Meet Liberia’s Private Security Expert: The Man Momo Tarnuekollie Cyrus – A Profile

Mr. Momo T. Cyrus

This week, GNN-Liberia, one of Liberia’s informative and educative platform is   once again pleased to profile the Chief Executive Officer (CEO)) of Liberia’s premier private security agency, the Security Expert Guard Agency of Liberia or SEGAL, Momo Tarnuekollie Cyrus.

‘Cyrus’ as he is affectionately call is one of Liberia’s professional security experts; his private security guard service has been considered in Liberia as one of the most dependable private security agency, its professional services over the years have won the hearts and minds of owners of local businesses due to the commitment of workforce (Security Guards).

Due to his nationalistic commitment to his people and country, his kinsmen (Citizens of Lofa County) called on him to contest in the pending Senatorial By-election scheduled for May, 2022, a request he gently accepted, aimed at redeeming his home county from the shackle of under development, and to help build the walls of genuine peace and development in the county

The Lofa County By-election was declared as a result of Brownie Samukai being convicted after winning the December 8, 2020 Special Senatorial election.

Mr. Cyrus made the disclosure Thursday, March 31, 2022 after “Team Cyrus” presented the National Elections Commission (NEC) document qualifying his candidacy for the 2022 by-election and official petition statement.

He said though he has been petitioned on several occasions to contest, it was elevated this time, and no way to let it down.

He noted that the decision coming from citizens of Lofa County is a call to duty and he is prepared to work for the people of Lofa, stating, “we are coming to serve and to give back to our people instead of receiving.”

Accordingly, Mr. Cyrus said the people of Lofa will see a new leadership style that will pay dividends to them.

“The women, youth, student community, traditional and elderly people will benefit. We hope to bring all parties together for the benefit of Lofa. Lofa County will be our common denominator and we will work with all sides. We will do what they want us to do,” Mr. Cyrus said.

Mr. Cyrus said he is going to the Senate as a team player because there are good people in the house. “We will not pretend that we know all and we will disagree to agree in the interest of Lofa.”

A product of the Ibrahim B. Babangida Graduate School of International Studies at the University of Liberia, Our Profile of the week has demonstrated a history of working in the security and investigations industry.  He is also skilled in Crisis Management, Budgeting, Operations Management, Government, and Personal Security.

He served the National Security Agency (NSA)  as Reginal Commander for three  years and two months , thereafter, (from January 1992 t0 April 2006) responsible for the oversight of security operations of NSA operatives in Grand Bassa, Margibi and River Cess Counties.

His academic achievements:

Ibrahim B. Babangida Graduate School of International Studies, University of Liberia,  Candidate of MA Degree in International Relations 2015 – 20162015 – 2016, Gabriel L. Dennis Foreign Service Institute ,  Post-Graduate Diploma in Diplomacy and International Relations 2008 – 20102008 – 2010.

Few years ago Mr. Cyrus was interviewed by a local magazine ‘Hints’ about his dream and vision for his institution. Below is the full text of this interview:

The Security Expert Guard Agency of Liberia (SEGAL) is considered one of the leading industrial security firms in the country providing coverage for investors in the areas of banking and mining, local and international non-governmental organizations, seaports, residential areas, corporate establishments, etc.

SEGAL, founded in 2004 by a group of Liberians is a 100% Liberian-owned security firm that has and continues to make inroads in private security administration and can be reckoned for its efficiency, integrity, dedication and commitment. This Security firm is not only a household name in Liberia but it is gradually becoming a toast in the sub-region.

The brainchild of SEGAL’s transformative and revolutionized structure can be attributed to the dynamism of its General Manager and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Momo Cyrus who is believed to have melded his outstanding security expertise with an overwhelming administrative acumen which has leveraged opportunities for the firm to venture into areas where other Security firms cannot.

Mr. Cyrus with a background in National Security Administration has also brought to SEGAL a wealth of experience acquired through many years of training at both local and international levels having traveled immensely to Europe, America and Asia to pursue higher academic studies in security administration and management.

Mr. Cyrus, now a successful businessman puts the business side of the argument in this interview with Hints Monrovia Magazine Consulting Editor, Alfred F. Sebah at his 10TH Street, Sinkor office in Monrovia.

Hints: Your organization, SEGAL, an industrial Security firm is generally doing well among an array of other Security firms, do you?

MC: Thank you very much and welcome to my office. Yes, I am doing well; it cost a lot of sacrifices and dedication to services to get where we are right now.

Hints: But the rate at which you have made and making such remarkable progress could be the outcome of some professional and painstaking organizational experience if you may. Do you care to tell me?

MC: Well, the Security Expert Guard Agency of Liberia (SEGAL) is a 100% Liberian-owned business. This Security firm was established in 2004 by a group of people who felt that the security at the time coming from war with an Interim arrangement, we thought that there was a need to boost the economy by protecting investors that were coming into the country at that point in time.

National Security weren’t in the position to cover all of the posts, all of the corners of investors. So, we came in to help national government to protect these investors from private angle and that did very, very well for government because most of our clients that we are protecting and have protected then over the years, are very, very appreciative of our services and they grade us as number one.

Hints: But you as a Security Service provider, signs a social contract with your clients to provide them coverage against pilferage and other criminal activities. How well have your organization achieved this side of the bargain in the midst of this crime infested society of ours?

MC: It has been challenging; it has been very, very somber but as professionals what we did was to invest in the human resource of our employees. We had the opportunity to send most of our employees to universities, to some colleges to learn how to conduct themselves when it comes to these kinds of challenges. The guys who are on the field protecting the installations are motivated; it is very key to the protective service, motivation. We make sure they have good salaries. We make sure they are vetted, trained and equipped very, very sufficiently to protect those assets that we are hired to protect. That said, the bottom-line has been motivation. We are in the business of motivating our officers out there.

Hints: So, where are you sourcing the funding to accomplish this role?

MC: Well, we have a situation when the clients pay us; it is from that particular money we pay our employees. We also have a very good relationship with the banks that in the event the client does not pay, we always have that arrangement with the bank to pay our employees. That’s the reason why we have a fixed date regarding payment of our guards. We are not that Security Company that waits for the client to pay in totality before paying their guards. We have that arrangement with the banking institution so that at the end of the month, we just send in our payroll as to whether we have money in our account not to get paid. The relationship with the bank is been so good over the years, so they don’t have any problem with our credibility. Our period is fixed and set to the time. As soon as that period reaches, our guards take pay and they are paid through the banking process.

Hints: But, why don’t you ask national government to provide you subsidy since your organization maintains a huge security presence in and around the country thus, complementing national security efforts?

MC: Very good question. I have always said and remain to say and will always say that private security is an auxiliary of national security. The national security does not have the ability to protect each corner, each home, each businesses or each investment; We are in the private security sector. We are doing that. Now, if we have to do that, indeed, government has to complement our efforts because we are an auxiliary of national security. In Liberia today, private security is not actually looked at from national security standpoint. Probably, it is like oh, those are just watchmen. Now, it is only us who have now come to the business of private security; we are trying to change the mindset of people, Liberian people to see that private security is a career and can be implemented by professionals; and that is where right now we are beginning to look but we will begin to engage national government soon to see how well they can come to complement our efforts maybe by giving us duty-free privileges regarding importations or tax breaks because most of the contracts we negotiated as at 10% withholding tax if technically speaking, if you look at those contracts and you try to withhold 10% tax, you either go into losses or you break even. Because those contracts are negotiated at a minimum rate. So, if you decide to take 10% withholding, it means that the company will barely survive; all the income comes from the client. So, those are things that we begin to engage the government about to see how they can give us some duty-free privileges or give us tax breaks or try to see whether we can just pay some minimum fees to government instead of charging us like other businesses that are making huge profits. It is a big challenge in the security arena. It is actually a challenge. A lot of clients are not paying as people perceive it to be. When you go to negotiate for this huge contracts, you can’t imagine that the people are not willing to pay for the security that protecting them. It has been a tough game. It has actually been a tough game.

Hints: I believe you have a background in Security. Can you take me down memory lane?

MC: I come from a national security background. I worked for national security arena for 17 years before coming to this organization as its first Manager, its General Manager and now its General Manager and CEO and majority shareholder of the company. I have come from a security background. That’s why I give praises and appreciation to national government. I had the opportunity to travel extensively around the world to learn national security. I had the opportunity to go to Singapore; I had the opportunity to go to the US; I had the opportunity to go to Italy, and some of these African countries when I was in national security. So, I owe national security too. I mean national government because it was through national security arrangement that I was able to get the standard and trained background.

Hints: Your organization, SEGAL is rated as a top-notch security firm in the country. What is the theme song of this compliment?

MC: Well, we at the Security Expert Guard Agency of Liberia (SEGAL) believe that excellence, passion for the job, commitment to duty is our way forward. Against the background of this kind of mentality, we think the sky is our limit. We think the sky is our limit because all of our guards are taught in that direction. So, I say look, we are into this thing to win. Knowledge, no backward turning, we are moving forward. So, having that mindset and my administrative staff with my team having the mindset, the sky is our limit. We are even trying to move beyond the borders of Liberia to participate in some security bidding in the West Africa region. We have now been able to maintain security in all sectors in Liberia. We have security in the banking sector; We have security in the mining sector. We have security in the industrial sector. We just got into seaport security arrangement. We just won a contract with APM Terminals of Republic of Liberia which is supposed to be taken on soon and that is a new direction we are going into, seaport-related security.

Hints: Given that we have a fledging economic performance in the country which is impacting adversely on your business, how are you coping in terms of paying your bills?

MC: Well, we are hundred percent; it is challenging. It is very challenging to be able to meet up with all your taxes. But we are law-abiding citizens and then we want to set an example; we pay all our taxes; In fact, that is manifested by our tax clearance that we just got. We try to make sure but the thing about it, most of these contracts we bid for, one of the pre-requisites is a tax clearance. So, if you have to be into the market and competing extensively, you have to make sure that your bills are paid so you can obtain these documentations to be able to make a lead when it comes to bidding process. So, we are making sure that all our bills are paid in order to have our tax clearance bill. So, we have all our documents from the Ministry of Justice, and we paid for certificate. We have all of our income taxes, our withholding taxes and that is the reason why we have our tax clearance, and that give us an edge in bidding for contracts.

Hints: Yes, fiscal policies are very important. But in Liberia today, you have to pull yourself by your own boot strings. By the way, don’t you think that national government has to do something in considering Liberian-owned security firms for security contracts?

MC: It is very necessary. And that is the only way the government can begin to empower the private security. My own disappointment is with the Ministry of Justice where we have seen a lot of foreign private security firms in this country and contracts are being awarded them. That pains my heart. Let us take for instance, the great INTERCON, if you read the history of INTERCON, INTERCON was created to only man the embassies and related assets but right now, INTERCON is all into the markets, into even private homes, into businesses; that is very wrong. And we have been advocating that private security should be only for Liberians. Because you know what; private security is an extension of national security; why would you want to have a foreigner participating in our domestic security? Why do you want to do that? There is nowhere in the world even with all my travels to see a foreigner participating in private security arrangement in any country. Because private security is another form of intelligence, so if you have the man performing or participating in your domestic security, it is seriously a security threat. So, we think the Justice Ministry has to step in, bring in some regulations that will protect Liberian private security owners to only be the ones to participate in private security arrangement and not foreign companies.

Hints: Ebola is having a toll on our economic performance thus, victimizing our people and also isolating us from the international community. Are you making any effort to join the government in its fight to contain the virus?

MC: Well, the documents are there; the records are there. We have been in the forefront of the fight against Ebola because what Ebola has done to this country has damaged the economy of this country, has damaged the fabric of this country, we have our kids presently not going to school, that is a major, major future damage to this country. The economy which we are providing security for; the investors, a lot of them have left. Now, if we don’t contain this particular disease, definitely, businesses will close and we will be affected as business people. So, what we did as proactive people, we began to intervene. First thing first, what we did when the issue of Ebola came, our guards were taught the preventive measures. Not only taught, we were able to give them supplies that will enable them to prevent the virus; technically speaking, our guards are the first point of contact. They are the ones at the various entrances, at the various posts where people access facilities. So, we taught them the preventive methods; Not only that, we provided them all the necessary Ebola related materials, chlorine, clora, buckets and everything to all of our posts. Not only that, even those societies, those communities we are providing security, we were able to give them support like the Arcelor Mittal Community, Division 53 in Nimba if I am not making a mistake. We were able to go to Lofa and presented close to US$12,000 worth of medical equipment and supplies, food items to victims of Ebola you know, people. So, we are indeed on the frontline in this fight against Ebola in this country. The disease is real and must be eliminated from this country. And if it has to be eliminated, we all have to fight it together.

Hints: What is the entry level in your security organization?

MC: SEGAL is no nonsense security organization. If you have to be part of this organization, first thing first, you have to be a high school graduate. We encourage extensively, we have a lot of college students here. Again, we want to let the people know that private security is not just where people who are failures in life comes in; No, we try to dispel that information; we try to dispute that one. That look, if you are a failure in life, all you can do is to go to private security. It is a career that can be learned and it is profitable. So, if you have to be part of SEGAL, first thing, you must have been a high school graduate. What we have also encouraged and which speaks well for us is; we have begun to encourage old ex service people who have been in national security arena who have partly retired. But we still think that they have some expertise, so we bring them onboard. If you see my entire operational wing, they are all ex- service people; you got to be police, you got to be in the military, you got to be in intelligence, myself I am an ex intelligence officer for the Republic of Liberia. I encourage a lot more people who have had some level of experience from national security. Because, what we do for them when we bring them; we hire them, we just orientate them to private security arrangement kind of orientation because they have national security orientation. It has spoken well for us. And when you get in, we train them; you must know our standard operational procedures (SOP), our jargons, you must know what we stand for, you must read our mission and our vision. To be part of us, you have to ensure that our mission and vision are embedded in yourself so that you wake up and sleep with it, then, you know that is our mission and vision.

Hints: Do you hire guards already trained or you conduct your own on-the-job training. If so, what are those courses taught during such training?

MC: Interestingly, we have some extended partners. We have partnered with the Liberian National Police Training Academy for more than six years now. We have specialized training where they come in and train us. And we are also partnering with the Liberia Maritime Authority; they come in and teach us certain courses regarding airport and seaport related security. So, we partner with those extended sources but with our training courses here, we do Courtesy & Discipline, we do Access Control, we do a lot regarding private security arrangement. All of those courses are embedded into being a private security manager. We ensure that those trainings are inculcated into our people before taking assignment.

Hints: What is the relationship between you and your clients?

MC: Wonderful. It has been wonderful. In fact, it is a tradition for us at the end of the year; we appreciate all of our hardworking officers. Because sitting here as General Manager and CEO of SEGAL, my own administrative tactic is punishment and reward. If you do good, we reward you; if you screw up, we punish you. So, what we do as a tradition in SEGAL, at the close of the year, from January first to December, we monitor each and every one of our guards and supervisors. Then, we have a committee that is set up to vet those ones that really worked beyond the normal call of duty and then, we appreciate them. And in those meetings or gatherings, we invite our clients and they will come en masse, and they will appreciate us and our guards. That is evidenced by previous programs we have had. So, we are in a very good relationship with our clients. As a matter of fact, it is a process that all our clients, we have a day of few minutes meeting with them every month to be able to discuss the pros and cons for a way forward. We have that relationship where we are called on a monthly basis for thirty minutes or an hour discussion regarding where we supposed to do better, where we didn’t do better, we have how to move forward. The relationship is cordial because we have strong communication skills.

Hints: Finally, what recommendations can you make to the government to leverage opportunities for industrial security firms since they assist in protecting life and property?

MC: All government needs to do is to begin to look at the private security, encourage them, create some international training, let there be pop scholarships because if you count , do your research, the number of private security guards, we are more than national security officers. If you count all the private security in this country, they are guards; we outnumber the number of national security. If that is happening, then, we need to be part of the national coffers regarding extended training. If national government begins to look at private security, they have to begin to select some of the heads or some of the guards to go out there for training so that when they come back, they will be able to perform better and then, giving the country a good look when it comes to private security. Other countries are doing that. National government needs to begin to look at the tax issue with private security. Because if we have to go compete with businesses that are making huge profits with 10% withholding, we are not going to survive. What is going to happen is to survive and start to look at places to cut down that cost. And some of those places will be reducing guards’ salaries and that is going to cost demotivation; it is going to create chaos. So, government needs to look at this inflation. The President some two years ago was very kind to us, SEGAL. Because of our participation in a conference, we were given one year tax clearance. That gave us the opportunity to bid for a lot of contracts because tax clearance issue has been a problem. And we think that government needs to look at this clearance issue for private security because the Ministry of Finance gives three months, six months; we think private security needs a yearly clearance because that will give us the opportunity to bid for additional contracts. Because, the process of getting tax clearance from the Ministry of Finance is tedious. Probably, if you have a bid in the newspapers and before you run after your tax clearance, inasmuch as you are tax compliant, the bid is almost over. We think that government should just single us out those private securities and give them an annual tax clearance. That does not mean that they will not pay their taxes; they will have to pay their taxes. But let them give us a yearly clearance rather than three months, six months. That has been a major challenge; processing to bid for contracts when it comes to private security arrangement.

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