He joined the Nigeria State Security Services (SSS) immediately after his master’s degree programme in the United States, where he attended the California State University.
Today, with almost three decades of experience as a security professional who has worked in both government and private sector, Dennis Amachree, who bagged his first degree from the University of Wisconsin, USA and also attended the ASIS Program for Security Executives at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, noted that his choice of career was ‘all in service to the nation’.
Interestingly, one of his passions is racing sports cars. “The adrenaline rush is out of this world,” he noted.
Currently, the Senior Regional Security Director, General Electric (GE) Global Growth & Operations, Sub-Saharan Africa; where he handles strategic security management of GE Assets in Sub Saharan Africa and mentoring of security resources, Amachree is a security expert across different sub-fields; including Maritime Security, Assets Protection, Crisis Management, Corporate Security Management, Investigations & Security Management. Between 1984 and 1992, Amachree served as Assistant Director, Airports & Seaports, State Security Services (SSS), where he headed Aviation & Maritime Security, Surveillance and Security Enforcement. He later became the Assistant Director Operations, State Security Services (SSS) – Lagos State, until April 1999; when he was appointed as Country Security Manager, Halliburton Energy Services Nigeria Limited, a position he held for seven years. From July 2006 to February 2012, he was Country Security Manager, Addax Petroleum Development Nigeria Limited. He is also a member of several professional associations, and was once the regional vice president, American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS), West and Central Africa.
In this exclusive interview, Amachreee, who was awarded with the Member of the Order of the Niger (MON) national honour in 2001, brings his vast experience in corporate and national security issues to bear as he talked about business, the Nigeria economy and how the country can effectively tackle its security challenges.
Sam Umukoro: Why do you think Nigeria remains a very lucrative place for investors despite her security challenges?
Dennis Amachree: Every country has its own security challenges. Nigeria is no exemption. A few years back, it was the militancy in the Niger Delta region, now it is the Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast of the country.
The good news here is that the insurgency is far removed from the international business belts of Lagos and oil-producing areas of the Niger Delta. However, you still have people getting worried when they read in the media of attacks by Boko Haram. Kidnapping, which started with the militancy in the Niger Delta, has now turned into a lucrative business in Nigeria, where the major objective is financial. As a security professional, what keeps me awake at night is how to keep company’s physical and mobile assets safe. No matter how hostile the environment presents itself, companies must continue to do business.
The difference in closing down a business or continuing to keep the shop open depends on the option or mixture of options of varied security solutions you choose from. The decision whether to avoid the risk and do something different or accept the risk and put in place mitigating measures so that business can go on, is made with top management.
Have you stopped to think, why none of the oil companies doing business in the Niger Delta closed down during the heady days of militancy, before the presidential amnesty program? You may also want to know that Nigeria is among the world’s major investment destinations. Last month, KPMG, the world renowned audit and financial company, found out through their review that BRICA countries (Brazil, India, China and South Africa) posted disappointing returns, with the exemption of China.
This finding has worked in favor of the MINT countries (Mexico, Indonesia Nigeria and Turkey), which are now the investors’ safe havens for global growth. For one, Nigeria is well positioned to receive companies operating in the infrastructure, energy and financial services sector.
The security business in Nigeria has also evolved to meet up with these challenges, giving assurances to multi-national companies seeking to do business in the Nigerian space.
Sam Umukoro: How safe really is it to do business in Nigeria?
Dennis Amachree: Nigeria remains one of the most attractive destinations for business in Africa. Many individuals and corporate bodies are wary about doing business in Nigeria because of security and safety concerns. However, security and safety are relative terms, in the sense that among the variables that businesses consider before investing their money, security remains a manageable risk.
Yes, security issues continue to show high on the corporate or individual dashboard, but then, there are more important and attractive variables that continue to attract investors into Nigeria.
Just like doing business in any other part of the world, companies will always factor mitigating measures into their cost of doing business in hostile and violent environment worldwide.
Sam Umukoro: What is the role of government, public and the private sector in this regard?
Dennis Amachree: The role of any well-meaning government is to create conducive environment for business to thrive. Without adequate security, companies will shy away from the country.
However, I can confidently say that government has done well in partnering with companies to provide security and ensure that they continue to do business. What I will advise is that the government should pay more attention to arresting the surge in urban crimes.
Lagos has always been a good example, where the government spends to put the necessary security resources in place to scare away criminals. Lagos, which is larger than many countries in the world, has one of the lowest crime rates in the sub-region. That brings me back to the growth of industrial security in Nigeria. Private security companies have done so well in developing local talents.
About ten years ago, Nigeria had about 3 Certified Protection Professionals (CPP), the highest board certification in the world for security professionals. Through my effort, in collaboration with other security professionals, we have been able to boost that figure to 50; which includes Physical Security Professional. There are two professional security institutes and six security training schools.
Three universities are now awarding diplomas and advanced diplomas in security management. In general, the cognitive aspect of security has risen, elevating the function from the gate-house to the board room. I am happy to be one of the pioneers of this transformation.
Sam Umukoro: In the face of new challenges, how can oil infrastructures be more secured in the Niger Delta region?
Dennis Amachree: Oil is the bloodline of the Nigerian economy. If this postulation is true, then the Nigerian government ought to do more in securing this most important national asset. This will include the people working in these fields, the infrastructures, as well as the supply chain for this sector.
I will prefer the Israeli model, where oil infrastructures are classified as top security national assets and are restricted with an exclusion zone. Just like a nuclear plant, you don’t just go near it, not to talk of going into it. In offshore fields in Nigeria, we have had occasions where fishermen come to a rig, tie their boats to the leg of the rig and start fishing or smoke a cigarette while resting, not minding the safety risks of doing so.
I will recommend that all oil production platforms, both onshore and offshore, maintain and enforce an exclusion zone. I mean active enforcement of the exclusion zone. In addition, the supply chain management is critical and will need the support of the Nigeria Navy as a matter of course. Government cannot afford to leave the security of these assets to the operating companies.
Sam Umukoro: What role does security play in a company’s growth?
Dennis Amachree: Like any other function in a ‘serious’ company, security plays a very important role. For instance, we have taken the security function in the oil industry to a level where top management depend on security for accurate risk assessment, operations security plans, business continuity and competitive intelligence. Going to carry out drilling operations in an uncharted community or offshore location is like going in there blind-folded.
The security function has also taken up other responsibilities in support of human resources management, like vetting prospective job candidates and travel advisory systems in journey management. Security is becoming more and more the fulcrum or pivot on which successful business operations revolve.
Sam Umukoro: How would you tackle insecurity in general?
Dennis Amachree: You mean tackling insecurity in society? As society evolve and grow bigger, we also experience a collateral increase in crime. As much as all fingers are not equal, some shorter fingers would like to be longer.
The have-nots would always want to acquire or appropriate some of what the rich have. It is natural. As security professionals, we fall back on the fundamental principles of why crime exists. For instance, stealing will never occur if the opportunity to steal does not exist, period.
As long as the opportunity exists, it does not matter who you are, stealing will occur. So what security professionals do is to remove or guide the opportunity to steal, by making people aware of the various security threats, control access, monitor critical and sensitive infrastructures; all in a bid to discourage would-be-criminals. Unfortunately in Nigeria, a lot of people are not security conscious.
We take a lot of things for granted and sometimes think “it will not happen to us.” Let us not even start complaining about the police, let us take our destiny in our hands and ensure that no crime takes place near us. I can see new estates in Lagos forming security committees to watch their environment. That is a good start. If we say no to crime and remove the opportunity for it to exist, society will be more secure.
Sam Umukoro: Why did you join the SSS after your Master’s degree in the United States?
Dennis Amachree: My joining the Nigerian Security Organisation (NSO), which later metamorphosed into the State Security Services (SSS), was by accident. I returned to Nigeria in 1982 during the political days of Alhaji Shehu Shagari. Nigeria was trying out democracy after many years of military rule. After the mandatory NYSC, I got a job in the Nigerian Senate as a Legislative Assistant to a Senator. We were barely three months on the job, when the military struck again and we all returned to the job market.
Then I heard about a recruitment exercise for intelligence officers in the NSO. At that time, the Service was looking for university graduates of all disciplines – Bachelor’s, Master’s and PHD levels, in a bid to restructure it into a world class intelligence agency.
We were about 98 that were recruited at that time. From that day, it has been a journey in patriotic excitement, in the sense that I came to know more about this country – Nigeria. It also opened my eyes to the subterranean realities of government, politics and society. Sometimes I smile when I hear people arguing and criticizing government, without understanding the variables at play. For instance, a president is fed with huge amount of information and intelligence from which he has to take a decision. Such decisions are sometimes hard to take as there are various factors at play, all competing to influence that decision.
Joining the government security agency also prepared me for industrial security. The transition from securing a nation to securing company assets was not easy. The parameters in government go with a level of impunity, while industrial security is guided by company policies and law.
Sam Umukoro: Did you face any obstacle or opposition from family members?
Dennis Amachree: There was no opposition whatsoever when I joined the security services. My father was a soldier. My younger brother was in the Nigerian Navy. So it was natural for me to get into a paramilitary agency, all in service to the nation.
Sam Umukoro: How do you unwind?
Dennis Amachree: Music, music, music. It has a calming effect on me. My preference cuts across a broad spectrum. My base is jazz music, but I listen to reggae, highlife and Ghanaian and South African genres of gospel music. I also watch television.
My preferences are episodes of Crime and Investigations, espionage movies and our good old Nollywood movies. For Nollywood, I watch them for the themes and storylines, which mirror the Nigerian society. My other passion is racing my sports car. The adrenalin rush is out of this world.
Sam Umukoro: What is your guiding principle?
Dennis Amachree: I have many guiding principles. The golden rule of our Lord is the one I cherish most… “Do unto other as you would want then do unto you.” Another one is “telling the truth and making someone cry is better than telling a lie and making someone happy.” I always strive to live a simple life, nothing sophisticated. Be true to my neighbor. I hate to see people suffering. My biggest fear is not death, but the future of the country called Nigeria.