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South east has never tested democratic leadership of Nigeria since 1960 – Okeke

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Chief Simon Okeke is a former chairman of the Police Service Commission. In this interview with MOKWUGWO SOLOMON, he talks about the Nigerian Police Force, politics and other issues of importance.

There are insinuations within the police force that payment of their pensions are delayed, and, sometimes, money is deducted from their contributory pension fund. What is your reaction to that?

If that is true, I will condemn it in the strongest terms. It is not proper that any member of the police force will not be paid his due upon retirement. Contributory pension demands that a police officer puts in certain percentage of his money, and the government puts in certain percentage; but a situation where government is not forthcoming on its side when it is time for the police officer to get his retirement benefit, is something that should not be encouraged. That kind of thing should not happen. The Nigerian police is complaining that their welfare is very poor; at the same time, even the one they contribute is not given to them when they will need it most. That ought not to happen. I call on Mr. President to look inwards and ensure that police retirees get their full benefits. He should also ensure that those, who are still in service are well taken care of. I was told that it was the much I did as chairman of the police service commission, which led to the increment of their salaries, during Yaradu’s regime, that the Nigerian police are still enjoying today. Since then, nothing much has been done. That is most unfortunate. Policemen should be treated the same way soldiers are taken care of in terms of budgetary allocation and renumeration. If you looked at the budget of the military; even the budget of one wing of the military is far bigger than the entire annual budget of the Nigerian police. Despite the improvement made on the welfare of the Nigerian police during my time, the Nigerian police remains the poorest paid in the entire Africa. I am glad that the police trust fund is coming on board. It has been approved, and a committee has been formed. I hope that something good will come out of it.

Over the years, there have been conflicts between the police service commission and the office of the inspector general of police over whose duty it is to recruit, promote and discipline officers.

Could we get clarifications on this?

During my own time as chairman of police service commission, recruitment procedure was streamlined. The matter about who recruits shouldn’t have risen at all; because, the duties and responsibilities of the police service commission and that of the IGP are well spelt out in the constitution. Section 215a of the Nigerian Constitution stipulates that there shall be the Inspector General of Police, who shall be appointed by the president with the approval of the senate. Section 215b, talks about the appointment of commissioners of police in different states. The section says that there shall be commissioners of police in each state of the federation, who shall be appointed by the police service commission. During my own time, the then IGP thought it was his responsibility to appoint commissioners of police in various states; but I called his attention and said, no! The duties and responsibilities of the two are clear in Section 215b. I told the then IGP that I was the chairman of the police service commission, and that it was my responsibility to appoint commissioners of police of various states. We had a disagreement, so, I invited the then Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the federation, Akanu Agabi. I also wrote to a renowned international constitutional lawyer, Prof. Ben Nwabueze, and requested them to interpret the constitution for us. The two came up with interpretations supporting my claims. They asserted that IG had nothing to do with the appointment of CPs. I took their write-ups to Mr. President, and the president acknowledged the interpretations of the two individuals. He went further to nullify, council and reverse all appointment made by the IG and directed him to consult the police service commission for revalidation and ratification.
Then, on the issue of recruitment and appointment where they have problems now, the 3rd Schedule of Part 1, Section Mb, stipulates the functions of the police service commission to include, among other things, the appointment and recruitment of all persons in the Nigerian police force, in the exception of the IG, who will be appointed by the president. The commission recruits, employs, promotes, disciplines and dismisses, even without the directive or advise from anybody. However, during my time, due to shortage of personnel in the commission, I delegated the recruitment of some categories of police personnel to the IGP, because, I did not have enough manpower to do all those things. Ordinarily, everything about the recruitment, appointment, discipline and promotion of officers from the rank of constable to DIG are done by the service commission.
Former commissioner of police in Anambra state, Don Iroha, was directed by the then IGP and the presidency to remove security details of the former governor of the state, Chris Ngige; when he consulted me, I told him never to try such thing. I told him that if he tried that, I would suspend him as police commissioner. He asked me what he should do; I told him to tell the person that sent him that the chairman of the police service commission said no. The then President Olusegun Obasanjo invited me and asked me why I should overrule him. I told him that he had no authority to remove security details of a democratically elected governor. I told Mr. President that the governor could only leave office if he decided to resign or the court throws him away or that he is impeached or he dies. Otherwise, no other person has such power as they wanted to exert.

The trend in Nigeria is that retired IGs or DIGs are appointed as chairmen of police service commission.

How do you see this considering what obtains in other parts of the world?

That trend is very wrong. Police cannot oversee police! Oversight function of the police should be done by someone outside the police force; otherwise, the bureaucracy in the police will enter into the police service commission. It is clear that the chairman of the police service commission should be appointed by the president of Nigeria, and will be ratified by the senate. The constitution does not stipulate that the chairman should be appointed from among the men of the police force. This is because, in the case of the IG, the constitution states that he shall be appointed by the president from among the members of the police. In other words, you cannot get an outsider and make him inspector general of police. The idea of appointing the chairman of police service commission from among police officers happens only in Nigeria. In other countries, when there is vacancy for position of chairman of police service commission, it is advertised. All categories of persons can apply, including traders, soldiers, etc, as long as the person is qualified. That was how I came in as chairman of the commission during the regime of Olusegun Obasanjo; and, so far, I remain the only person appointed to serve in that capacity outside the police force in the history of Nigeria.

There has been this clamour that Nigeria should have president of south east extraction come 2023 to succeed Buhari.

As an elder statesman, what’s your opinion to this?

It is only nice and proper that every zone in Nigeria be given the chance to take a shot at the presidency; anything otherwise will mean heightening the ember of disharmony in the country. South east has never tested democratic headship of Nigeria since 1960. During the military era, the south east took a shot at the headship of this country for six months only, through General Agiyi Ironsi. All other parts of this country have had a shot at the presidency under the democratic government. It is only the south east that has never had any. It used to be only the north. South West has had theirs also. By accident, the South South had theirs also through Jonathan. Now, from 1999 to 2006, it was 2 times for South West. Then, Yaradua came from the North and was terminated by death; and Jonathan served out his remaining term and then, went for another term. If after Buhari’s second term the entire country do not see the need for justice and equity in ensuring that a president of the South East extraction emerges, then, the country is not being truthful. Therefore, it is the rightful turn of the South East to produce president for Nigeria in 2023. I am glad that the Afanifere, through Aya Adibanjo, came out boldly to say that anybody saying otherwise than the 2023 presidency going to the South East is not helping the issue. Afenifere’s position was magnified by Chief Clerk, who was the leader of the South South people; who also insisted that the 2023 slot should go to the South East. Ohaneze Ndigbo has also continued to echo and re-echo the obvious. Anything outside the obvious cannot help Nigeria beyond 2023!

Comment on erosion problems devastating different parts of Anambra state and South East in general.
My view is that the federal government should declare state of emergency on erosion in Anambra state. The FG should be seen to be doing something remarkable to solve the perennial problem; because, as days pass by, many more communities are going out of existence because of the menace.

What is your view of the economic recovery team recently constituted by Mr. President?

o me, the economy of Nigeria has gone comatose. We are only groping and praying to find solution to it. We hope whatever group that is formed will find the desired solution; but the country’s problem is more than the eye can see. The economy of this country has gone into such colossal death that I cannot tell what miracle that could be done by the economic recovery team to put it back in track. Nigeria is in the wood; really in the wood. You have seen the 2020 budget – N10.3 trillion. Out of this amount, N2.1 trillion, which is mere 20% is for capital expenditure; the rest 80% is for recurrent expenditure. Where do we go from there with this colossal unemployment in the country and the colossal debt owed by the FG all over the world? Only God can help us! We pray, because, when every other thing fails, prayer can help us.

Comment on the closure of Nigerian borders.
I’m fully in support of border closure. Though, there might be hardship at the onset, but it is the normal thing to do. But I’m not happy that borders areas around the southern parts are closed, while the ones in the northern parts are porous. A lot of arms and vehicles enter through Tripoli and Libya over to the northern Nigeria. However, border closure is a move in the right direction by the government. In the short run, there might be hardship and hunger, and prices of goods will rise; but eventually, the move will accelerate local production.

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