By Chris Onuoha
Suleiman Abba, Inspector General of Police under the Jonathan administration, is Chairman, Board of Trustees of the Nigeria Police Trust Fund. In this interview first aired on Channels Television, Abba speaks on the crisis rocking the police.
If you are to diagnose the crisis in the police, especially SARS, what will you say?
The first reason SARS is in crisis is because of nepotism. Nepotism comes in when those in leadership try to bring in their own people. The second reason SARS lost it is corruption. And this is associated with the problem of leadership.
When you don’t have direct supervision, the likelihood is that people will try as much as possible to satisfy whoever will prevent them from having 100 per cent freedom, you do whatever you like, you investigate cases the way you want, detain people for as many days as you want and perhaps cause loss of lives because nobody is supervising you properly. That is one aspect of it. The other aspect is when focus is completely lost simply because of the combination of corruption and lack of leadership. And this leads to so many things.
These boys get overworked because they don’t have control. They now go out looking for cases. During our time, we didn’t send SARS on the roads. They went out as a strike force. If it was a rescue mission, they do it and return to the office. If the mission was to arrest robbers, they do so and return to the office.
On the claims that policemen carry POS machines to extort victims
Never in my wildest imagination did I think I would see SARS operatives checking vehicles on the road, wearing slippers, wearing wrong dresses. They are supposed to be properly dressed. They are investigators. So they can appear in mufti.
But they became a rogue unit in the police. And the irony of it all is that our police officers, when they go for international missions, they shine…
Even in SARS, you have among them very good officers. I recall in 2000, there was a case of armed robbery in Abuja that saw me leading the operation. I went to Lagos to investigate the case and used SARS officers throughout. We did the first arrest at Ikorodu, second arrest at Federal Palace Hotel, we went to Warri, we went to Agbor, arrested the last batch of suspects at Agura Hotel. Some of the victims were highly placed Nigerians and the gang of armed robbers operated in two groups: one operating in Asokoro and Maitama, and the other operating at Garki and Wuse.
Amid the public distrust of the police, they have the constitutional responsibility to maintain law and order in the society. Where do we go from here?
We got to where we are in the police because of three things: High handedness on the part of police officers, corruption and nepotism. Now we are here, how do we get out? Listen to divergent views of all stakeholders/actors: Leadership of the police, government and everyone involved in the peace process. Everyone needs to sit down and negotiate.
I became the IGP in August 2014. During my tenure, there were no SARS operatives on the road. Community policing is the way out of this crisis. Under this arrangement, the community tells the police how they want to be policed. I implore the people to let the police demonstrate what the community wants. There have been quite a number of important moves. SWAT is one of them and the unit will be deployed only when there is the need like it is done in the USA. I am opportune to lead the Police Trust Fund.
The objective is to train and retrain police officers, buy equipment and provide office buildings, ensure welfare, etc. If you look at the reports of all the past committees on police reforms, they talked about three things: adequate funding of the police, manpower and welfare/remuneration. Now look at the objectives of the trust fund. It means the trust fund should take the lead and we will live up to expectation.