By Fred Itua, Abuja 

Former chairman of the Police Service Commission (PSC) and the first civilian to hold the position since 1999, Mr Simon Okeke in this interview spoke on the need to reform the police, 2023 general elections and insecurity in the South East.

 Looking back at your time in office as chairman of PSC, what would you refer to as your most defining moment?

No non-civilian since 1999 had headed that position until I was appointed. Former Inspector-Generals of Police now see the positions as their retirement benefits. It is very wrong. I was able to get the six geopolitical zones to have a sense of belonging by getting the President to appoint six Deputy Inspector-Generals of Police (DIGs). I pressed and pleaded for the welfare and take home of Police officers. When I came into office, I traveled and realised that Nigeria Police was the least paid in the world. That constitutes one of the problems of the Force today. I kept disturbing President Olusegun Obasanjo. We tried. These were the two major things I did.

If given another chance, what will you do differently?

There is nothing I can do differently unless there is cooperation between the chairman of PSC and the Inspector-General of Police (IGP); there is nothing you can do as of today. Whoever becomes the IGP takes it upon himself to declare a war on the chairman of PSC. 

Was it so during your time as chairman of PSC?

It was a five-year war when I was there. This was because of lack of cooperation from the IGP. I thought it was because I was a civilian. It became worse when I left to the extent that the police boss and the PSC are now in court. The IGP will always refuse to accept the authority of the chairman of PSC. Based on the Constitution, we worked according to the laws. The Constitution says there shall be a Commissioner of Police in every state who shall be appointed by the PSC. When we came, we were hearing about the appointment of Commissioners on television by the IGP. My team and I fought it powerfully. But today, it is still so, even recent as last week, the IGP announced the posting of Commissioners. When this happened during my time, I wrote letters to two people and asked them to interpret what the law says to me. They were Agabi. He wrote a wonderful reply which I’ve captured in my new book. He said it is the PSC that will appoint the Commissioner and post him, after which the IGP will take over the operational command. I wrote another letter to Ben Nwabueze, a respected Constitutional lawyer and he responded in 17 pages, repeating what Agabi who was the Minister of Justice said too. IGPs thought they had the power because they had about 30 years of unfettered control because of the Military Government and the PSC board wasn’t there.

If you’re asked to proffer solutions on how to address these issues, what would you settle for?

I’ve addressed the issue in the book. For instance, I addressed the issue of a police officer dismissed by the Force and he goes to court and wins and what should be done. I did that and wrote to the IGP to take back someone. The IGP said no. About four times, the IGP took me to the president to report me. The president insisted that the IGP must obey. Yet, he refused. The court has now settled it. The court said if the IGP fails to obey, he should be jailed. The powers of the IGP is too enormous. My plan, when I created six DIGs, was to mount six zonal directorates. I was aiming for a constitutional amendment to reflect these changes and have these six DIGs positioned in the six geopolitical zones. I remember Obasanjo called me and asked me to explain what I’ll do with six DIGs. I told him I wanted the six geopolitical zones to have a sense of belonging. My plan was that once it was approved, they’ll be posted to their own geopolitical zones to mount operations and allow the State Commissioners of Police to report to the DIGs. The IGP is too overburdened and powerful. If the DIGs are in charge of the zones, Commissioners and the rest will report to him and the IGP will have enough time to attend to operational matters. 

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Looking at today’s Police Force, do you believe that they’re overwhelmed?

The Force is overwhelmed by the security challenges in the country. People always say that Nigeria is under policed based on the recommendations of the United Nations that one police is to every 400 citizens. Unless that police officer is well trained, it is of no use. Our policemen are not well trained. They’re not used to modern policing. All they know is the use of force. I’ve advocated that the name should be changed from Police Force to Police Services like we have in other countries in Africa. 

Do you think the Police Force can provide the needed security during these general elections?

I don’t know about their capacity now. Their number is about 300,000 now. If they’re trained for this election, I think they can cope with the assistance of the Army. They’re not enough. I’ve always been against VIP protection by the police. It is not done anywhere in the world. I’ve always advocated that government should license private security outfits to provide security for VIPs. Half of the policemen we have in Nigeria, provide security for VIPs. They protect politicians and their family members. They even carry hand bags for politicians. 

Do you support State Police?

I’ve supported state police since 2003. There is a chapter in my book on state police. I saw it in America and in other countries, especially those who practise true democracy. If you say you’re a federation, you can use a unitary system. I said it is better for the country to allow each state have its police and allow governors to control them. It will address the security challenges. 

You’re from the South East and the region is becoming ungovernable. Do you think insecurity in the region has been handled well as it should?

Same thing I said before. Authorise governors to take control of security in their states. Amend the Constitution and allow the governors. The governors will recruit the number of police officers they can afford and equip them well. You can’t appoint someone from Jalingo and expect him to function well in Imo State for instance. That’s not possible. Policemen pay heavily to be posted to South East and South South. It’s a cash cow for them.

Do you foresee the next general elections reflecting the wishes of the people?

If INEC fully follows through with its plan, we’ll have a good outing. There is no easy answer to it to prevent vote buying. But this policy of government on cashless system should be supported. It will help curb vote buying. It is a good thing and I support it fully. The President has done well in that area.