Former Commissioner of Police in Anambra State from 2006 to 2010, Alhaji Amusa Bello, in this interview with Mabel Benson, speaks on what it was like during his eventful tenure fighting kidnapping, violent crimes, armed robbery and the various steps taken that culminated in improved security in Anambra
As a former Commissioner of Police in Anambra State and one who knew the terrain of the state, how would you describe the security of the state at the time you arrived?
What would have happened in Anambra State is a reminiscence of what is happening in the North-east now. At the time I came, the state had serious security challenges, but the former governor of the state, Mr. Peter Obi was very prompt and nipped it in the bud. Former governor Peter Obi met the then Inspector General of Police, Mr. Sunday Gabriel Ehindero in 2006 and complained about insecurity in Anambra State and the need for Police High Command to tackle it. The IG of police, having assessed the insecurity in Anambra then with his high command management team, decided to raise a crack squad, comprising late Haruna John, who was then the DCP in charge of operations, Lagos State Command, and my humble self who was DCP in-charge of Force CID, Area 10, Abuja, with some other officers like Alhaji Saleh Tanko and others to attack the insecurity head on.
We were given all the logistic support in terms of funding, personnel to work with and armaments. We were based in Onitsha, because Onitsha seems to be the headquarters of these criminals. We organised various operations, using Onitsha as our operational base. We were equally operating from Asaba.
Akpaka Forest Onitsha, near 33 Nkwere Ezunaka was a-no-go area then. Any person can be kidnapped and taken to Akpaka Forest, so nobody moves into Akpaka Forest anyhow. The joint operation that went to Akpaka Forest were also supported by the military from 82 Division Enugu with General Purpose machine guns and other arsenals.
The army military base from Onitsha was getting support from 82 Division and that was how we launched offensive attack on the ‘terrorists’ as led by Haruna John and my humble self. Apart from the Akpaka Forest operation, there were other places like the Fegge in Onitsha that we tackled.
Did you experience fatality during these operations?
Normally, but due to the coordination and experience we deployed, the number of casualties we recorded was nothing compared to our successes. There was a particular day I was almost killed at Cemetery Road Onitsha because we received a distress call that robbers were operating there, I led my men to the place with OC SARS at Awkuzu, Awka, Gabriel Haruna. We met near-death experiences and even lost some of our men in those critical times. We launched operation in all the flag points and subdued the criminals, while the remnants moved out of the state. We operated from Onitsha, because the area was mostly infested. Mr. Peter Obi, thereafter had various meetings with the traditional rulers and various stakeholders in Anambra State because he himself was operating from Onitsha Government House. He moved Government House then to Onitsha to feel what the people were feeling and every support was given by him to the security agencies both the police and other sister agencies. Peter Obi funds the operation and gave us weekly allowance. Vehicles and logistics were provided, not only to the police but other service agencies, the military, the DSS and the Vigilante and others. We were having regular meetings with the former governor and other stakeholders on strategies and areas of focus where information from stakeholders were analysed. We were able to dislodge these hoodlums from Akpaka Forest. Vehicles that were earlier snatched and taken to Akpaka Forest were recovered in the forest.
There was a particular day the sector commander SARS in Onitsha was seriously wounded at Akpaka Forest. He went and marched on improvised explosives. We never knew he would survive that incident but he latter survived. But at last we recovered the forest, which was then like the Sambisa Forest.
What other things did government do to assist you?
Plenty, former governor Peter Obi purchased and gave us armoured protection carriers, which was unusual. The headquarters of SARS was relocated at Awkuzu because Awka was so vulnerable. Part of the party secretariat offices built during IBB’s administration was what we used at Awkuzu because that place was another den of criminals. Mr. Obi did not only fence the SARS headquarters but made it a bullet proof fencing in such a way that when you are bombarding the fence, no bullet could penetrate. The SARs detective themselves adopted a sentry that is solid apart from the one we used sand bags at the entrance gate so that at a glance, when any attack is coming up, the attacker will be identified in good time. Severally, bank robbery and robbing of bullion vehicles were crimes that were prevalent in Anambra then, including kidnapping and so on but we made sure that we had fully armed men at strategic points. I cannot go into details of various high level operations we engaged in, but that was actually the time security started to return to the state, because in his last five years in office, those violent crimes like bank attacks did not occur. The security the state is enjoying today was as a result of the efforts of those days. It was like a war theatre, so ferocious that we had to lose the DPO, Awka, a CSP. Chris Ezike, who is now Imo State CP was part of the struggle to liberate Anambra State those days.
It appears the police and other security agencies did not enjoy cordial relationship in Anambra until you came to establish one with Obi’s administration which helped you nip kidnapping and armed robbery in the bud. Can one rightly say that you performed the magic wand?
It is a well-known fact that before the emergence of Mr. Peter Obi as the governor of Anambra State, there was no good relationship between the governor, CP, and police officers. The emergence of Mr. Peter Obi as Anambra governor brought about a synergy between the government, the police and the community as well as other security agencies and vigilance groups. After bringing sanity to Anambra state in 2006, the IGP directed Haruna John and myself to take over police headquarters in Amawbia.
Haruna John, who was my senior then, took over as police CP, and my humble self took over as DCP, Anambra State. There were lots of innovations brought about by Mr. Peter Obi at the police headquarters at his expense. He provided money, we put up structures and the state headquarters was given a face lift. He financed state headquarters, fenced it, provided infrastructure, procured communications vehicles, armoured cars, and provided weekly allowances of all officers and men of Anambra State Police Command. So, the morale was very high. There were constant meetings with other services, the military and other para-military services in the service. We co-opted the vigilante. We were working together because we used the vigilante very well in Anambra State. I disabused the minds of my officers who countered the formation of vigilante. I made them understand that they have not taken over our duty. There must be synergy and that was why I often invite them for meetings, to integrate them into what we were doing.Obi’s administration provided over 600 patrol vehicles to various security agencies in the state including Immigration, NDLEA, FRSC, Nigerian Prisons and others. He fenced some police formations and fenced the Army Barracks, he worked for the siting of Naval Outpost in Odekpe and over 250 vehicles for vigilance groups in markets and communities. He started the demolition of property owned by kidnappers and his Chairmanship of South East Governors Forum for years brought about the needed synergy between the governors to chase away dreaded armed robbers from the South-east. He started Security Trust fund.
Evans, the richest kidnapper was chased out of Anambra during your time as CP, and he also confessed running away during Obi’s administration?
Yes, so many armed robbers and kidnappers relocated from Anambra and Evans must have ran away during that time because if we had spotted him, I don’t think he will still be in existence. He was very lucky to have escaped because if he had remained, he would have died.
How true was it that armed robbers attacked from the river?
If only Anambra people know what Obi did for them. When pirates were intercepting people, along Ogbaru, Ogwuikpele to Delta areas, Peter Obi pronounced the operation which was led by my AC operations, ACP Sali Tanko and they dislodged all the sea pirates and bandits. They were intercepting traders along the River Niger. Tanko left Aba where he was then to Anambra because we needed him. Obi did much to Anambra State without the fanfare people expected. He was interested in results rather than noise making. He was in touch minute by minute.
Can we say that Peter Obi started the Security Trust Fund in Anambra?
Yes he did? Though, I had left the state before its implementation but he actually started it because the funding was so massive because he needed something that will support the government and that was why he introduced the Security Trust Fund.