Celestine Okoye is a retired Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG). In this interview with Okey Maduforo, he speaks on the challenges the Nigeria Police Force is facing and rising insecurity in the country, among other issues
How has it been since you retired from the Police force?
So far so good and I think that I have come home to rest and that is all I can say now. After 35 years as a policeman, serving this country, I have retired to my village. Sometimes, when I tell people that I am in the village, they doubt me because I am from Awka but Awka is my village and I am in my village.
On the other hand, one thinks of how to help oneself like going into politics or becoming a farmer, and for me, I have gone into politics and I am just watching. Soon, I will come out fully. I can comfortably describe myself as a politician.. So, life after retirement has been very good and wonderful.
The only thing is that there are some routine that I am missing. Sometimes, I wake up in the morning, I will see myself dressed up to go to work on my uniform and when I go for my cap, my wife will call me to order. You know somebody that has this habit for 35 years, it is difficult to overcome but I thank God that I am coming back to my normal life and I am gradually returning to my old self.
In your 35 years in service, can you tell us one or two experiences that you cannot forget?
What actually touched me was the hatred. First of all, I lost my seniority when I was in charge of Mobile Police. I was doing my job in line with the law but my boss felt that I was becoming too popular. Queries were coming from all angles and these were unexpected queries. In fact, there was one that really touched me and that was when I went to rescue some people who were being manhandled by armed robbers. I stopped the robbery and got everything and one of the robbers was killed.
By the time I came to report to my boss, I was queried for doing that because I am in charge of Mobile Police and there is a unit in charge of anti-robbery. The second one was when I became a Commissioner of Police; I realized that all efforts I made to be sent to a command failed and the simple reason is because I am Igbo man.
Whatever I did, they found fault in it because I am an Igbo man. I later got posted to Zamfara State and to me I saw it as a test because banditry was high. I did not border myself; I went there and I was able to make serious achievements and I know they were waiting to find fault but I worked well. To my greatest chagrin, I was recalled back to headquarters.
When I got back to Abuja, I asked why I was called back; I was told that I cannot speak their native language. I was made Commissioner of Police in charge of Special Forces but it was just a redundant office and I came into the command structure and discovered that it was a redundant office and the offence was that I am Igbo man. In my village, you post people from different areas and tribes but they will not send an Igbo man to where he can speak their language.
Whenever you are posted to any position, they send faultfinders who would surround you and any little thing; if you fail to drink water at the right time you will get a query and they count it as an offence. This is tribalism and merit has been thrown to the abyss. It has been abandoned and nobody is talking about it. You would want to do your job but you may not be allowed to do that and this is how the country is now.
The country is drifting. We are drifting because you cannot compare now and then, which is about 30 to 40 years ago. As at then, when you join the system, you are tested and if your boss has confidence in you, you will be posted. One day, they called me to go and see the commissioner, when I got there, I was apprehensive because I don’t know what I have done wrong. He said, Celestine, you are wonderful in operations and told me what I did in one or two places. He gave me an assignment that night and that I should make sure that I complete it that night.
I left with the small unit that I was heading. I completed the assignment before 6.am and brought everybody before him and I left to my house. As at then, allowances were well paid, I received my allowance and left. Today, nobody cares.
All they do now is for us to be making noise, telling lies, and you want to boost your ego when you have no ego. You go about telling the country lies, when you have not been able to achieve anything. This wasn’t the police I met. I retired without happiness and that was why I have to go home. I saw wickedness; I saw hatred because I am an Igbo man, and that was why I had to go home after retirement. I have a house in Abuja but I chose to go home.
It is indeed a surprise that that you retired as a DIG despite all this experience?
I retired as a DIG but it is the work of God. I lost my seniority, while in the system. I ended up collecting 22 queries. There was a day I went to my office as Mobile Police commander and the query that I got was that I failed to obey simple order and the order was that I failed to post some men to a place but I didn’t remember being given an order to post anybody. They accused me of disobeying a lawful order which was not true and everything was aimed at frustrating the Igbo man.
I made my representations but it did not get to the Force Headquarters, Abuja. The queries were forwarded but my representations were not forwarded to Abuja. So, when promotion came, my name was not on the list. I had to start fighting but by then I have lost my seniority. After they realized what happened, I was made Deputy Inspector General of Police and from there I retired.
The country’s security situation has worsened and people are blaming the law enforcement agencies. What are your thoughts on this?
Anything that happens in the country, there must be blame on one person or group of persons. They must pass blame on one office or the other as well as operatives in the security system. But the issue is corruption and it is everywhere. You cannot ask for something in any office and get it without paying some money. In the same vein, you cannot ask for money to do your job and see someone who is interested in that or in getting the job done. The police that we have now; I don’t know how to describe them.
The present police came with a different mindset about this job. It is not the police alone but other services and you cannot do anything without paying for it. Go to every office in this country, if you cannot drop a dime, nobody can do anything for you.
The real bone of contention is corruption and any establishment that thrives on corruption cannot achieve anything progress. People talk about corruption everywhere but they are the perpetrators of corruption. If you give them little opportunity, they will amass wealth and they do not care. What most Nigerians do not know is that one can die that minute leaving all the wealth that one has made through fraudulent means.
I had wanted to show Nigerians the kind of police that we should have. We have all the human and material resources but because you came from certain areas in Nigeria that are not wanted, you are frustrated. So, the banditry continues.
You talked about going into politics, which of the political parties do you belong to?
If you want to change the way things are being done, you have to belong to the system. You cannot make a change outside the system. I joined the All Progressives Congress (APC) to be part of the system and I am taking my time. Soon, I will come out fully and I will not hesitate to nip the problems on the bud, so that we can effect a change. You cannot be in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) to effect a change in the system. People are talking about restructuring and I ask what type of restructuring? The idea has different meanings according to those propagating it. But those calling for restructuring were in power at a time and they did nothing about it. Because they are no longer benefiting from the system, they are now shouting for restructuring.
The question is: When you were there, what did you do? I want restructuring but it must be across board in all the services except the military. You don’t need to bring a total stranger to come and police my village. The person cannot speak English and he cannot speak my language.
You now get the locals to teach him and the locals will reach him what they like. Remember that he doesn’t know the area and what the locals call crime is what he calls crime. It is unfortunate that some people that we know are the ones killing us and that is sad.