Chief Simon Okeke is a former chairman of the Police Service Commission (PSC). In this interview, he talks on the state of the nation, insecurity in the South-East and the upcoming governorship poll in Anambra State, among other issues. ECHEZONA OKAFOR reports
What is your view on the state of insecurity in Nigeria?
Killings in the country are pitiable. It makes one nervous about security in general. The Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), where the trainers of security forces live, was attacked and soldiers kidnapped. This should not be allowed to continue.
This tells you the level of insecurity in the country and it makes one nervous about the security network and the capacity of the government to protect lives and property in the country.
Heads of these security apparatus should try as much as possible to unravel the cause of this security breach and possibly bring the perpetrators to book.
As a former chairman of the Police Service Commission (PSC), what is your advice to the government on how to manage the force for effective service delivery?
Let me tell you, and I will continue to say so; the Nigerian Police have been made the sacrificial lamb among the armed forces in the country.
However, it is unfortunate that the soldiers are getting over 80 per cent of defence budget, and the balance of 20 per cent goes to other security networks like the police, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), Department of Security Services (DSS). So, what do you expect the police to do?
They can’t perform magic. It’s unfortunate, to say the least, that the Nigerian Police are terribly neglected as they are made to be victims of human injustices in the country. Nigeria doesn’t provide enough for them at all. Over 80 per cent of policemen purchase their uniforms by themselves.
They are the least paid but when agencies like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Inspector-General of Police Intelligence Response Team (IRT) are created out of the police, those very ones are paid highly as against their colleagues in the Nigeria Police. It’s unfair; this country should take good care of the police if it is serious about tackling insecurity.
They must be paid well, cloth properly, housed well and armed well. Let me tell you as it is today, we don’t have any police on the road in Anambra State, and many parts of the South- East. This is so because fear has been imposed on all the armed uniformed men.
The guns they hold constitute great attraction to unknown gunmen. The police are human beings like you and I. There is hardly anybody that will like to die, but this near state of anarchy should not be allowed and something should be done about it.
How do you see the anti-open grazing bill being championed by southern governors?
State governors should initiate open grazing legislation. If the 17 governors of Southern Nigeria have met and endorsed the ban on open grazing, the governors should obey it. All the places I’ve travelled to the world over, I have not seen cattle on the streets.
But in Nigeria, they are everywhere. I once travelled to Calabar by flight and almost had a crash because of cows on the runway. I am pleased that the Anambra International Cargo and Passenger Airport in Umueri is fenced, which will technically avoid such. Any state that has not legislated on the issue is not helping itself.
What is your opinion on the crises over court injunction, rocking the political parties ahead of the November 6 governorship election in Anambra State?
Nigeria has become a country where election issues are decided by the courts. This makes us understand how corruption has permeated the judiciary. Such should not be allowed. I believe that an election should take place in Anambra State as there is no reason not to hold the election.
It will be unfair to deny Ndi Anambra their voting rights. It’s unfortunate that people go from one court to another to shop for judgements as if it were a shopping spree. I condemn the use of courts to truncate the will of the people. It ought not to be allowed.
Do you have any advice to the electorate on their choice of candidate in the coming governorship election in the state?
I hope sincerely that any person that will emerge as the next governor will improve on what is on the ground. The trend in Anambra governorship has been progressing all through, from Chinweoke Mbadinuju to Chris Ngige, Peter Obi and Willie Obiano, so Ndi Anambra should expect the best from the incoming governor.
What is your relationship with former President Olusegun Obasanjo and how did you become chairman of the Police Service Commission (PSC) under his regime?
I met Obasanjo for the first time in 1981 in Lagos. I met him when I was heading Knight Frank, a multinational company in Lagos. I was to acquire land there, and I asked the church who I would negotiate with and they referred me to Obasanjo.
The meeting with Obasanjo was held in Otta. After the meeting, he served us food and palm wine. Eventually, he went to jail, and from there, he became president. In 2001, I was appointed chairman of the Police Service Commission. Three of us were recommended to him. I went for the interview and I passed.
But when I heard it was a police job, sincerely, I said God forbid! I never wanted to have anything to do with the police. But eventually, I was persuaded by late Amadi Ikwuecheghi and Alex Ekwueme, to take the job. When I started the work, I had series of clashes with President Obasanjo because I wanted to do the job how it should be done. I was always summoned to Aso Rock to defend my stance on issues.
Because of that, the then Inspector-General of Police, Tafa Balogun, said I was becoming a threat to him and the government of the day. One of the issues then was the unlawful disengagement of some police officers. When I found out that such officers were sacked for no just reasons, I set up a committee that looked into their files, which were brought to my table for ratification.
After the report of the committee, I got the sacked officers back to their jobs. So, Tafa Balogun told Obasanjo that I was bringing criminals back to the police force. But I countered him by stating the obvious fact that those police officers were dismissed without reason, that they must be recalled, and that if they reached the age of retirement, they must be paid their backlog of salaries and full benefits. Eventually, I won the case.
The court granted most of them leave to be returned to the police, and for those that retired, their benefits were paid in full. The last straw that broke camel’s back was Tafa Balogun’s problem with Governor Chris Ngige of Anambra State.
It happened that a Commissioner of Police on assignment in Anambra State, Dom Iroham, called me on phone to inform me that the IGP asked him to withdraw the security details of the governor of Anambra State, Dr. Chris Ngige.
When he told me, I instructed him not to do so. I reminded him that he still had many years in service and that if he dared withdraw the governor’s security, I would suspend him from service.
When he asked me what he would do, I advised him to tell those that gave him that instruction that the chairman of PSC said he should not do it. I was summoned to Aso Rock to meet with President Obasanjo because of my adversity towards their plan to remove the governor’s security.
It was, indeed, a firework. When I got to Abuja, I told Obasanjo that removing the governor’s security details was against the constitution of Nigeria. I told Mr. President that if he should encourage such, I would resign. I told him the only way a governor could be removed was through impeachment or resignation or death.
I also told him if he insisted that the governor’s security would go, then, I would resign. I thanked him for giving me the opportunity to serve as the only southerner then to serve as PSC chairman since its inception.