Fatai Owoseni, a retired Commissioner of Police in Lagos and Benue states, is very passionate about the challenges facing the police. In this interview with RAYMOND MORDI, BISI OLADELE and PRECIOUS IGBONWELUNDU two weeks ago, he spoke about the protests against the operations of the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), the challenge of funding, corruption and other issues.
Ques: What are your thoughts on the ongoing end SARS protest in the country?
Protest is one of the features or characteristics of democracy and thank God in his wisdom, the President was able to guide the Inspector General of Police to give in to the demands of the youths. Whether it is a good or bad step, we will know as event unfolds. Personally with my experience in the police, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) is not as bad as it is portrayed. Some elements in uniform — an infinitesimal minority — are the ones that are spoiling the image of the police . I don’t know why we behave like a country that has no history. Everyone that is talking about ending SARS, including the members of the National Assembly, have they even gone into the archives to know how those things came up? It started then as part of the police structure: you have the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) at the state level. At the federal level, you have the Force Criminal Investigation Department (FCID). In each of the states, we have what we call D20 (the Anti Robbery Units), but at the federal level instead of calling it anti-robbery unit (as a unit of the Force Criminal Investigation Department), we called it the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS). It is a unit at the federal level is supposed to be a referral unit; that is when you have robberies that cut across states. For instance, if Oyo State is investigating a robbery that has spread to Ondo or Edo State it, is for them to transfer those cases to the FSARS and that was when the people that started like the late CP Patungo and Mr Kwajafa were making good use of that unit. They worked within the extant rules and regulations.
I remember that it was only Lagos State that was given the approval to have a Lagos SARS because of the nature of Lagos. It became popular when Shina Rambo was doing what he was doing, which cut across Lagos and Ogun States. They needed officers that can take extraordinary risks. There is no police law and regulations that backed the creation of SARS in the different Police Commands across the country. If we go back to the extant rules and regulations guiding the police force, we won’t experience all the challenges we are experiencing with SARS today.
The rules were not followed…
I also remember when the former IGP Mohammed Abubakar was there, I was his Principal Staff Officer (PSO). I remember he gave queries to the respective Commissioners of Police who established SARS unit that do not report to the person in charge of CID because it was found at that time that some Commissioners of Police were probably using them for purposes for which they are not meant for and then the IG insisted that if any state should create it at all, it must take instructions and supervision from the Assistant or Deputy Commissioner of Police in charge of CID. Then, things weren’t like this.
Solomon Arase, when he became IG, was also not happy that they abused the creation of SARS. He insisted that if officers must be deployed, they must follow the Force Criminal Investigation Department administrative instructions which stipulates that before you are deployed to any of the specialised units, you must have served for a minimum of three years. Every policeman has an element of SARS in him because any policeman can be transferred there but when you’re going in there, you must be given special training and there must be equipment to work with. When you are leaving the place, you also go through a debriefing process, so that you will recognise that you going back to routine police duties.
Another IGP came at a point in time to bastardize what previous IGs have being controlling by appointing a junior officer and they called the person coordinator SARS nationwide; a chief superintendent of police was put to head SARS and the instruction was given that everything that SARS operatives do in any state must be reported directly to the office of the IGP through that junior officer, the CSP, I personally resisted it because the constitution has given powers to the Commissioner of Police to be in-charge of the entire contingent of police in the state, whether they are in any special unit or not. This is because he will be held responsible for whatever happens within his domain. Some of those put in charge of SARS turned out to be behaving like criminals because the commissioners of police in the states don’t have what it takes to put them on check, probably because they lobbied for that position. All these things started under the watch of that IGP. They became reckless to the extent that if a commissioner of police even challenged their misbehavior, they will threaten to report him to the IG and they stand the risk of losing their position. We shouldn’t just join the bandwagon, people must understand how and why SARS was created, We must go back and figure out why the operatives misbehaved. The police has more than adequate laws, rules and regulations to punish all infractions. Why are they not doing that? This is because even the unit that is suppose to check some of those things have no tools to work with. People may not like what I am saying, but I think the police was created to fail. People often say that the police does not act in the interest of the masses because it was established by the British colonial masters to protest the interest of the minority ruling class. That may be true, but it is time we moved on. Some Commonwealth countries that share similar colonial legacy with us have police that are doing well because they are well provided for.
Ques: What can be done to improve the training of the police, their welfare and morale generally?
If you have visited the police training school here in Ibadan, you will weep. Ironically, without security provided by the police, people cannot go about their businesses with rest of mind. The police are suffering in silence. We have a situation where we have gagged the police. We must give police a voice. Some officers can’t stand in front of their commissioners to say this is what is happening to me. Similarly, some commissioners would only say yes sir, yes sir to the IG, When you gag a people, frustration would set in. Let us give the police a voice; let them tell the nation what he goes through in the course of discharging his duties daily. Channels Television went to the Police College in Lagos to find out what was going on there and the nation was shocked over their discovery. The situation has not changed. If you want to post a policemen, lots of letters would come from our political leaders; they don’t want to look at the professional competence of the person, they want the person who will be at their beck and call to be posted as DPOs in their communities and commissioners in their states. It is a situation where mediocrity is placed above professionalism.
I wish even the young people that are demanding an end to SARS can be brought together as part of a group to discuss the challenges facing the police; you will find out the police as an institution, the police officers as a body of men are actually victims of how this country is governed. In places like the United Kingdom, people would throw eggs at the police during protests. In Nigeria, particularly during this end SARS protest, there are some places where the protests have been peaceful but we have a situation where people that are out there were carrying matchets, axe and locally-made guns. Criminals have hijacked the protest; policemen too have families.
Look at the situation here in Oyo State, a traditional ruler who is over 80, what has he done to deserve the treatment meted out to him? If we are ready to do a proper reform of the police, a number of panels have been set up in the past to inquire into the challenges facing the police. Where are their reports? White papers were issued, but they will only implement five per cent of it and throw the rest overboard. This is very unfortunate. To some of us, the police is one of the noblest jobs anyone can do, but the country makes the average policeman a beggar and a destitute while in service and outside service. Something needs to be done to revamp the institution.
Ques: How can proper funding and financial independence for the police be achieved, given the current economic situation in the country?
To an extent I think the police have financial independence because the IGP has been made the accounting officer. But some other things must be put in place for it to work. If you carry out a research, you will find out that the Ministry of Police Affairs rather destroyed the police, instead of helping it. I can say that about four previous ministers since the beginning of this democratic dispensation left that ministry to go and contest governorship elections in their respective states. So, one may ask, before becoming minister, what was their worth? Why didn’t they contest for election? Could it be part of the police funds that are being diverted? Even when the IG is given the autonomy to run the police, it will be run with the same template; the template is not in reality with the challenges facing thr police.
The President has also signed the Police Trust Fund Bill into law and I hope that it will be made to work the way it is supposed to. We run the police institution like we do not have institutional memory. There must be a truth commission for the police where everybody, especially serving officers or retired officers will be made to share what they go through without fear of being reprimanded. The police is there to bear the brunt of the failure of everyone. The police is a victim not the oppressor. We wish well meaning Nigerians will give the police a voice. The police suffer in silence and when you don’t allow them to voice their challenges there will be pent up anger that could also explain the mental whatever of an average police man. I don’t think we are ready to do a proper reforming of the police. The country makes an average police man a beggar and destitute while in service and outside service. We must go back to the drawing board to look at the plight of the police.
There was a security scare in the Oke Ogun part of Oyo State, which has fortunately been successfully resolved. Has there been any fallout of the Oke Ogun incident and what is the update on the security situation in the state?
Thank God we have overcome whatever security threat that emanated there. For that, we should appreciate the contributions of the various segments of the community. The state is on top of the situation, which is the essence of community policing. They worked with the support of His Excellency, the Governor of Oyo State, Governor Seyi Makinde. The whole community, especially the Igbeti, the Kishi and the Igboho communities worked together to resolve the problem.
Source: The Nation Online