Ondo State Commissioner of Police, Mr Bolaji Salami was at the Owena Press Limited where he shared his views on security challenges facing the country and proffered solutions to some of them in this interview with Senior Editors: Excerpts:
So far, as you assumed duty, what has been your experience in the state?
I came into Ondo State June 1st and took over June 3rd this year. I came in when politics was coming up. Like I say anywhere I go, if we want to talk of crime data in the South West, Ondo State still has the lowest of crimes. We are proactive in handling the few ones that come up at times.
Since I came here, as I jokingly tell people, there is no crime in Ondo State except politics. I have worked in different climates. I have been a DPO in Lagos. If you want to compare the crime rates, we are still under what I will call low crime rate among the states in Nigeria…
Was the police taken by surprise during ENDSARS protest, and why was there a failure of intelligence?
You know the protest started peacefully. Even in Akure. They even came to my office and I gave room for questions. They asked questions and I answered them, until it was hijacked by the hoodlums. I want to let it be known that it is not that we don’t have the ability to contain some of the damages that happened, but we restricted ourselves to reduce casualty. In conjunction with other security agencies, the military were with us. The perpetrators were of young age and one of the things we lack in Nigeria is parental care. Government property and school buses were burnt and these were items their children went to school with. I asked a question, “Who did this?” They said, “They were children of Okitipupa.”
In a video that was sent, we realized that those that hijacked the protest were real criminals who went to correction centers to liberate some of their friends. A particular one that was caught days ago said he was among those who stole police rifle and now joined the gang again to start operation. He confessed that the rifle was stolen from a particular station. He assembled his gang again to start operation. Two of them were eliminated. It is not that the police or security agencies were incapable but we wanted a situation where casualties would be minimised.
Before the ENDSARS protest, the police had been accused of extra judicial killings, brutality and harassments, what can be done to bridge the distrust between the police and members of the public?
There is an adage that says that every society will have a police that fits the society. I remember those days, when we were undergoing training, we used to have a British instructor who told us that, if robbers were robbing and they saw the police coming, they would stop and search them. If they didn’t have any firearm on them, they would let them go.
Here the criminals are violent. They don’t even want to see black uniform when they are operating. They will leave what they are doing and face the police. The police men are not from the moon. They are Nigerians. I have taken part in so many UN operations and we are always one of the best when we go out. I was in Yugoslavia. I worked in an area called Bangaluka. I was the most qualified policeman in that zone where we had Americans, French, Germans and so on. All policemen in this country need is cooperation and information.
Extra judicial killings are happening but let us not generalize it that it is everywhere, because I have never partaken in anything like that, and since I came to Ondo State as Commissioner of Police, I have not experienced such.
Brutality is not peculiar to policemen alone and I always say it that it is what is in you right from your house, family or school that will perfect when you are doing your professional work. There is no doubt that the Nigerian Police needs thorough training but we are not totally bad compared to other climates. It is not always too tidy to say every policeman is brutal or is a killer. We have bad eggs, but I always say that the only organisation in this country that does not cover up evil is the Nigeria Police Force. For instance, give me the name of any of our men who does something wrong. We will investigate and do the needful. We don’t cover up the offence of our men.
With the present behaviour of the police in the public, can Nigerians ask are they Nigerians?
Yes they are, but if you see anything that you feel is not right, make the appropriate report to any quarters and see whether action will be taken or not. I can’t be everywhere. Some of our boys are terribly bad. What I am saying is that if I am here and my boys along Ondo Road are doing something wrong, in some cases the populace play along with them. But we don’t support atrocities of policemen and I will continue to say it. For example, the issues of giving policemen money on the road, both the giver and the receiver are against the rule.
Before I came here, there was a day I was traveling to meet my children in school, along Sagamu-Epe, I met more than 20checkpoints. When I got to the school, I met the principal and asked, is this what you all pass through before coming to work every day? The principal said they were okay with it that if the policemen were not there the school would not stand.
You have travelled to a lot of places; did you see policemen mounting checkpoints on the road?
That is what you can’t compare. In Yugoslavia, I will sit down in my office and monitor everything. We still believe in analogue way of doing things. There is physical presence of policemen in some places but by the time you arrive on a mission in the US, you are given patrol vehicle and walkie talkie, an office and everything you need to work with. When the UN tells you that the police population ratio is 1 to 400, even before I joined the police, they said so, they are talking about well equipped policemen. What is the proportion of our policemen to the population of the country? But apart from being under-policed we are still under equipped. When it comes to fighting crime, if we rely on the government to provide all what the police needs, it will take us a long time, because government has a lot of children to cater for. Security is paramount. For example in Lagos State, I have worked in a division as DPO, I had about five patrol vehicles that were donated by individuals and companies. Only one or two were bought by the government. All of us are policemen of our society.
The present issues of equipment and under funding and some other things that are happening to the police, everybody should rally round and make sure we have the kind of police we want to have, we can do everything from our office. We don’t need to go anywhere if there are functioning CCTVs all over the place. The policemen over there are not magicians, but we don’t have the equipment that will make us perform excellently as you expect. But if you say the set of policemen serving now are bad, remove all of them and bring new people. They will be worse. We are Nigerians. Our attitude must change. Generally everyone must change their attitude. We are only seeing policemen; we are seeing what they are doing that are bad. Let us collectively pray and work towards having a sanitized police structure.
How and when did we get to this level, that the society is now attacking the police that should protect it?
What should have taken the protesters to correctional centres and police stations? Those who went to attack police stations did that to get weapons and to liberate their fellow criminals. It was the total hijack of the protest by criminals that brought that idea of liberating their fellow criminals that were already incarcerated. It’s not that all of them so much hate the police, but the focus was to get more weapons and liberate their fellow criminals.
The kidnappers seem to be having a field day in Akoko axis. Are you worried? We are getting similar report in Ore. High-profile business men are relocating.
I am aware of the case and the Akoko side. In as much as we have one or two cases, I won’t say the data in Ondo State is alarming. They have attempted kidnapping him many times. We are working on in-house connection in that act and by the time we get to the root of the matter, the public will know. When it comes to kidnapping, when they are negotiating, they don’t involve us. They will say the kidnappers have asked them not to involve the police. It is through that we can geo-locate them and know where they are. The first time they attempted to kidnap him, he reported and we were working on that before the second attempt came.
As at yesterday, I was still discussing with the area commander and the DPO. I cannot recollect the kidnapping that happened in Ore, apart from this one.
There was another case of a woman who was kidnapped in that area. The kidnappers asked for fifteen million naira. They told her to provide five million naira immediately, then go and work to get the remaining ten million naira.
I don’t know about that, you are the one telling me now. The only kidnapping that happened in that axis was about a woman who is a teacher in Okitipupa. It happened about one or two months ago, before this one. When there is a kidnap, officially, I must be informed within hours. I got information about one of Seriki of Hausa who was kidnapped. They released him this morning. In the Owo axis, about two to three weeks ago, they kidnapped some market women in their buses. When we knew, we quickly assembled our arsenal and pursued them. At times, it is the heat of pursuing them that makes them quickly release or soften their negotiations. The axis they kidnap most is maybe Isua side and towards Edo. What we need mostly there is more of patrol, because these people they come into town, on the road strike and go to the bush. Like last week Wednesday, I met some vigilantes and security personnel at Ogbese. When these kidnappers kidnap, all the roads they take their victims through, we have people living around that area. They do not volunteer information. Nobody can kidnap in this place if he is not used to the topography.
You said the communities in the north do not provide information for the police.
Has there been a meeting with their leaders to sensitise them on the need to assist the police with information?
That is why we are meeting them. We can’t work alone. The community policing trainees passed out last week. We call them constabularies, not outright policemen, about three hundred of them. They will be paid stipends, not salaries.
They will be like informants. We requested for about 10 to 15 people, to be attested to by the community leaders, to know the kinds of character we were bringing in. So if one them should relocate to their community, we would have contact that we can work with to guide us in the bush, because the police we send from Ondo here may not know much about the terain. By the time we have more of them all the state, crime rate will reduce.
The IG of police has disbanded SARS and came up with SWAT. A report said they have passed out. When are they taking off in Ondo State?
They have concluded their training at the mobile force training school in Ila. They are back to the force headquarters. We are waiting for further directives on how to engage them. That the SARS was disbanded does not stop any aspect of policing that we were doing. It’s not that SARS has not done anything good in this country. Some people whom SARS has helped in the past will have a different opinion on this matter. Some of them are bad, there’s no doubt about that, but it doesn’t mean they have not done anything good. So whatever programme they have for SWAT, by the time we have directive on that, we will implement.
After the ENDSARS protest, we discovered, not only in Akure but nationwide, that most of the policemen stayed away from their duty posts. We know that some policemen lost their lives, we really sympathise with them. What is the morale of the police men now?
The ones I work with, their morale is high. We withdrew them because we did not want them to use lethal Weapons on the protesters. We withdrew them to the office, at the headquarters. They are back on their normal duties. One or two weeks after the ENDSARS protest, we realised that there was a high rate of robbery in Akure. The robbers struck between the hours of 8pm and 11 pm when they knew that the people had closed and were taking home their proceeds for the day.
There was one filling station they robbed along Ado Road that I visited. For that, there must be an insider. It was on a Saturday. They finished, counted their money. They even put off their lights before three boys came on a bike. They started shooting and took away the money realised that day. They even shot the son of the owner of that filling station. They used motorcycles because it is easy for them to escape that way. We recorded about four or five cases like that and we advised the government to minimise the operation of motorcycle riders in the night.
We started joint patrol and pin down points at about seven or eight locations within Akure. By the time you go out in the night, you will meet at least two or three patrol vehicles. We asked them to remain at those points. If they have any distress call, they can call the comptroller who will know their location. Since we started that, nothing like that has happened in the last two weeks. We still appeal to the people to cooperate. The police we have in Nigeria is not totally bad.
People have been clamouring for extensive police reforms. What are your thoughts on this?
The reform is basically on the part of the Government in terms of increasing police salaries and purchasing more materials and weapons for the police, like vehicles and some other things. The reform is always on going but what people are clamouring for is that the government to do more. As a Commissioner of police, if I retire today, my pension is about a hundred thousand naira for eighteen years. My counterparts in other services take home more than a million naira per month. These are the kinds of reform people are calling for. As an average person, if my take home can take me home, I will be less in looking for what is not mine.
Despite the IGP’s directive to withdraw policemen from some VIPs, we still see some of them around them.
There are categories of withdrawals that the IGP directed. We have done our own in my state. They even to the extent of withdrawing from people they were not supposed to withdraw from, because the withdrawal does not even cover former governors, former deputy governors and some others. They did and I said, “no. they are not in that category.”
Sir, if you are given an opportunity to write a position paper on the Nigerian Police, what are the major things you will write as problems confronting the force?
The major problem we have in this country is availability of gadgets to work with. Everything today is digital and we are still on analogue. I should not be working all the day on items that I know I can pick my handset and easily get the answer. It is not peculiar to the police in this country. Our problem is, security is highly expensive. Even in your various houses, if you want to secure yourself, you must spend money, either in terms of equipment or paying guards. Some of us even hire guards whom we always cheat because we pay them stipends that cannot take them anywhere. That’s why when they come to your house; they will just sleep off, especially if they are old people. They can take 5000 or 7000 from you that they are watch men, but when problem comes they will not assist.
So, security is expensive and Government alone cannot finance it. That’s why Lagos is on top of everywhere today because of Police Trust Fund. They can stand up and say, “We want to buy hundred patrol vehicles” not from Government funds. We need to take security as a priority. We will get there with time.
You talked about ENDSARS looters who took some guns from police stations. What is the police force doing about retrieving them?
We are already retrieving them. Like the three they took from us in Ondo, we have recovered all of them. I think from what we lost in Ondo State, we just have about one rifle and one pistol that have not been recovered. We have recovered virtually all.
Is the SIB still functioning in discharging its duties? What’s the synergy between the NPF and other security agencies?
The SIB is supposed to give us some information on what should happen but like I said, it is still lack of materials that’s inhibiting their productivity. They are working and doing their job but they can do more.
In those days, from Abuja, when I was at the headquarters, the SIB officers would be given money to go to Enugu, Ibadan and other places for like two weeks, gathering information but there is nothing like that anymore.
There is synergy between us and other organisations. Even as at today, the DSS has sent information to me and we work together when it comes to that.
EndSars protest revealed that guns are still in the wrong hands. Are people really coming out to drop guns and do you have a department that is saddled with the responsibility of retrieving these guns from the people?
People are reluctant. We even give room for people to come and surrender their weapons secretly, but they have not been coming.
I agree with you that the weapons in the hands of people are terrible. Until they are caught, they do not want to release them.
Sorry to say this, another major cause is that politicians bought arms for these people and after they have used them, they are unable to retrieve the arms from them.
If we say come and submit and we give a deadline and you do not do it within the deadline, if you are caught later, you’ll be prosecuted for illegal possession of firearms.