By Harris Emmanuel
Mr Udom Ekpoudom is a former Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG). In this interview, Ekpoudom speaks on the wave of insecurity in the country and the xenophobic attacks on Nigerians in South Africa among other issues in the polity.
Xenophobia attacks on Nigerians in South Africa threaten the relationships between the two African countries. How do you react to this?
It is very sad that South Africans would go to the extent of killing other Africans and Nigerians in particular. It is sad in the sense that, as a young undergraduate of political science, I studied apartheid policy in details and I concluded that the obnoxious system of government may not be stopped in South Africa because the white minority had everything—the economy, the military and so on and so forth. My thinking was how the black majority could overthrow the powerful and ruthless minority white who were well equipped. But Nigeria took the risk and fought doggedly and, at the end, the apartheid system crumbled and they were set free. As they say, one good turn deserves another. Nigeria spent money to ensure the freedom our black South Africans are now enjoying. I would not expect them to pay us back in bad coins. Therefore, I am not happy about the turn of events in that country. But, I have to say this also, from the information coming out of South Africa, most of our people there are not behaving well. Many of them are taking part in crime to the extent that no South African likes that. They want to live in peace. I would like to advise our brothers and sisters in South Africa to be law-abiding and desist from criminal activities even as I would also call on South Africans to keep the peace and stop the xenophobic attacks on other black Africans, especially Nigerians.
What do you think the Federal Government should do at this point?
I am happy with what the Federal Government has done. The steps the President has taken are highly commendable. South Africa is one of the countries in Africa and you cannot wage war against it because of these attacks. War is not an option. There are diplomatic talks going on and the Federal Government has voiced its displeasure over the attacks. The President also sent emissary to South Africa to let the government there know that he is not happy with the treatment meted out to our nationals. But reprisal attacks against South African interests in Nigeria are not the way to go because Nigerians are the ones working in those establishments. I do not think it should degenerate to that level. The biggest problem we have now in Nigeria is unemployment. You see young graduates roaming about without jobs. So closing down South African interests is not the best thing to do. To this end, I am appealing to Nigerians to be patient and see what the governments of Nigeria and South Africa will do and the outcome of their engagements. They should not react the way they are reacting. I believe the Federal Government would make the best decision after the on-going dialogue.
Killings and kidnappings have been on the rise across the country. As a security expert, what do you think government should do to stem the tide?
I have observed the crime trend in Nigeria. But let me start by saying that there is no country in the world that is crime free. Even the developed countries are not immune to violent crimes. They even have high profile crimes. The Federal Government is doing its best to curtail the excesses of bandits. The police and the military are doing their best to checkmate the situation. Government has not folded its arms to allow a free reign by the bandits, no. government is working. We are even lucky that Boko Haram has been pushed to the periphery. If they were coming as they did before 2015, Nigeria would be under Boko Haram. Before this administration came, most of the local government areas in Borno State were under Boko Haram. Now, it is not like that. They are using hit and run tactic now. Do not forget that before now, they had come to Force Headquarters in Abuja and killed some policemen and injured others, even the UN office in Abuja was under attack and so on. But right now, attacks in major cities have been curtailed. So, I expect the governors to do more and so, I am advocating for community policing.
Are you in support of state police?
I am not in support of state police. I am, however, in support of community policing. It would be difficult to have effective state police because of what governors are doing now. They would use the state police to get at their opponents. We can have community policing without having state police.
How do you mean?
This implies that police officers will be recruited to work in their localities. For instance, if an Uyo person is recruited to work in Uyo, he or she knows the terrain and the local language and would be able to interact adequately with the locals on any crime issue and the criminals would be apprehended. But, today, we have people being taken from one state to another, and when they get there, they float. They cannot find their bearing. They do not understand the local language. Therefore, we need localized policing.
Do we need to amend the Constitution to accommodate state police?
From my experience in politics, the governors would use state police against perceived political enemies. I would have called for the review of the Constitution if I was keen about state police but community policing can be done without the review of the Constitution. Therefore, it is not workable to centralize crime fighting in Abuja. We have six geopolitical zones in Nigeria and DIGs are the ones in charge of the zones. There are matters the DIGs can handle and such matters stop there, but now everything is sent to Abuja. It makes the place congested and the IG cannot do everything. And if we decentralize and establish community policing, crime wave in the country would be cut down drastically. I cannot say crime will be eliminated because no society is crime free.
What actually is the problem of the police?
The problem of the police is that they do not have enough manpower and they are poorly equipped. State governments have made series of mistakes when it comes to security. And it did not start today. There are some states where I worked and the governors would say “police are not under us”. But internal security is primarily the duty of state governors. That is why they have security vote. You cannot say you are a governor when your state is on fire and you refuse to extinguish it. I remember when I served in Ogun State, then-Governor Olusegun Osoba gave me brand new vehicles and other gadgets that I used to fight the bad boys. Former Governor James Ibori of Delta State too purchased new equipment and vehicles for the police. And that encouraged me so much. So I want to appeal to state governors not to wait for the Federal Government. Let them help the security agencies to succeed, so that they can have peace in their various states.