By Kingsley Omonobi, Abuja.
The Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase, last week, inaugurated an innovation to detect criminality and police brutality. The officer appointed to oversee the outfit, known as the IGP’s Complaints Response Unit (CRU), is Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP) Abayomi Shogunle. In this interview, Shogunle explains what CRU is all about.
This is a community based complaint management system where citizens or members of the public’s concerns and queries regarding policing activities can be resolved and addressed in real time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, weekends and public holidays inclusive.
You will recall that upon his assumption in office, IGP Solomon Arase rolled-out his strategic policing plan and part of it involves the use of cutting edge technology; and also bequeathing to Nigerians the police that Nigerians can actually call their friends. In doing so, one of the things the IGP has done is to establish the CRU which is the first of its kind in Nigeria where members of the public can interface with the police in real time.
How does the CRU operate?
The CRU has launched a multi-platform system through which such complaints and queries can be received from members of the public. One of it is telephone. We have two dedicated telephone lines which members of the public can call-08057000001, 08057000002. We also have a text message line to which members of the public are expected to send messages – 08057000003.
Members of the public can also reach out to the CRU via ‘WhatsApp’ messenger on – 080570003. Another platform is BBM. The BBM pin is 58A2B5DE. In addition, you can reach CRU via the twitter handle @policing_CRU, or use facebook, www.facebook.com/npfcomplaint. You can equally reach the unit via email. The address is [email protected] or [email protected] The website is www.npf.gov.ng/complaint.
By using these platforms, we are confident that members of the public can get to us. Let me state also that no platform will have preference over the other. Complaints from all these platforms would be treated equally, on the basis of first come first served. Once a complaint comes in, the person making the complaint will be issued with a track number, to show that your complaint has been received and is being looked into. We will give the complainant a feedback or first acknowledgement within 24 hours. And in maximum of seven days, we are sure we would give you a feedback on the status of your complaint.
Does the CRU have the manpower to do this job especially knowing the most cases of police brutality, harassment take place at the local level?
Absolutely yes, and let me tell you how the unit is operating. We have the main hub here at the Force Headquarters. So all these platforms are being mapped up by the FHQ. Once a complain comes in to any of the platform, we have three officers per state as base of their responsibility.
They are going to serve as responding officers for the CRU in all the 36 states of the federation and the FCT. These officers are drawn from the Provost Office, the Office of Special Intelligent Bureau, SIB, and the Office of the Police Control Room. Now, when the call (complaint) comes in, the first officer in FHQ that receives the complaint will contact either of these designated officers in the command to do three things; verify the complaint, resolve the complaint and give the feedback.
These three officers from the command are carefully selected in the sense that every police station has at least one Special Intelligence Bureau officer. So once the complaint is passed to the OSIB, the OSIB officer will contact any of his operatives in the jurisdiction to take necessary action.
The provost is in charge of discipline. Once a complaint regarding the activities of the police at the station or on the road gets to him, the provost marshal in the state is mobilized to move to the area, verify, take action and give feedback.
For the control room, you know that is where members of the public in the states call when there is distress, the control room, and the control room will take the action.
Another thing we are doing is that a special poster cataloguing the do’s and don’ts of CRU is being distributed to every police station across the country. The CRU poster says, ‘Do you have any complaints about any of our officers? Contact us 24/7 via all these means through which we can be contacted’. It is waterproof; so if water falls on it, it will not be damaged.
Members of the public can easily make complaints to the unit right there at the police station; the poster plays supervisory role and serves as a reminder that any unprofessional conduct would be reported.
Issues of bail & human rights abuse, can they be reported as well?
These, as a matter of fact, are first among the complaints we are looking forward to receiving. On the poster, it is clearly written, ‘bail is free’. The poster reinforces the stance of the NPF on the issue of bail, as people are not expected to pay for bail.
Do you believe this initiative sustainable?
In planning the process, we took clear cognizance of the issue of funding and the fact that, because government revenue is reducing, allocation to the NPF is also reducing. What I assure is that the cost of implementing the CRU is close to zero to the NPF, the Federal Government and members of the public that may be using the platforms. This is because we are deploying technology and it is not as if we are paying for the technology. Telephone lines are already there. From statistics, we have about 138 million active mobile phone subscribers.
That means 138 million Nigerians can reach the unit through phone calls or text messages at no extra cost to them, because they use them daily. We also have 70.3 million active internet users who can e-mail us, and email is not costly; neither does it have extra cost to the NPF. That means 70.3 million people can reach the CRU through internet and other social media platforms. So the issue of sustainability is taken care of because we are not spending real money in maintaining the platforms. Also, the police officers who are manning this project are serving officers whose remunerations are being taken care of.
Is there assurance that if a policeman is found wanting, the institution with punish its own personnel?
The slogan of the unit says, ‘No to impunity’, which means there would be no sacred cows. Every complaint is investigated, and, if an officer is found to have acted unprofessionally, appropriate sanctions would be meted out.
On the logo, we have a smiling face; that is assurance that anybody who comes in contact with the unit, the level of professionalism that would be deployed in attending to your complaints would guarantee a smile on the face of the person. If you also look at the logo, you will see the symbol of justice; that means equality before the law. So, we will ensure equality, and the rule of law. These are values that the unit is taking so dear. Should there be any time the police dare to go outside these values, we should be reminded by the media and civil society organizations.
As elections hold in Kogi and Bayelsa States, can Nigerians make use of these platforms to capture police officers engaged in malpractices and intimidation?
If you look at the logo, you will see police colours, and what that represents is that CRU only receives complaints made against police officers and unprofessional conduct of officers. What that means is that CRU will take your complaint only when it is against a police officer. But that notwithstanding, there might be an emergency that you need the police to respond to; if such information comes in, we will get appropriate police units to respond to it.