For 12 years, Chima Chukwunyere worked hard and successfully to make the Imo State chapter of the Police Community Relations Committee into the best organised, transparent state chapter and won awards. In the state, across the southeast and at the national level of the PCRC, he is highly regarded for his integrity, honesty and simple life devoid of ostentation. Through his campaign against cultism in secondary schools, he is gradually empowering young people to serve as a bulwark against the menace of youth cultism. In this interview, shades light on his passion for the work being done by the PCRC.
Until recently, you were the chairman of the Imo State Police Community Relations Community (PCRC). What really is the role of the PCRC in police affairs?
The Police Community Relations Committee (PCRC) is the closest ally of the police. The way the police is struggling today to find their feet, that is also the way the PCRC is struggling to find their feet. Right from the era of the military regimes till now, the Nigeria Police Force has been neglected by various administrations.
In the past, the military leaders never wanted any form of competition between the army and the police. They did not want anybody to challenge them in what they wanted to do. That was why they refused to properly fund, arm and equip the police to really be in charge of internal security. The army is trained to deal with external aggression. The military realised that the police was the only organized force that could resist them if they attempted a coup d’etat, and probably make it fail. For this reason, the various military governments did not properly equip, arm and fund the police. These factors have contributed to what you are seeing today; that is why the police are still struggling today. The police that are supposed to man the internal security are left empty handed. But each time you see soldiers on patrol, doing civil assignments, they are fully armed and kitted to deal with any situation. If you have the same number of policemen on patrol, only two would be armed and another would probabaly have a tear-gas gun. How then can they challenge fully armed criminals and robbers, if they encounter them in the course of the patrol?
In these days when herdsmen kidnap people for ransom and hold them in the bush along the Abuja-Kaduna road, our police force should have developed to the point where human body heat detection equipment installed in helicopters could be used for surveillance purposes, to detect the location of the herdsmen and where they are holding the victims hostage. Usually when they kidnap somebody, they make a call to the victim’s family. Today, our police force ought to be able to trace calls. That technology has been in use overseas for close to three decades and has continued to improve, but our police are still operating with 19th century methods. When the aircraft is in flight at relatively low altitude, the specialized infra-red surveillance equipment installed in it will be able to detect the heat from the body of the victims and the herdsmen and thereby pinpoint their location using GPS. The information is then relayed to the control centre at the headquarters of the police command in the state. Such information could then be used to guide the ground forces that would storm the place, to rescue the hostages. If you watch documentaries on policing activities in other developed countries, that is what they do. It is common practice to adopt global best practices but that is not what we are doing with our police, because the police organization was deliberately hamstrung for years, in every department – image, recruitment, training, equipment and funding.
Another way to look at the situation of the police is this: how come that when our policemen serve in foreign countries under United Nations command, they perform very well but here at home, it is a different story? The answer is simple: they work with the right equipment, and in line with accepted policing ethics. But in Nigeria, this is not so. Once you wear that uniform, from constable upwards, you begin to act like a demigod and do whatever you like, kill people as you like. Thank God that Nigerians cried out and we are now talking about reforming the Special Armed Robbery Squad, SARS, whose officers and men have long been engaged in extra-judicial killings and other wanton abuse of the rights of the citizenry. Our policing method is not the best.
When the incumbent Inspector General of Police, Adamu Mohammed, was appointed in acting capacity how did you feel, having witnessed the tenure of the former IGP, Idris?
First, when he was appointed as acting IGP, a lot people felt that it was the right decision. There was the general feeling that he would make good impact as the head of the police. A lot of people testified that he had always done very well in the places where he served. Whenever he was posted to any place that had problems, he would go there and solve the problems and soon after he would be posted to another place. It was also said that he was victimized along the way and bypassed but the President, by appointing him as the acting IGP had effectively corrected the anomaly. I believe President Muhammadu Buhari deserves commendation for this. Unfortunately, IGP Adamu has assumed the position at a time when there is a lot of insecurity all over the country. As I said earlier, the police force has been perennially underfunded, and this fact has now been acknowledged by the Executive Branch of the government. As you know, the immediate past IGP Idris, had a running battle with the Eight Senate headed by Senator Bukola Saraki, who was at daggers drawn with the presidency. Now the National Assembly is firmly under the control of the All Progressives Congress, which is also in charge of the Executive Branch. The new leaders of the two chambers of the National Assembly have assured Nigerians that the legislature would work harmoniously with Presidency, to implement the Next Level Initiative of the Buhari Administration. My simple advice is that the Presidency should quickly sit down with the National Assembly to package a special budgetary provision for the massive and comprehensive reform, re-equipment and revitalization of the Nigeria Police, for it to be able to adopt best practices and be a force that can measure up to present and emerging security challenges in the country. All over the world, police forces have adopted digital operations, building and maintaining databases that facilitate both crime prevention and detection. What currently obtains at the police stations is an eyesore (whether in terms of physical facilities, absolutely poor record-keeping, operational facilities, etc).
Now, the IGP does not need money to discipline his men. Take the issue of policemen turning checkpoints into toll gates to collect money from commercial vehicle drivers. This is an issue that has embarrassed every IGP. He should sanction the divisional police officer and police commissioner in any state where any policeman is caught (on video) collecting money from motorists. Most smartphones now have sharp cameras for recording video. By the time you make one or two DPOs as examples, others would take fall in line and desist from this embarrassing practice. Every police commissioner has an X-Squad which monitors the activities of other policemen and reports directly to him. So, they should fully utilize the squad to help rebuild the police. In a nutshell, I believe that if the National Assembly appropriates enough funds for the police to buy equipment, re-train the officers and men and significantly improve the welfare of the police personnel, IGP Adamu will do well.
Falling back on your experience, if you were to meet the IGP, what advice would you offer?
I would urge him to do whatever it will take to revive the PCRC.
Why did it become necessary to establish the PCRC?
The PCRC came as the result of the experience which a former IGP, Etim Inyang, had in his days as a junior officer in the then Afikpo province, sometime between 1950 and 1951, in the defunct Eastern Region, when he was sent to arrest a man for burglary. He did it successfully, but on the way, the suspect tricked him by claiming that he wanted to defecate in the bush. The man used that opportunity to escape. Inyang reported back to his superiors and was given three days to re-arrest the man or be sanctioned for it. Inyang then took the matter to the head of the age-grade of the criminal, who volunteered to help him. Within 48 hours, the age-grade arrested the man and handed him over to the police. In 1984, when he became the IGP (President Buhari was the military head of state at the time), there was a wide gap between the police and Nigerians. He decided to build a bridge between the police and the people by establishing the PCRC, so that they can work together and help the police in intelligence gathering and in other related ways. You find that in societies that understand the essence of good relationship between the police and people, policing is more effective, productive and beneficial to the general society. It significantly improves security and raises safety levels. It is very sad that most IGPs do not recognise that the PCRC is an integral part of the policing architecture of the country. If you neglect the PCRC, you are neglecting the public. What that boils down to is that you cannot work with Nigerians. Most people do not trust the police, but they more often trust members of the PCRC because many of us have integrity. When they give us information about certain criminal elements, they have the confidence that we would not betray them. When we pass on the information to the appropriate person in the police hierarchy, we do not disclose the source of the information.
I need to add that the primary purpose of the PCRC is to draw members of the public towards the police and to provide credible information to the police. We educate the people to recognize that criminals are not spirits, they live among us and we have a duty to inform the police about them through an appropriate channel like the PCRC. Of course, the police should also have a digital platform through which it can discreetly receive information from members of the public, whose identities must be protected, so that nobody would turnaround to hunt the informant. By providing credible information, the people have done 80 per cent of the job. All that the police would do is to follow up, investigate and arrest the person for interrogation and possible prosecution. This way, the PCRC can continue to preach the gospel that “the police is your friend” to the people. It is only at the local level that police heads recognise the PCRC. Now that we are talking about community police, the IGP needs to revert to the template that was set by the then IGP Etim Inyang, who created the PCRC. If the people are to work with the police, then the attitude of policemen towards the people must change. The brutality and extortion we are seeing now must stop. The practice of arresting and detaining people on trumped-up charges and extorting money from them cannot endear the police to the people.
When did you become the chairman of the PCRC?
I came in 2008 as an interim chairman to re-organise the state chapter, which it was inaugurated in 1984 like the other state chapters set up the former IGP Etim Inyang. However, the state chapter was like a child born blind, dumb and lame. The chapter did not make any impact. The situation remained like that until when I was appointed as interim chairman for one year to re-organise the chapter. Having seen the work I had done, the other members said that I must become the substantive chairman and practically imposed it on me. I was elected for four years and then re-elected for another four years. Then all state executives councils were dissolved by the then IGP, who called for fresh elections. Again, I was re-elected for another term which ended on December 13, 2018 and I relinquished the position for another person to take up the mantle of leadership.
My sweetest achievement is the campaign against cultism in secondary schools, which I started during my time. With the support of various bodies like the police, the Imo State Ministry of Education, we go to schools to educate the students on the dangers of cultism. We also encourage students who are already cult members to renounce cultism. Tens of hundreds have done so publically. It is achieving good results. From what I have seen, cukltism is already a ticking time bomb. We must step up our efforts at the family, school, community and state levels, to defuse it. I am still engaged in the campaign even out of office as PCRC chairman. I am committed to supporting the good work of thbe PCRC, because it is for the good of all.