A lawyer and Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP), Mr. Akin Fakorede, who hails from Omuo-Ekiti in Ekiti State, is the Commander of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (F-SARS) in Rivers State. In this interview with THE NATION , he explains his relationship with Rivers State governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, and proffers solutions to kidnapping and other crimes.
Most people are familiar with the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). But they suddenly started seeing your men in black T-shirts F-SARS (Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad) inscription. Why the sudden change in nomenclature?
The full nomenclature is F-SARS, which stands for Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). It has been in existence for decades in the Nigeria Police Force, but the operational capability of SARS became improved with IGP Ibrahim Idris at the helm of affairs. He identified SARS as one of the tactical teams that could be engaged to combat various extreme crimes: kidnapping, armed robbery, communal attacks, cult-related gang wars and other violent activities that have bedevilled our country in recent times.
Since you became the helmsman of F-SARS in Rivers State, how many of the extreme crimes have you been able to combat?
Violent crimes are a daily occurrence in the Niger Delta. Managing extreme crimes and violent groups is done on a daily basis. We are always dealing with kidnapping, cult and robbery gangs, as well as snatching of vehicles with arms from unsuspecting citizens and gunmen who invade communities from time to time.
With your experience over the years, what is the way out of kidnapping, militancy, cultism and other crimes in the Niger Delta?
Tackling the crimes will require an integrated approach, especially many actors working together to deal with the security challenge in the Niger Delta. Security is key. In addition to security, we also need to fight crimes with jobs, morality and with the leaders setting proper examples for the youths to follow.
How can crimes be fought with morality?
It involves leaders of churches and mosques placing emphasis on Godly principles. You must be your brother’s keeper. You must not take what does not belong to you. You must not put your hope in earthly things and you must not be too materialistic. You must develop the spirit of contentment, to live a good life. Part of what is responsible for the high rate of crimes is poor moral upbringing of our youths and the attraction to filthy lucre and material things, which have taken over the time-tested and proven principles of contentment.
You admonished people not to put their hope in earthly things. Are you a child of God?
I am a Christian. I am a child of God. I am a man of faith. I believe in every word of the Bible.
Did you join the police because you did not have other options?
I developed interest in the Nigeria Police Force and joined in 1992 as a Cadet Inspector from the Police Academy, Kano, along with Frank Mba, one-time Public Relations Officer of the Nigeria Police Force, and many other young people of my age. I chose a career in the Nigeria Police Force and I have not looked back since then.
I did not opt for the police out of frustration. I joined the police because I have love for the job. I had many options then, but I decided to choose the police. The concept then was that the Police Academy, Kano, was going to start as a university during the regime of former military President Ibrahim Babangida.
The concept of Police Academy, which is today a federal university, started way back. Part of the information we had was that the university would start as far back as 1992. Unfortunately, it did not start. But we had to go through the regular training, which was very fine, and we learnt a lot.
How has it been, since you joined the police?
It has been rewarding and challenging. The police force has given me a lot of opportunities. I have served with the United Nations (UN) under the UN African Mission in Darfur, a region in Western Sudan where a major armed conflict began in February 2003. I was part of the pioneer UN team in Darfur on December 30, 2007. I have also served with the African Union (AU) in Somalia. I have been privileged to go on overseas training.
The Nigeria Police Force has also given me an opportunity to train and qualify as a lawyer from the University of Calabar (UNICAL) in Cross River State. I later went to the Nigerian Law School, Enugu Campus. Then, there was no Yenagoa Campus. I was called to the Bar in May 2007. I also have a master’s degree in Business Administration (MBA) from UNICAL. Presently, I am running a master’s programme in Law in a Nigerian university.
There have been challenges and there are challenges on a daily basis. I have escaped death on many occasions from armed gangs/armed robbers. I have accosted very daring groups of armed robbers in the Niger Delta, especially in Rivers State. We fought our way to escape. We had gun battles with various armed groups. God has always given us victory.
Have you led an operation in which you lost some of your men?
I have lost my men on many occasions in the course of duty. Death is one of the prices we pay as police officers in order to ensure the safety of lives and property of other citizens, as well as prevent the breakdown of law and order.
How do you motivate your men when they see lifeless bodies of their colleagues?
We always let them understand that it is a privilege to serve and give up one’s life for the greater good of one’s country. Anybody called to take up that task must consider him/herself honoured. The men have also come to understand that some people must stand up for Nigeria and stand on the path of what is right.
On October 5, 2017, a delegation of the Niger Delta Bishops and Ministers’ Forum, also known as United Bishops and Eminent Clerics Initiative of Nigeria Inc., gave you an award. How does it feel receiving the award at a time that Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, and his allies in the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) decided to declare war against you, accusing you of professional misconduct and taking sides with the leaders of the All Progressives Congress (APC), and calling for your transfer away from the Niger Delta state?
The award was very inspiring, highly motivating and very sobering indeed. It was never arranged. I do not know the eminent personalities across the Niger Delta region who gave me the award. The award means that in the midst of all the noise and distractions, we still have people who genuinely recognised that we are doing so much to keep them safe. That is very humbling, and I am very grateful to all the members of the Niger Delta Bishops and Ministers’ Forum for the honour and their support.
How will you react to the accusation that you and F-SARS operatives are always involved in kidnapping, armed robbery, extortion of innocent members of the public and illegal arrest of many law-abiding Rivers residents?
The allegations against F-SARS, coming from whatever quarters, are completely false and are without a single evidence or proof. The SARS in Rivers State is a unit of the Nigeria Police Force, with operatives who are disciplined, professional and committed to their duties. We have encouraged members of the public to report any infraction from any member of the unit (F-SARS). Any officer that acts in a manner unbecoming of a police officer will be disciplined in line with existing regulations.
On September 25, 2017, it was alleged that operatives of F-SARS killed a taxi driver, Mr. Ajibade Ademisoye, 42, at Rumuakunde community, Emohua town in Emohua LGA, accusing him of being a cult member, which led to massive protest against F-SARS. Why was Ademisoye killed?
Ajibade Ademisoye was a notorious cult member. On the day of the incident, he was in the midst of 12 other members of his gang at Rumuakunde community, Emohua. On the fateful day, Ademisoye and his gang sighted a police patrol team, opened fire on them and shot a policeman, Sgt. Okoroma Gift, who was later rushed to the hospital. The F-SARS operatives responded to the gun attack by Ademisoye and his gang. Ademisoye was not alone. He was with other persons who took to their heels after the shootout with the police. He was not driving a taxi. He was not killed at a checkpoint. He was killed in the bush in Rumuakunde community, Emohua.
After the shootout, we took the shot policeman and Ademisoye to the hospital. While Ademisoye was being attended to in the hospital by the medical team, they found in his pocket two rounds of live ammunition, and the medical personnel had to call the police. At the scene where the incident took place, the policemen recovered one locally-made pistol and two live cartridges.
Ademisoye might be a taxi driver, but he was not driving a taxi when he had a confrontation with the men of F-SARS. The people who protested and the persons who were levelling unfounded allegations against F-SARS were not at the scene of the incident. We were there, but they were not there. If they were there, they would have seen the policeman that was shot by the cultists. Other gang members who were with Ademisoye on the day of the incident, why are they not coming out to identify themselves and to testify on his behalf?
While we commiserate with Ademisoye’s young widow, his children and other members of his family, we maintain that the deceased engaged in activities that were not acceptable to the law and could only have himself to blame. Members of the public must know that Ademisoye was not an innocent citizen. His fate was as a result of the consequences of his action. You cannot shoot at policemen and expect them not to defend themselves. You cannot shoot at members of the public and feel that there will be no consequences. The consequences of armed insurrection is that the law enforcement agents will respond appropriately. That was exactly what we did.
There was a rerun of elections in Rivers State on December 10, 2016, but you were accused by Governor Wike and many leaders of the PDP that you intimidated and beat up officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) at the Rivers East Senatorial District’s Collation Centre, located at the secretariat of the Port Harcourt City Local Government Council (PHALGA), near the Government House, Port Harcouurt, and also that you connived with APC leaders to rig the elections in favour of the candidates of the APC. What is your reaction?
The allegations are completely false. I never connived with anybody. I never prevented INEC officials from doing their job. F-SARS men only provided security during the elections and collation of results, thereby ensuring that thugs, hoodlums and criminal elements who were disrupting the process and shooting at people were arrested.
All we (F-SARS operatives) did was to respond to distress calls at various locations to recover weapons from hoodlums who were shooting at people, attacking and killing voters. A panel was set up to look into all the incidents that occurred during the December 10, 2016 elections. Members of the panel interviewed all persons/actors in the field, including myself, and they have made their submission.
At no point was it alleged before the members of the panel that I intimidated or assaulted anybody. Nobody also stated that I snatched ballot boxes/result sheets or beat up any official of INEC.
How will you describe the calls for your transfer out of Rivers State by Governor Wike and other leaders of the PDP for allegedly disrupting the security architecture of the state, with a claim that the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) and the Police Service Commission (PSC) are shielding you?
The calls are uncalled for. There is no truth in all the allegations levelled against me and men of F-SARS in Rivers State. I need to state that I do not have any personal issue with Governor Wike and other leaders of PDP. I am simply doing my job in line with the ethics of my profession.
The Rivers Commissioner of Police, Zaki Mohammed Ahmed, is always insisting on professionalism and adherence to the rule of law by policemen in the Rivers State Police Command, including the operatives of F-SARS. If the leaders of PDP, APC and other political parties approach F-SARS and demand security, we will surely oblige all of them without taking sides, which we have been doing and will continue to do by God’s grace and mercy.
How will you describe the security situation in Rivers State, in view of the October 9, 2017 killing of no fewer than 15 innocent persons in their sleep by gunmen in a densely-populated residential area near the office of the Nigerian Agip Oil Company (NAOC) in Port Harcourt?
The security situation is challenging and we are living up to the challenge. We will deal with the security situation and ensure that everybody in Rivers State is safe. That is our mandate, especially to ensure the safety of all persons within the boundaries of Rivers State, and that we will do.
What is your advice for Rivers people as we move towards 2019?
My advice to the members of the public in Rivers State is to support the police with timely and useful information. When you see something, you say something. Everybody should also have all the security numbers that we have made available.
Policing is a partnership. Security is everybody’s business. Everybody should be vigilant. Ahead of 2019, the youths should resist being used as thugs and should always consider their future, thereby engaging in meaningful ventures to contribute to societal development.
There are lots of opportunities out there for the youth who ought not to resort to crime. There are many programmes designed by the Federal Government to engage the youth, like the N-Power and recruitments going on in all of the services. The youths should take advantage of all the government policies and programmes.
We now have transparent employment processes. Employment opportunities/vacancies are advertised daily on the Internet or social media and in newspapers. Forms are now filled online. I want to encourage the youths to take advantage of these opportunities.
The youths can also be self-employed and embrace the empowerment programmes of the Federal Government, other tiers of government, development agencies, companies, individuals and other stakeholders.
Youths will live more meaningful lives if they are engaged. The temptations to get involved in criminality will not be there if you are doing something meaningful for yourself.
What of the fears in some quarters that informants can be betrayed by some policemen?
The fears that policemen will divulge useful information given in confidence by members of the public and endanger the lives of the informants are unfounded. The people that give timely information to the police are always well protected.
In the Rivers State Police Command, especially F-SARS, nobody has given us information that we have not protected or we have not managed very well.
Information provided is always confidential and we always ensure that the information is well managed. We do not put people’s lives on the line. We are professional enough to shield persons giving information to the police.