Chief Simon N. Okeke was the chairman, Police Service Commission between 2001 and 2006. In this interview with BRIDGET CHIEDU ONOCHIE, the 87-year-old author of a book, Policing the Nigerian Police, gave insight into some issues militating against efficient policing in Nigeria, including the crisis between the Inspector General of Police and the Police Service Commission.
From your experience as the Chairman, Police Service Commission between 2001 and 2006, in your own view, what will you say are the problems with the Nigeria Police?
The challenge started from recruitment. The recruitment was lopsided. People who have interest in the police job are not picked but may be, it was a handshake for others.
Also, people who have nothing else to do often resign themselves to Police Force. So, people who are learned enough to comprehend issues about security are not recruited. There has also been some sectional recruitment in the sense that people who got into the Police Force came from one section of the country by way of keeping them occupied. The next is the training. If you look at the syllabus, it is defective; you don’t have something that will inculcate values to those recruited to represent the police. Some get in there just to run through the period of 18 months and quickly come out to start collecting money on the street and get going.
The third challenge is funding. The police have suffered seriously from deficiency of funding. They are always considered last in budgetary provisions. Following insufficient funding is lack of motivation. Within the period I served, I travelled far and wide and found out that the Nigeria Police are the least paid in West Africa, in Africa and in the world, even up till now. Whatever improvement they have got is what I succeeded in doing. I battled with the Presidency then to improve their welfare. Any time we had a meeting, I kept on stressing on the need for improved welfare package for police officers. It was very disgraceful.
From 2001 to 2004, the take-home pay of a police officer, constables, inspectors, was about N9,000. So, I made so much noise about it that each time we had a meeting, the President referred to me as “Mr. Welfare Police.” Former President Olusegun Obasanjo tried to do something about it before leaving office, but they got the increment during the time of the late Musa Yar’Adua.
The Police Force was often rated one of the most corrupt institutions in Nigeria. Why is it so?
Invariably, many of them die in the cause of their work. What is paid to the next of kin of a police officer is not enough to take the body to the home. That was why as their last resort, they started tinkering with the Police Trust Fund. It is as bad as that.
The call for state police has always resonated, but nothing tangible has come out of it. Do you think it is a solution to the numerous security challenges confronting the country?
Yes. It is. I have a chapter on it in my new book. “State Police: To Be or Not to Be? The answer is “To be.” I started stressing for the need to amend the constitution so that each state would have its own police that would be under the governor. You say that the governor is the chief security officer of the state, but the governor has no control over the police in his state. L
How can you call him the chief security officer?
Every state has Commissioner of Police manning the command in the state, but when any security issue arises and the governor gives directives to the Commissioner of Police to do something quickly, he answers: “Yes, sir.But, I will get permission from the Inspector General.” The commissioner gets to the IG and the IG confers with the Head of State before action is taken. By then, the issue would have gone out of hand. It is one of the things militating against the police on security to the effect that we have one single person called the Inspector General of Police. He is the alpha and omega for the over 200 million people of Nigeria. It is from his desk that actions are taken from all the states.
That was why I pressed on the President to allow me have six Deputy Inspector-General of Police (DIGs), instead of one or two. Eventually, it was given to me and it stands till today. My intention was for each geo-political zone to have one DIG so as to have a sense of belonging in the country. Secondly, I had the intention to post the DIGs to the six geo-political zones so that matters coming from each zone would be reported to the DIG, and if he cannot solve it, then, it moves to the IG so as to decentralise the table of the IG.
What about fears that the governors might not constantly pay their salaries or could use them arbitrarily?
The benefits outweigh all these fears. The positive side of it is far more than the negative sides. Again, on the issue of not paying them well, I can assure you that it will be the first responsibility of the governor, if the police are under him because of security, especially. One, it will be the first charge before the civil servants. See what they are spending now, even though the police are not under them. Various state governors buy 200 vehicles, gadgets and uniforms for the police under them and then, invite the IG to commission the vehicles, what more when they are under them?
They will do more. I don’t entertain that fear at all.I also believe that indigenous security officers can serve better than non-indigenes. When I was the chairman, I made sure I posted commissioners of police to the zones they come from, because an officer from the same area can easily identify bad or good people since he is familiar with the culture, language and the dos and don’ts. There is nothing you can hide from him. But, if you send someone from a different region entirely, there is nothing he can do. He is only there to make money. That is what they are doing. It is better for an indigene to be posted to work in the area he was born. It is good for security.
What exactly are behind the lingering crisis between the office of the IG and the Police Service Commission?During my own time, some people thought it was because I was not from the para- military or the military, because the five years of my chairmanship was a constant battle with the IG. It was the failure of the IG to accept the authority and implement decisions, which the commission came out with to improve the police.
Every decision taken by the commission and passed over to the IG to implement was declined. That was the bane of contention between the commission and the IG from my time even till today. I think it was because for 30 years or more under the military, the Police Service Commission was suspended. So, management of the police fell into the hands of the IG and the Head of State but the Head of State would not have much time to deal with the police. So, it was the IG that was the alpha and omega. With the arrival of civilian government in 1999, the IG thought that the Police Service Commission was intruding into their area of operation and it could not happen, and it remains till today.
What is in the title of your book: Policing the Nigerian Police?
That is the function of the Police Service Commission – to police the police.
How challenging was it for you to head an IG that could not implement the commission’s decisions?
It was challenging. But, I had a very powerful team that insisted that things must be done according to the constitution. The 2001 Police Service Commission Act stated clearly the powers and duties of the commission and we insisted that we had to abide by that.
The IG said “no” and we said “okay.” So, there was always disagreement. The problem the commission had was that it did not have the decisive power to get its decision implemented but with the action taken recently by the court against the IG, the issue of getting the police boss to implement the decision of the commission, so that the police can work well, has been resolved. How can the IG defy the decision of a well-constituted court? It was anarchy. It was a wake-up call for them.
By Bridget Chiedu Onochie, Abuja – TheGuardian