Weekly Trust: As a former Inspector-General of Police, how would you assess the police force 50 years after independence?
Gambo Jimeta: I think I’m qualified to talk about the development of the police force since independence because these are the exact years I have been in the force. The police force I joined fifty years ago was a highly trained and motivated one. We were very proud of our profession and we had a lot of support from the public who felt that we were really there for them, to help them.
We were well equipped; we had vehicles, laboratory equipment and we had everything that it took to run a modern police force. Unfortunately, since independence, we have been put along the line of what they call competing demands from other services in Nigeria. This has downgraded us and has brought us to where we are today, almost at a standstill.
The Police Force of today is very huge, scattered and uncared for. To have a police force of a highly conscious and civilized society like Nigeria requires a lot of funding and it is one service that deals with what life is all about in the country. People want to see their lives secure, they want to be protected and want to feel happy without anybody molesting them. You cannot achieve this unless you have properly trained, well paid and confident police officers to enforce the laws of the country.
Now the police has been run down over the years like a lot of other services in the country due to lack of funding. We ended up with a large number of policemen, ill funded, badly motivated and drained of their self esteem. So, really, the fifty years we are talking about has seen the police force regress from a very efficient and confident police force to what we have today.
WT: In the course of your discussion you raised the issue of funding. In as much as the funding of the Nigerian police might not be enough, some have argued that the funds that come into the force have been mismanaged by previous Inspectors-General of Police, especially of recent.
Gambo Jimeta: That is a conjecture. If you people care to look at the budget, you will find out that there is hardly anything that is there for anybody to steal. You cannot steal people’s salaries or deny them their salaries for a length of time.
The capital projects that are to be put up should also be visible. So, there is nowhere where any Inspector-General of Police will be able to embezzle the money. In any case, the police force does not handle the allocation in the budget. It is the police ministry that does that. So, these are misinformed aspects of the police force. Even an Inspector-General of Police like Tafa Balogun who was accused of embezzling money, until now, no one knows the source of the alleged embezzled money. No one has come up to say certain amounts of money were lost from the police budget. So, to make up such statement that the Inspector-General of Police has been misapplying the monies, to say the least, is unfortunate. They do not in any way disburse budgets. It is strictly under the Ministry of Police Affairs.
WT: You have been part of various committees set up to look into the re-organisation of the Nigerian Police Force over the years. What are some of the recommendations of these committees for the improvement of policing in Nigeria?
Gambo Jimeta: This is a question you should be asking the government because as far as I know the recommendations have been with them. There has been no action taken. Only recently, the government decided to look into them and implement them. These recommendations are meant to be implemented randomly. They are put up in the scheme and one thing follows the other and so on and so forth, so that there will be a positive result. So, all these things are really issues that are resting in the hands of government and they simply haven’t said that there is not enough money. If it were a wise government, they would have looked into the issue and made sure that they made everything available to make sure that the reforms are implemented.
WT: There are arguments that the coming of military governments eroded the efficiency of the police in terms of equipment, power and all of that. Do you share some of these views?
Gambo Jimeta: Well, I do not know if successive military regimes have created other security agencies but there was no definite role or responsibility as you can see. There is the road safety commission, civil defence and so many other security agencies that have sprung up who are active to share in the good deeds and quickly deny any responsibility on anything bad that has happened towards the maintenance of law and order.
So, these are some of the aspects of the degradation of the police that has happened that to the extent today we cannot hold the police responsible for anything that has happened because their powers are being eroded as they themselves do not know exactly what to do when the situation calls for it.
WT: Could you elaborate more on some of the recommendations you gave the governments in terms of improving the Nigeria police?
Gambo Jimeta: We emphasized on welfare, housing, equipment for them and most importantly training and the introduction of modern technical aids for investigation. Everything else revolves around that. We wanted the police to be able to take care of themselves and be able to administer the funds that are being made available to them to provide for day to day needs of the force in the area of their responsibility.
WT: Are you satisfied with the way and manner Inspectors-General of Police have been appointed in Nigeria; the idea of retiring those still very active in service to give chance to lower officers and at the end of the day their experience is lost?
Gambo Jimeta: The best method has been stated in the constitution and in the police law. Anything other than that is an abnormality and I do not want to comment on that.
WT: The number of policemen as at today is said to be about 250,000 compared to about 150 million Nigerians that they are supposed to provide security for. By the United Nations’ standard this number is really not sufficient. What is your opinion on this?
Gambo Jimeta: The strength of the police force depends on the development of the areas where they are operating and the equipment. A more equipped and civilized environment will require fewer policemen than the sort of situation we have now. The vast unplanned country and poverty-stricken and ill-motivated police force we have cannot do much. A well-equipped policeman will do a job which ten cops would do. One police horse for crowd control will do the job of fifty police men. You see what I mean. So, the strength of the force is irrelevant to its capacity to perform its duty. It is not about number, it is about skills and equipment available.
WT: Coming back to the issue of recruitment. Most of the people being recruited went into the police force as a last resort not because they really want to be cops. What is your opinion on this?
Gambo Jimeta: If you motivate the police and make them have self esteem, a lot of people will want to join. One of the areas where the police is kept down is that it does not have enough incentives to produce the best personnel and even at that if we had good training facilities we could turn them into good policemen.
No one wants to join the police force as a sacrifice to national service for the country. Unless we turn the situation around we will continue to have low grade people and where there are no training we will have a stagnation of these bad crop of people who will in turn offer bad service to the society.
WT: Some years back, in an interview, you talked about the thumbprints availability for all policemen then, and now it seems to be lost. Would you suggest that such things should be made available again?
Gambo Jimeta: Those were part of the recommendations we made. We are not talking about only policemen, even civil servants, so that everyone is vetted because criminal minds find their way into the activities of the government.
We have come of age where we ought to be beyond the use of computers. We should be able to easily check on people in a matter of seconds.
WT: Having seen the Nigeria police in its first 50 years, where do you hope to see it in the next 50 years?
Gambo Jimeta: The kind of neglect and irresponsibility shown by previous governments then, I am afraid there might be no police force in the country in 50 years. If appropriate steps are taken and police is given a rebirth, in the next 50 years, we would be among the best in the world.
WT: How do we get out of the present state of poor security in the country with kidnappings and abductions happening on a daily basis?
Gambo Jimeta: The answer is to really overhaul the criminal justice system and make sure that anyone who has committed an offence is dealt with in accordance with the law. Duties of the various security agencies should be spelt out. If something positive is not done about reinvigorating the capacity of the security forces, I’m afraid there is nothing that can be done.