The Minister of Police Affairs, Alhaji Maigari Dingyadi, has warned that the federal government will not tolerate local security outfits such as Amotekun in the South West if they fail to operate within the community policing framework of the police authority in Abuja. In this interview with ABDULLAHI HASSAN, Dingyadi also spoke on recent EndSARS protests, why Nigeria cannot have enough police personnel, crisis between Police Service Commission and the IG on who actually has powers to recruit police personnel, the increasing rate of banditry and kidnapping in the Northwest, and a host of other issues.
It looks like many Nigerians are unaware of your Ministry’s activities. Why is this so?
In our Ministry, that is Police Affairs… you know the Ministry is a new one, after five or six years of being scrapped and resuscitated now. It’s now created out of Ministry of Interior. When we came in last year, we were saddled with certain responsibilities. First , we tried to set up the place to look like a Ministry and in addition to all other duties and policies given to police force and other parastatals in the ministry . Because of the inadequate funds in the police affairs generally, we have been asked to establish a Police Trust Fund. Mr. President in his own wisdom , gave a commitment to this organization so that we have alternative in funding the police affairs in this country and by the grace of God we are able to accord it a special priority and today Police Trust Fund is fully in place.
Other functions and mandates include issue of the recruitment. We are trying as much as we can to provide employment to Nigerians, which, of course, we have been doing. Mr. President has given us the go ahead to recruit 40,000 policemen within his second tenure, we are on it; there is also the CCTV project. The project was financed by a $719 million facility from China.
You said funding is a major problem of the Ministry. Why is this so in spite of the fact that you are saddled with managing the affairs of the Nigeria Police which in turn is responsible for daily security in Nigeria?
You see, it is not our Ministry alone that has funding gaps; I think the entire government is facing financial problem because of the current dwindling revenue especially this year that we are facing COVID-19 pandemic. But police generally, all along, have been facing this funding problem, may be because of their size. You are aware that we have more than 300,000 policemen across the country. There is no village that you cannot find a policeman. You can imagine in every state we have state, zonal and Divisional Commands. Policemen are everywhere and each of these commands needs money, vehicles, and technology to operate and function maximally. So it is very tasking. Yes, we are getting money from federal government, but money or funds are really far from being adequate and that is what Mr. President is aware of and it was the reason for setting up Police Trust Fund. I believe with the Trust Fund, the narrative will change. State governments in their own wisdom have agreed to the idea of the Trust Fund because the law has provided that 0.5 of their federal allocation will go to this Trust Fund. And Another 0.5 per cent of revenue generated from profit after tax will go to the Trust Fund. The Fund was also empowered to look for donations to ensure that we fund these organizations, which are in dire need to operate.
Another area of interest is non-payment or under payment of retirement benefits of policemen, unlike in other security outfits. What is responsible for this?
This problem is everywhere, we are aware of it and sometimes if you hear complaints from people, you need to investigate and confirm the authenticity of the complaints. A few of them who came to us were sent to appropriate authority and their problems were solved. You see, what we are receiving is complaint of non-payment and untimely payment but not under payment or what is not due. Pensions are calculated on certain bases, so one cannot say it’s very small for him. So once you retire you should know what’s due to you as benefits. Some of these things are based on the police conditions of service. The Inspector General of Police and myself as minister are working to improve the welfare of Nigerian police by way of improving their salary structure, conditions of service and other allowances. We are looking into that and by the grace of almighty Allah we’ll improve the status of police in this country. Yes, if you are not well paid, you cannot function as expected.
How would you react to the recent SARS protests?
Youth protest on the street isn’t new. They have every right to stage a protest. They are Nigerians and we are in a democracy. We have no quarrel with their protest over issues; they were saying their minds on issues that affect them. Notwithstanding the issue, there are standard ways of conducting protest. If you want to be heard peacefully amicably, there are many ways to get across to whoever matters on the issue. We welcome views and criticism from Nigerians. We hope these things will be done in the best interest of the country. Everyone has his own right, where your right stops, someone’s right starts from there. What happened now has become a serious issue, people blocking roads, attacking, killing, destroying sensitive places etc. It is my belief that what happened was much more than protest because when the innocent people started doing it they never thought it would be like that, but unfortunately, some people came and took over the protest and turned it out to be violent; breaking prisons , setting places ablaze and killing innocent people. What have these got to do with SARS? We need to tell ourselves the truth. If you want to address an issue, say it loud and clear, give out details of what you want to government to do. The protesters started with five issues which government had accepted. What we expected from protesters was to listen to us and give us time to continue to implement what they wanted us to implement. We have scrapped SARS and replaced it with SWAT.
The protesters were saying again they didn’t want SWAT. We cannot create a gap; some people must always be there. What the protesters did not know is that you cannot just create a unit in just a day. You have to register policemen, train them, demobilize the ones you scrapped and redeploy them to other places; otherwise you’ll end up recruiting the same people into the new unit. These things have to be done with a lot of caution and expertise. So all these people we are recruiting into SWAT are posted to police colleges and started their training already and they’ll be there for some time before deployment. What is the rationale of saying we have done things in haste as some protesters said? So, if we have started in a haste, we wouldn’t have taken those in the operation for training. You cannot allow gap in this kind of security issue otherwise you‘ll know the consequences of the gap you are creating.
It is obvious that insecurity especially in the North–West has taken a new dimension where bandits and kidnappers operate freely by the day. As Minister of Police affairs, don’t you see this as a big challenge?
You see, this issue of banditry in the North-West, it’s true but I don’t want to agree with you that it is increasing by the day because we have joint security comprising police, soldiers , civil defence and others in Kaduna, Katsina, Zamfara, Sokoto, Kebbi states even in Niger. There are forces stationed battling this problem, so, I know it has subsided not increasing. I want to assure you that we are on top of the situation and facing the challenges as difficult as they are because guerilla tactics operations are always difficult to combat. These bandits are cowards, they hit innocent targets quietly and run back to hide. You‘ll not know when they come and hit innocent people. So this kind of situation never ends until it takes time, and strong measures must be taken to end it. There are human rights organizations around the world watching how we respond; therefore we must be cautious on any action we want to take. We are in a democratic government; we must ensure that we do things right all the time. Unfortunately, banditry is found everywhere in the world today, it is not peculiar to Nigeria.
As a result of the activities of bandits and kidnappers, some state governments formed regional security outfits, like Amotekun. Is that an indictment of the police and your Ministry?
What we are saying is that, government is aware of the need to have more community participation in the security of the country, that is why government places emphasis on community policing by recruiting constabularies in all local governments in the country. And we ask states to create this kind of community police outfits, but later some of them wanted to have their own formations and went to the extent of setting up these groups. We are not asking them to disband them, but what we are saying is that policing is a federal issue and we want them to operate within the confines of the law. We are not going to relate with such security outfit, which is not in tune with the federal government. We thank the states that are ready to cooperate with our new community policing. So, it is not just Amotekun from South- West; we are not going to allow any state come with security outfit that is not in tune with what the federal government plans on the security policies of the country.
Another area of controversy is the problem between Police Service Commission and Nigeria Police Force over the right to recruit police personnel and the matter is now before the court. Don’t you see that as an embarrassment?
The matter is before the court and I wouldn’t like to discuss its details now. But some issues between the two organizations are issues that could be resolved easily. We in the ministry, we have been doing our best to bring peace between the two agencies. In fact, as the issue is now before the court, we shall allow court to determine the matter. I hope it will be done in the interest of the country.
In view of the grievous accusations against the police, how soon will Nigerians get the best policing they crave for?
Honestly, we are in a democratic government. It is true that there are many things done wrongly by some members of the police in the discharge of their duties. Therefore, let me use this opportunity to apologize as Minster of Police Affairs to Nigerians; we sincerely apologize for what happened and are making every effort to make things right. We are reforming the police force, as you are aware, the bulk of the problem is the issue of inadequate funding which Mr. President is addressing. Police Trust Fund has been created and money has been generated with which new vehicles and aircraft, ammunitions, barracks, stations and other equipment are being made available. We don’t want to be telling people what we want to do but action.