Former Lagos Commissioner of Police, Fatai Owoseni has said that the real reason he was redeployed from Benue State was because he refused to obey orders from his superiors that could have led to chaos and further killings in the troubled state.
Owoseni was posted from Lagos by the then Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris to Benue State to quell the herdsmen and farmers crisis that led to the death of more than 100 persons including policemen in the state. In this interview with EFFECTS, he also opened up on the battles he fought while in Lagos especially in the hands of fellow policemen whom he described as saboteurs.
You recently retired from the Nigerian Police Force but doesn’t look tired, what are your plans for the future?
I intend to do a lot of things but most especially resting and taking my time to determine the way forward. After working in a place for 35 years, first thing is to cool your head and look at the different options you have. It is when you exit that it will dawn on you that whatever plan that you have made some of them are not realistic.
The truth is that once you have it at the back of your mind that every beginning has an end, it makes it easier to adjust when the time comes. There are so many options out there. Before now, I have been engaged in small farming and police work that I have done for 35 years, there are a lot of gaps that need to be filled. There are so many areas that need attention with regards to members of the public and how they relate with the law enforcement.
Through consultancy, there are so many things that we can do. Not just making money but to enlighten the masses on how they can relate with the police. People must know their rights, there are lots of things that are shrouded in secrecy as regards security and law enforcement in this country.
Some people don’t know how to approach the police when they have matters.
Also when you look at the police as an institution itself, that’s another organisation that needs help. There are so many things that we pass through while in service that we cannot say out because we have not had so many of our retired officers going into the National Assembly or doing advocacy work. We work and die in silence while in uniform. There should be voices to speak out for them. I want to dedicate myself, more to community service and to the upliftment of the Nigerian police as an institution. Keep on talking and engaging people through advocacy, through foundations by reaching out to people.
It was rumoured that it was your failure to follow instructions from your superiors during the Benue State Assembly crisis that led to your immediate redeployment out of the state. What actually went wrong?
I was deployed to Benue in the heat of the farmers–herdsmen crisis and to the best of my ability, I discharged my responsibility within the ambit of the law. In police work, we are the most endangered. Instructions will be given to you and you will be caught in-between obeying superior instruction and respecting the constitution of the country. I held that as a principle that my loyalty is to the constitution of Nigeria, not to any human being. Where there are conflicts like that, if you are not able to balance what you do, any mistake of judgment can cost you your job. It’s just for you to be matured enough to know where your obligation lies, to be able to differentiate between what is lawful and unlawful instruction. I can tell you that I discharged my responsibility to the best of my ability. Someone will sit in Abuja and give you instruction, it is for you that is on the ground to know the implication of that instruction. Instructions that will lead to killings and disturbance in the state. Whatever that might have happened, that has become history now. The most important thing is that I have my integrity intact.
From your little investigations while there, what could be said to be responsible for the crisis in Benue?
These clashes are not new within that axis; it’s just that we are a country without institutional memory. Way back, once you have dry season, the herders, look for water and that axis you have what is called Fadama land which has rich foliage, in the process they move the cattle towards that area.
While doing that, they can encounter people who are using same land to farm. They fight over limited resources. But at a point in time, just as we do about everything in this country, every challenge is always given a religious, tribal and political connotations.
When the former Inspector General of Police, MD Abubakar was there, he set up a committee led by a retired DIG to go and address those crises which were more in Plateau, Taraba, and Benue axes.
But because we don’t keep record, and no lessons learnt at all, instead of us to apply these findings, the leaders will be reckless in their talking. Sometimes they exaggerate, sometimes, they live in denial. We more or less, govern by deceit. The fact remains that they had a problem there, it was the way things were handled and how they politicized the whole matter that escalated it.
The solution is not farfetched; you simply work with the people. When you look at the anti-open grazing law, there were a lot of rooms for both parties to work together.
It is for the two parties to work together and for the state to create empowerment for the herders. If you say that they should confine the animals to certain area, how do you help them especially with regards to water? Basically, I think the manner in which all those things were translated did not help the situation at all. A lot of people were killed and we lost about 20 policemen in the process.
Your exit from Lagos had its own story, how was your experience in the Centre of Excellence?
When I was deployed, there were blackmailers on ground who questioned my deployment; people who said that this person has not held any command position before, he has always been in administration. They are simply ignorant. I was the DPO in Benin when that area was notorious for cult activities. If you can handle students community of University of Benin, what other operational experience were they talking about? I was second in command in Irrua in Edo State; I was more or less the de facto area commander because there was none.
I held the position of DPO in Gwari Division Abuja, second in charge of operations in FCT command, Principal Staff Officer to the Inspector General of Police minus the fact that internationally, I was a key player in things that happened in Sudan.
Before I was transferred to Edo State, my first 18 years as a policeman was in Lagos. I was in Moloney, Force Headquarters in Operations Department. This was headquarters before they moved to Abuja.
I thank God the way my career went, I had the opportunity of mentoring. Most of the senior officers we have now did not have that opportunity and nobody is doing that. In 1986, the Dawodu Brothers killings that happened that turned Lagos into whatever then; I took active part in restoring sanity in the state.
The current Oba of Lagos, Akiolu was in Operations Department too, that was when Alhaji Gambo, Alhaji Attah were Inspector Generals of Police. I was also the personal assistant to one of the best the Nigerian Police had produced, Parry Osayande.
If you can survive those old men of those days, then surely the person is a well-bred policeman. There is hardly any policy decision that was taken without my knowledge. Maybe because of the way that I dress, they assume that for you to be an efficient policeman one must look like a mad person.
I will continue to appreciate the then IGP, Solomon Arase that posted me to Lagos. I have been in the administrative department, so I know what it takes for any CP to come to Lagos. You need to lobby or pay money. This was me then in Force headquarters, I was not aspiring and I didn’t know that I will be posted to any command. I knew that the principles that I hold, I may clash with the expectations of the elite. IGP Arase just called me and said that I am just here going through files. He said, you are going to Lagos tomorrow and that was it. I was surprised because I know how commissioners get posted to commands.
I saw that as a challenge because then there were repeated armed robbery cases in Lagos. On the other side, militants were robbing banks and killing policemen. I was aware of the traffic situation in Lagos. To come to Lagos, it can make or destroy your career and I actually thought that I may not last in Lagos.
I thought that I will clash either with the political elements or certain individuals but God helped me and I was lucky. The people I was coming to meet in Lagos were my mentors. Oba Akiolu and Alhaji Musiliu Smith were here in Lagos. People who didn’t know the history rumoured that it was Oba Akiolu that brought me to Lagos. They are like fathers and uncles to me. When I got to Moloney in 1985, Oba Akiolu was an Assistant Commissioner of Police. Coming to a state where they are resident I had confidence that I had people to run to for advice.
What were some of your achievements while in Lagos?
Policing is all about partnership. I had that focus that for me to succeed, I must work with people. I was lucky that was when IGP Arase set up that technical platform, and we were getting credible intelligence to follow up investigations.
We were able within a short period to put an end to the reign of TK, the notorious militant. Lots of people thought that the arrest of Evans was the high point of what happened in Lagos, no. It was TK because he was behind all robberies in Lagos and killing of people. And for the two-year period after his death, you have seen that no robbery has taken place in the banks. TK had so many cases in court, he will not show up and boast that no policeman will arrest him. The last operation he did was to go to Benin Republic to go and rob banks at Seme border.
He built three boats for that operation but in collaboration with Customs, hunters and locals in Badagary, we were able to bring him down. As at the time he planned that operation, we recovered three GPMG (General Purpose Machine Gun) from TK, nine AK 47, 5000 rounds of AK47 ammunition and IEDs. After the robbery stopped in Lagos, the militancy came, the kidnapping thing.
The secondary school attack happened and we gave it our best, I was virtually sleeping in the school, even while we were doing that we still had elements of sabotage. I had three commissioners of police in Lagos then, one civilian called Barrister Emma who was almost in control of the then IG. Everything we were doing he was always looking for a way to sabotage it. He used to live in Maryland, he wanted to take control of the command which I resisted.
You also have some senior officers that were always working against you. They will go and misinform the governor because of their relationship with him.
When you work in such a toxic environment, you can’t but thank God for surviving for two years and two months. I was one of the longest serving policemen in Lagos state. The last kidnapping we had, while I and the commander of RRS and O/C anti-kidnapping were in the bush everyday, we had some policemen that were working against that. They were busy updating the governor with wrong information. At a point, I had to work with some of those militants to ask them to surrender their weapons. A large cache of weapons was recovered. We had to incorporate them into fighting the militancy along that route. Even the Badoo matter that some senior officers are parading as their achievement, we had to address that by meeting severally with traditional rulers in Ikorodu.
Even up to the arrest of Evans, no one is telling the story about what we did that led to his arrest. Some people came up with their story because the then IGP wanted the face of some people to be shown. Evans wasn’t a problem in Lagos while I was the CP in the state. He carried out about two kidnappings in the state. The most rampant was by the militants which we were addressing and we were getting them.
We were setting traps for him, the present RRS commander, Tunji Disu and former O/C anti-kidnapping and some of my area commanders in Festac were following up with the Evans matter. The last operation where the pharmacist escaped, I was the sitting commissioner of police and sent the O/C anti-kidnapping. All the weapons were recovered and it was the information that they got, that they expanded on with a lot of data that were recovered at the scene.
You are working with officers that are being imposed from Abuja, rather than collaborating with you, they are competing with you to the extent that when Evans was eventually arrested some faces were put to it but posterity will judge that. We thank God for the success and God knows best.
I was also able to manage Lagos traffic efficiently. We were always on the road. I had officers that followed the social media handles and gave me feedback. Even the Apapa thing, there was a time that I took all the officers; we trekked from Tincan Island to Area C in Surulere in attempt to position the tankers. We were constantly engaging the tank farm owners and people who own business in that axis. We communicated to government that it does not make any sense that you gave concession to people to build tank farms and part of the condition is that they must have holding bays to keep trucks. You concession loading of containers to certain companies in the port, those that are supposed to be offloaded in 30 minutes cannot be done in five hours so you have all these backlogs.
You are also talking of roads that were built in the 70s to accommodate 500 vehicles now taking about a million vehicles. I was told in Singapore when I went for training, that when they came to Nigeria and saw the bridge in Surulere, they marveled that this country must be rich to have such a structure. Today, Singapore has multilayers of bridges and we are still managing this, you now put everything on the head of the police because they are meant to be the culprit for every bad thing in this country.
One of the excesses in Lagos is that policemen are highly corrupt. With the little resources we were having we were able to support their operations.
We try to get fuel for them. When we go for conference in Abuja, I normally beg the IGP Arase to give us operational money, because we cannot survive on N200, 000 quarterly allocations. Each DPO is given 35,000 every three months.
Luckily, Lagos State government started giving each division N100, 000 per month. For those in patrol, we give them snacks to motivate them to shun corruption. Throughout my two years, I met officers that worked hard especially Tunji Disu, RRS commander except few ones who chose the wrong path.
How did you control the excesses of SARS while you were in Lagos?
At the level of working with the IGP, we have seen the excesses but all these things took another level at a point in time when another IGP came. They destroyed the structure of what SARS should be. Those days the Federal SARS, Adeniji Adele were the ones we know as Federal SARS.
It was Integral part of the FCID (Force Criminal Investigation Department), cases that cannot be handled at the state level were transferred to Federal SARS. Each of the state command had a SARS that is under the control of the state CP.
Suddenly one junior officer, a Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP) was appointed as SARS co-coordinator nationwide, to the extent that the police structure was destroyed. He arrogated the power to himself and said that he only reports to the IGP. It got to the extent that the CSP will post commander for SARS up till the last constable.
That was what made those fellows to get loose and run haywire but then as CP, if you are posted to Lagos and you misbehave, I will deal with the officer. The much they did was to go and blackmail me before the IGP.
They fell in line because everything we do is covered by extant rules and regulations. The only thing you can wait for is bad belle posting. Once you get to a place, always have a mindset that you will leave that place one day. Just do what is right and let posterity judge your attackers.
How can sanity be restored in Nigerian police?
The primacy of the police must be restored when it comes to internal security. What you need to fund the police to be strong, you are using it to militarize the country. It is not right.
The money appropriated to run a police division every three months is not more than N35, 000. The DPO will not even get the first quarter until the third quarter. They don’t even get it regularly. Lagos is lucky because of security trust fund which has consistently funded the activities of the police. If you don’t fund the police, don’t expect miracle. When I joined the police in 1984, I was first posted to Sagamu. We had lorries, range rovers, gas stations. We had workshop that you can get spare parts. The DPO even has money strictly for informants.
These days government chooses to create all kinds of groups and allow them to carry gun. Rather than those institutions working to complement the police, they compete. Whoever that is made the head of the institution will go and sow one rank equivalent to the IGP and government will recognize him. To the extent that they fund some of them more than the police and if those institutions fail, the police will still bear the brunt. An average policeman suffers, works for virtually nothing. Even when they retire, they retire to nothing. The salary you pay him is not enough as transportation. He ends up sleeping in the station that he was posted and there is no provision for that person as to where to sleep but inside an exhibit vehicle. That is why some of them stink. All kinds of committees are set up and no one is implementing it. The politicians just want the police officer to be at their beck and call for nothing. We have not been too lucky especially in the leadership of the police.
I pray that the current IGP succeeds, he should know that we are obligated to the constitution of this country and he should go back to do things with the extant law of the police because the others have destroyed it. The police has not failed, it’s the government that has failed. The police is a reflection of the society.