By Clifford Ndujihe
A retired Deputy Inspector-General of Police (Operations), Philemon Leha, in this interview, shares his experience as the Commissioner of Police in Anambra State during the tenure of former Governor Peter Obi.
How is life in retirement and how are you coping?
In principle, one is supposed to be resting, but I have a few things occupying my time – further studies, consultancies, etc but, in all, I am coping nicely and life in retirement has been peaceful and refreshing.
As a former police officer, could you recall some of your challenging assignments especially when you served as CP of Anambra State?
There were many challenging tasks. In my time, I was drafted to various difficult areas at different times. I was posted to Anambra State in 2009 to help restore sanity in the area. The state had witnessed incessant armed robberies and kidnappings to the extent that, in August of that year alone, robbers ransacked four banks for four hours virtually unchallenged, which was serious cause for worry for the police in particular.
The then Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Ogbonnaya Onovo, sent me on a rescue mission to Anambra to restore peace. I was a Deputy Commissioner of Police then but subsequently promoted Commissioner. It was a tough assignment and I am happy that relative peace returned to the state during my tenure.
How did you achieve it?
It was not the sole achievement of the police. It was with the active support and collaboration of the then governor, Peter Obi.
What specific measures did you adopt to curb crime in Anambra State?
The first thing I did was to study the situation, and then attempt to unravel what exactly was happening in the state – the real reasons for the robberies, kidnappings and other violent acts. Next was to examine the set-up of the Nigeria Police and character of its officers in the state. One of my findings was that some of the officers had been in Anambra for about 10, 15, 20 years; some had been in the state since they joined the police.
Having spent such a long time, many of them had become ‘part-and-parcel’ of Anambra State and had lost their sense of duty. I promptly requested their transfers. In the same vein, I requested the IGP to draft a reasonable number of mobile policemen to the state, which he granted.
From my tour of the communities in the state, I discovered there was lack of trust between the people and the police, which endangered security, law, and order. With the support of the Obi administration, I restored public trust in the police and made all my four official telephone numbers available to them. I appealed to them to have confidence in me. I also assured them that no information they gave me would be leaked and that they should hold me responsible for any breach of the trust on the part of the police.
It was an agreement, signed and sealed. The results were tremendous as we received vital information that led to timely interventions in crime and apprehension of criminals. As a matter of fact, I took a chance to the shock of my men – to release a man arrested for robbery, who declared he had repented and would be feeding us information on any planned robbery activity in the state.
Indeed, he became a valuable source of information that enabled us to nip many robbery operations in the bud. Even in retirement, I still receive calls from some stakeholders on the security situation in the state, which I pass on to the serving commissioner of police.
What role did former governor Peter Obi play in your successes in Anambra?
As I undertook my assignment in the state, I was greatly encouraged by the commitment and determined focus of Governor Obi. Security was on his priority list and he always offered us logistics and other support on a scale I had not witnessed elsewhere.
People who do not understand him to tag him a ‘miser’ because he does not throw public funds around like many other politicians but it is really his philosophy they fail to appreciate. From my observations as a trained policeman and interactions with him, Peter Obi has Anambra State at heart. He wanted to take the state to a greater height, which he did. In the process, he endeavoured to raise a team of men, women, and organizations with good intentions for the state.
Indeed, he was highly instrumental in the success of my assignment to combat crime and criminality in Anambra State. Aside from his support for the security agencies, he promoted collective responsibility for security and initiated the demolition of properties belonging to or used by kidnappers to discourage their nefarious activities.
Could it be said that the foundation of a secure Anambra State being celebrated by the current government in the state was laid during the Obi administration?
There is no denying that fact; that is exactly the position. Despite the elaborate ground-work I did, my assignment would not have been successful without the commitment and concrete support of the Peter Obi administration.
He also mobilized the citizenry to give us their co-operation. He provided us with utility vehicles, money to fuel them, allowances for the officers and built strategic security structures. Obi bought vehicles for the force. He really made a great difference, which the state is enjoying to this day. His successors mostly need to consolidate on what we achieved with the support of Obi.
Mr. Peter Obi seemed to have made quite an impression on you…
Peter Obi was also a policeman indeed and actively played his role as the Chief Security Officer of the state. I recall that he often telephoned the IGP, DIG, and CP to ascertain the state of affairs on security matters; and we gave him updates regularly, with suggestions on how to resolve security challenges that are always arising in our dynamic society.
He mobilized all the security and para-military outfits, including the vigilante groups in the state. He was really a dependable host to work with, which you do not easily find elsewhere. He was and still is a phenomenon and highly instrumental to the stabilization of security in the South-East, particularly Anambra State. Like him or hate him because of his attitude to money, Peter Obi remains the best that any state in Nigeria could possibly have. He is a very responsible man.
Do you have any regrets working with the Nigeria Police and in what areas would you suggest improvements in the Force?
Personally, I have no regret working with the Nigeria Police; having joined as ‘one star’ and retired as DIG (Operations). Though I did ‘make money’ while in service, I am contented with Almighty God has done for me and that I did not compromise my integrity.
I started a building but have no money to complete it. The house I live in was built for me by some good-spirited people from Anambra State after my service in the state. They include Governor Peter Obi, Cletus Ibeto, Emeka Offor, Arthur Eze and Innoson Chukwuma. God will reward them for what they did for me. Such has been their generousity that I wanted to name the building ‘Anambra House’.
For the Nigeria Police itself, it is, however, regrettable that successive governments have not given the force adequate support, especially in funding. There is also the problem of poor welfare for Police personnel. It is worse for those on special duties.
They are sent to far-off places and remote locations without access to food, water or any form of refreshment or money to purchase that. Many of them then device means of sustaining themselves on those missions, which is the much-talked-about ‘N20’ they are said to collect from motorists. No serious Police Force will encourage such acts but the government should do the right things..