Private security guards could free up policemen and military resources to focus on the bigger picture, argues Okhai Akhigbe

By the time you finish your long busy day, get back home, have some dinner and retire to bed tonight, seven people would have been kidnapped for ransom, 16 would have been killed by Boko Haram insurgents, herdsmen, bandits and unknown gunmen, 13 would have dispossessed by armed robbers, 74 would have been displaced from their homes, and most likely two soldiers or one policeman would have been killed in the line of duty. Welcome to the Crime State of Nigeria.

According to a sample of Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (2013 – 2015), there were over 12,920 robbers and 11,661 convicted armed robbers in federal prisons nationwide, alongside 6,852 murderers and 1,600 kidnappers. These figures represent the male detainees only. Our prisons are teeming with convicts and those awaiting trial for violent crimes. The Nigeria Prison Service (NPS) is looking to recruit 7,475 trainees this year to bolster its personnel strength. It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out that the number of people in these prisons will continue to increase exponentially, especially where law enforcement agencies become more effective. This is another variable in our complex security equation. The budget for correctional facilities will continue to increase alongside budgets required to fight crime. This is coming at a time where funds are desperately needed to build and maintain critical infrastructure, create a conducive business environment and properly equip those tasked with providing the protection we need to thrive. These numbers paint a messy picture and it’s a tough one to accept.

Avoid non-essential travel to Nigeria due to the unpredictable security situation throughout the country and the significant risk of terrorism, crime, inter communal clashes, armed attacks and kidnappings: This is the current travel advisory on Nigeria by the Canadian Government. In other words, travel to Nigeria at your own risk. Security advisories are not designed to sugar coat, they project the worst-case scenarios to save lives.

Our police, paramilitary, security and military forces seem to be overstretched. They are chasing insurgents all over the North East, while rampaging kidnappers, bandits, armed robbers and herdsmen wreak havoc on the rest of society.

Nigeria has become a profitable hunting ground for criminals. Bounty hunters are traversing the length and breadth of this country in search of victims they can exchange for a hefty ransom. The capture and exposition of Evans, the high-profile body snatcher may have only served to showcase how lucrative kidnapping can be: $1 million dollars ransom of one of his hostages. New entrants into this growing crime are ready to settle for lower ransoms like N500,000 per victim snatched off a commercial bus. It is also extremely likely that a significant number of armed robbers are turning to kidnapping for obvious reasons. There are more potential targets and the risk may be less if they go after people without police or military protection.

Creating another layer of security by enabling armed private security guards is one approach that could free up policemen and military resources to focus on the bigger picture. This system would be sustained through private sector funding and structured so remittances to a technical fund provide police with equipment they so badly need. This fund may achieve N100 billion per annum at optimal levels, which will positively impact on the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) anti-crime strategy.

These armed private guards will have very specific tasks and high value clients. They are not rent-a-cop. These are highly trained close protection professionals who are not just armed with semi-automatic weapons but also armed with the discipline, skills, intelligence to carry out their duties. These guards will take over roles of police and other services providing such services so that these policemen can protect everyday Nigerians. It is an international practice even in countries with low incidents of crime to avail such clients personalised services which come at a premium cost.

A few Nigerians find the idea of armed private security guards rather unsettling. However, most of these individuals may not have realised that they are already living in this system, albeit some quasi-legal arrangements, and in other cases completely illegal security arrangements. Increasingly across the country, the use of armed vigilante groups to secure living areas while residents contribute to their upkeep, is becoming the norm. An increasing number of these ‘private’ security forces are armed with locally made shot guns, pump action shot guns, double barrels shot guns, Dane guns and a range of other weapon types.

The question therefore arises, which should inspire more confidence? Should we have more faith in vigilante forces who have little or no training in security management, information security, arrest, weapons handling and firing in conflict situations, etc? Furthermore, what backgrounds do these individuals come from, are they vetted and cleared of having ties with criminal groups, abstain from the use of narcotics substances, etc? Where do these arms originate from and how are the ammunition procured? Do they carry weapons permits that authorise them to not only possess but to put these into action which could result in the death of another human being? Under what laws do they operate if they shoot and kill an alleged criminal, or are they left to their discretion? Are we slowly creating a monster that will become another security problem in the years to come?

Alternatively, the armed private guard system is organised such that all weapons are legally owned by the federal government, which are leased out to companies licensed to provide such services, alongside the accounting system for the storage and deployment of such lethal equipment and personnel. The entire system is managed using a computer application. The guards (SPARTAN) are trained under a standard system which also incorporates their obligations under the enabling laws, so they are aware of the consequences of professional misconduct.

The guards can only be approved for training after the government appointed security agency or delegated security companies carry out these investigative services to ensure that only those that are free of criminal records can participate in the scheme. Guards are subject to annual weapons proficiency tests to ensure that they have the requisite skills and safety awareness needed to operate. These proficiency tests are carried out by private security companies that have the capacity to do so. Again, remittances are made to the government purse towards police empowerment. This system will also ensure that a projected 400,000 jobs are created directly and in the value chain.

This should not be a rent-a-cop type arrangement where having lots of cash guarantees you the ability to be able to acquire a team of armed guards. There should be a preliminary process which determines if a potential client qualifies to have armed private guards. This process will involve risk assessments that can be carried out by accredited assessors who determine if the risk to the client, private or corporate necessitates such a bespoke service. This assessment would also recommend the manpower requirements and general security plan to be put in place for the duration. Again, this service is not a perpetual service and such assessments are valid for maximum of a year, after which a reassessment would need to be carried out. At any point within the approved year for the service, the client would be entitled to call for a reassessment where they believe that the risk has increased, and this could require more manpower or protective measures. Such risk assessments would be fed through the computer platform to the supervising government agency for approval before companies can provide the service.

Guards licenses can be issued on an annual basis and subject to laid down conditions. The guards can be part of a learning programme delivered via the platform. This will ensure that they develop other skills to transfer into other areas of security or a different sector if so required, and especially in a situation where crime statistics dip and the need for these guards drops. This is to avoid creating another social problem that has been experienced by police and military forces.

The Private Guard Companies (PGC) Act enacted in 1986 gave private sector companies the legal backing to offer security services to clients. This sector has since been regulated by the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC). In a situation that this option of providing armed private guard services is considered, there would be a need to ensure that there is an enabling law and policies in place. Also, not all companies will be allowed to provide this service. Only companies that meet the laid down criteria will be allowed to provide this service. The Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) will be essential in some aspects of this programme if it is to deliver on its core objectives. The same applies to the police and military commands. This will also ensure that there is a healthy working relationship between all parties and minimize potential conflict between such guards and these forces.

The NBS has estimated that there are 858,000 active security guards with 1,100 registered security companies. These figures indicate the increasingly critical role that private security is playing in the complex security equation. We need to explore new business models for security which can provide excellent services within the legal framework.

Captain Akhigbe is a retired military intelligence officer, terrorism researcher, and CEO of Beacon Hill Consulting