Frank Odita, retired commissioner of police and CEO, Frankcom securities, in this chat with Sunday Sun bares his mind on the nation’s security challenge, police reform agenda and the problem with Nigeria, among other national issues. Excerpt:
What do you make of the security situation in the country. What does it portend for the nation?
Well the #ENDSARS protest was well organized and the youths were making certain demands. They were calling for an end to police brutality, and they also appreciated that the problem may be that the police are not well paid and properly trained, among other things, adding also in their demands that the government should reform the police . They added more requests which were granted, unfortunately, like every thing in this country when you stay too long you give opportunity to criminals to infiltrate you and the criminals infiltrated them and it was unfortunate they took everybody unawares and before the police could intervene they had really established themselves and so, of course, you know that the police also had issues with the criminals who had infiltrated the camp of the protesters who were doing what is expected of them to do in a very orderly manner and they attacked the police stations by mob actions which took the police unawares, they burnt police stations and I was told some police officers lost their lives. That threw the entire nation into turmoil. And knowing that the police is charged with the responsibility to provide the nation with internal security and that the same police are now disabled and there is a problem and it is a problem that they are now trying to sort out. But what comes to mind now is what really is expected of both the police and the citizens to assess the present situation because the citizens are meant to play their role as citizens, assisting the police, providing good information for them to do their work and assisting them to identify the criminals within the community. Well now that we have community policing being put in place, it will ensure that the police and the citizens are now operating in partnership. So, it is unfortunate at what happened, but the lessons that come from it is that we must not relax anymore in any situation and that the police itself to now properly gear up and ensure that professionalism becomes the order of the day. There should be training, manpower development for quality service delivery. This is what is important now and then the good citizens of the country to rise up to say no to crime because if they don’t say no to crime how many police officers do we have in the country that can cope with insurgency? And If they go beyond that and get the Army involved, the Army are not trained for internal security, their business is to protect our borders against insurgence. And then if the citizens are now talking about brutality and Army becomes involved it is possible that is when they will really see what brutality is all about but we don’t want that. What we want now is for the police to partner with the citizens. The citizens should cooperate with the police and let things begin to happen as it should be. If the citizen is attacked he looks up to the police to save him and now if the police man you look up to becomes the object of attack and the citizens are not raising any voice, then that does not make for good democracy. In fact, one of our worst challenge is that there is no synergy among security agencies so far.
Looking at the Nigerian situation, we know that there are plans to reform the police, do you think that will be enough because some people believe that the country needs a state police so that insecurity and crime may be better tackled. Do you think state police is necessary?
It would have been ideal if it were possible for it not to be used as a political tool by state governments and politicians. It has been tried before with local government and native authority police. I met them while I was in service, but it was abused. But ideally it is good, but the problem I foresee about state police is that if the Federal Government on its own with it’s might cannot take proper care of the Nigeria police. Is it possible for state governments who cannot pay minimum wage to be able to finance and manage the police forces within them?. That is the area of worry. My area of worry also is in quality. I had the opportunity of being in the US and UK during the service and you can see that both in their state and federal police quality is not compromised. You can hardly tell the difference because the uniform is the same. You may find it difficult to differentiate them if you are not an insider. The only way you can know if you are an insider is their cap badges. The truth is that they are sufficiently taken care of and they took their job and cooperate with the metropolitan police that is the major police service in London. Though state police is an ideal thing if we were practicing true federalism where the states have their money and they are even feeding the centre, but that is not the case now where it is the Federal Government that has the money and feeding the states. So, with the money that they are getting from the federal can they afford to equip, maintain and service the police force adequately and still maintain quality and professional ethics? It’s something to think about, but then some of the states are now rehearsing with some community type like the Amotekun which the Southwest states are doing. Amotekun is a vigilante group that is going to perform additional service, helping the police around them. If that is successful then it might take us beyond that and then it can metamorphose into a state police if it is necessary.
Even if the police system is reformed it appears that the security challenge in the country will still continue given what is happening now in the Northeast and other zones where there is banditry, kidnapping, armed robbery and other vices?
I don’t think so. If the police is reformed it would mean that the manpower of the police would increase, you know what has happened to the police is that their manpower was depleted. Remember some of their branches were taken away like NSO now is State Security Service (SSS), now they moved on the Federal Highway Patrol called them the Federal Road Safety, they removed the Narcotics called it NDLEA. Before now the police by it’s organization that we had was Police Immigration, Police Custom Service, Police Fire Service etc everything was Police. I don’t have any problem with the new creations because it also created more jobs for Nigerians, but the issue is when you are removing all this manpower, those manpower that you removed from them do not work 24hours service. They are public servants and they work from morning till 4:00-5:00p.m and close, all their other duties return back to the police and the police do not have the manpower to cope. Don’t forget that the policemen are now not only protecting the lives and property of the citizens, they are protecting the lives of the senior citizens of the country, the VIPs, governors, senators, House of Reps members, business moguls etc. If one VIP is carrying five policemen along with him alone you can now see how inadequate it will be, when United Nations ratio for policing is one policeman to 400 citizens and one person is carrying five or more policemen; so the manpower of the police is depleted. If they increase the police manpower then they will have the capacity to do their primary job of protecting lives and property of citizens. The number of policemen we have now are over worked some even work for 24 hours. Some of them their behaviour pattern is as a result of them being over-stretched. If they get more manpower, get equipment and welfare they can now be customer friendly and they will behave themselves, knowing that they will go back to the citizens after their service. Remember the slogan of the police is “Police is your friend” but when you have a friend who is hungry is he likely to be friendly? No. Those are the issues that will be readdressed in the reorganization of the police force and once that is achieved, they have the manpower, the tools for work, a good welfare arrangement for them then their working hours and every other thing will fall in line. In short if you properly reform the police and give them all it takes they will be on top of their job.
Some people are of the view that what is happening now are plans to destabilize the country do you share in such view?
I wouldn’t buy such view, I think what is happening is that there is hunger in the land, there is so much anger also in the land, that people leave school no work and those who have work, the money they pay them is not enough to live a normal life whereas when they look up to the higher areas, people in government they found that they are happy and they can see them living a good life, enjoying themselves, so there is just anger, I don’t think Nigerians want anything that will overthrow the government of the country by the way they are behaving. If people are happy, having a job to do, have a good meal, sleep, wake up in the morning; a man who is busy has no time to think about crime.
What do you see as the problem with Nigeria as many people are calling for restructuring?
The reason people are calling for restructuring is because they feel that some areas of the country are not getting the desired dividends of democracy. It is the reason some people are asking that the country should be broken into zones to enable them feel and see development with their resources unlike their perception of injustice and neglect with the present structure. They believe that the cost of governance is too high with the system we are operating. For the Federal Government this is making it not possible to sufficiently cope with the demands of everybody that is why people are thinking that if we return back to the regional practice then there will be less expenditure in the executive class, then the money that will be saved would whittle down to the ordinary man so that life can be more meaningful. The Nigeria of my youth was a Nigeria that belonged to everybody.