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Why and how things fell apart in Nigeria Police Force — Retd CP Owoseni

Force in very critical situation today
Why political leaders are happy to see police die

RETIRED Commissioner of Police, Fatai Owoseni, can unquestionably, stand as one of the tested officers of the Nigeria Police Force. After joining the force on January 1, 1984 and trained at the Police College, Ikeja, Lagos, as Cadet Inspector, he attended several courses, both in Nigeria and outside the country. Later, he served in different capacities, including as a principal staff officer to IGP Mohammed D. Abubakar before attaining the enviable position of Commissioner of Police. He served in different parts of the country, including Lagos and Benue states and completed his mandatory 35 years in service meritoriously. In this encounter with Vanguard Crime Editor, EMMA NNADOZIE, he bared his mind on issues bordering on policing in Nigeria and why the force has consistently failed to live up to expectations. It is truly exclusive and exhaustive. Excerpts.

Fatai Owoseni
Fatai Owoseni…had a good tutelage as police staff officer

YOU and the Nigeria Police Force, how did it all start?

I retired in January as a Commissioner of Police. I used to be the Commissioner of Police in Lagos and Benue states. It was a kind of a journey from January 1, 1984 to January 1, 2019. That made it a total of 35 years, meritoriously, in the service to our father land and I have always said that the police some of us joined or met at that period is now quite different from the police we are seeing now.

You went to Police College?

Yes, I joined as a Cadet Inspector in Police College, Ikeja where I was also trained. As of then, when you enter the Police College, Ikeja, some people will take pictures and post it out and tell their families that they are in Scotland because, the Police College, Ikeja actually looked as if you were in Scotland. The trainees – the cadet officers and recruits maintained high etiquette. They had everything and as of that time, while the Police College, Ikeja was functioning, we had the traffic wing which was at the opposite end. The traffic wing is moribund now. We had the driving school; we also had the wing where we have the mechanics and the tailors. We had the best of everything.

We met a police where immediately you finish and was gazetted as an officer, you had uniforms being supplied at subsidized rate. It was so unique that officers in other services would even want to come and buy from the police. We met a police where the rank and file were regularly kitted with two pairs of uniforms and shoes in a year. I met a police where when you are posted out, for instance, my first posting was Shagamu in Ogun State where we met a gas station we call ‘fuel dump’ where police vehicles were fuelled. Each of the divisional headquarters had a lorry and had other vehicles with which they deployed their personnel to their various beats.

We had the workshop where stocks were kept. DPOs had access to information numbers but we cannot see that in Police of today. After a year of what we called “attachment” in various units of the police, I was deployed to Force Headquarters, Moloney, Lagos in 1986 and the first old headquarters was unique. I will say that I am one of the very few lucky officers who met people who were ready to mentor us. We had good tutelage as staff officers. We had everything at our disposal. The old ones that graduated from the colonial masters, we met them and were able to learn the rudiments of police law from the Force Headquarters in the department of operations.

What is your honest assessment of the Nigeria Police Force today?

The police is in a very critical situation today. Some of us will rightly say that it doesn’t look as if we are ready to have a police force. One of the reasons I said that is this: A friend of mine saw something online, I think in The Philippines or Sri Lanka, where police men were doing some demonstration with police dogs. That friend sent it to me and said: “I wonder when Nigeria police will get to this level.” My reply was that we were more than that before, because at the time I joined the police, we had well-trained police dogs that were used for investigations. We had dogs that could sniff drugs, because you know what became NDLEA now used to be the narcotic section of the police, Interpol and Narcotics.

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At that time, we had well-trained officers who handled and used these dogs properly for operations. Not only that, we had well-fed police horses that were also used in crime control. We met the Police Camel Section with camels that were used to patrol the deserts; we also had the Central Criminal Registry, CCR. We had the finger print section, and of course, I can say boldly that the Nigeria police had the best of the forensic experts then and those who deal with melting of metals. Sadly, we have found ourselves at this level.

Things fall  apart

Things started deteriorating as from the mid-90s, because, even as of the time I was talking of, the police colleges were standard, it was a pride to go and work as instructors in those police colleges. They didn’t send people there as a punitive measure. The police etiquette of how to eat in the dining room were taught and you have to be well-dressed. Everything was done the standard way of what colleges should be.

Everyone in Nigeria knew the glorious days of the police, the Apalara case, the Otokoto, the Oyenusi, where you had detectives who were well trained, were sent to Scotland. But, you know, due to retirements, death of officers, we had a situation where people are not re-trained again, the standard in the colleges were lowered.

Sadly, at a point in time, some policemen were made to live off campus at the police colleges. So, it is difficult to pin-point what exactly has gone wrong because the E-Department of the Police which later became NSO is now DSS.

At the time the police had E-Department, the intelligence gathering of the police was very strong, right even from the barracks, aside the internal oversight then; they worked on credible intelligence. Then, if you slaughtered chicken in the barracks, and you were a constable, the following day your commissioner would have known, and they would ask you where you got the money to buy a chicken. That was how strong the intelligence unit was in the ’80s.

Unfortunately, they now started decimating the police, taking units out of the police, and empowering them more than the police, and that has made everything to get to this level that you can no longer be sure that there is even a police. The national anthem now is community policing, police trust fund, state police, and whatever. We have to look at how the police got to this level, because the units that were taken out of the police, like the EFCC, are still headed by police men.

For the EFCC, we still have a large percentage of its staff that are police men, and we don’t ask ourselves, what were they getting differently that made them perform in EFCC? Because, if you have a situation where you are sending a detective from Lagos to Kano to investigate a case, and you would not provide for road transportation, talk less of air transportation for them, how do you want them to perform their duties? In the 1980s, the Nigeria Police had a printing press in Ikeja that printed police statement forms, file jacket and others, but it is presently not in existence. So, it’s not just about singing community policing; the police have been doing community policing for years.

Special Constabularies

In the early 1980s, we worked with people who were called special constabularies and were volunteers, permanent secretaries, directors, teachers and other credible public servants, who when they closed from their normal work, came to the police stations to help, so that the trained general duty police men can be deployed for operational duties while they stay in the station. The same is still in the Police Act; nobody is looking at that. As at then, we collaborated with community leaders, traditional rulers who helped us identify those we were looking for. Before you finish describing who you were looking for, they would tell you whose son he was and they get him for you.

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What else do they call community policing? This is a country where people don’t have institutional memory. Community policing has been launched several times, for God’s sake. It is an overused term now. The world is moving, the aspect of collaborative police with community members is just one method; it’s not the hundred percent solution to policing a country, and you cannot put something on nothing. Those countries where community policing works, the people there also have culture of volunteering, not in our case where people don’t have culture of volunteering. So, you cannot re-orientate the police about community policing without re-orienting Nigerians.

Was government providing more funds to the DPOs in the 1980s?

Aside the fact that there was no proliferation of agencies then, where every Tom, Dick and Harry now want to wear the rank equivalent to the Inspector-General of Police, government focused attention on the police until funding began to dwindle. The budget is not appropriated to the police based on what the police needs to function with, but on what the budget office thinks they should give to the police. No, you can’t get performance. The most important is the provision of security. Security is expensive everywhere, and if we don’t fund the police to that level that will make the officer to perform, then we are not ready to have the police we deserve because all the agencies that have been created to perform fractions of the police jobs, when they fail, it is the police that is still held responsible.

If there is any traffic situation now, it is the police that are still called. Let those who have entrusted police to their national anthem, including the governors, come and say if there is a nexus between the police effectiveness and who actually controls the police. It is not the body that controls the police that makes it to perform; it is the tools that you give to the police. And we are quick to mention US, UK, those countries are policing towards centralisation, not this one we are clamouring for. It is the same Nigerians who would condemn state independent electoral commissions that will still say they are being used by government.

Have we really looked at how we got to the level that made us to have a centralised police? The ills of those days, have they been corrected? No! And it was part of this that led to the commissioning in 1957 of the Willink Commission, and it gave Nigeria a unique arrangement of police oversight. There, we have a structure called the Police Council to administer the police, and in the report, it was clearly stated that a police council be set up with the president of the country as the chairman of the council, and governors of each of the states as members.

The Police Council never meet; the governors that will come out to say that there is no control of the police, none of them, can write to the chairman of the council to say we want a meeting to be held. If the Police Council functions as it is supposed to, there is no need for state police. It is that same Willink Commission that led to the creation of Police Service Commission that handles discipline and others, and that is why the deployment of police is a constitutional issue because the two ranks mentioned are that of the constable and the commissioner, and Inspector-General of Police.

Extant rules and regulations

That is why the Willink Commission recommended a commissioner to a state; the IG will only make recommendation to the commission whose members are not political, because the commission says we should have a chairman who is not a member of any political party and a member who is a retired judge of the Supreme Court, then another member who will be a police officer who retired with not less than the rank of commissioner of police. You will have members representing women, organised labour, civil societies,etc; but today, it is jobs for politicians. Today, what you find in the police even jettisons the extant rules and regulations.

The police had regulations on how you should take the case of extra-judicial killing. We have the Force Order 237 that people say is outdated; but, it is not, just that police are not trained, because for each of the provisions, there are explanatory notes that they don’t tell officers about again. So, police work is such that if you don’t have passion for it, forget it. There is also an existing United Nations guideline on the prevention of crime and criminal justice, which will be able to help government fight crime and galvanise all members of the community to prevent crime.

Everything is horrible in Nigeria

We have a country now that almost everything is horrible.  But, essentially, the police must be catered for. There is hardly any police station now that has what it takes to help police men carry out their duties. Members of the public will accuse the police of collecting money from them; even if you are paying an average police man, and there is no vehicle to move around, is it from his salary he would hire a vehicle? So, it is at the mercy of either the complainant or the suspects. And that is where they get compromised; why police get into extra-jurisdictional matters that are supposed to be civil matters. Apart from being starved of funds, the police are not being taken care of, even in retirement. You retire, and in one year, your gratuity and pension will not be paid to you; they will claim it is because of the large number. What do you expect of a police man who knows if he retires, he won’t be paid? It is just by the grace of God that some of us served passionately and with dedication.

Uniforms for rank and file

For the average rank and file, only God knows when last they have been given uniforms or shoes. You have a constable or inspector working in Ikorodu, and he lives in Sango-Ota; his salary cannot even cover the transportation. How do you expect him to perform? The police reflect what the government is like. Our former boss, a retired DIG, told a story of when they went to England, and they asked the prime minister, why is it that the chief constable is paid more than you, and she said, if he is not paid better, I won’t be able to perform my work as the prime minister because there are three organs of government to protect the democracy: the judiciary, the military, and the police which is the most important of all the organs, others depend on the police.

Military takeover of police duties

Rather than providing for the police, we now find out that everything about internal security has been taken over by the military. The military now is replicating all the sections of the police, and the civil defence given some ambiguous powers; and that is why you see the proliferation of weapons, where everybody wants to wear uniforms and carry guns; whereas in the civilised world, they are reducing the number of weapons being carried in  public. When issues of police are discussed, police are not called to be part of that. It got to the extent that, if the ministries want to buy equipment, they don’t call the police, the end users, to come and discuss about what would be used by them. That is why we don’t have any standard with regards to what we refer as logistics. In one state, they buy Toyota, in another state, they buy Mazda.

Amendment of police reforms

Looking at the set up now, with the amendment of the police reform bill, there is one provision with regards to extra-judicial killings, where it is said that if a police man is involved in extrajudicial killings, the family should be compensated with one million naira or thereabout. Meanwhile, we have a stronger law that says that the family could sue the institution and demand for compensation.

What happens to the budget?

Where is the budget? If money is mapped out for the police, I can’t say clearly now, but, it’s been written several times that it is 13 percent of the appropriation that will get to the police, aside the fact that what is appropriated is not even enough to address the police situation. I saw it as a commissioner of police that the appropriation that goes to police is not even enough for the command for one day.

The Mobile Police Force

That should be the striking arm of the force, but of course, unfortunately, the political leaders, starting from the legislature are happy that the police is dying, because, you elect someone today, the first thing they ask for is a mobile police to come and be their escort, carry bags for their madams, and the same people requesting these services, will go to the National Assembly to attack the Inspector General of Police and blackmail him. The IG is now helpless. And, of course, they now have a way of circumventing; there is nowhere in our laws that says Civil Defence should act as orderlies to politicians. That is why you see the Civil Defence taking up that duty, which is an aberration against the law, to the extent that you now even see soldiers following civilians to places.

That is why the efficiency, effectiveness and fighting power of our military is dwindling, because they have been diverted from their primary responsibilities. Everybody is now talking like it is the police that is the problem of Nigeria. Rather, it is the police that is carrying the burden. We will continue to talk about it until we have a government that will implement the various committees reports. We don’t have continuity; the Police Reform Trust Fund they are talking of was there during the past administration. The then Vice President, Namadi Sambo, chaired the implementation committee, especially with the funding of the police where they said allocation should be taken directly.

Some states have started complying, like Ebonyi whose state house of assembly has implemented it. What did that arrangement state? The federal, state and organised private sector will contribute, and that for each state, if it is N10m, it will be spent in your state. But, because we don’t have continuity, a lot of money was spent to put up these papers, laughable things came out of it: like changing the name from Police Force, to Police Service. Is that what should make police perform?

Internal security

Some of our law makers talk as if they don’t even read the Constitution that says the police should be called upon to perform military duties; that makes it the fourth arm of the armed forces, unlike the one that says the military may be called upon to assist in internal security. It is only in Nigeria that we see people compete over internal security with police in situations that would call for assistance. Some of us met what we call an operation manual, that is: internal security operations, and is code named “Sango”. That document was always in the custody of the police at our joint operation rules, and it is reviewed from time to time.

The manual highlighted how and when you want to hand over operation, when the police power becomes inadequate, and you need to call in the military. Guidelines are stated, and part of the guidelines is that you, as the police that was leading the operation, should be able to give an overview of the situation that wants to make you hand over. For example, when you think it was just police operation, but, discovered that it was more than what the police could handle. So, it gives the unit coming an appraisal of what they are going to face; that is why we have the joint operations. It is of late that you see each of the institutions creating a joint operation.

The joint operation rules have always been created in the Police Headquarters. At a point in time, Nigeria was run from that place because all the other institutions will send in their personnel there, and from there, be able to disseminate information, and they talk with one voice. But, now, you hear the Air Force say: we just destroyed the hideout of Boko Haram; Army and Navy will claim they just did that, which is wrong, because they just want to justify whatever money they are getting.

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