Mr Fidelis Ogili, an ex-police sergeant, tells RAPHAEL EDE how he resigned after about 17 years in the Force because of alleged corruption in the system
When did you join the police force and when did you resign?
I joined the police force on July 1, 1982 and left on May 31, 1999. I spent 16 years and 11 months in the Force. I retired as a police sergeant.
What motivated you to join the police?
I joined because I didn’t have a job but after joining the police, I discovered it was a noble profession despite the fact that it was bedevilled by a lot of bad things. However, it was the right place for me to start.
Why did you resign?
At some point, I discovered that things were going wrong which I could not change and the issue was affecting my conscience So, I left voluntarily.
You said you left because of corruption. How bad was it?
It was very bad and it has been getting worse. Even saying it was bad is an understatement but I don’t know any other way to describe it. The corruption was systemic.
Can you give instances of corruption within the police force?
For example, in police stations, there are supposed to be statement papers provided by the police authorities for officers investigating cases. There should be pen, uniforms and vehicles that have fuel. But all those things were not provided for policemen. As a policeman, one would buy one’s shoes, uniforms, pen, statement papers, fuel for patrol cars and ID cards. This is where I fault the system and the police authorities for not doing well.
How did average police officers do their job from the time they got to work till the time they left?
I was trained at the Police College, Ikeja (Lagos) and posted to the Railway Police Command, Ebute Metta. From there, I was transferred to the Police Divisional Headquarters, Ebute Metta junction. At 5:30am, one should be at the station, ready to be sent to one’s duty post. From there, one would go to where one was sent. If one was at the security post, one must ensure there was security there.
There are many corrupt things some policemen do; they intimidate people and seek bribes. Policemen in Nigeria are the most powerful set of people because our laws allow them to get away with it. That is why most policemen do all manner of things such as committing murder and getting away with anything. The law says they can arrest and detain one if they suspect one. They can break into one’s house if they suspect that something wrong is going on there and there is no one to check if they took the right decisions.
So, they can arrest and detain people and nobody will ask them questions, except when their actions affect the rich, wealthy or political bigwigs. Or if the media get hold of the story and demand accountability. Otherwise, an average Nigerian is at the mercy of a wrong policeman.
Did you bring the attention of the police authorities to the corrupt practices you noticed before you resigned?
No. It was a personal decision. I had on many occasions stood my ground and I was lucky not to be dealt with. There was a time they wanted to get me into trouble by posting me to wrong places because I was speaking against some of the things going on. An Assistant Commissioner of Police who was very powerful in Enugu State Police Command then stood against me. One day, I just decided to leave. I was told I would have to pay some money to the government. I paid three months’ salary back to the Central Bank of Nigeria and resigned.
The #EndSARS campaign is currently trending due to the brutality and harassment of youths by the police. What can you tell us about how they operated?
The system is dirty so the problem has always been there. In the first place, the police are supposed to know the number of ammunition each police officer takes on duty. But I can tell you that if the Inspector-General of Police stops a team of policemen now and demands to know the number of ammunition they have, they will have almost three or four times the number of ammunition they were given at the station. Where do they get the ammunition from? If a policeman knows he has 10 rounds of ammunition he took from the office and has to account for the ammunition back at the station, he won’t use it carelessly. But the problem is that ammunition is on sale. The police chiefs should go to any police checkpoint and check the number of ammunition they have, they will see that some of them have 10 magazines each with them. How many were they given at the station or at their take-off point?
For one to be posted to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, one would have to pay a lot of money to some people in the police to get it done. Being intelligent was not what one needed to get there; they posted the people they wanted there. So, SARS was not the problem, the problem is the system and the leadership of the police. It is what you sow that you will reap; you cannot send criminals or hoodlums to go to a place and expect them to perform well.
It is believed that when policemen collect bribes on the road, they give part of it to their bosses in the office. Is that true?
Somebody cannot be at a checkpoint collecting money and giving balance publicly and nothing will be done about it if some people don’t want it that way. It is reported by the media every time. If nothing is going to the person that sent them there, will they go there every other day? For example, in every part of the South-East, you would see policemen paying balance to motorists after collecting bribes. Every day, they are there.
Why has it been difficult to stop policemen from collecting bribes if their bosses really want it to stop?
The system is the problem and nobody wants trouble, not even criminals. If criminals have a way of getting enough of what they want, they will sit down to enjoy it. As I said, the police stations don’t get fuel or money to maintain their vehicle. If you go to police workshops, you will not see any of their vehicles being repaired because there are no spare parts. It is just like giving them the vehicles and saying: ‘Find a way to put fuel in it and do your work; however you want to do it.’ So they have been given the freedom to do it as they want. I think that is the problem. So how can you demand accountability? You sent people to work for the public but they wear their own clothes. The police tailors that sew police uniforms collect money from them to sew those clothes. They buy the shoes they wear and other things they need then go to the checkpoints. Do you expect them to perform magic?
Each time your colleagues did something wrong, how did you handle it?
Many times, I was mad at them for taking bribes. It does not only hurt the public, it also hurts the person taking the bribes because it won’t make them plan how to get out of the situation. I refused to follow them to any place they planned to get money illegally. It was when I was working at Agege Railway Police Station that I started thinking of what to do outside the police because I knew I didn’t belong there. I knew I would not be able to survive there for long because the salary was poor and nobody cared about my welfare.
If we were ill and we went to the police hospital, there would be no drugs there. Many states did not even have a police hospital at the time so we were on our own. After the day’s work, I would sell akara (bean cakes) at Yaba market as a police constable. My wife fried the akara. I would put them in a cooler and take to the market when I was not on duty and I made some money from it. That helped me to stand on my own. But a policeman that is always looking for somebody to collect money from will never think of what to do outside that illegality.
The Inspector-General of Police has banned the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad from going for patrol, do you think it will curb the excesses of other units?
How many times has the IG banned SARS? Has he not banned the police from taking money for bail? Has he not banned the collection of bribes by the police? Have the police stopped collecting money for bail? I am tired of hearing that it has been banned because the statement amounts to nothing. Go to the villages now, you might see people wearing SARS jackets and doing all manner of things.
Can you tell us one of your findings while in the force?
There was a time the deputy commissioner of police in the state was robbed in New Haven (Enugu). The then police commissioner in the state gave me the responsibility to look into the reason why armed robbery was rampant in the state. I discovered that criminals used to go to the police stations to get information from Divisional Police Officers and Divisional Crime Officers after morning briefings on Monday at the time. Those criminals would hang around from morning till evening on Mondays. After the morning briefings, they would ask the DPOs and DCOs about the meetings and some careless officers would share the outcome with them. Some officers would tell them about the raids the police planned to carry out and so on.
The same thing may still be happening. We were able to curb it and robbery incidents stopped in Enugu at that time.
Policing is better done with intelligence. If you are a policeman at the roadblock that had been set up; everyone, including thieves, can see that you are a policeman. Thieves can pass that route and you will not know they are thieves but they already know what you do. So, roadblocks are not as effective as intelligence. The police authority should find a way to gather intelligence because as long as they keep neglecting the Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Bureau arm of the police, Nigeria will never win the war against crime and criminality because preventive policing is better. Preventing crime from taking place is the best way to curb crime because if one crime is allowed to occur, the criminals will commit another crime to cover up the first crime. But if you can stop one crime from happening, you can stop many other crimes from happening.
For instance, in our time, we sent young boys to go to the Institute of Management and Technology, Enugu, to study there and many of them were undercover agents in various cult groups and other gangs where some criminals were bred. So, they were able to stop many crimes before they were perpetuated. We also sent some that were elderly to join transport unions and groups like that. Some of us became security guards in some establishments where we thought crime was being perpetuated. We were able to pick one or two things that helped us to stop crime from happening. These days, you hear about bombing today, the killing of a police officer the next day, and the invasion or burning of a police station the day after. And sadly, nobody would know about the incidents before they happened. It didn’t happen like that in those days because no criminal could plan and execute it alone.
An armed robber has a pickpocket as his friend; a pickpocket has a street fighter as his friend, and a street fighter has an innocent man as a friend. So, somehow the pickpocket will hear about the activities of the armed robber and unknowingly leak it to the street fighter while bragging. If police have sources on the street, they will know about crimes before they happen and they will be able to nip them in the bud. These days, there are many gadgets available to assist the police to do their work. We can invest in them and get results.