When Sa’adatu Abubakar first stepped foot on the grounds of the American University of Nigeria 10 years ago as a food vendor, little did she know that in a short while, she would begin training to be one of AUN’s elite security officers protecting the 2,400 hectares of AUN. A campus the size of almost 5000 football fields.
It all started with an act of generosity. A staff noticed how she gave people food even when they could not pay for it and thought she was exactly the kind of person they were looking for. After passing preliminary security checks and evaluations, she began training. External security forces trained the new recruits in what some have said is the most grueling physical and mental experience of their lives. They received a series of lectures on security issues and field training.
“We would run every morning, and then have lectures in the afternoons. We ran so much that our feet hurt. Some couldn’t even continue so they quit”.
“People laughed at us because they thought we were doing a useless job. My children also didn’t understand at first. Even I was embarrassed about the job and training. But later on, I became proud of it, and people understood that it was a noble job”. Said Sa’adatu.
Sa'adatu before she joined AUN
She is a single mother of 3 in her late forties. Born and brought up in Jada, Adamawa state. As a young girl, she was very hardworking and would not let hardship and financial difficulties get in the way of her education. When her parents could no longer afford to pay her fees, she dropped out in JSS 3 to raise money. She worked as a nanny for two years to enable her complete her education. Despite her best efforts, she got married immediately after her secondary education. This was very unfortunate for her as she was one of the smartest students at school. Never in her wildest imaginations did she picture herself becoming a security officer.
“I would not have believed it. I never even pictured myself marrying a security officer talk more of being one myself.”
She recalls her dad telling her one day that if she did not study hard in school, she might not get a job even as a security officer. That sounded strange to Sa’adatu.
“How can I go to school and end up being a security guard?” she thought. Before becoming a security officer, she was into petty trading, selling household items and food.
As fate would have it, Sa’adatu became a security officer and excelled at it. “She is one of our best officers” Assistant Vice President for Security & Safety, Lionel Rawlins said. “She is well respected not only because of her age, but because of her leadership qualities; she stands as a voice of reason for the younger officers, and even for students with certain problems”. Sa’adatu is also energetic and hardworking. “This lady, as old as she is, can run around this campus three times; many in their 20s cannot run one time around. She is a solidly committed officer and we are proud of her,” said Dr. Rawlins.
Life as a Security Guard
Life as a security guard has been both rewarding and tasking for Sa’adatu. The most difficult part for her has been odd sleep hours. Security involves night shifts, sleeping in the mornings and afternoons after her night shifts mean less time to do other things or spend with family. However, through her work, she met a lot of people and learned a lot.
“if not through this work, would I have met you?” she asked me rhetorically. She also learned a lot from her training. “I learned various tips and tricks to help me identify criminals or suspicious people. I could read people’s body language, and know how to deal with criminals appropriately”.
As a corporal security officer, she was trained “to protect people and property, this is my job. So, I observe everything and protect the area I am assigned to guard. I record every suspicious activity even if it’s a strange bird that flies over the dorm, I observe it and record it”.
Sa’adatu recounts an incident that occurred when she first began work at AUN. One night during the summer semester, she heard gunshots coming from the outskirts. Many ran for safety. She and some other security officers went to check what was going on. It was a huge relief for them when they found out it was just another campus security unit shooting.
Securing a Campus, the Size of 5000 Football Fields
AUN is arguably one of the most secure environments in the whole of Nigeria. “The quality of security at AUN is by far, beyond anything you can find in Nigeria,” says Dr. Lionel Rawlins, the Assistant Vice President for Safety & Security Operations at the university. Dr. Rawlings is a US Army veteran who served in Afghanistan. AUN’s security is made up of educated, well-trained, and disciplined men and women. “Most of our officers have diplomas, BSc/BA, and HND degrees. Many have MSc/MA degrees while a few are working on their PhDs. Half of our officers are currently enrolled in tertiary institutions, including right here at AUN”.
“We do not justify bad behavior nor do we tolerate incompetence”. Said Dr. Rawlins. Securing a campus as big as this is not easy, and most people do not know what it takes. “Most people think that all we do is “open the gates” and check ID cards. That is just a small part of what we do. We operate on an extremely high level that most will never understand and do not even know. We have units that perform various functions; for example, we have drones that soar above and around the campus that most never see or hear, horses that patrol the outskirts of the campus, K9 (dogs) that patrol around the campus, 24 hours a day, a Special Squad of armed personnel who are always in the bush, 24 hours a day, plus other units such as traffic, logistics, drugs and alcohol, surveillance and detectives, CCTV operators, Internal Affairs (IA) tailoring, drivers, communications, safety, bomb squad, Serial Mike, education unit, training and scheduling, and environmental engineers. We have armed mobile police around the campus and at various places. We also have other things in place that we do not talk about but are very effective in keeping us safe” he added.
“Sometimes some students think we are their enemies whenever we try to enforce a rule”. Sa’adatu’s message to the students is that “we are not their enemies. We just want to protect them and no matter what happens, we are here for them. We will make sure they are safe first before we think of ourselves. Everything we are doing is for them.”
Our officers are here to keep you safe” adds Dr. Rawlins. “They work through the darkest of nights while you sleep, the hottest of days while you stay inside air-conditioned offices and rooms, and fight with snakes, scorpions, and yes, mosquitos on a daily basis. The next time you feel the urge to insult an officer, think about who is keeping you safe morning, noon and night. The person you insult may even have more qualifications than you. They are not your father’s gatemen; they are professionally trained security officers who can handle themselves in any situation. Support us as we support you and let us function as a team where all of us can benefit from this great institution called AUN.”
With people like Saadatu and Dr. Rawlins in service at AUN, there is no doubt that AUN’s human resources are of superior quality. Sa’adatu is proof that AUN is improving the lives of locals in her host community. With a US Army Veteran at the helms of affairs, the campus is secure.
For Sa’adatu, her biggest achievement is being able to pay for all three of her children through school. Two are now university graduates while her last child will be graduating soon. Once she turns 50 years in a couple of years, she plans to retire and work on her farm. She is also looking forward to living in her house, which she built herself with money she earned as a security officer in AUN.
Reported by Zainab Usman