Prince (Dr.) Ifalade Oyekan is the General Manager, Lagos State Neighbourhood Safety Agency (LNSA). In this wide-ranging interview with Newsbreak’s TAIWO ADELU and GABRIEL NTOKA, the Nigerian and British-trained lawyer and a Crown Prince of Lagos talks about how the LNSA is set to deploy technology in changing the face of security in Lagos – one of the emerging mega cities of the world, its synergy with various communities across the state and other law enforcement agencies regarding intelligence gathering and dissemination. Prince Oyekan, who was recently awarded a Doctorate Degree by the Victoria Global University discusses why he is working hard to leave a legacy for the youths as a role model.
The Lagos State Government recently unveiled body-worn camera, as one of the technologies to enhance quality security surveillance in the state. Why was this step taken and what role did the LNSA play in all of this?
Well, the Lagos State Neighbourhood Safety Agency was involved in the experiment and testing of the body-worn camera for security agencies in Lagos State. I went to about six countries of the world to enquire and I saw some of the body-worn camera used in these countries. I considered it as a noble development but one challenge is that it is not peculiar to Nigeria and Lagos State, most especially. So, whatever you are doing, you have to take cognisance of our environment.
The device has a slot for SIM card, which means it is automatically connected because there is data there, then you connect it to your backend. So, I don’t need to start chasing any law-enforcement officer to know whether he or she is on duty, I just sit down because it is a mobile CCTV. People call it a body-worn camera because it is worn on the body but it is a mobile CCTV. But we in Nigeria and Lagos State, in particular, have to know how to use it first because everything that the officer encounters and sees on the road while they are working, the monitoring officer can also see it from the office at their backend. They have lovely functions but some of the cameras I saw in those countries were big and we had to consider the weight of the cameras vis-à-vis the uniforms in order for it not to drag the officers’ clothing and slow them down in the course of their work. So, I was looking for something lighter because I wanted a device that could be hanged on the officer’s shirt and not affect the person.
One of the countries I went was Germany where I saw a type of camera. It is big as well, but it’s light. But we can’t discard this one because it has a wide range, which enables it to capture lots of activities. This is the same camera that was launched by Mr. Governor at the event recently. So, by the time we deploy these to our law-enforcement officials, myself or any monitoring official can just sit down in the control room and monitor everything that the officer does and record. The body-worn camera now checks the officers as well, not only the citizens, because we need to re-orientate them and change their etiquettes because they are being funded by taxpayers’ money. A white officer overseas will tell a person stopped “sorry, sorry”, but he will get judgment out of the citizen, especially if the citizen is the offending party while respecting the person at the same time. So, we need to check our officers’ behaviour and put them to the best of their ability.
Also, gone are those days that the citizens’ word is against the officer’s own, that an argument erupts with a citizen saying “no, I didn’t do this, I didn’t go one-way’ because some motorists would be plying one-way but when they see a LASTMA officer, they will jump to the correct lane and they will be arguing. When people come to the scene, they see the motorist on the right lane not knowing that he or she has committed an offence. So, I don’t need to argue with anybody, you will look at it yourself, see you on the wrong way, and what this metamorphoses to is that we get our cases at the mobile court or the magistrate court or whichever court easily, we don’t need to prolong issues. So, it hastens the court process.
But we have reports of incidents like in the United States where some officers are deemed to have turned off their body-worn cameras. What are you doing to mitigate this kind of issue?
I like that question. Once a camera is turned off, there is a penalty for it. Once you are on beat – an officer’s beat is eight hours and the battery lasts for 24 hours. So, there is no excuse for an officer to say that “my camera’s battery went off”. Even when an officer goes to the restroom, you don’t turn it off because it is only a restroom that has a camera opposite you that would reflect what you’re doing, and if it does not have a mirror you stand or sit down in a certain way and people will know that you went to a restroom because you must account for every movement of yours.
Now, there is an investigation ongoing where one of our officers is aiding investigation in a murder case. If at that time the officer had a body-worn camera, we would know his movement and what he did and saw at the scene. This is what we want to do, we want to bring back sanity into the environment, into the community.
So, what about the deployment? When will the state government deploy the cameras for the state security officials to use?
For the deployment, it will happen after the training at LETI (Law Enforcement Training Institute of Lagos State). You know LETI trains all the law-enforcement officials of Lagos State. When I was at LETI, I met four, my four became five and when people saw what we were doing, LASBCA (Lagos State Building Control Agency) came saying they want to train their law enforcement officials because they go to demolish houses that have contravened regulations. Also, LASWA (Lagos State Waterways Authority) came, other agencies that are involved in safety also came because they saw what is happening, that they don’t need to take their officials over to anywhere, we can do the training here in Lagos. When the Deputy Governor (Obafemi Hamzat) came for our passing-out parade of the last training, he was amazed and asked different questions. He said, “we know LETI is here but I cannot believe that you are doing this great job here”.
When we got the body-worn cameras, what I did was to train law enforcement officials. We sent letters out asking security agencies to send two of their men for training. Those are the pioneer officials that used the body-worn camera and we trained them, we gave it to them to go out on the street to make use of them to see how it would come to shape. While I was still at LETI, we wrote a submission, which the governor approved. It was to procure the body-worn camera for training. So, they have the camera there (at LETI). So when the officials are trained, they return back to their different agencies well equipped with the skill to operate the camera. Now, every agency has started submitting a proposal to procure the camera, we’ve written our own so that once they finish with the training, they buy and we can deploy, but nothing stops us from conducting an in-house training as well because we want to marry it to what we want to do.
When is the training at LETI starting?
The training would start very soon. The state government is trying to put the logistics and every other thing together. Once the training starts and finishes – we (LNSA) always have our own officers at LETI – we would then sit down and among our own law enforcement officials to start selecting those who excel during the training programme. We would then do proper in-house training for them and deploy them because you cannot just give a body-worn camera to somebody that is using a “palasa” phone, meanwhile, this is advanced technology and, more importantly, this is taxpayers’ money. So, we don’t have to get it wrong, we have to get it right. The officers need to hold it LIVE because this is their lives.
For example, what you asked about if an officer turns off his or her body-worn camera, let’s say by the time an officer turns off the camera and we discover that where that particular officer’s beat is there is an incident and the officer in question does not have evidence of it, weighs above truancy. Then, you get a bigger punishment than just turning the camera off because you turned it off and there was an incident that we need evidence of. It’s gross misconduct compared to turning off the camera and nothing happened, but it’s still an offence. You know when you evaluate an offence, you consider it grade by grade.
With all this sophisticated technology that you hope to deploy soon, what is the level of education for persons to be potentially employed at the LNSA?
What Mr. Governor has said about employment, and he has made it point-blank, is that we should consider the youths. We want young people, agile job people, people that have been saying they want jobs. These are the people he said we should go for. If we can engage the youths, then the behaviour of those of them employed will start changing. They will say mi ti ri ise oooo (I have found work) and they will not want to participate in any negative activity that may affect them. They will want to focus, and that energy that they use on negative things, they should come and use it to serve and save this state.
The educational requirement used during recruitment is a school certificate of two sittings, just like other law-enforcement agencies. Then, the employed officers can bag as many degrees and certification as possible, but they must be youths.
As the LNSA name implies, it deals more with communities. How is the agency’s synergy with communities in Lagos State, particularly with regards to intelligence gathering?
When we talk about our operation, it is of two folds: operation and intelligence officers. We call them undercover corps around the world. Our operations officers are the ones you see on the streets and for every law enforcement officer, for example, you live in Surulere, I won’t deploy you to Epe because you don’t know anything about that area, but if you posted around your community, you know who and who stays in a particular area. That is one salient point that you need to know. We deploy officers according to where they reside so that they know Mr A, Mr B and when there is an uprising, you know who and who are involved because they are part and parcel of the community. The officers in the operations are the ones in uniform, they are the ones that move around on bicycles into the communities to see what is happening around us.
I myself also go about to monitor events in Lagos, I don’t just sit in the office as a Chief Executive and just expect a report. I’ve had to go to Apongbon on a couple of occasions to monitor activities, as well as other parts of Lagos. One thing I also observed is that while in traffic, some people put their bags on their laps and sleep off while their windows are rolled down and they complain that they have been robbed. Some other persons will be answering phone calls with their windows rolled down in traffic. They are just giving the traffic robbers an offer to wreak havoc. So from inside the traffic, I tell the motorists and commuters to please put their bags down properly or keep their phones in their vehicles. It is leading by example. It is the duty of those placed in the position of authority to serve their people.
Regarding intelligence, the first thing that I did when I resumed was to work with my intelligence officers to compile the list of uncompleted buildings in Lagos State. We gave a copy to the governor, my commissioner (Lagos State Commissioner of Justice), LASBCA, because they are involved with buildings, the DSS, the police. I stand to be corrected: not that we got everything but at least for us to have gotten this huge number shows what we are doing. The governor was on Arise News during his interview on his second year in office to tell the world what he was doing on security. This is what he was talking about when he said that there was no hideout for the hoodlums because Neighbourhood Corps has given me a comprehensive list of abandoned buildings as potential hideouts. The Senior Special Assistant to a Commissioner saw a street on this list and said “haa, inu ileyi niwon pa cousin mi kan si” (a cousin of mine was killed in this house). The intelligence officers dress like you and we encourage them to mingle with people. It is when these officers mingle that they would get the necessary information we need from these communities.
Now, we did the list of illegal cooking gas stations and selling points across Lagos State and submitted it two weeks ago. People have started to buy the big gas cylinder; they bring it to the communities and start selling it bit by bit. It is dangerous because once it goes off, the entire surrounding will be affected. We submitted it just about two weeks ago just before we got the Ikeja gas explosion that happened recently. It was the intelligence guys that did the work on gathering this information on the illegal gas stations. So, there is an emphasis on intelligence gathering here- that is the main art of the LNSA.
From intelligence reports, we found out that the hoodlums don’t keep their ammunition in their houses again because they know law enforcement can come there at any time. The same goes for cart pushers across the state. You will notice that this cart is invariably small at the beginning of the day but is very high by the evening. Please, notice that. What is being stored there?
So, these are the details that our intelligence officers continue to find out and investigate.
As the security apparatus that is seen to be closer to the grassroots, what do you think is largely responsible for violence and other acts of lawlessness in the state?
The issue of violence and the reason behind it I would say is specific to different parts of the state. In the Island area, for example, it is an issue of “I want to control my territory” and that’s between the transport union workers on one hand and some persons living around the area on the other. When you go to Ikorodu, their major problem is cultism.
So, every area has its own problem and we are able to identify and act. About two weeks ago till last week, I stationed 50 of our officers at Idumota because that was where the recent incident on the Island took place and the area became calm afterwards after interventions. I even went there myself to evaluate the situation and talked to all the parties involved to go and settle their problem amicably instead of fighting one another on the streets.
How is the synergy between the LNSA, the police and other security agencies?
We have good synergy with the police, the Task Force and the RRS. We have to partner with the police because we don’t have firearms. I recently visited Yinka Egbeyemi (Commander of the Rapid Response Squad, Lagos Police Command), it was in the news. We are seriously working together. We also collaborate with the DSS when it comes to information. So, I can say the LNSA is doing well in that regard.
What do you want to see the Lagos State government do more for the LNSA to boost its operations?
When you are talking about doing more, I met with Mr Governor at Epe and I told him that “we are doing the job, sir”, he said it himself that “we (LASG) need to do more”. When you are talking about security, there is no end to what you can do, it’s a continuous thing because you find out that other challenges will spring up and you still need to tackle them. I have the assurance of Mr Governor, one of the things we can request for now is mobility. We need to change some of our vehicles, especially those used for operations, because of the wear and tear and he has promised us that with the help of the Lagos State Security Trust Fund, he will give us some vehicles to match up with what we have.
It is not in doubt that you are vigorously displaying an unrivalled passion for your work, a trait that is rarely seen in public service, despite your background. Why are you doing this?
The most important thing behind me having this zeal to work is that I am not ready to set the youths back by 10 years. I cannot afford to do that because if I don’t work well, youths will demand that they want to be included in governance but people will ask “why do you want to be included, we gave some youths the opportunity and they misused it”, they will now start mentioning names, maybe they will call my name and say “sebi omoba le pe, Prince ni now” (you said he is a Prince) and he is a lawyer, what did he do? But when you do it right, people will look at your face and say “a se dada” (we did it well) and list names for example.
Outside security now, we know you with Erinjogunola Life Foundation, your NGO which is prominent for its humanitarian works. What is happening around the NGO now?
The NGO is still alive but because of my appointment, I have to hands up and take a leave for someone else to run the foundation because I can’t have a conflict of interest. So, it’s there, it’s alive, they are working. We have a board of trustees working but it’s just me excusing myself because I have to answer the call of my fatherland.
You have always said that you are a believer and supporter of the youths. Why are you insistent on taking such a stance and participating in events concerning the young ones?
I believe in the empowerment of the youths. I am always a supporter of the youths and have participated in activities encouraging the youths. I used to be the chairman of Lagos State Divisional Football Association. I was there for two terms. And after two terms, I contested to be an executive board member of the Lagos State Football Association, which I am sitting on the board for a second term under Barrister Seyi Akinwunmi. I love going out there to do what I know how to do best, which is supporting the youths. I am the Chairman of the Grassroots Development Committee of the association and at the last event, I donated cash and trophy for women’s football. We need to support the development of women football.