations at the headquarters 3 Nigerian Army Intelligence Group, Jos. He was also analyst, Africa and Middle East Affairs at the Directorate of Military Intelligence. In this interview, Akhimien described the crime level in Nigeria as low compared to situations in other parts of Africa even as he advocated that private security operatives carry arms as additional measures to combat criminal tendencies in the country.
In your opinion, how can private security firms contribute in checking the prevailing security challenges in the country?
From all indications and for all intents and purposes, there is no gainsaying the fact that the private security industry is poised to help in curtailing and if possible eliminating the problem. Security is everybody’s business but unfortunately there is lack of awareness on the part of the people on their responsibilities for personal security and security of the environment. To that extent, the private security industry comes in from the point of view of raising the consciousness of the people by organising symposia, creating various fora where there will be interactions between specialists in the private security field with the Nigerian people, through town hall meetings. During such occasions, the people will be sensitised on the need for them to be agents for the security of their areas. All hands must be on deck and if you do not know what constitutes a threat to security, you may not be able to be of use in the security agenda. But if you as a citizen know what constitutes a threat to security, then you will be able to react when certain things appear to be going wrong or nip-in-the-bud such things that may go wrong. You should also remember that for a long time now, the private security industry has not been crafted into the security architecture of this country and I believe that is an indictment on the part of previous administrations. If this government wants to address security issues properly, it must bring private security practitioners as represented by this body into the picture. There’s a lot we can contribute. In our ranks we have retired public security agencies personnel from the Army, immigration and Customs to the police. We have academics who are professionals in different aspects of security and we have industrial security practitioners; so, we have a lot that government can tap from. So, this is the time for collaboration between government and private security practitioners for reduction of crimes and criminality in Nigeria.
You about fighting crime, but the perpetrators are armed while your security personnel carry only batons?
Let me tell you, preventive security is an essential ingredient in security issues. You do not have to be armed when it comes to preventive security and you do not have to be armed when it comes to gathering intelligence report and passing such information. And, talking about arms, it is just a matter of time, the Federal Government will come to realise that there is need to arm certain licensed private security practitioners as we begin to get our acts together in the industry. A time will come when some private security personnel will have to carry arms in order to play certain critical security roles like assisting government agencies in protecting critical infrastructure, pulling out public security agencies from soft target to hard target areas and leaving soft target areas to private security practitioners. And the time is now that government should begin to use the resource it has in the private security industry. We are the second largest employers of labour in Nigeria, after the Federal Government. We are found in all nooks and crannies of this country and we have what you call flexibility of operation where there is no much bureaucracy and bottlenecks. That is why I say that we are in a better position to gather information and pass on to the relevant agencies of government for processing, analysis and use. I think that Nigerians will begin to see a better security situation as we begin to participate and lend our voice and expertise toward enhancing the national security project.
Is it not possible that you are in business because of failure of the relevant security agencies to actually provide adequate security for citizens?
No. Government is doing all it can because the situation would have been worse if government security agencies failed to do what they are supposed to do in the course of curbing crimes and criminality in the country. We know that in other climes, on the African continent for example, the crime rate in South Africa is so high that when you compare it to what we have in Nigeria, you will know that we are a nation experiencing a high degree of tranquility aside from the Boko Haram issue in the north. I am talking about daily crime rate, you will know that our situation is better and this is because government security agencies, the DSS for example, are so effective and they deserve kudos. The DSS has recorded so much success, especially in the area of kidnapping, to the extent that a number of Nigerians did not expect such level of success at the beginning. The NSCDC has also performed creditably in their fight against pipeline vandalism and oil theft. The Nigerian Army currently combating insurgency in the North-east flank is doing such a good job of it. So, in all, you would score government security agencies very high, but there is always room for improvement and they need to continue to adopt new strategies.
The NSCDC has accused the private security agencies of underpaying their staff and allowing them to run petty errands where they are engaged. What are you going to do to check this development?
The point is that it is difficult to put legislation in place for the premium payable by clients to service providers because all businesses are not in the same bracket bottom lines, and organisations will always ask for security personnel to watch their premises and residences. There are difficulties in having a unified remuneration structure for now, that is why you find certain service providers providing services to low paying clients and that is why they are not able to pay the minimum wage to their staff. What we want to do as an association is to introduce a standard minimum rule where any business that requires the services of our members must pay a minimum amount below which none of our members will collect because in the final analysis, you find that the guard you pay so low becomes a threat to the business itself. When you pay peanuts you get monkeys to work for you. We advise clients to step up their premiums as we begin to roll out what the minimum premium payable should be and clients should embrace the new premium because it is in their best interest. When you pay low premium, you encourage quackery in the industry as you know, all over the world, quackery destroys professionalism and this puts the lives of many people at risk. That is why you have quack security personnel in residences and in businesses which promotes possibility of criminal incidences. And, as the new president of the ALPSPN, my starting point will be to sanitise operations of all security service providers in Nigeria and there will be a benchmark for best practices as obtainable in other parts of the world. We are also going to see how we can make our input in national security policy formulation so that Nigeria and the people can be better secured.