MR. Frank Odita is a retired Commissioner of Police. Until his retirement some years
back, he held sway as the Force spokes person of enviable standard.
As one who joined the Nigeria Police Force before Nigeria attained her independence and having held various administrative positions, Mr. Odita is, no doubt, knowledgeable about the history and metamorphosis of the Nigeria Police Force from independence to the present day.
In this interview to mark the nation’s 50th anniversary, he told Vanguard’s Albert Akpor that the Nigeria Police Force was an enigma of respect and pride to the nation following the training and orientation it got from the colonial masters until the military burrowed into Politics and reduced the Force to a beggar organization.
He also spoke on sundry issues and, of course, the way forward for the Force he willingly got enlisted into and retired happily too. Excerpts.
Let’s look at the Nigeria Police Force of yesterday, today and tomorrow.
The present Nigeria Police Force started as the Hausa Constabulary, but I sincerely doubt the date of its amalgamation, and later became the mother of all the forces we have in Nigeria today.
At that time, every service you have, the Customs, the SSS, the Immigration, the NDLEA, even the Federal Road Safety Corps; name it; every arm of the security we have today were all parts of the Nigeria Police Force. We had the Police Custom Service, the Police Immigration Service, the Police Fire Service and of course, the Hausa Constabulary eventually became the Royal West African Frontier Force (WAFF) which became the Nigerian Army.
During the colonial era, the Nigeria Police Force was tailored in the same line with the Metropolitan Police In London. Most of their officers including my humble self, attended training programs and courses in London. So, prior to Independence, the Cadet scheme was at the Inspectorate level.
It was introduced into the Force and was to prepare them to take over from the Colonial masters as they were beginning to exit post independence.
In 1960 Nigeria became independent and before then, Nigeria had started producing some senior officers and they were being positioned to take over from the colonial masters and, of course, we had our own first indigenous inspector General of Police who became Sir Louis Edet and thereafter, the Inspectors-General of Police were being succeeded by indigenous Inspectors-General and as at today, I think we have 15 indigenous Inspectors-General of Police.
So, before the colonial days, the police were seen as mere illiterates and enforcers of the law and were also seen as those enforcing the rights of the colonial masters. They were seen as following tax collectors and ensuring that every taxable adult pays tax.
Just before independence, when various states of the federation has started
gaining self government, the police force was beginning to be positioned properly to start the enforcement of law and perform certain duties as it were; and of course, perform military duties as the President- in- Council may direct.
Some of us who joined the police before independence, because I joined the police in 1958, and that was two years before independence; and we became the bridge between the old and the new. We had the opportunity of being sent abroad to being trained both as detectives and general duty police officers.
I trained at the Metropolitan police in London, and I also trained as a detective at the detective training school in Chelsea. Some of our colleagues were also trained at different training schools in the UK and this prepared us for the various positions we were later assigned.
Like I said, the Nigeria Police Force was tailored in line with the Metropolitan police and of course, the various institutions in the country were properly established then to produce officers at various cadres.
The police College was responsible for training Cadet Inspectors and the Police had a lot of fine officers some of whom are now in retirement like my humble self. Then the Nigeria Police enjoyed tremendous respect from Nigerians, a lot of respect was accorded a police officer. This was because they were very, very disciplined.
Corruption was non-existence, there was nothing like corruption then because the salary of a police officer was enough to maintain him and his family and because the purchasing power had value because it was in pound Sterlings.
A typical example was that if my salary was paid in the then Barclays Bank (now Union Bank) and while abroad, I could issue a cheque for my salary in London I will get paid. So it made life very easy because it does not matter how much you were paid, you had enough to cope with yourself.
There was enough barracks accommodation; and of course, the colonial officers made things very easy that if you are an NCO (Non-commissioned Officer) that is, if you are from the rank of a Constable to Sergeant or Sergeant- major, you lived in the barracks, if you are an Inspector, you lived in the Inspectors’ quarters, which is a bungalow. and of course, if you are senior officer you lived in a government reservation area GRA.
And of course, you had your car; I remember when I was promoted ASP, before I closed for work that day, those who sell cars came from different companies, CFAO UTC, SCOA; all name it, they all assembled at my office, each one carrying my loan form for me to buy a car and it was UDC (Union Dominion Corporation) that was granting loan then and when I filled the form that day in the morning, by the time I was closing for the day, my car was parked registered and licenced.
It was brand new. There was nothing like Tokunbo. During those days, when you buy a car, you drive it for three and half years, which is the life span of your loan. Once you paid off your loan you either trade the car into the same company and the difference in the cost is not much unless you want to buy a brand ne car; you sell your car to those who want to use it as taxi. Nobody drove a second hand car, nobody.
Anybody who was promoted either in the civil service, the police in the military, everybody was given a brand new vehicle.
You can at least drive it for five years; you can refund your loan and still ride you car for that period. What I am trying to explain is that as a police man, you lacked nothing; even when you were given a car, you are paid a car basic allowance to maintain the vehicle and if you used your car for official duty, you were paid milage allowance. So you discovered that the car was virtually free. And how much was the rent for our accommodation?
You can live in a furnished quarter in government reservation area and you are paying less than five pounds for it, and so you had so much money in your hand that it does not matter how much you want to spend; you can’t finish your money in one month.
So, the idea of having to look outside was not there. And, of course, everybody was every one’s brother’s keeper.
I remember those days a police man in uniform walking the street is seen as security personified.
The public who sees you then will know that, yes the presence of a police officer was a security guaranteed; that nothing can go wrong. And that was the truth, nothing could actually go wrong because the training we received was that the police man is the servant of the people and that was being put into practise every day and the public reciprocated this gesture by police men.
If a police man goes to any public place say, a post office in uniform, the post master who see him on queue would call on him and attend to him first before any other person so that he can return to his duty to protect life and property. The same thing with the doctors; if a doctor arrives hospital for his routine clinical duty, he will say police cases first.
The policemen, their family their suspects are attended first unless
there was an emergency. You go to the bank also, the banker sees a police man standing, he would call, police come let me attend to you first. This is to tell you the report between the police and its public.
And this continued until the military intervention into politics, then everybody became militarized; including the police. Eventually the police got reduced by the military to a beggar organization
So in a nutshell, what kind of police force can you say was bequeathed to Nigeria?
The police force that was bequeathed toNigeria by the colonial master was a service police force. It was called the Nigeria Police Force. The force attached to it does not remove the civility of their performance to the public.
So when the military came, the army saw the police then as an organization that had enjoyed a free ride with its public because at that time, an ASP with one pip drives a car, lived at the GRA while a soldier with the same one pip live in the mess and was being driven around in a landrover.
Because by their own organizational set up, you are not entitled to own a car until you are confirmed a full lieutenant. But the police man from the first day was decorated with that pip, he becomes a senior service, that day he removes the NPF from his shoulder.
He becomes an administrative worker in the public service of Nigeria in which case, he can be transferred from the police to any executive position in the civil service even when still a police man.
And some administrative officers who also opted to serve in the Nigeria Police were also transferred into the force and they went through the police man ways of life and duty and they started wearing police uniforms.
We had people like Adamu Suleiman who retired as IG, We also had EA Fagbola who retired as DIG, we had MD Yusuf who is now a prolific politician, he also retired as IG. That is how they came into the police.
So the policeman, anybody who qualified to be a police officer, was
now seen as a respectable citizen of Nigeria who could hold any administrative position even in the public service because of the level of training.
And at that time the entry point was secondary school certificate for cadet and once you leave secondary school, like some of us who were educated to secondary school, you just walk into the service, you do your basic training for six months as a recruit and you go and do another six months as cadet.
So this is what we had as a beautiful police organization until the army came in and destroyed it completely.
The army was very jealous of the police before they came into politics and as soon as they came in, their first task was to put a stop and destroy all the enjoyment the police was enjoying; everything like better pay, better facilities was going on well for the police.
On the other hand the military was known as the war department until after independence before they became known as the Nigerian army, they were Royal West African Frontier Force (RWAFF) because, everything then belonged to the king or queen of England except the police.
The military were part of the colonial British army but the police force is a civil police; the only reason we had the force attached to it is because we are different from the Metropolitan police, because our police man carry arm and can also be drafted to do military duty that is why they carry force;– they carry arms and they can perform military duty.
Performing military duty
They could be deployed by the head of government to perform such military duty as he deemed fit, this is still in section 214 that the police can perform such certain military duty as may be assigned to it.
And if you remember, if you were born during the Nigerian\Biafra war, when the war in 1967 started, it was said that they were taking police action before it metamorphosed into full military operation, it was Mobil Policemen that they were using to do the skirmishes when Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu declared the state of Biafra; which prompted the army to crush the rebellion.
The mobile unit came into the force in 1962 and I happened to be privileged to be one of the first members of that unit of the very first squadron of the mobile unit, it was called MOPOL 1 in Kaduna, we started it and I remained in the Mobile for a long time and have commanded so many units in different squadrons and existed as the commandant as the Mobile police training school in 1981.
I took over from the late Alhaji Amodu Shiedu. He was my boss while I was his 2ic and when he got promoted to a higher rank, I took over from him. So that was what we had as the Nigeria Police Force during which every system was functional in the police, is it the driving wing?, is it the police training school?
Because we had a police college, we also had a police refresher course and then we had a traffic training school, we had a driving training school; these things are still there but they have gone moribund. And there was standard training for police officers.
First, when you passed out of the police college as recruit constable, you will go and do three years of practical police duty after which you go to the police refresher training school for six months, you will pack your family with you to the school because there is accommodation for the family.
The six months course was to refresh your memory and train you on some intermediate level of police duty; then you would have come back from the beat to come and see the difference between theory and practical and then imbibe a new disciplined authority.
We had detective college in Enugu, this college provided training for detectives who had been found intelligent enough to work in the investigation department either in the crime branches of the division or in the state criminal investigation department, they would be sent for training and they will now stand out in the detective section.
What they qualified for, are they going to qualify as investigators, as statement
takers or as interrogators, as finger print officers or photographers.
So, you find out that everybody specializes on what she or he wants to do and of course, there was money made available for officers to carry out whatever duty they were being assigned.
If you are going on special duty, you are given a warrant to enter train so you do not need to pay and if they know how many days you are going to spend, you will draw a touring advance, you will go to where you are going when you come back you retire your touring advance and whatever allowances that is due to you will be paid simultaneously.
You do not have to wait till tomorrow, you do not even have to beg anybody nor bribe like we have today, it is an entitlement, and of course it is the responsibility of the officer in charge to ensure that his men got their entitlement as and when due so that there would be no reason to complain.
So like I said, the police was seen as a model organization with everything functional. The military incursion did a lot of damage to the police. In spite of reducing them to a beggar organization, they lost everything they had.
If you go to police college Ikeja today, you will be wondering whether that is an institution because the institution produces the quality of materials you put in their. It is like an industry, it does not matter how wonderful you put your industry, if the raw materials are not good, the end product will be bad.
How did the rot permeate the Force?
First and most, the destruction started with the military. Like I was saying, when the war ended, the military discharged a lot of materials that were already recruited as soldiers and instead of sending them to the labor market, they sent them to the police as policemen.
The police now has to give them orientation and some of them were largely illiterates. So, they brought pollution first into the police and you know what happened, when the man in charge of the military wanted to return to the civilian rule, the number of policemen that were now to cope with policing the increased population of the civilian was very, very low.
The then head of the military, General Olusegun Obasanjo rtd, decided that 4000 policemen should be recruited and these people were beat materials, beat material because they were sub-standard recruits, it was mass recruitment, and of course, they were trained hurriedly, they were given training that was not to the standard meant for policemen.
This is because, they were only trained for three months instead of the traditional six months. And again, not all of them were trained at the police college.
Some of them were trained at make-shift training schools that were not equipped to the approved standard that will produce quality police officers and at the end of the day, it became garbage in garbage out and that became the problem of the Nigeria Police Force and the police is still grappling with the problem up till today.
Difficulty in developing police force
It became difficult to develop the police force then and up till today because, the military was in charge. If you go around the military barracks today, be it Air Force, Navy or the army, it cannot be compared to the police. If the police were in government, it would have bettered the lot of their men because, of course everybody catered for his men.
When Alhaji Shehu Shagari took over as civilian President, he used a police ADC and because his ADC was a policeman, it was possible for the ADC to tell him the ills of the police and a lot was achieved during his days to better the lot of the Nigeria Police Force because his Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Sunday Adewusi was a fantastic police officer.
At the time he was in charge of FCID Alagbon, if you were invited to Alagbon, you will need to consult an oracle because of the effectiveness that was entrenched there. You do not go in there to give anybody money because the man has enough money for his men; you do not go there anybody will tell you to give him money to buy writing materials, because then, writing materials were there.
The respect that is attached to FCID Alagbon today was established by Sunday Adewusi and the men that worked with him there earlier. The mobile police also enjoyed that respect until they put them at roadblocks and now they became toll collectors.
So, two things were responsible for the corruption in the Nigeria Police Force; first the quality of the materials that came in, you do not know their source, their background and some of them came in with a mind-set that they were going to make money.
Some of them also offered bribe to be recruited and so it became an investment; if you invest you must harvest; and that was the problem.
And then, of course again, the unfortunate impression on the minds of the public that unless there is a mobile policeman in uniform on ground, the place is not secured.
When I was in the mobile, you do not deploy a mobile police man for the duty of a black trousers police man; even the mobile police man saw himself as a higher policeman, he has allowance, he commands respect, even the military respected them. The soldiers cannot fight the mobile policeman, he knows everything they knew.
Our training was purely military in addition to being a policeman. We did battle craft, we did assault courses, we did shooting; everything, you can crawl, jump, all combat; after all we held the Tiv riot for years without the soldiers; remember the Gboko-Tiv riot, we fought it including my humble self without the soldiers and we did not lose because the training was there, the discipline was there, the care was there, the welfare was there and so the commitment was there.
But today, the little gains that were made during Shagari’s administration were lost when the military came back. Although the Buhari/Idiagbo regime would have achieved a lot if it lasted but, at least, it achieved one thing and that was discipline in the body politics in every Nigerian.
The way forward
The truth is that it does not matter who they appoint as the IG, what matters is capacity building through manpower development.
This means that all the police training institutions must be revamped. Quality staff, well motivated, well remunerated, must be posted to police institutions not as a punishment but, as proud directing staff that we were.
For you to go to Police college, you will be given acting appointment which means you are a promoteable commodity; that there is something in you that has been discovered, that you are going there to train people, not as a punishment. And so, you see yourself as a quality human being.
That makes you proud. If you are going to be posted to the college with assurance of moving into a quarter, where your compound will be clean because every day the recruits will come and clean up the environment, water your gardens and you work for the period of the school and you close for the day, you go and do sports of all manner and everybody sees you as a distinct and quality person and you attract respect.
You will also undergo series of training to qualify you to impact knowledge because you do not just wake one morning to impact knowledge. it does not matter how much certificates you had before joining the police. It is even happening right now in our university system, as a graduate, you do not qualify to be a teacher until you have got the teaching knowledge. So, we have to review the salaries of policemen.
For you to kill corruption in the force, you have to pay policemen a living wage like we had in our days. As an Inspector, I was earning 26 pounds 10 as salary; if I held a 1 pound and entered Kings way store to do shopping, I needed a trolley to carry my provisions.
I was living in a government quarters where the rent is deducted rom source, I am riding a car where my car basic allowance is paid to me along with my salary, my milage allowance I claim; at the end of the month if I used my car to perform so, so, so duty, if you are an officer and you spend a night with me because you do not want to spend the night in the hotel, I am paid guest of government allowance.
So, you had a lot of comfort; you had free medical treatment, you had free uniform, The car you ride is virtually free, the accommodation you live is virtually free, so what are doing with money that you will ask somebody to give you when you have not even finished spending your legitimate income? But today. policemen buys their uniforms, buy their boots, their belt and even within the police formations.
Besides that, when you give them vehicles to go on patrol, they maintain the vehicles and fuel it; from which source? So a lot has to be put in place. I know corruption is a Nigerian; everywhere you go in the country you see corruption but the organization that will help kill corruption is the Nigeria Police Force and so the police must be seen completely out of corrupt practices and anybody who goes into the police for corrupt reason should be picked up and dismissed.
This is because the police have an X- Squad and monitoring units; their duty is to go round the city and see police officers perform their duties. They are called X-squad because they do not behave like the usual police men.
They are allowed to grow beards and in mufti. If they drive near you and you collect money from them, that money is marked money and what they do is call another group who will come and arrest you and take your hand into an infrared machine and it will show that you came in contact with such money and’ you have no story.
That is why even in those days, some of our traffic men who were corrupt did not receive money themselves, they either have a woman frying Akara (bean cake) by their side and they go there to drop the money with her and she will wrap some Akara for you.
Eventually when the X-squad got that message; because I served in that unit, we went and picked up that woman and asked how come a woman is frying Akara in a no man’s land; who is she selling it to.? And again AP filling stations was where police men fueled their vehicles, so we had no problems patrolling the whole length and breadth of the state.
But police started owing them to the extent that AP stopped supplying fuel to the police because government was no longer making funds available for the police, their workshop became moribund; they can no longer maintain their vehicles.
Look at police vehicles today, if government donates vehicles to police within six months, the vehicles are gone because there is no time to take it for maintenance because it is one driver taking over from the other. So, a lot like I said, has to be done to return the police to the good old days. A living wage has to be paid to the police, all the allowances has to be paid, good accommodation has to be provided and of course insurance scheme.
Every police man has to be insured against risk so that they will now know that if they are shot, members of their family will not die in abject poverty. Another aspect of it also is that the recruitment policy of the police has to be overhauled.
And that no matter the pressure, whether from the national or state assemblies, the local government chairmen; for any candidate to be recruited into the police, he or she must possess the stipulated quality that the police authorities wants. And how do we achieve this?
This can be achieved by ensuring that the police colleges are independent and that they have the wherewithal and the freedom to recruit according to the rules.
So the IG has to be given the independence to run the police force the way it should be. In spite of the fact that he is appointed by the President, the IG should be given the capacity to say what he feels should be in the Police Force