A former Ag. Commandant General of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NCSDC), Fellow of many security related institutions, High Chief Adetunji Adeleye in this interview with Senior Editors of The Hope narrates his experience since he took up the job as the Commander of Ondo State Security Network, Amotekun and how they have been able to reduce crime rate in the state. Excerpts:
A lot of people do not know your background, please, briefly tell us about yourself ?
My name is High Chief Adetunji Adeleye, I am from Iloro Quarters in Owo.
I had my elementary school in Ibadan. Basically, I had my first degree in Electrical Engineering. I also studied Public Administration and had Masters in Public Administration. I did Diploma in Law then I veered into security and I have degrees in Security Operations and Operational Management.
I am a Fellow of so many security related institutions, including the prestigious Institute of Security of Nigeria. I am a Fellow of the Institute of Counter Terrorism.
Before this appointment, I run an engineering outfit; T.J Associates and I have offices in Lagos, Akure, Abuja and Porthacourt. I undertake Engineering construction jobs.
But before then, I was into Civil Defence. Initially, when Civil Defence was a voluntary organization, I was the Principal Staff to the then Commandant-General and I did a paper on the possibility of transforming Civil Defence to a full fledge paramilitary like I saw when I was in Geneva and I found out that most of the criminal activities around them were tackled by Civil Defence.
This came to my mind because I found out that more than 80 percent of the mobile policemen we are having are already assigned to VIP protection jobs and very few are left to combat crime.
So the then Commandant General, Chief (Dr) Abiodun Sunday, which I was the Head of the Secretariat and Principal Officer to and my substantive rank at that time was an Assistant Commandant-General agreed with me and called a meeting; invited all the 36 states and Abuja Commanders of Civil Defence as a voluntary organization to Abuja and he made me to represent what I told him.
All of them bought into it and they asked me for the way out and of course I already had a roadmap so I laid it bare and a committee was set up, for which I was made the Chairman to procure legal backing for Civil Defense.
Then we got to a temporary bus stop: we needed funding. I did not want to go into the details but apparently the meeting could not go on because of funding. After about six months, we came back to the same Abuja with Chief (Dr) Abiodun Sunday as the Commandant-General then and I volunteered to finance enmasse the entire project, which I underestimated at that time was going to cost less than N300 million. The exercise was a very tedious one and as the Chairman of the committee, I was determined to succeed.
We eventually got the then Chief Whip of the Senate, Senator Roland Owie to sponsor the bill for us. I was the only officer that defended the bill on the floors of the House of Reps and the Senate and we were able to secure the bill.
I personally assented to the first copy of the bill I submitted to President Olusegun Obasanjo at that time and I took the first assented copy to the government printer in Lagos for an official gazette.
As the Chairman of the committee too, I was able to see this through; got the President to assent to it after giving us series of tests and security related assignments to justify that we are good to go and ready for the task.
I equipped all the offices in 36 states and commissioned them as full government parastatal, and full paramilitary. At that time, I was promoted to the substantive rank of the Deputy Commandant-General and acting Commandant-General of Civil Defence until I stepped aside from Civil Defence.
When the issue of insecurity became problematic in the Southwest, we were all scrambling for safety and looking for a way out until when I was invited by the state government. Initially, I was skeptical about leaving my business. By the grace of God, I have a flourishing business: a construction outfit but I had to sacrifice to leave this and come to serve my people and that’s how I found myself in Amotekun.
Now that you have come to Amotekun, what has been your experience so far?
When we came into Amotekun mid last year, robbery, bags snatching, cultism and a wide range of criminal activities were the order of the day in the state and most of these went on unabated.
So the first problem we were confronted with was herders and farmers’ clashes all over .
These herders, most of the time, do take laws into their hands and ravaged people’s farms. So we embarked on sensitization with the ‘Miyetti Allah Chairman and we advised him to caution his men. Within the first three weeks, we had a distress call from a farmer around Alagbaka area, where about 100 cows encroached his farm. They (the herders) attempted to rape the wife of the farmer and beat the farmer to a stupor.
We got there and attempted to talk to the herders but they attacked us instead. So, we had no choice than to arrest them and the cows, so we moved the cows to our yard and we made them to pay compensation to the farmer. We have since done this in well over 500 cases since we started this journey.
Again, the issue of Okada riders following people from bank and snatching their bags was also very prevalent. So we embarked on massive patrol of all local government headquarters and within our first two months, we were able to substantially reduce this.
On the issue of kidnapping, we were able to procure few of the needed equipment to work with and we have been able to apprehend suspects and I think right now, an average good citizen of the state would have started seeing the difference between then and now.
We would remember that in November- December, especially after the Endsars crisis, when weapons found their ways into wrong hands, when criminals were released from police stations and cells, so we found out that over 80percent of these cases were Okada riders as the perpetrators. It was either they conveyed them or helped them get away.
So, the state Government came up with the policy of banning Okada riders after 6pm and for the first two months when this was enforced, the crime rate dropped by over 80percent, but after this, we found out these criminals had not gone, they only went hiding.
So, in December we launched “Operation Clean Up” and the essence of this operation was to take the battle to the dark spots. Instead of allowing the criminals to come and attack, we go to them where they are and we were able to apprehend well over 300suspects to which over 50 of them were convicted and others sent to relevant sister security agencies we operate together.
Don’t forget that Amotekun is supposed to compliment the efforts of other security agencies and the security architecture of the state.
What are the modus operandi you have adopted since your men are not allowed to bear arms and will you say the existence of Amotekun is justified?
The existence of Amotekun is justified. I will tell you this that an average citizen has so much confidence in Amotekun and we owe this to God Almighty and the support of the state government. His Excellency, the Governor of Ondo State, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, SAN, is very passionate about security of lives and property in Ondo State. Within the limit of the available resources, he ensures that at least we can overcome challenges.
On the issues of fire arms, the law setting up the Corps did not forbid our use of fireams, but it states that we can use non-prohibited fire arms. The constraints we have with this is that the people we want to go and meet are using sophisticated weapons but don’t forget that we took our men through very rigorous training and simulated situations we are likely to meet in the forest with armed robbers, kidnappers and cultists.
So our men are really grounded in the art of curbing these nefarious activities. And if you look at our style of recruitment, it cuts across different categories of people: we have in all local governments coordinators, who manage the local governments but at the training ground, we have ex-service men. We have trained hunters, we have members of OPC, we have members of Vigilante Society of Nigeria, all brought together, so our first two weeks intensive training was to make them drop their old training and imbibe the Amotekun culture which starts with Omoluabi, which means that in the way you even attend to criminals, the character of Omoluabi must reflect because Amotekun is a security outfit of our people, by our people and for them.
So you cannot afford to treat them shabbily. So in a situation where criminals even attempt to shoot you, you don’t shoot them back; you attempt to collect the gun from them and tell them why it is wrong. it is only when it gets to a very extreme case that we use some subtle force. But we know what we want to do and we stop at nothing getting them.
Is there anything mystical about Amotekun? People believe that you people have metaphysical powers?
I will not call it metaphysical powers. In Amotekun, we have prophets, we have herbalists, we have professional security people. We have local people with local intelligence all combined together. That’s why with your AK47 you will see somebody that will merely say ‘bring the gun’ and you will obey. It has happened in so many places.
In Jugbere, (Illegal gold mining spot) it was real warfare. We got to Jugbere at about 3 am, virtually all security agents that had been given that challenge could not go there. We know that there is gold in Ondo State. We were on the road for almost five hours before we got to the point and we were confronted by various situations that if it were a conventional security officer, he would go back.
We got to a point where they spoke to cows and cows came to attack us physically and blocked the road and somebody was talking to the cows but we were also able to talk to the cows and they left the road and we passed.
We got to another point where Indian Hemp farmers opened fire on us but to the glory of God, none of us was hurt. You will remember that there was a news after that 32 members of Amotekun were killed and it went viral. Not one single person died but ordinarily we walked into their trap.
Looking back they were there, in front they were there, left they were there, right they were there and they opened fire on our convoy. So, at that instance, they felt that if these people were hundred, maybe about eighty of them would have died but none of us died. Rather, we were able to arrest some of them and we brought them to book. Some of them are already at the Correctional Centers now.
One major feat that the Amotekun Corps have been able to achieve is in the area of securing prosecution of suspects directly. We found out that close to a thousand criminals that were apprehended in our first six months of intensive operations, less than ten of them were convicted and it demoralised my men.
So, we had to go back to the drawing board to study the law and we approached the Ministry of Justice. All the people we arrested now except those that involved interagency, we are prosecute directly. Right now, we prosecuting kidnappers.
How many prosecutions so far?
Not less than twenty, we have close to a hundred at Correctional Centers in Owo and Ondo now directly prosecuted through the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution, Ministry of Justice by Amotekun.
What is the Amotekun doing about some dark spots in the state, the Ifon-Benin road, Akoko-Okene-Abuja road? They have constituted serious challenges to the state?
The issue of dark spots has to do with topography and that will invite criminals to the road.These roads are bad; vehicles will naturally slow down and this is an opportunity for them to strike. So, what we do is; we maintain regular patrol but we cannot be static, we maintain regular patrol around the places.
Look at the instance of the Ifira Akoko kidnap case that involved a pastor about three weeks ago. We got a distress call that a number of vehicles were attacked by kidnappers and we moved into the bush immediately. At a point, we asked ourselves; why are we going on a rescue mission? It was to bring the victim back alive. So, we weigh the chances of attack. What we do is to put subtle pressure most of the time on the kidnappers so that we put them on their toes. When they are no longer comfortable; you first found them saying they wanted fifty million naira, later they’ll say they want five million. When we are closing in on them and they know they might be arrested yet they want to get something and they will say bring five hundred thousand.
You can imagine somebody starting from fifty million naira to five hundred thousand. In most of these cases, we want to place premium on the life of the victim first. Once we rescue the victim; we now go after the kidnappers and to a large extent we’ve been able to do that .
In the Akoko area, we actually brought four of the victims to our office in Akure, took them to hospital, took care of them, housed them for about four-five days before we reunited them with their families but the late pastor was not lucky enough, he was exhausted.
When we debriefed the people that we were able to secure their release, they said when the criminals saw Amotekun coming, they ran and left the pastor.
So for us to now trace back where the man was; was after two days because we were combing the forest. These people (other victims) were too tired to talk. We brought them to Police Hospital in Akure. They were not able to talk until after forty-eight hour, that was when we went back to specifically trace the area, because they told us that when they left the man, the man went near water and was trying to drink and they left him. So, this is a typical example of what Amotekun is doing.
There were instances where these things happened against Yoruba people. I also have some of them in Correction Center. they went with a bus to steal cows from the Fulanis and ran to Ijebu-Ode. So, I went to Ijebu-Ode and brought them back, brought the vehicle, brought the cows, released the cows to the Fulani man and I took them to the appropriate quarters.
That is to show that we are not against any particular people, we are against criminals and criminality.
Now there is a resurgence of criminals attacking filling stations at night, what is the Amotekun doing about this?
Well, we stopped “Operation Clean Up” last month because it was not supposed to be a continuous exercise but His Excellency has redirected that we commence again.
With Operation Clean Up, it involves twenty-four hour patrol. Residence of Akure, for instance, will know that at a point in time, everyday you’ll hear the siren or noise of Amotekun virtually in every street in Akure but we felt crime was going down, but now that it is coming back.
But you see people started complaining about the economic situation and the discomfort but if you compare risk of loss of life to discomfort, I think they will prefer one.
Do you get intelligence support from sister agencies and what are you doing to ensure that atleast in all local government areas, you encourage people to pass information to Amotekun?
Thank you very much. First, I give kudos to all the security agencies in Ondo State for their support. We have fantastic working relationship. As it is, as I am here now, you’ll find out that there’s a Police detachment with us, when we go to operations.
We are on a kidnap issue in Owo as we talk, the tracking; most of the time it’s been done by the Department of State Security Service, when they give it to us most of the time, they cannot go into the interior. At times, we got to places where the police felt they do not know this place well but because we have indigenes of virtually every local government, every town amongst us, so we can tell you ‘oga, let’s pass through this water, it is not more than three feet. A policeman would have said I don’t know this water but we know it. That is just as an example.
So, we have a very good working relationship and synergy with the Police, Army, Civil Defence, DSS and the DIA; we share information, we share intelligence. We also have our intelligence Corps: regular and voluntary in all the local government areas.
So essentially we encourage the good people of Ondo state to give us timely and correct information. They can send them to our hotline: 08079999989 and we treat information on this line with strictest confidentiality. Even when you talk to us, another officer, who is not directly connected will not know the source.