with Neta Nwosu
08023051444 • [email protected]
–ACP Olabisi Kolawole, Force PRO
In August last year, Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Olabisi Kolawole made history. The Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase, appointed her as the Police Force Public Relations Officer. Consequent upon this momentous development, Kolawole, a lawyer, became the first female police officer to be appointed, as national police spokesperson.
At first glance, the fair complexioned pretty police officer appears fragile with an alluring feminity. If you are to be arrested, you probably like to be arrested by Kolawole. But don’t be deceived, she is not defined by her gender alone. Behind this captivating look is strength of character, intelligence, indomitable vision and inspiring work ethics that traverse Nigeria, Africa and the United States of America.
She has reached this pinnacle in a male-dominated career by being the best at what she does. Speaking and standing in for people and institutions have been her passion since childhood. “I was part of virtually all the associations and clubs in school, whether literary and debating society, welfare club, etc., and whenever there was an opportunity to represent the school or those associations, I always made myself available,” she recalled.
Until her appointment, as the Force Public Relations Officer, ACP Kolawole was the Deputy Director of the Directorate of Peacekeeping and the first Police Force Gender Adviser.
As Force Public Relations Officer, she shares insights into her career, experiences and vision geared at enhancing the image of the Nigeria Police Force.
You are a wonderful woman with rare and exemplary professional qualities. Why did you opt for the police profession when you could have had a career in medicine, engineering or even banking?
Actually, when I was younger, my dream was to become a doctor and for a while I followed that path, choosing core science subjects like Physics, Chemistry and Biology in secondary school in preparation for a career in that field. I even scored straight ‘As’ and ‘Bs’, but changed my mind after I was persuaded by my mum to choose the Force. You see, all of my life, I have always wanted to help people and that informed my choice of medicine in the first place, because I hate seeing people in any form of distress. Moreso, when I was younger, I realised I was this kind of person, who loved others, like to support people. I was part of virtually all the associations and clubs in school, whether literary and debating society or welfare club, etc., and whenever there was an opportunity to represent the school or those associations, I always made myself available. The same thing applied to my involvement in church activities. The Cadet forms actually came out while I was getting ready for my JAMB exams, but my mum had this unusual love for people in uniform and since she understood me better, she encouraged me to pick up the form, and bowing to superior argument, I took the form, sat for the exams and was enlisted into the Force.
I will like you to share with us the story of your life as a Police Officer from day one?
I joined the Force at a very tender age or if you like at the baseline of the recruitment age. At that stage, I was so innocent. I went through the entire training scheme, from basic, through advance to mobile training and afterwards passed out. I became a Cadet Officer going through what the Force called “Attachment”. My intention like I disclosed earlier was to serve and help people and that was what I have been doing since I joined the Force. I realised that I didn’t share the same goal with a lot of individuals in the Force, so back then, I used to argue a lot with most of them and after a while they left me alone. I must say that at first, that affected me a lot, because I got some kind of postings that weren’t what I anticipated. However, whatever the postings were, administrative or not, I took all of them in my stride and made sure that I excelled in whatever responsibility I was given, because I didn’t want to deviate from the course I had charted for myself. I took and handled my task and assignment with passion, learning very fast along the line. At a point, as young as I was, due to my diligence, I was appointed officer in charge of secret registry, working with the Commissioner of Police at the State Headquarters. I also went back to school, because I felt I should develop myself further.
What did you study?
I studied law and was called to the bar. However, I didn’t rest on my oars, wherever I was posted, I sat there and did my job to the satisfaction of my bosses then, myself and my colleagues. Later, I got introduced to United Nations (UN) Peacekeeping Mission and I picked interest in it, keyed into it and realised I had to go through some tests. As part of the test, the UN sent people from the headquarters to come to Nigeria and test officers. So, I went for the first one and I passed the exams (you know you had to go through different kinds of tests. You had the theory aspect, comprehension and all that. You also had to pass a driving and shooting test.) In 2000, I went for my first mission in East Timor. I was there for a year and while I was there, I developed myself further, studying computer application and all that. Before I left the mission, I became proficient in computer applications and related software. My determination to improve my skills was noticed by the Commissioner of the Mission, a Portuguese, who insisted afterwards that I must work with him. After I returned home, I started using my experience to better the lot of the Force wherever I was posted. I was doing this at the Air Wing where I was posted as their Staff Officer, when suddenly another call to go to another Mission came. I did the usual tests again, referred to as ‘SAT’, went and returned and then went for a third mission a few months afterwards, one of them in Liberia.
While there, I applied for a UN professional job and passed. So, I was seconded by the NPF to New York. I lived in New York and worked at the UN Headquarters for four years. Along the line, I went to another Mission, but this time as part of the team to either start up a new Mission or sustain already established ones. I travelled a lot, all over the world, working for the UN for over seven years, before I returned home finally in 2011.
So, when I came back, I was with the Directorate of Peacekeeping Missions, as their Legal Adviser and at the same time, the Gender Adviser. So, from there, I was appointed the first Force Gender Adviser. That was where I was before my appointment, as the Force Public Relations Officer.
Could you describe your typical week as the Force PRO?
I serve 24/7 a week, because it is not as if I have the weekend to myself. My work here is from Monday to Sunday, since it has to do with talking, answering calls, explaining things to the public, passing information to the press, receiving complaints from those offended and solving problems related to image making of the Force. I receive calls from morning till night and sometimes in the middle of the night. The office work is also there, in addition to attending meetings, taking care of TV/Radio programmes, attending to my boss and carrying out his directives. That is what my typical week looks like.
When I heard of your appointment, as the first female Force PRO, I felt you would have a huge challenge, proving and distinguishing yourself. So, how do you intend doing this?
As soon as I was appointed, I knew there would be a lot of expectations and a lot of responsibilities are attached to this office. Like I said earlier, I didn’t see my appointment as a job, but as a clarion call to serve. I saw it as an opportunity to do what has always been in my heart, which was to help people. Fortunately for me and the entire Force, we were lucky to have the IGP, Solomon Arase, at the helms of affairs, because he also had a mindset of changing the attitude of the Nigerian Police. He had the vision of changing the narrative of the Force, bringing them to the standard they should be. If you call it international standard, you will be correct, which has been my dream all along. However, at my lower level, I could hardly do anything to effect that change. I actually never knew I would someday become the Force PRO. So, adding my little experience with the vision and resolve of the IGP, Mr. Solomon Arase, I have been able to accomplish quite a lot.
Our emphasis has been and remains changing the attitude of our people and by so doing, change the narrative of the Force. That way, people can once again begin to trust our Police. So, people can begin to accept and appreciate what we do. Believe it or not, the Police is doing a lot out there. They don’t sleep, but stay out there in the bush, in the forest, waiting for dangerous people that have arms and ammunition. People don’t appreciate this, because of the attitude of some elements within the Force. We, as a team, that is the IGP, with his management team and the Force PRO, are trying to look for ways to change the mentality of these officers. This may not have been easy, but I can assure you that we have made a lot of progress since we started. My predecessors have also tried in their ways to change the image of the Police and the attitude of men and women of the Force and by so doing, bridging the gap between the Police and Nigerians. However, I think I have brought in more passion, relating with people the feminine way (the humble way); more passion to also bridge the gap between the police and citizenry.
For example, working through the Press to achieve this, as you can see, the media is keying into this mission. I wish to see a Police Force that is professional and people-friendly.
One of the strategies the IGP is using is re-orienting the Police, helping them to understand they are not meant to kill the public, whom they are meant to serve. He keeps telling them, “If you kill them, you are going to go to jail for that. Even if it is an accidental discharge, you are going to be charged within 24 hours.”
Believe me, that is why in the past few months, there has not been any case of accidental discharge, because those who did it after this directive was issued, have been made to face the music. He also directed that the medical unit should periodically go out and do psychological tests on officers, who carry fire arms and any officer found drunk is removed from the group that carries fire arms.
There is also the recent security summit organised by the IGP together with your organisation – The Sun Newspapers, to discuss Police and community partnership, which is working very well already. Also, anytime he travels outside of Abuja, he takes out time to meet with stakeholders in the states he travels to so that they can fashion out strategies that will help the Police serve the people better. So far, this is yielding good dividends.
There was also a time when the IGP appointed a Nigerian Police Youth Ambassador in the person of Korede Bello, the musician This is another strategic move on the part of the IGP to bridge the gap between the Police and the Nigerian Youth, which make up the major part of the population.
Talking about IGP Arase’s passion for community policing, I have observed a major setback in the people’s unwillingness to partner with the Force on this. Reasons they cited include the Police giving out their information to criminals, who come back hunting them. What is the Police High Command doing to correct this anomaly?
I will say that was in the past, because recently the perception has changed. I am not saying that we are there yet, but we have covered a lot of grounds. Now, people know that they can pass information to the Police without fear. For one, they don’t have to appear in person because there are platforms put in place by the IGP to make this effective. A lot of capacity building has been facilitated and critical training given to men and women of the Force. Whatever the information is, whether it is about a crime, complaint about an officer or other citizens, you can be assured that no officer will spill such information.
What are these platforms?
We have the Complaints Response Unit (CRU). Actually this unit is meant to report any unprofessional conduct of an officer. They can make such reports via phone calls, text messages or whatsapp. For complaints about crimes, some report directly to the IGP or the DIG investigations. Some report to the Commissioner of Police or head of investigations in the different states of the federation and the FCT Abuja.
One of your responsibilities as the Force PRO is image laundering and management. There is this perception out there that the Police is a corrupt Force. How did it get to this point and what does your office plan to do to correct it?
This image problem has been there and it has been very disturbing. Anyway, we have managed it so far by changing the attitude and that is why the regime under IGP Arase as soon as he got into office removed every road block in the country. The IG stamped his feet on the ground, abolished these road blocks and replaced them with Safer Highway Patrols, whose responsibility is to patrol the highways and respond to emergency or distress calls. You may see them doing routine stop and search, but that is only when they have information about a crime, for example, car theft. Nevertheless, the Police is not the most corrupt organisation in the country; it is just that like someone once said, “It is because they (the Police) advertise its own.” Because people see such bad elements in the force, collecting N20 or N50 on a daily basis, they tend to believe it is the most corrupt organisation in the country. If they go to the offices of other organisations, they may even see worse. Corruption is not only rife in the country, it is also systemic.
The IGP has also said it severally that if any officer tries to extort or force you to give bribe, you are to refuse and report such officers.
I like your slogan “The Police is your friend.” How friendly would you say the Police is?
Police all over the world are supposed to be the closest to the people. They are supposed to be the friend of every citizen, because they are the first response unit. In Nigeria, the same should be the case. We want the citizens of the country to see us as such. However, in Nigeria, we are only their friends when they want us to do certain things for them, but we are not their friends when we are doing our duty or trying to implement the law. They should see us as an organization committed to serving them.
When you come to the Police Force headquarters, you find Policemen that are professional to the core, right from the gate, in terms of their dressing, attitude, conversation etc., but when you get to the streets you see something different. What is your office going to do to make every policeman look alike across the nation?
It all boils down to training and continuous training, particularly on matters, bordering on ethics and proper conduct. These trainings have already commenced and like I said earlier, the IGP has been building capacity for our officers. Within the short period he assumed office, he has reformed our training curriculum and centres. Teachings based on ethics and proper conduct have been introduced into our curriculum. What we are doing as a department is to sensitise them. Some of these officers have already started adjusting.
The IGP has also been giving out new uniforms, which explains why some of them are dressing neatly now. We believe this will go round.
There appears to be a superiority complex between the Nigerian Police and the Army (military), how true is this assumption?
The Nigerian Police, the Army and indeed other security agencies in Nigeria are there to carry out a common goal and we are supposed to work together to achieve this. We complement ourselves, so I don’t think there is any complex, inferior or superior. I have very good relationship with the PROs of other security outfits and we have even gone on course together abroad recently. We are collaborating because we have to synergise to achieve our common goal. Like my IG would say, “There are no trophies at stake.”
The Force has been accused severally of brutality, obtaining confessional statements under duress and in some cases doctoring statements of suspects in custody. I would like you to respond to this?
It is against the law of the land to brutalise anyone or get forced statements from anyone. If, as an officer, you do this and you are found guilty after investigations, you will go in for it. The authority frowns at this and, therefore, would not accept it from any officer. This is why we have provided these platforms; please, we would like the general public to take advantage of them should they have such experience.
Who are the biggest inspirations in your career?
My IGP, Mr. Solomon Arase, is number one. He is a charismatic leader, who inspires all of us around him. I am happy and believe I am one of the luckiest officers to have served under him. He is a transformational leader, who carries along everyone. He doesn’t just issue out instructions, he actually brainstorms with his subordinates and actually takes advice where necessary, adopting ideas from all of us.
Any regrets so far on the job?
No regrets, though it’s been very challenging and tedious. You don’t have time of your own and catching up with my boss may be difficult because of his high standards, but I don’t have any regrets whatsoever.