‘My Okija shrine tale’
By Udeme Clement
The Commissioner of Police, Oyo State Command, Mr. Mohammed Idabawa, has served in different states at various capacities in the force. He was the AC Operations in Anambra State and moved to the position of Deputy Commissioner of Police in 2005. He led the operations that uncovered the Okija shrine in Anambra State in 2005.
Later in 2005, he was transferred to Plateau State, where he served till 2007, when he was transferred to Bauchi State. He worked in Bauchi until July 2010 when he was sent to Adamawa State Police Command, still as Deputy Commissioner, till November the same year, when he was transferred back to Bauchi still as Deputy Commissioner of Police.
In December 20, 2010, he became the Commissioner of Police and was posted from Yola back to Bauchi. In July 2011, he was posted to the Police Academy in Kaduna, where he was in charge of Administration. In November 2011, he was sent to Nasarawa state, where he worked until February 2012, when he was posted to Rivers state. In 2013, Idabawa was transferred to Oyo where he serves now as the Commissioner of Police. He spoke on the efforts of the police to curb crime, the strategies by his Command to tackle importation of arms into the state and the measures put in place to police Oyo.
When you took over the Command, what were the structures you met on ground and what have you done to improve on the structures?
Talking about structures in terms of infrastructure, I met patrol vehicles and police stations, some are under renovation. I am working with my team to improve on the existing infrastructure while necessary logistics are provided for us through the Inspector General of Police. Also, the state government is doing a lot to assist us in our operations.
In terms of security, we have increased surveillance, communication network and patrol operations within the state. At the period I took over, three patrol vehicles were given to the Command to help in our operations and we are utilising them well. The crime rate in Oyo has also reduced despite the recent discovery of the evil forest.
Recently, the Customs Command in Oyo handed over 30,000 rounds of live ammunition to your Command and a suspect arrested along with the dangerous weapons. How far have you gone in your investigation to uncover the syndicate behind importation of such a large number of arms into the state?
We are not relenting in our efforts at ensuring that the culprits are brought to book. The suspect arrested with the arms has been charged to court. Once a case is in court, we allow the law to take its course. I am assuring the public that investigation is on-going on the matter, but we cannot come openly to expose our strategies, because doing that may hinder us from getting to the root of the matter. This is a very serious issue and we cannot joke with this type of case.
Our investigations revealed that Saki axis of Oyo State links Nigeria with our neighbouring countries and the route is prone to arms importation, as similar thing happened last year. What measures are you putting in place to tackle the menace?
The challenge is that the borders in Oyo State are porous and that is why dangerous weapons easily get into wrong hands. We are working hand-in-hand with the Customs and other security agencies in the state to tackle the menace. Part of the efforts led to the discovery and arrest of those arms and the suspect.
I appreciate the efforts and commitment of the current Customs Area Controller (CAC) of Oyo Command, Mr. Oteri Richard, for his wholesome service, alertness to his statutory duties and ensuring that ammunition and other offensive items are intercepted along that axis.
If Oteri and his team were not alert, the suspect would have entered the state with those arms unchecked. We will continue to work with the Customs and other security agencies to police the state well. We have also increased security surveillance along that route to ensure that offensive goods are not brought into the country through that region.
The truth is that, aside from Oyo State, Nigerian borders generally are very porous and this poses a challenge; this notwithstanding, we are doing our best to curb crime. Aside from the last arrest, have you uncovered another case of ammunition in the state?
Yes. We are working tirelessly to protect the environment and we arrested arms at different operations, but when we seize 10, 20 or 30 cartridges, we charge the suspects to court immediately and continue our investigations without calling the media.
We only publicize it when we arrest large quantities, because that is when it becomes of interest to the media and the public. Aside from arms, we recovered over 60 stolen vehicles recently. The vehicles were brought into Oyo from Gombe, Sokoto and other places.
The discovery of the Soka evil forest in Oyo, where people were killed for ritual is another dimension to crime in Oyo. What is your command doing about the situation?
Before the discovery of this forest, we have been having cases of killing, missing persons and dead bodies being dumped on the streets. So, to us in the police, ritual killings are really not new in Nigeria, because some days after that of Oyo, another ritual site was discovered in Ogun State.
In the Oyo forest, we met some bones of dead people, while others who were not dead were rescued. Beyond that, some years back, a ritual shrine called Okija, was discovered in Anambra State. I led the operation that discovered the shrine. I was a Deputy Commissioner of Police then. You can see that we have been working hard to curb crime not only in Oyo, but in the entire country.
After the eight suspects arrested in connection with the evil forest in Oyo, have you made any further arrest?
We have not made any more arrest yet, but we have to conclude investigations first for us to ascertain the root cause of everything. I do not agree that there is any new trend of crime in this country. It is the same killings and that is the more reason we appeal to the public to always give timely information to the police, to enable us swing to action in time.
Oyo is a very vast state. What are your challenges in curbing crime?
Lack of information and enough patrol vehicles. Though we usually get information from the public, what we get is not sufficient for us to work with. We are still appealing to the public to give useful information to the police to enable us function effectively.
For instance, if they had given us information when they ought to, this ritual forest, that had existed for about 10 years, would have been discovered since and many lives would have been saved from such danger. Another challenge facing Nigeria now is unemployment. Some of these youths are jobless, which is why they go into crime. If they have jobs, crime rate in the country will reduce. We are doing our best even with the present situation.
How do you rate the police in the last four years of the Jonathan administration?
There are a lot of changes, especially since the current Inspector General came in. There are regular training and retraining programmes for officers, promotion, improved welfare packages and work tools to enhance efficiency in the system. For example, this is the first time training, promotion and welfare are given primary concern in the police.
It has not been this good in the past years. Now we have four set of uniforms, which include the black, blue and others, unlike when we had only one-the black. Police officers now have access to housing facility, unlike before when such welfare package was not possible. The current IG is doing well and still working to move the police forward. He has been able to tackle the issues of road- blocks and corruption, which people complained about in the past.
The IG has declared that discipline is key in the police. What sanctions are in place for officers in your Command who collaborate with criminals to kill innocent citizens?
Police is a very disciplined organization. It does not shield any officer found guilty of sharp practices, rather the officer is either dismissed or suspended, depending on the nature of the offense. Recently I dismissed a police officer for corruption. That is why I gave out my telephone number to the public to call and alert me of any thing going wrong in the state.
What is your message and what do you want the public to know?
They should have confidence in the police and give credible information to us to assist in curbing crime in the state and the whole country. If they say the police is bad, then they are not helping matters. That is not true because we have hard working and committed officers. It is just like saying all Nigerians are bad. That statement is incorrect because they are many honest, hard working and credible Nigerians. Parents must advise their wards to be careful with strangers. They must not collect things from strangers to eat, especially with the cases of rape going on today.