The March elections are knocking on the door, but the police that is saddled with the responsibility of providing security for the polls are troubled. Some police officers are threatening to down tools over unpaid arears of salary increments and entitlements. In an interview with OLUMIDE BAJULAIYE, Force Public Relations Officer Emmanuel Ojukwu warns the officers against going on strike and speaks on the general preparation of the police for the election…
For men of the Nigeria Police to go on strike, what does this potent for the security of this country and the upcoming elections?
First is that we heard information about the strike and we are working round the clock to find out whether it’s true or not. For policemen to go on strike means the country will close down. It must not be allowed. We are not known for that so I believe somebody is just throwing a kite. We will nib it in the bud; we already began moves to make sure it doesn’t happen and ensure that those behind it are quickly identified and dealt with in line with our laws.
Let us look at the grievances of these officers. They were given promotion letters and according to their letter, their new salaries and entitlements are supposed to start from the day of their promotion. But up till January 2015, they had n’t gotten anything. Is that grievance not justified?
In this country it is equal work for equal pay; a labourer must not be denied his wages. These officers were qualified for promotion and they were promoted by the police authorities. Ordinarily, once somebody is promoted, the entitlement must follow. But the financial outlay may not be readily available; it may take some time for the police to gather it and pay them. Nobody is worried about their grievances. They have a right to say Sir, I have not been paid what is due to me. Our problem is that there is a system, a process to ventilate such a grievance. If I get promoted, I need the salary attached to it, because it’s not just about wearing the rank when there is no money in the pocket, people need money to back it up, that’s what they call back-up. So they are right in asking for it. But there is a procedure, there is a process. It is not as if this money is in our pocket and somebody is not giving them what is due to them. No, we are asking for patience. These officers had been spoken to before even when they were on course, they were lectured; that is the condition. Nigeria police does not pay itself; we get money from members of the public to pay our staff, we don’t generate revenue. So if you have seen the situation around us as a nation, I mean the economic situation, then you must bear with us that we have problems.
Is one year not long enough?
What we have in our hands is like a debt and there are people who are being owed ten to fifteen years, the world hasn’t ended. My people say that the hunger that has hope will not kill somebody. You know that the money will certainly come to you. This thing will definitely be paid to them; their arrears is going to be paid to them. All we asking is to be patient. Because we hold lectures with our officers every two weeks and in the course of the lectures, you have the opportunity to ask questions. You could ask that your arrears have not been paid since so, so, so and so time, and the commanding officer will tell you yes, we are aware of it; we are not sleeping over it, we are not folding our arms. We don’t just go to Sheraton and sit down drinking tea, No! we are working round the clock. The police high command is not sleeping over this issue; we are working round the clock to make sure what belongs to the men are given to them. As I mentioned in my press release, the welfare of officers of the Nigerian Police from the least Constable to the IG is topmost priority in the heart of the incumbent IG; he doesn’t joke with it. And so it will be an anti-climax if somebody is working round the clock to make sure what is due to you is given to you and you now turn round to blackmail him. It is not fair.
The cankerworm that has eaten deep into the fabric of government’s bodies or establishment is corruption, could that be the issue here because some people say the money has been released.
There is corruption in Nigeria police and there is corruption everywhere in Nigeria. Whenever Nigeria is labeled a corrupt country, it includes all Nigerians. But everybody can speak for itself. There is no truth in that suggestion that the money appropriated by government to pay these officers have been released and kept somewhere and may have been used for some other things? It doesn’t happen in Nigeria police. There is just no money yet to pay these people, that is the truth. We are working to get it and the government is making every effort to make sure this thing is paid in the next few weeks actually. So all we are asking is take things easy. You don’t have to shoot your leg to prove a point, I say to some people you don’t have to set your house on fire because you want to eject unlawful tenant. If anybody goes on strike or down tools, he will be dismissed and prosecuted and may end up in jail. The laws of Nigeria say no to that. Why this kind of behaviour when it’s only some months’ salary arrears and you are earning the salary commensurate with the new rank. I don’t believe it will happen anyway, because our policemen are reasonable.
What are you doing to ensure it does nt happen?
We are not taking chances. We have been talking with all the officers involved and telling them what to do in the circumstance, which is to exercise patience and to believe the authorities that they have their interest at heart. That’s what we are doing. We are also making sure that the men are properly motivated and trained. We are still preparing for the 2015 general election. But with the postponement we have to re-prepare them afresh, because it got to a stage that we were prepared for the election, only for a change in the date. We had to bring the men back, now we have to re-groom them. That’s what we are doing. There is no issue of policemen disrupting the election, No! We’ve always performed our job. The Inspector-General of Police has asked all AIG to talk to their men on how to re-prepare for the election and dot all lines. The motivation is high; the moral is also high. This issue of the impending strike is just a little fly in the ointment; we know we will remove that fly soonest.
Can you reassure Nigerians that the police will perform to the optimum in this month’s election?
Our vision is to be the leading, efficient, focused law-enforcement organization, that’s where we are going. You cannot arrive there overnight, it takes a process. And you cannot isolate the police from the socio millieu in which it operates. Policing is environment-determined. We speak for the police, others also know where the shoe is pinching them; people in the other sectors of the economy and the society, they know they haven’t gotten there yet. And so the police is moving at the same pace with Nigerians. We haven’t made it, we are a developing country. As a country, we are still developing our infrastructure, we are developing facilities. The people are developing. So the police is a movement, its a living organization; it is growing too. The Nigerian police and Nigerians, we will surely get there. We haven’t gotten there yet; we are not perfect in certain areas but we are not sleeping in those areas where we are not perfect. We are making every effort to improve our service delivery; we are making every effort to improve on our attitude to ourselves, attitude to our work and attitude to members of the public who are the ones who had called us to serve them. We are making all efforts to respect human rights in our doings. That is why a few months ago, the IG launched a human rights practice manual for every police officer. We have taught policemen on the attribute of a police officer.
Nigerians want to see an impartial police during the general election, what are you doing about this?
First of all let’s have an understanding that the referee for elections is INEC, its not the police. In fact, many of us are disenfranchised, we don’t vote because our duty will not allow us to go and vote. It’s a minus for us already. What the police do is to provide a safe and secured environment for the conduct of the electoral process starting from party congresses conventions, rallies, campaigns and what have you, to the election proper and announcement of election rresult and the jubilation. Mark my words, the police work is more in the aftermath of the election, in the jubilation or otherwise that follows elections. We make sure people don’t kill themselves when they are celebrating. And appeal to those who are aggrieved to follow the due process and go to court. When they are in court we provide security in the court to make sure when the judgment is given or the case goes on there is security of lives and properties. Our job is to make sure that those who are voting are voting without any fear or intimidation. All these jobs we do them with an attitude of impartiality; we don’t belong to any political party, none of them is in the constitution, but the Nigerian police is in the constitution. I have often told people that the political party we belong to is the Nigeria Police Force. So the other political parties are on their own. When they are having convention or rally we are with them, either they informed us or not, our job is to provide security to all Nigerians no matter his political colouration or belief or affiliation. So we are as impartial as possible and we have demonstrated that on many occasions.
The next election has to do with the opposition contesting against an incumbent and the perception is that the police often work on the script written for them by the incumbent who appointed them, how do you react?
The power of incumbency is not new. All over the world, presidents who want to re-contest have the power of incumbency? The police is for everybody. You know there is danger if you support the incumbent and you provide him with 85 percent support and you give 15 percent to the other parties, don’t forget we don’t vote but we are on election duty.
Nigerians will choose their leader, don’t you think you will be doing yourself in if the man you gave 15 percent support now wins the election. So we don’t do that; we are reasonable and we are sensible.
That’s why we provide a level-playing ground for everybody.