He came into the exalted office of number one policeman in Nigeria with an intimidating resume and experience. When his name was announced as the 18th indigenous Inspector-General of Police, expectations were high as many heralded his appointment. About seven months after, issues are being raised and his performances so far are seriously being put on a scale. Solomon Ehigiator Arase, 59, the man on saddle told Vanguard’ in an exclusive interview in Abuja, that he has been able to lift the Nigeria Police Force at least a notch higher than he met it. Excerpts:
By Evelyn Usman
What were the high and low points since you assumed office?
On my assumption of office, I came up with some strategic policy thrusts that I was going to run through. First, was that we are going to put in place a patrol system called the Safer Highways. That is now a reality. A lot of people thought that talking about dismantling of the road block was more like, ‘we have heard it before.’
They thought that after a time, we would forget about it. But, we’ve been able to enforce it. Those who are found to run foul of the policy have been dealt with. Some have been tried, some are in court. We said we were also going to set up a technical platform that would be able to interface with Nigerians.
That we have been able to do. The www.stopthebribe.com platform is still there, working. On a daily and weekly basis, we continue to analyse it and we are even adding new platforms to that. Very soon, the complaint response unit will also be unveiled to Nigerians, which is a platform where complaints of unprofessional conduct, reporting of crime and issues of criminality would also be brought on board.
I also talked about intelligence-led policing as a policy trust. I think I have been able to deliver on that too because the issue of pre-trial detention is now virtually a thing of the past. We have monitoring teams that are going around the length and breadth of the country to ensure that people are not kept in custody for more than the constitutionally agreed period.
We’ve also been able to ensure that intelligence drives most of our policing culture in the country. The arrest of prime suspects of the Olu Falae’s kidnap that we arraigned in the high court is an attestation of that.
It was intelligence that allowed that to happen. The prime suspects that were arraigned in the high court here in Abuja, it was also intelligence that made that happen too. Statistics across the length and breadth of this country show that for every crime committed, we’ve been able to fight back.
There is this hue and cry across the country that there is an upsurge in crime and criminality. I got interested because as a scholar of police history, with my intelligence background, I’m always interested to know the trends and patterns of crime. I am not saying that crimes do not occur, but if they occur, what is the strategic response of the Nigeria Police?
I think that should be the interest of the Nigerian people. You know, are we able to respond? What is our success rate? So, If you look at the number of statistics of our success rate, they far outweighs those areas where we have not been able to excel. But we live in a country that is unappreciative of others. Anything you can do to stigmatise an organisation or people, you don’t see good things in others, you always want to see the bad things. It is a human thing, especially for the Nigeria Police force. The perception has to change because policing is not like a one way traffic, it is something that is a collaborative effort.
I have talked about intelligence- led policing. We will continue to up our game. I’m not saying that we are there. It is all about capacity, commitment and that is why the strategic managers in the Police Force always meet once in a while to strategise and ask questions like: What are our shortcomings?
What are the crime trends in the country as at now? Have we been able to sufficiently crime map the country? Where are those areas we are having issues? What is supposed to be our strategic response to crime issues? So, we keep on upping our games. And you know, for you to sell your paper, you know that the negative stories are more catchy than the good ones.
When you come up with those negative ones, they say “eh! Something has happened!” But when there is a success rate, that doesn’t make the paper sell , that one is downplayed and tucked in somewhere inside the paper. Its those negative ones that sell the papers. I have been be able to reduce incidences of us dabbling into areas where we do not have comparative competencies like commercial investigations, civil matters that have always brought us in conflict with members of the public.
Instead , I have told my officers that those things that are not necessarily criminal, do not dabble into them. Instead, we are beginning to adopt Alternative Dispute Resolution ADR in settling issues. I have also, as a deliberate policy thrust, taken a look at the welfare of my men.
I believe that it is not enough for you to always reel out policies without you having social obligations towards the officers that work for you.
So, I have deliberately told myself that I’m going to have a social and moral obligation to these officers especially inspectors, rank and file who are always on the road 24 hours, who nobody knows whether they feed, whether their vehicles are fueled, to make sure that these set of people, their welfare is fully taken care of.
Talking about their welfare, what are you doing in this regard?
We have started building houses for them in the six geo-political zones of the country. All the Inspectors, rank and files, we are trying to see if we can arrange for a mortgage for them to have houses before they retire, at least, a two bedroom apartment. Corruption is borne out of fear, fear of the unknown. If you know that you are going to retire into penury, the temptation for you to engage in unprofessional conduct is high.
But if you know that there is a guarantee that if you retire, you will be taken care of by your organisation, the motivation for you to work for that very organisation is always very high. Those are the things that we trying to put in place to ensure that we motivate our officers. By December, we are supposed to launch the first set of houses.
Apart from that, as a deliberate policy through the assistance of the president, we are now making sure that those Safer Highway vehicles are fuelled, and that the men who mount those vehicles, at least, get their allowances. That is our moral obligation to them, while the social obligation is the housing.
I have also been able to take statistics of the number of my officers who die on a daily basis. We lose an average of 20 officers in a month and at the last count, I got interested because I always want to work from the point of view of statistics. I got interested to know the number of widows that we have in the Nigeria Police.
I asked the Police Officers Wives Association, POWA, to do a survey, let them know how many out of the 36 states plus Abuja, (minus two states ). They were able to come up with a statistic of about 900 widows. So, when you say you have 900 that you have been able to capture in the past four years, what that translates to is that these widows also have children.
They have lost their bread winners and most of them are not skilled. So, we have been thinking about how to create skills for them, help them to access interest- free loans from our Micro finance bank so that we don’t surreptitiously start creating miscreants, whose parents used to be police officers serving the country but died in battle.We have incorporated a foundation that will now give scholarships to children of deceased policemen, and those who are still serving.
So, we are looking at 185 children on scholarships from primary to secondary school. Don’t forget that we have Police schools too. So, we want to give them that leverage so that they will be able to self- actualise and develop their own potentials too. Also, about 37,000 of them will be promoted across the board.
We are putting in things that will encourage them and, I am passionate about their welfare. I think the rest part of my life I want to dedicate it to helping humanity, starting from my own immediate constituency, the Nigeria Police.
What is your assessment of the security situation in Nigeria?
It is manageable, not intolerable. Yes, the security situation is bad but it is not intolerable. The only place where you do not find crime is the Antarctic, a place where you don’t have human beings. Even in New York or America, with their technological platforms, the number of murder cases you have in a week far outstrips what we have here in a year.
They also have the capacity to deal with some of those things because they have technological platforms. We don’t have technical platforms. All the same, I believe that the Police has to up the game. We have to fight back. I keep encouraging my men to learn to fight back.
Kidnapping began from the Niger Delta, held sway in the South-East but was curbed , only to be shifting to the South-West. What’s on?
Crime to me, is an aberration. In a society where things are done normally, they shouldn’t happen. But all the same, members of the public too have a responsibility to play in it. Look at the professor kidnapped at Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma. Who was involved? His brother in-law. These are things members of the public need to understand. We are not security conscious; we are not conscious of our environment. Unfortunately, the police cannot be everywhere, that is just the truth.
Recently, the President gave a directive for recruitment of more police men. Why the delay?
Well, these things have budgetary implications. If you are going to recruit policemen, they have to be trained. The facilities for training have to be such that it is conducive for training in the first instance. You have to budget for their salaries because once they’ve been recruited, even when they are in training, they are supposed to be pay-rolled.
They are supposed to have uniforms. We are supposed to feed them, provide teaching aids, we are supposed to invite guest lecturers that would teach them apart from basic police duties but other relevant areas. So, it is something that has to be budgeted for and you know, the government just came in. We have been trying to see how we can make budgetary provisions for it in the next budget.
Is the Marine Police moribund?
It is true that over the years, we have not taken a critical look at how to really jazz our Marine department up. Their capacity has dwindled over the years. We’ve not been able to replicate the good ones as they were leaving. I have met with the Chief of Naval Staff and appealed to him that since they have comparative advantage in terms of training and capacity building in that area, we are trying to see how we will be able to get in some more men there and train them on how to handle those inland waterways.
Most of the boats we have are obsolete. Since there is no money and there are contending demands on government funds, we will repair the ones we have. So, that area is one area we are taking a critical look at, to see how we can rejuvenate it and make it potent especially, for crimes coming from the sea.
Also recently, you ordered a clamp down on MASSOB. Why concentrate on MASSOB while there are other militia groups in other parts of the country ?
My answer is that I’m allergic to primordial sentiments. I am the Inspector-General of Police of the Federation of Nigeria. Crime to me, wherever it occurs, does not have an ethnic coloration. Once you’re an illegal organization, whether you’re wearing the ethnic toga of OPC and others, it is not something that I’m interested in. It was not directed strictly at MASSOB. But they are the ones who have been disturbing the South-East for some time now. If they do that, they are in breach of the law and they have to be clamped down on.
What role is expected of the Police over the raging issue of pipeline vandals?
Well, what we are trying to do is to ensure that we acquire specialized equipments to police those areas. You talked about the Marine police. So, all those are platforms that would be required to do that. We also require maybe, air surveillance to be able to do that.
A past president donated some helicopters to the Nigeria Police Force, what happened to them? Do you still have the helicopters?
Helicopters? Yes, we have helicopters. We have six that were deployed to the six geopolitical zones, one for each zone. Don’t forget that those helicopters too require insurance to fly. Sometimes, once the insurance is not current, it’s a risk and we will be breaching the existing laws. We need fuel, spares and other things which are capital intensive.
Would it be right to say that there is a cold war between the Police and other security agencies particularly the DSS? Take for instance, the arrest of suspected kidnappers of Chief Falae. What is your relationship with other security agencies?
We have a healthy relationship. We are supposed to be working for the same government. You know there is inter-service rivalry and professional envy is not something that is restricted to Nigeria alone. Take the 9/11 blast on the twin towers in New York. Some of the security agencies got intelligence about the likelihood of an attack but because they could not synergize and piece it together, it happened and that led to the establishment of the homeland security office where they co-ordinate diverse communication coming in from everywhere. As a cop, my space is already defined both by the constitution and statutory acts.
I try to fit myself into my space and ensure that I do my job professionally. I told you that I approached the Chief Naval of Staff when I had a problem with the waterways. For me, I’m not in competition with anybody; instead I’m in competition with myself. I wake up every morning and ask myself : “Where are those areas that you’re deficient, Solomon? How can you make up for those defects?”
President Muhammad Buhari, gave December as deadline to end the activities of Boko Haram but unfortunately, we are still witnessing bombings in the North-East which resulted in the loss of lives. How do you think the Police can make this deadline achievable?
We are working side by side with the military in the North East. I have about a thousand PMF officers who are fighting side by side with the military. We also have our role to play. Once the safe corridor has been created, we are trying to establishing a semblance of civil authority. At the same time, there are some immediate impact activities that we intend to put in place and will continue to win the hearts and minds of people who are going to return from the IDP camps.
We complement each other and the deadline is achievable. We are appealing to members of the public to ensure they partner with the security agencies so that we are able to have a safer and secured environment. There is nowhere in the world where you can totally obliterate issues of these bombs here and there, even in countries that are developed . All we are saying is that they should not occupy our territory. It is assymmetrical warfare, and the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.
What are you doing about police brutality and accidental discharges by policemen? Remember the recent case of Udoh in Lagos whose wife was killed by your men…..
I believe that nobody has the right to kill any human being. Whether you are a policeman or not, you’re not immune to the criminal justice system. So, you can see that everywhere that thing has happened in this country, my directives is that within 48 hours, I dismiss the person and arraign him in court.
That is the best I can do. We’re also retraining them and working on their psyche and telling them that these things are no longer acceptable. In other jurisdictions, when someone is involved in this case, you quarantine the person in a trauma centre to ensure that his mental health is checked to be sure that he doesn’t have some trace of madness in him. Why would he shoot anybody anyway in the high street with a gun that was given to you to protect the people? To me it is just crazy and it is not something that I can stay with.
So, anywhere it happens, my first move is to tell the Commissioner, let the person have his day in court. And that is what we have been doing. In most of our training programmes and promotional courses, we emphasise more on musketry, how to handle firearms. We will try and see if we can sufficiently train them. The problem in this country is that we have inherited a lot of things that is not supposed to be used by civil police. I will want to see my policemen who are involved in internal security management use pistols instead of long arms,while those ones who are in charge if guarding key or strategic positions can carry long guns.
Why can’t they carry rifles, pistols, small arms, walkie-talkies, batons? Those are supposed to be from the civil authority. The nature of the service now is that when some of these criminals see a policeman working in his beat, they will want to attack him and take his weapon. So, they have militarized the security space. It is not the police doing that. There are firearms all over the place. We are trying to find solutions to mop up those arms from the society.
Would you say the Nigeria Police are adequately equipped to fight this war against criminals?
There is no Police Force in the world that is all round equipped. Once they are passing out from the school, every policeman has a walkie talkie, baton and all the necessary accompaniment that makes him a police officer. They are part and parcel of the passing out parade. But there are competing demands in Nigeria today. We want good schools for our children, we want motorable roads to drive on, we want stable electricity. We want water to flow in our systems, we want good health care.
All these are competing demands. So, when you put these side by side with the police demand, you will discover that it is enormous. But with time, what I will advocate as part of security sector reforms is that there will be devolution of functions to allow some well established private organizations do some of the jobs the police should do. Take the case of bullion van escorts of private security outfits. Go to South Africa, they are well equipped. You can subscribe to a good private security agency although they carry arms anyway.
They fix CCTVs in their houses. Why can’t we have legislation in this country that will say any public building or business outfit , as you are registering to build a house, the security for that place will also be part of the registration. They fix CCTVs in our houses, supermarkets, public places. If they make a mandatory legislation, then you’ll discover that the security of a place is well policed. We are too much about physical security in this country and I think that’s where the problem lies.
What is the strength of the Nigeria Police Force?
We are about 305,000 pay rolled. From that figure, you have to subtract traffic wardens, specialist branch like medical doctors, our engineers. So, the number of policemen we deploy should be about 250,000 or 260,000.
How many Policemen do you think the Force needs to police Nigeria?
I don’t want to put a number to that because as I’m telling you, when you talk about all those UN figure, one policeman to 400 people, you’re talking about a society that has sufficient technical platform. Like in the United Kingdom, they are about three million cameras spread across the country. How many eateries, shopping malls, hotels can boast of very robust CCTV system? This is the type of things that is mandatory in other countries.
What would you like to be remembered for when you leave as the IGP?
A cop who had an opportunity to change things. By his grace, I’m doing my little best. I may not be able to solve all the problems that are there but I’ll be able to put the blocks in place. I want to be remembered as an IGP who was very very passionate about my workmen. Whose heart goes to them everyday whenever I hear that something has happened to them.
I put my family in their positions and say if anything happens to me, what is going to happen to my wife, children, friends and dependants who are looking up to me. And sometimes I have sleepless nights. Everything I want to do, as I have told you, I have been blessed beyond my expectations. I have viewed that the rest period I have in this career, I’ll put it as a service for Nigerians and the Police Force and give Nigerians a responsible and respected Police Force.
I want to always come out and when you say “Solomon Arase is a police officer, you should look at me and assess me and say “yes, this man did his best for the country. I don’t want you to stigmatize me and say I’m a bad person because I wear the uniform. I am not a bad person. Those are the things I think I want to leave behind.
What do you say to Nigerians about their perception of the Nigerian Police Force?
The public perception of the Nigerian Force has to change. A country gets the Police Force that they deserve. These guys are not just police officers, they are Nigerians. No matter the mannerisms or idiosyncrasies that they learnt, that is what they have brought to the system. So, they should learn to trust their police force, have respect for them, and my policemen should also know that one day they’ll also become civilians just like as they were before they became police officers.