The Anambra State Police Commissioner, Mr Sam Okaula, encountered Fides editorial crew of Jude Atupulazi (editor-in-chief) and Uche Amunike (asst editor), in his office recently. He spoke on a whole range of security issues in the state, as well as on areas bordering on the rights of the citizenry.
How would you describe policing in Anambra State? Are there any challenges you're facing?
Yeah. First and foremost, let me say this and it's in the public domain. Anambra State is one of the safest states in the country as at today. You know what I'm talking about. In the past, the state was turbulent. It was a serious thing when you talked about crime and criminality but all that has changed and I make bold to state, and I'll always say this loud and clear, Anambra is one of the safest states in the country today. If you want to find out this, go to Onitsha. Get to Upper Iweka, Nkpor Junction and all those flash points that used to be notorious. These are places that people now go and you don't hear of people snatching bags or attacking innocent people and all that. The places have become as safe as ever. It's indicative of the fact that Anambra generally is the safest state in the country today. We don't record cases of kidnapping any longer. Yes, no society is free of crime. We have one or two challenges here in terms of people attempting to rob, but in all those cases, we have always been handy and have been able to prepare for such attacks but generally, I want to say that Anambra is one of the safest in the country. The challenges are there but we have been able to face and tackle them accordingly.
Any particular challenges?
As at now, what we have really are issues of land disputes among communities. We have issues of leadership in communities and sometimes, traditional, chieftaincy disputes. But again, we tackle them as they come. In most cases we wade into these issues and use alternative dispute resolutions to bring about peace. We also have of recent, the incursion of these pasturists, who in some of these communities, have some clashes with the farmers. I am the chairman of a committee set up by the governor. It's called the Cattle Menace Committee, comprising of traditional rulers, heads of Fulani communities and other security agents. We meet periodically and then review conflicts between farmers and pasturists. Where we discover that damages have been done to farms, we always get the perpetrators of such acts and get them to pay compensation to the farmers. So, yes, land disputes, community leadership, traditional rulership conflicts, herdsmen and farmers. These are the challenges and we're facing them squarely and tackling the problems headlong.
Despite your reasonable successes, there are still some areas in the state in Awka, Onitsha, Obosi, where it is dangerous to walk or pass in the night
I want to believe that you are living in the past. It's not true. I drive round these towns in the night. I have not recorded any incident where people are complaining that it is dangerous walking in the night. Onitsha is as safe as any safe city. Awka is very safe. People go about in the night. We have patrol vehicles. We have men doing stop and search. We have effective mechanisms put on the ground to ensure that the place is safe. So, it's no more dangerous to walk in the night. Unless, you can give me an instance; but like I told you, you must have it at the back of your mind that there's no society that is free of crime. We have crime in New York City. We have crime in London. We have crime all over the world. So you cannot say Anambra will be crimeless. It just cannot happen. We're human beings.
Yes. Maybe we will give this as information because in our area, where our paper is located, the Okpuno area of Awka, almost on a daily basis in the night, people are mugged. Like a few weeks back, one of our members of staff was attacked with a bottle, her camera taken and the people there complained that it happened all the time. Once you trek home in the night from 10pm, it will happen.
This is an isolated case, but it has not been brought to my knowledge. If such things happen, you must report it to the local police and if they don't do anything, you have the liberty to pass the information to the office of the commissioner of police and we'll take the right action that we've always been taking. We'll sanction whoever is supposed to take care of the place. But the way you're putting it, I don't think that it's as alarming as you think. Like I said, you can't rule out the possibility of isolated cases here and there, but when you now say it's dangerous to walk around at night in Awka or Onitsha, I'll take exception to that. Obosi, of course, has been problematic. We have had situations where rival cultists have engaged themselves in some kinds of unacceptable acts. In obosi, we have effected some arrests, charged the suspects to court and we have identified some of the perpetrators. Some of them are on the run and we're looking out for them. But all in all, these towns are safe and people are going about their lawful duties and also going out for night life and that is the general consensus. That is the truth and nothing but the truth.
Do you have a hot line through which the public can contact you in an emergency?
Of course, we have hot lines. My PRO should give you the numbers. See the PRO. She has all the lines and will give them to you. The controller's line and her line and even mine. I will give you my line at the end of this interview.
Ok, let me also pass this information about the pedestrian bridge at MCC in Onitsha. These boys are always there mugging people at night, especially when it's late. They always rove around that area. People keep running all the time. There used to be patrol vehicles there, just by the New Cemetery, but they are hardly there anymore.
Thanks for the information. Security is the responsibility of every member of a given community. We are just paid agents. We're the players but we need you to give us information. We need you to collaborate with us. We need you to synergize with us. We need you to partner with us. We're even emphasizing on issues of community policing and that is the truth of the matter. This kind of information you're giving to me gladdens my heart. We always take action when we get information. Criminals are not spirits. They live among us. We know them. We can identify them. So, it's the responsibility of the public to come to the police with information like you're just giving to me now. I'm going to take action immediately on that. So, help us to tell everybody that they should come home with information about crime and criminality and let them watch us, what we'll do. If we don't take action, then I think that's when we should be indicted.
The vigilante people have complained during an interaction with some of them that when they arrest some criminals, they detain them till they hand them over to the police to do the needful. However, they say that most times, they find out that these boys find their way out of the police net and then become terrors in the places where they operate from.
I've just heard this for the first time and it's strange too that I am hearing it from you because we have a retired commissioner of police, a veteran and a professional to the core, who is heading the Vigilante in the command. We work together. We talk. We meet. We cross-fertilize ideas. We cross check information and we collectively take decisions. I can authoritatively tell you that we have a very cordial relationship with the Vigilante. I have gone round the commands and I've lectured my officers and men to give them maximum cooperation and in most cases, wherever I've gone to, I make sure that they bring them out so that I could also lecture them and I've told them that they must not arrogate to themselves, powers they don't have. Of course, every Nigerian has the power to arrest, so if they arrest criminals and hand them over to the police, they should follow up their cases. Where actions are not taken, they have the liberty to complain to the retired commissioner of police who will in turn pass the information to me. So, if anybody is making that allegation, I think that person is not really serious. There's no way a criminal can be arrested, handed over to the police and be let loose because that police knows that he will be sanctioned. There's no way that a police officer will mess up with such a case. In most cases, possibly, they might include a case where personal interest is involved. You agree they might pick an innocent person. Along the way, the police might investigate and there's no evidence for prosecution; what do you expect? If there's no evidence, we will release the person on bail. That's the truth. But when you have glaring evidence, facts and figures and you hand over such suspects to the police, of course we definitely have no option than to prosecute.
Now, what about this issue of alleged police extortion on the roads? You know this N20 something. Every attempt made in the past to eliminate it seemed to have failed because it's still happening. So, are you not worried about this phenomenon?
Is it not strange to hear that a policeman is extorting N20 in this economy? What's the N20 going to do for a policeman? It's bizarre. It's absurd. But in any case, we have zero tolerance for corruption. I was the first commissioner of police in this country that went on the streets with my officers and men with placards to denounce corruption. You must have been aware of this and I have drummed it loud and clear to their ears that if anybody is caught in acts of corruption, such a person should be prepared to pack their bags and baggage and be ready to leave the force. So, as a commissioner of police in charge of a command, I have no patience with corruption. If I have information that anybody is indulging in that, any police officer for that matter, such a person will be punished. Severely punished at that. So, give us the information anytime you see that any officer is performing their duties and indulge in corrupt practices. Don't hesitate in passing the information to us. That's why we're going to give you all our hot lines. It is not acceptable. The current police leadership does not have patience for corruption. We have zero tolerance for corruption. I, as the commissioner of police, have always made it a point of duty to lecture my officers and men that we cannot but change. If you are not going to change, we change you and that is the truth.
Now, let's go to the issue of bail. I was there when a former IG of Police came and said publicly that bail is free but you still find instances where people go to police stations and they still ask them to pay money for bail. So, can you explain what constitutes a bailable offence and which one that people don't have to pay?
There's no bail that you have to pay. If an offence is bailable, bail is free. If you go to bail anybody and an IPO or DCO demands money for bail, go to the DPO. If the DPO fails you, come to the headquarters here. We have a structure. Command structure. You see, the truth of the matter is that we are gullible people. Nigerians are gullible. We take things for granted. We don't fight for our rights. Somebody stops you there and he wants to waste your time and you allow him to do that. You have a right to complain. You are a Nigerian and a free citizen of this country. Where they say bail is free and you go to the police station and they are making things difficult for you just for the purpose of extorting money from you, quietly walk away and get the information across to the leadership of the police. If they don't do anything, you can go further. We have an AIG at Zone 9, Umuahia. We have IG in Abuja. There are avenues for you to vent your feelings. I am saying this because you are going to put this in the public domain. Anywhere there is a crime committed and it's bailable and the bail has been granted and such police formation is asking for gratification or whatever, report the act to us. We will take appropriate action.
What does the law say exactly about motorcyclists? The Okada riders. We see policemen holding them on the roads by the express, extorting money from them. Sometimes N5, 000, sometimes N10, 000.
I don't know what you're talking about. I don't know the purpose of this interview but I know that if there are instances of corrupt practices, they should be reported and …What are we talking about here? Specific issues of policemen being corrupt here and there. You have a right to report to their leadership. That's what I'm saying. I can't be everywhere. The DPO can't be everywhere. You as a journalist, you saw that kind of situation, you walked away, you didn't do anything and you are coming to interview me to ask me what am I going to say about the N5, 000 being extorted on the road in Onitsha? What am I going to do about it? I was not there. I don't know who did it. So, what you should have done is, right there and then, attract the attention of the officer in charge of that formation and if they don't take action, you let me know immediately. That's the truth and in any case, Okadas are not allowed beyond 7pm because we have discovered that Okadas have been used as instruments of committing crimes, especially armed robbery. So, there's this law that has been put in place to debar them from operating after 7pm. So, I have given our DPOs the directives that anyone seen after 7pm, the Okada must be impounded and the person prosecuted. That's the truth.
So, finally let's talk about the issue of ban on sirens because there was a time your command said that only a certain category of people were allowed to use sirens. But during the last Christmas period, virtually every rich man was using siren. So, is the ban still in place and if yes, have you made any arrests in the past?
Before the Yuletide celebration, we made it a point of lecture to the DPOs and officers on patrol that they should impound whoever used siren. It's only the governor of the state that can use siren. Nobody is above the law. That order was given and I am sure it was carried out. Of course, some of those people you see blowing siren up and down for whatever reason, do that in the situation where they feel that the police are not readily available, but whenever they were confronted, I think that they were arrested and we have some cases here under investigation and we try to discourage that as much as possible. All in all, the ban on the usage of siren is in place and nobody is allowed to use it.
So, only the governor should use it?
Only the governor and possibly, the ambulance, and I can say the commissioner of police, but I don't even use it.
Thank you very much for your time, sir.
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