OGBONNAYA Okechukwu Onovo, 56, the Inspector General of Police, has spent more than half his life in the police. He looks too harmless, even handsome, to have anything to do with the police, an organisation that is often painted on the worst colours.
Everyone delightfully has a story that portrays the police in bad light. When he became the IG last July, the glasses were still clinking, when he had to jump into the thick of the Boko Haram riots that spread through Bauchi, Yobe and Kano states, claiming thousands of lives. He dismissed what some would have recounted with relish in one line, â€œOh, yes, that was how I began my tenureâ€.
A Deputy Inspector General ofÂ Police since 2002, Onovo studied Political Science at the University of Nigeria Nsukka. He was Chairman of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, between 1998 and 2000.
Friday, September 11, Mr. Onovo granted his first interview to us â€“ it almost never happened. As we sat in his office â€“ too small for the job he does â€“ he hesitated. â€œWhat should I be saying? I am just six weeks on the job. I have not even done the usual tour of the commands. It is also not my style to talk, I would rather have the things I do speak for meâ€.
There was a lot to talk about, one of which was that he had not told the nation his plan for the police and to improve security. He quoted John Kennedyâ€™s famous sand bite on everyone doing his bit instead of waiting for government.
Nigerians would be the first to retort that this was because the American Government had done everything its peopleÂ need.
When Onovo spoke, he did softly, slow, picking his words. Sometimes you needed to listen intently to hear him. At other times, it seemed the words were not his. In an interaction bereft of gesticulations, he made his point without making himself the issue.
â€œI do not like throwing my hands all over the place as I talk,â€ he said, premising his position on some of the things he learnt at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, NIPSS.Â â€œWhat I have to say is more important than the demonstrationsâ€.
Friday, September 11, when the interview was conducted he had cause to be in high spirits, but there was no reflection of it as he talked. A little earlier, the police paraded 10 suspected kidnappers, who had confessed to their role in the taking of Mrs. Grace Mamah, wife of transport magnate, Chief James Mamah, owner of Ifesinachi.
The operations involved three police commands in Lagos, Enugu and Nasarawa tracking members of the gang who operated from those areas to execute the kidnap in Nsukka, Enugu State. His trite remark on that was that he was impressed that the three commands worked successfully on the case, it was an invitation to others to adopt the same strategy, depending on cases.
Strategy was a word that popped up regularly, but he said he would rather people saw the implementation of the measures to curb crimes than how he does it.
As the interview progressed, he loosened up, talked freely about the differences in the uniforms various arms of the police wear, and the fact thatÂ democracy has seeped into the issue of uniforms, such that policemen in Jos, for example, could wear materials to counter the weather, while the mobile unit has its distinct attire.
The interview, in the limited time we had, covered the needs of the police, news crimes like kidnapping, the attitude of the public to the police and how to make the society safer. The new IG has what could be called a three-point agenda.
He spoke for his men (and women), expectedly, whose gallantry and daily sacrifices he wants rewarded with better working conditions and welfare packages.
These may be the tentative remarks of the man who has landed a job that demands constant changes in strategy as criminals introduce newer ways of wreaking havoc on the society, but they also serve as the introduction to Mr. Onovoâ€™s agenda until he makes a more formal statement on how he wants to lead the police to improve the security of the countryâ€¦
By Ikeddy Isiguzo, Chairman Editorial Board & Albert Akpor
You started off tackling the Boko Haram riots, why is the police not proactive?
It is not that we do not want to be proactive. The trends in policing keep changing depending on realities and dynamics of society.
The society is changing. Intelligence led policing, is the use of intelligence to preempt criminal activities. It is the type of policing that I would want to see in Nigeria. We have proactive measures, but the Nigerian environment is not so healthy for that type of policing.
Let us take the Boko HaramÂ riot as an example. We had information on Mohammed Yusuf and his group, we acted, we did the best we could. I was DIG when he was arrested in Bauchi and charged to court in Jos about two years ago. The court released him. What was the police supposed to do?
Policing in democracy is different. The court talks about respect the freedom of the individuals. When we are proactive, people misinterpret it. They go to court to enforce their rights. The court released Mohammed Yusuf saying he had a right to freedom of worship.
We operate within the limits the law gives us. When things go wrong, as they finally did with Boko Haram, people turned round to blame the police. We need the co-operation of all to be more effective. The police cannot operate in isolation of its society.
After two months on the beat, what new things have you learnt about the police?
I can say that there is nothing new. I have been in the police for 32 years. I have worked in the headquarters for the past nine years, serving other IGs.
I had my own ideas ofÂ how to reshuffle things, to make them better. The withdrawal of policemen attached to some individuals was meant to make more police personnel available for security of the greater number of Nigerians. I also wanted to stop the demeaning roles some policemen attached to individuals play.
All such aides were about 100,000 out of a total police workforce ofÂ 377,000.
I intend to give topmost priority to training, capacity building and welfare of the police, ensure qualitative service delivery, and make them feel safer.
The environment itself is not too healthy for policing. When people complain about us, you wonder why we are in high demand abroad. These complaints show the problem is not with the police alone, but the larger society.
Humiliated AtÂ Home, Wanted Abroad
At home, our policemen are humiliated and denigrated. Even when the police ofÂ other countriesÂ falter, they encourage them, they help their police.
Security is for all. People look at the police in disdain here. When they get political appointments, they want the police to escort them. The same people who do not respect the police want to have the police protect them.
No country can maintain peace without others making an input.
Everyone Should Fund Security
In Nigeria, everything is for government. There are businesses that make profit running into billions of Naira in this country.
They contribute nothing to the cost of security. Can they do their businesses well without security? We cannot leave everything for government. There are so many competing interests. Education and health alone can take up the entire budget and that would still not be enough. Nigerians want government to protect them and do everything for them.
The same Nigerians would not pay tax. Former American President John F. Kennedy said people must do things for their country instead of them waiting for their country to do everything. Security is capital intensive, it should not be left for government alone.
Why We Do Well Abroad
Abroad, the people realise that the police serve them.
Here, we behave as if we are doing the police a favour if we co-operate with them. They give information to the police.
The police cannot occupy every inch of the land. There are facilities that are used to help policing in those places. They have CCTV cameras, helicopters trail criminals as they try to get away, people are security conscious and report their suspicions to the police. They pay their police well. Both the police and the people are educated. The police have equipment they need.
They perform in an environment that assures them ofÂ their well-being, an environment that appreciates police and makes the environment safe enough for everyone. These differences make our policemen perform very well abroad. Each time we send our policemen abroad, they return with awards and commendations.
Peoples Attitude To Police
Our people must change their attitude to the police if we areÂ to improve security. People get angry if the police ask them questions. As soon as Nigerians see the police, they become aggressive, they get angry.
They have this we and them mentality. I think it is a carry over from colonialism, which pitched the government against the people. So many years after independence, people see the police as governmentâ€™s agents for oppressing them as was the case under colonial rule. What we have is the Nigerian police serving Nigerians.
There are no foreigners in our police. It is too bad that people create the demarcation between themselves as Nigerians and the police as if we are a foreign force.
We Need The People
Without information, we cannot do anything. If there is a crime, the police need information. We cannot be at the crime scene all the time. The people who are around when crimes are committed should help the police with information.
People think that if they did not provide information they were dealing with the police. There is evidence that all of us suffer when the people are unwilling to play their part in combating crimes.
Corruption In The Police
There was a time that if people wanted to make the headlines they talk about the corruption in the police. With all the stories in the media, we now know those who are corrupt. There is corruption in the society, people should not make it seem as if the police are worse offenders. We do not condone corruption. We probably punish our people more than any other organisation for offences.
We are proposing a bill that a SIM card owner must be identified. The major facility that has helped these kidnappers is the telephones, which they use in contacting the relations of the kidnapped for ransoms and for planning their operations. We are proposing stiffer punishments for kidnappers. We would also want to have equipment to track call.
Once they kidnap the next thing is that they ask for ransom. If we have the right equipment, we can locate the criminals and arrest them.
People would also have to work with the police to stop kidnapping. If the criminals know that they would not get ransom, they would stop. People are afraid that their relations would be hurt and they pay once they make contact with the criminals. They do not contact the police.
Our people also need to take note of things. Someone is kidnapped and he cannot identify his abductors facially even when they do not cover their faces. Victims should be able through voice to recognise their abductors, or the locations where they hide them.
They should not start negotiating release or disclosing those who can pay the money or trying to escape. Those released , if they have information can helpÂ in arresting the criminals.
In Anambra State, we have made over 600 new deployments to complement the efforts of the regular police. Incidents of kidnapping have changed. Criminals are ubiquitous, they move from one place to another as we chase them. It is a continuous process.
There are many ways to give information â€“ write to us, use information boxes, call, send SMS, or tell senior police officers. There are no excuses for thinking police would reveal information. Let people give us information and they would see the improvement in our effectiveness against criminals.
It is absurd for people to say police know the robbers. How would we know and they are killing us? Does it make sense that the robbers are killing policemen daily, unless we are saying the police are killing themselves.
My activities would centre on welfare, training, and
intelligence led policing. The President set up a reform committee. The report of the committee has been approved. If the paper is implemented, we would have a new police force. I cannot talk of my strategies, but the results would show what we are doing. I want to concentrate on three items â€“ welfare, training and intelligence led policing.
Community policing is one ofÂ things we have started. It is simply a partnership between the police and the community, combining their resources, to ensure prevention of crime and elimination of the fear of disorder. People in each community know the criminals better than the police. Based on the trust and confidence that grow from the relationship, the police get information they need on the criminals. When you are talking about being proactive, it is about community policing.
His Daily Prayer
I pray for a safer society so that we can enjoy the God-given resources of this country. I look at other countries that are poor, that do not have our resources, but they have peace, they have better security. Ours is different, our people take delight in killing each other.
I ask God that we should haveÂ peace and security and be the envy of others. We should have the El Dorado this country can be. Vision 2020 wants to take Nigeria to one of the top 20 countries in the world.
The vision wants us to be among the best 20 countries in the world. If we achieve this, our children wouldÂ not go abroad to wash plates. We have the resources to be among the best 20 countries in the world, but security is a major problem. We cannot achieve our vision without security.
How would foreigners invest here without security? Nigerians make this country unsafe. If we think about the interest of the country and work together, we would make Nigeria safe, to the benefit of all, including investors â€“ local and foreign.
I want Nigerians to know that the police is the Nigerian policeÂ and it works for Nigerians. It makes sense for Nigerians to co-operate with the police so that we can protect ourselves and make our country safe.