The Assistant Inspector General of Police in-charge of Zone 9, Umuahia, Hassan Karma, was until recently the Commissioner of Police in Anambra State. In this interview, he speaks on Biafra agitation, kidnapping, armed robbery and general security situation in the zone as well as his experience while serving in Anambra.
What are your strategies for policing the zone?
My strategies are in tandem with what is already laid down as roadmap by the Inspector General of Police Ibrahim Idris. He is a well experienced officer who has worked operationally locally and internationally. As a trainer, operation officer and one who has practicalised what he taught at the training school, it means the IGP has seen all. Aside adopting the strategies of his predecessor, one novel thing he has done is creating the Eminent People’s Forum (EMF) because he sees security as everybody’s business. I charge the Commissioners of Police in the Zone to leverage on the Eminent People’s Forum in addressing security issues in their states. The forum is an upgraded form of community policing whereby well-respected members of the society are involved in the security of their states.
Our mandate here is to give the IGP all the support to succeed in realising his policies and by extension actualise Mr. President’s change mantra; change in protecting lives and property. And I’m sure the IGP is doing well, no wonder he was confirmed even before the expiration of the time.
Agreed that you are new at the Zone, but what has your experience been these few weeks?
I am new on this appointment, but I’m not new in the geo-political zone. I was Commissioner of Police in Anambra State, believed to be one of the heart beats of the South East. And during the period too, we used to come for meetings at the zone and also compared notes. We are improving on the strategies which we adopted in Anambra that made it one of the safest in the country, from one of the worst states in terms of security.
The greatest challenge in the zone security wise is kidnapping and armed robbery; how are you working with the state commands in deploying strategies?
As I said earlier, Anambra State used to be the headquarters of violent crimes like kidnapping, armed robbery, murder; to the extent that as blessed and popular as Anambra is with many prominent people who are captains of industries, industrialists, senior government functionaries, very high profile politicians, name it, they found it very difficult to come home; abandoning their palatial homes. In fact, many of their Igwes (traditional rulers) relocated to Abuja and other parts of the world and were ruling from overseas.
But with the coming of some recent governors in the state, particularly Chief Willie Obiano because I didn’t meet Peter Obi while he was governor; I worked with Governor Obiano and discovered that he is a governor that knows his onions. The primary objective of being a governor is protection of lives and property of the people; any other thing is secondary. If people’s lives are not protected; who are the people that will go to the hospitals or use the bridges and schools? And even when they go to school, how are you guaranteeing their safety in the school? But that doesn’t mean that other infrastructure are not important; but what I am saying is that Chief Obiano knows the importance of protection of lives and property and he came in with a security vision he called ‘Operation Kpochapu’ (Clean up). This comprised joint team of military, police, DSS, National Security and Civil Defence Corps and other security agencies within the state. He charged the joint team to make sure that Anambra was cleared of violent crimes and made the safest state. My predecessor, retired AIG Usman Gwari who was the Commissioner of Police in the state took up that challenge very seriously and laid a solid foundation. So, when I came in, I keyed in and took it to the highest level. It was such that The Sun Newspapers awarded him The Sun Governor of the year 2015 and not long after, he was honoured with the Zik award for Good Governance, all because of what he did in protecting lives and property.
One other thing he did was to build oneness among the security agencies; because there was unity of purpose; so in Anambra, you could hardly notice the difference between military and Civil Defence or Police and DSS; all was working towards making the state crime free. Armed robbery was stamped out; kidnapping was stamped out. Throughout my period there, one year and 10 months, we never recorded any high profile kidnap case and some local ones that attempted it; those who lived would testify but others didn’t have the opportunity because of the exchange of fire that ensued.
One big challenge in the state was the threat of a deadly cult group in Nanka that committed all manner of atrocities; how were you able to handle it?
The Nanka issue to me was actually a small case. Before that incident, I didn’t know of Nanka, it was just a village. The first time I heard of the place was when they were issues about having an ofala when their paramount ruler who had ruled the place peacefully effectively passed on; because you know a good leader is when you don’t get complaints from his domain. Certain persons said the Ofala would not go on; but majority of the people wanted a befitting burial for the Igwe with the Ofala. I am not from the place, I don’t know their tradition, but mine is for there to be safety of lives and property. I referred the two groups to the Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs. Eventually, the state government said the Ofala should hold; and it held peacefully, there was no breakdown of law and order. We provided adequate security.
I thought all the crises had been laid to rest. But shortly after that, there were some petitions to the then Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase (rtd), endorsed to the Force CID, which led to a team from the Federal Special Anti-Robbery to go there for arrest. They went there and arrested some suspects, but unknown to us by this time, one group among the factions had groomed some thugs in the village that had assumed themselves above the law. So, when the suspect was arrested, the hoodlums came out and barricaded the place; held the detectives hostage, they seized their case file and handcuff. That was unlawful; illegal.
After that, the DPO Ajali who superintends the community on hearing that the suspect wanted by the Force CID was out, mobilised four patrol vans and went and arrested him. These same hoodlums emerged again and barricaded entrance to the village; held the DPO hostage, threatened the other police men and they ran for their dear lives. In fact, the DPO was captured; they gave him a beating of his life, one part of his ear was cut off and they warned him never to enter the community again, that Nanka community was above the police. We were in a meeting with the governor that day; so the Area Commander Nnewi, who supervises the place and the OC Mopol had to lead a Mopol Unit to go and rescue the DPO.
The same period, certain group, including the Onowu, whom I learnt is aspiring for the Igwe stool said that a scheduled town union meeting would not hold. I also referred the two groups to the state Government, who after going through the case said adequate security must be provided for the meeting to go on. All these, coupled with what they had done to the DPO and the team from the Force CID, the governor was very annoyed and said that if this was allowed it would set a very bad precedence where a community can wake up one day and say even the governor can’t enter their place. It got to a point that prominent sons and daughters of Nanka could not return to the town again, like one Commodore; equivalent of a General, from the town who had just retired, he wanted to go and construct his house and they said he must pay N400,000 to those hooligans. Everybody, market women, artisans; Okada riders, they extorted money; they became law unto themselves. The governor wanted the military to invade the town, but I said no, that it wasn’t above civil administration.
The community was sharply divided; I invited them, met with the Onowu, the late Igwe’s family members and the town union; eventually that meeting took place under tight security. I tried further to reach the youths; I told whoever is behind them to go and dismantle the illegal association, called Nanka youth or Uto Nanka. What they did was that they went and brought cultists from Obosi; you know Obosi had been very notorious; so when the heat became too much for them in Obosi, they relocated to Nanka. The group was led by one cripple and in fact, we pitied him because of his disability; but he didn’t pity himself.
So, when the group had assaulted and humiliated the DPO, they circulated the video and pictures of the poor officer with his blood-soaked uniform having torn one of his ears, on the internet; the whole thing went viral. Even at that, I still approached the two factions in the town; the Onowu, the prince and others to talk to the boys, but all of them said the boys were above them.
At this point, I raised a team and sent there; but the information filtered to them, the hoodlums laid ambush and to avoid casualties on both sides, the team had to come back. Two days after, I prepared a team and they stormed there in the day; and arrested about 70 of them. But after screening, we discovered that only about five or six people amongst them were holding the whole community to ransom; these were the kingpins. If I show you the emails that Nanka people from Lagos, US and different parts of the world were sending, praising the security agencies for saving their town, you would be surprised. There was huge celebration.
But shortly after that, I left the state and the new Commissioner of Police carried on.
There were indications last week that the boys who fled the town are gradually returning; what are the police doing about that?
What I’m telling you was the situation before I left the state. It was very terrible that a General couldn’t enter his town. So many prominent business men from the area can’t enter the town; you dare not say you want to build a house; you will first pay big money to the hoodlums. There were not goats and animals in the town; they arrested any animal they saw. Everything, they will take to their shrine and people will come and pay fines. So, I left the challenge with the present CP and he has been properly briefed. And the state government is very interested in the matter because it has said that there can’t be two governments in one state.
Beyond Anambra, what has been your general experience in the zone?
I am just few weeks in Umuahia, but before coming to Abia, we used to meet as Commissioners of Police. In Abia and Imo, the challenge is kidnapping and in Enugu, it’s armed robbery and the herdsmen menace. We’ll evolve effective strategy to find a lasting solution to the frequent clashes between herdsmen and farmers. But we are working seriously especially in Imo, the CP there has been very proactive. He has been there for a while, so with experience, he is handling the place well. Recently, you would have noticed that some bad boys who called themselves Vandals or Avengers, whom you can’t differentiate what they do with those arms whether they were strictly for pipeline vandalism or for other purposes, surrendered their arms in the presence of the state governor and the security agencies.
There are challenges of course; I am going to meet with them and also with the governors. I appeal to the governors to invest more on security of lives and property. That doesn’t mean that they are not doing anything, but they need to do more. Anambra is an exemplary state, even the former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar was there recently and he congratulated and praised Governor Obiano for what he has done concerning security.
In fact, as we speak, Police helicopter has been there flying over the airspace on surveillance and sending strong signals to the criminals. We are actually soliciting the cooperation of the governors of Imo, Enugu and Abia to borrow a leaf from their Anambra counterpart.
What was your best moment in Anambra?
My best moment was that the people appreciated my little efforts. For me, I did nothing, but to them; I did so much. Initially, I thought it was the typical character of the Nigerian, when somebody is around, you praise him to high heavens so that they can get one favour or the other from you. But I eventually realised that some of these people praising me are people who would not even need anything from me; if they need police security, they have access to the Inspector General of Police and can have dozens of it.
I was also happy with how I related with the downtrodden, traders, students, barrow pushers, name them; that’s why they gave me all manner of awards, including one from the Chief Judge of the state.
You talked about challenges; what were those challenges?
Anambra is 25 years old; but if you go and check the number of Commissioners of Police that have served there, you think it is far older; you would also ask; why is it that these people don’t stay long there? So, for me to have stayed for one year and ten months; without a single petition or query, even when I was leaving, they didn’t like it. It was really the grace of God for me to have survived Anambra.
The politics of Anambra is very delicate; there everybody is a big man and you don’t push people around anyhow. To survive there, you have to be very neutral; be yourself, if their monies are flying, look another direction. Once their money doesn’t entice you, you’ll survive there.
Another issue was the challenge of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB); it was another national issue. From left, you are not safe, from right, you are not safe. But to the glory of God, it was managed and from the police perspective, we managed it excellently without having much blame even from the protesters. We were at the middle.
What was your toughest moment policing Anambra?
The toughest moment was balancing the problem of agitation. Before the 2015 general election, remember that Anambra didn’t have governorship election at the same time. So, the National Assembly election was a tug of war; in fact starting from the campaign to the delegate election; primaries, particularly Anambra Central, was like a war zone. It’s either Victor Umeh’s group today or Senator Uche Ekwunife’s group; it’s about billboard being pulled down or this group is accusing the other of using arms to terrorise its supporters or smashing the campaign vehicles. And you need to balance these things.
The issue of Chieftaincy tussle was also very prominent. But another major issue was that of land; land is like god in Anambra. After we had stamped out kidnapping and armed robbery, land disputes came up including the volatile market politics. We were able to manage all that; managed protest of agitators, chieftaincy issues in many of the communities; we were also able to manage controversies in town unions in many major towns.
We were able to manage the state politics; I remember before the primaries for the National Assembly election, PDP alone had about three factions and each of them was parading its own leadership. So, we needed to navigate it and play safe without any of them saying we took sides. We still have to manage it in a way that the ruling party, APGA does not accuse you of undermining them or the other group saying you are supporting APGA. That was what we passed through in Anambra; and I thank God.