‘Okiro was not asked to return any money’
Dame Comfort Obi is one of the commissioners in the Police Service Commission (PSC). In this interview with ODITA SUNDAY, she spoke on the recruitment of 10,000 job seekers into the Nigerian Police Force, alleged fraud at the commission and other germane issues. Excerpts:
What is your assessment of IGP Solomon Arase’s performance so far and his stand on human rights and the use of intelligence in driving policing?
I am not the spokesperson for the Nigeria Police Force but I speak for the Police Service Commission (PSC) and I speak for every member of the PSC. I can say Arase is the best that we have had so far.
And I say that in all sense of purpose considering what had been in the past and what is happening now. Arase is not only humble, he is humane; he feels for his officers and men, especially the rank-and-file. I always say that there will be no NigeriaPolice Force without the inspectors, the sergeants, corporals and constables. They are the ones that we see every day and interact with also. They are
the ones that stand in those very lonely stenches, they are the ones under the sun, under the rain without anybody caring for them, without anybody feeling for them, without anybody imagining what they go through, their fears, without anybody considering how they slept the previous night before they left for office.
We know that the barracks in Nigeria rank as the worst in the world. I have visited barracks a number of times and you know each time I come home being extremely depressed, because I can’t imagine how anybody can sleep in any of those places and they are still sent to go and guard the VIPs in their houses carrying guns. I shrink thinking of it, but since Arase came in, I think the welfare of these officers seems to have become his priority.
I talk to some of these officers, I interact with them and I listen to what they say. For us at the PSC, I think we have a better relationship with Arase than during any other time. It is not that we didn’t have good relationship with the others but Arase for now seems to be the best. This is not the time that policemen will have problem as regards to discipline and it is delayed. He doesn’t delay those
He reads petition, he takes notes and he forwards to the Police Service Commission. Any official letter from the Police Service Commission is treated immediately. If you check very well, corruption is no longer as rampant as it was in the past in the police.
In conjunction with the PSC, issues are being tackled and he inspires his men, which is the most important thing. He does not talk down on them; it is like using the carrot and stick method. Where he needs to talk to them seriously he does, where he needs them to do their job he does not fail, where he needs to praise them, he does that also. Where he needs to preach about human rights, he does. This has given the Nigeria Police Force a new face and I find that very inspiring.
Since you became a commissioner with the commission, how many officers have been disciplined in one way or the other based on petitions against them by members of the public?
I cannot talk now about the former commission because I don’t have the details here but I will give you a breakdown of the number of officials we have disciplined so far.
Recently, I read a story published in a national newspaper and I was shocked at what they wrote.The story said the Police Service Commission had been concentrating on promotions only, and that there are about 3,000 disciplinary cases, lying at the commission untreated. I was shocked because it is either the person who gave them the story was mischievous or somebody just sat down and fabricated the story because it is not true. Since Okiro’s administration in August 15, 2014, we have treated appeal cases (it means when a policeman has been disciplined, either given a letter of warning, a letter of advice, letter of reprimand, severe reprimand, reduce the rank or outright dismissal) the Police Service Commission has received 325 of such appeals and as I speak to you 277 of those cases have been treated.
Aside from the 277, 48 of them are being processed. We have received 72 cases of discipline, 65 have been treated while seven are still being processed. We have received 173 public complaints, we have treated 169, and four are being processed. So I don’t know from where they got that figures they were peddling about. It is unfortunate that many people don’t even know how the Police Service Commission work.
Before the commission treats any disciplinary case it has to be processed from the Force Headquarters, then the Force Headquarters will sit on the matter, invite the officer involved to come before what they call Force Disciplinary Committee (FDC), it is made up of all the Deputy Inspector Generals (DIGs) and the Force Secretary. They listen to the person, ask questions and they make their recommendations based on their findings, they send to the IGP to also read to endorse their recommendation or suggest something else from the IGP’s office. It comes to the Police Service Commission, which goes through the files, reads everything, asks questions and either endorses the punishment or reviews the punishment, which can be higher or lower. For instance the Force Headquarters can recommend a reprimand and we can decide to say severe reprimand.
They can give a letter of advice, or warning or reprimand after reviewing the cases, we can exonerate the person. They can also say exonerate and after reviewing the case file, you find out that it is impossible, maybe something has gone wrong somewhere; we either reinvestigate or based on the fact before us, we can say severe reprimand or reduction in rank or dismissal. Cases of rape, accidental discharge, killing of people can earn that punishment; these are the ones that usually come back from appeals.
The president has given a go ahead to boost the police with 10,000 officers. During the time of President Olusegun Obasanjo, a lot of criminal elements found their way into the rank-and-file because of lack of background check, what are the measures that you will put in place to ensure criminals are not employed this time?
Firstly, let me say that the president, in asking for the recruitment of 10,000 policemen never said rank-and-file only should be employed, he just asked for that recruitment and I think that is one of the best things the president has done for the country, because so far, the Nigeria Police Force has lost about 21,000 personnel to either death or retirement.Boko Haram insurgents, armed robbers, natural death or retirement, and in the past three years, there have been no recruitments.
Secondly, it is the job of the Police Service Commission to recruit; it is not the Force Headquarters. It falls squarely on the Police Service Commission to recruit, to set the modalities of recruitment of personnel into the Nigeria Police. But if it is that of other ranks like the constables, we gave that to the Force Headquarters to do; even at that it is done in conjunction with the Police Service Commission. We must clear it, see what they have done and members of the commission must join in screening the applicants.
As for the recruitment of criminals, it is not just in the Nigeria Police Force; surprisingly we have dealt with such cases even in the police academy. You would be surprised how criminals would go and get result from wherever, they have either got one letter from someone but during screening, they are screened out.
We have started using biometrics in screening recruitment, aside that we engage psychologists in the last recruitment. The last screening of Polac examination, over 100 people, who have started their classes were screened out. The NigeriaPolice Force is improving, things have happened during Obasanjo’s time and it is still happening, it is no longer as bad. For this recruitment, I don’t think that will happen, because we are going to screen and rescreen because that is the only way we can have a police force we will be proud of.
A petition was written against the PSC Chairman, Mike Okiro accusing him of embezzling millions of naira, is it true?
That was a lie from the pit of hell. I haven’t seen something like that, let me briefly tell you about that and I will have to give you a copy of the police service commission statement of account. Usually, the PSC monitor the elections. We are not monitoring votes or politicians; we monitor police personnel across the country so that politicians will not compromise them. It is the job of the PSC to go to 36 states and Abuja and to go to every polling boothon election days; it is a lot of money.
This time around, during the general elections, thePSC received the sum of N350million for monitoring the elections and training of officers before the elections. The service commission is only about 377 members of staff and these include cleaners, secretaries, drivers and others. That number is grossly inadequate to monitor any election.
When Mike Okiro sent that letter asking for money for this exercise, he wrote for 900 people for the police service commission to embark on the monitoring. This included staff of the commission and ad-hoc staff, usually we take ad-hoc staff because this involves going to everywhere and it was also meant for training, the training is to take place in Abuja, Lagos and Kano, but because the funds came in a few days to the elections, there was no time to do the training in Lagos and Kano, so the training was concentrated in Abuja only.
After the training and everything, the sum of N133million remained as the balance from the monitoring exercise, the amount is domiciled in the PSC project account at First City Monument Bank(FCMB) and anybody should feel free to go and cross-check. The funds can’t be spent because it was meant for general elections, this general elections by the way include that of Bayelsa and Kogistates that are coming up, that money should be for the monitoring of the election suddenly, somebody writes a petition that the chairman of the commission embezzled N275million out of N350million. If that money was embezzled, how were we able to monitor the elections? It includes air tickets, fares, transportation, and vehicles to move around hotels across the country and then you are telling Nigerians that Okiro misappropriated N275million, we still did our work and there is still a balance of more than N133million.
Interestingly, Okiro was the one that went to the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other related offences Commission (ICPC) to say please come and investigate the Police Service Commission account after weeks and months of anxiety, they came up with a report that Okiro did not embezzle any money.If he wants to steal any money, would he leave the money in the government project account? People are saying when there was a balance, why didn’t the commission retire the money, stupidly they are personalising it.
My answer to them is that there are two elections coming up in Baylesa and Kogi states, secondly when you want to retire money, you retire at the end of the year. Ministries, government paratsals, MDGs that is when they retire money not now. The Police Service Commission has not finished the job for which the money was approved.But ICPC in its wisdom says that the Police Service Commission should remit that money to the federal treasury account through ICPC recovery account.
The money was not recovered, because it was not missing, it was in a government account, nobody had touched it. If someone wants to embezzle money, will he leave it in a government account? I don’t understand it, instead of people to quote exactly what the ICPC said that Okiro was not involved in any criminal activities whatsoever, they are saying that Okiro had been asked to refund the money he embezzled. I read one academic in a national daily asking why Okiro, after embezzling money should still remain as the chairman of the Police Service Commission.The least he could have done was either to read the ICPC report, investigate it to find out the truth, that no money was missing, that whoever wrote that petition for which Okiro invited the ICPC was being mischievous. And that is the story and nothing more.
So how is the police service commission doing now, what is the state of the commission?
The PSC has not failed in doing its job, what the Police Service Commission doesn’t have is money. It is badly and scandalously funded. It is a very important commission but it is so badly funded. In fact, the porosity at the PSC is so bad that most times we can’t drink tea or coffee during our meetings. It is so bad that the chairman of the commission most times fuels his vehicle, repairs his vehicles. It is so bad that commissioner one and two those are permanent commissioners fuel their official vehicles. It is so bad that for the portrait of the president to be in the office of the Police Service Commission he had to use his money to frame it.
It is so bad that when the accounts of the Police Service Commission are garnishing the chairman of the commission will take money from his pocket and send people to court. It is so bad that members of staff of the police service commission that went to monitor Osun State and Ekiti elections have not been paid a kobo and members of the commission went with their money. It is so bad that recently during this police upgrade, because there as so many graduates in the police now, and some of them are sergeants, constables, in Enugu, Southeast wherethey went for the exercises, for example I was shocked when I met two surgeons, and they have been working in the police clinics and they are sergeants. We have many lawyers with master degrees they are corporals and inspectors. I saw one that is a pharmacist he is a sergeant.
So during this upgrade when members of the commission had to go to all the zones and stay for four five six days, one week plus nobody got a kobo to do that, they went there without money, so that is how bad it is. The only thing that we don’t have is finance to do a few things, but when it comes to discipline, promotion and recruitment we have not allowed the situation to affect us. But again we have also not embarked on a tour since Okiro came three years plus, it is a five-year tenure we have also not embarked on a tour of police commands and zones, we have not gone round to speak to our people, to inspire them after what we noticed before, to look at their barracks or training colleges, we have not done that even though it is not the job of the Police Service Commission to build or rebuild barracks but when we see such things we can make some noise about it and the president will hear. It is the job of the Ministry of Police Affairs to provide such infrastructure, and then Force Headquarters there is operational.
How prepared is the police service commission for the upcoming elections in Balyesa and Kogi and later on Edo states?
Once the PSC receives money, we would monitor the elections. With or without money actually, we would monitor the elections, if eventually the balance of N133million is returned to the Federal treasury from the project account of the PSC, the commission has taken it as its responsibility to monitor the elections, because it makes us happy and we are very proud to say that most recently, in the past four elections in the states, policemen have not be found wanting during elections, and that is because they are conscious of the fact that members of the commission are coming to monitor them. We will be there for monitoring and we are prepared for it.