I’d be reluctant giving my daughter’s hand in marriage to policeman –Ex-Lagos CP, AIG Imohimi (retd.)
I’d be reluctant giving my daughter’s hand in marriage to policeman –Ex-Lagos CP, AIG Imohimi (retd.)
A retired Assistant Inspector General of Police and former Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Edgal Imohimi, talks to ALEXANDER OKERE about his career, how he tackled security challenges in Lagos under his watch and how he is faring in retirement
You retired from the Nigeria Police Force in 2021. How has retirement been so far?
I thank God. Life has been good. For those of us that were very committed to service, immediately after retirement, we had more time on our hands. We were able to bond better with our family and the church, as well as take care of ourselves better, and run our little private businesses.
Not many police officers retire at the level of AIG. How did you feel when you got that promotion in 2021?
I was elated and grateful to God. I never expected that I would rise to become an AIG before disengaging (from the force), given all the factors at play throughout my career. But, I thank God that my hard work, determination and perseverance paid off. God crowned my efforts and I got promoted to that rank.
What do you mean that you never expected you would rise to that level ‘given all the factors at play throughout my career’?
I meant the early stages of my career when the quota system was in place. I am from Edo State and the quota system was not favourable to some of us from the state. It was a constitutional policy called the ‘federal character’ which, luckily, is no longer a major factor. Now, everybody has equal opportunities. It is one’s assessment that qualifies one for a promotion, not necessarily by the part of the country one comes from. When I joined the force, promotion was based on a quota system, and it did not favour some of us from minority groups. But, I am happy that that policy is no longer strictly applied, especially now that there is the Police Service Commission that makes sure promotions come as and when due if an officer has a clean record. Luckily for me, that policy was not applied when I was retiring, so I was able to get my promotion.
Did retirement come too early or at the time you expected?
I joined the police force as a young man immediately after my national youth service in 1985. I joined as a cadet assistant superintendent of police in 1986. I was 23 years old at that time, and I was in service for 35 years, though I am not up to 60 years; I would be 59 years old this year. As a constitutional policy, it is either retirement after 35 years of service or at the age of 60. So, it (retirement) came at the right time. I served my nation meritoriously for 35 years and left without any blemish. I thank God.
In 2019, there were reports of a tussle between you and a former Kwara State Commissioner of Police, Kayode Egbetokun, over the leadership of the Lagos State Police Command. How was the issue resolved and what’s your relationship with him now?
There was no issue then at all. He has always been a colleague and a friend. It is not our duty to deploy officers. It is the duty of the Inspector General of Police and the Police Service Commission to do that. Was someone not the commissioner of police when I was deployed to take over from him? So, why would I have issues with someone else? I was not planning to take charge of Lagos forever. I thank God that I had the opportunity to serve in such a high capacity. If God said my time in Lagos was up, who am I not to have welcomed the next person, and go for other responsibilities. We (with Egbetokun) have a very cordial relationship.
How did you spend your first month in retirement?
The first month was spent giving praise to God. I belong to the Christ Apostolic Church and we believe in prayers. We own the ‘prayer mountain’, so for those of us that trust in God, it is difficult to put 35 years into the police force. My family and I gave thanks to God before I started thinking about other things I could do to keep body and soul together.
Was it easy for you to disconnect from your work life?
My work life was energetic. One was always on the move. There were times one had to wake up early. Stopping that suddenly without something to keep one active would have an effect on one. Fortunately for me, immediately after I retired, I set up a security firm, so I was able to keep myself busy. I was able to wake up at the normal time and go to an office and keep myself busy physically and mentally. The transition from police life to that of a civilian was not that dislocated. I was able to cope.
You mentioned that you became closer to the church upon retirement. What exactly do you mean?
A policeman usually does not have time for himself. As a policeman, I worked in very demanding commands and formations throughout my career. As such, I did not have my weekends to myself. Most times, when one was supposed to be in church, one would be on the field working. But now, I have time to attend church programmes and contribute more to the propagation of the word of God.
If you had not become a police officer, what would you have loved to do?
I would have loved to still render service to people. I would have loved to be in any of the forces, probably the Navy or the federal civil service. For me, joining the Nigeria Police was not accidental. As a matter of fact, I did not attend any other (job) interview. I attended a police interview and was employed.
What attracted you to the force?
I wanted to be a policeman for many reasons. I still believe the police force is one organisation where one can render selfless service to one’s nation and humanity. I grew up in the government reserved area of Benin City, close to the official quarters of the Edo State Commissioner of Police. When I was younger, I used to see the Commissioner of Police and his entourage with the police flag on his official car as well as the riders on BMW outrider bikes, which I found fascinating. In those days, there were very neat, reliable and responsible policemen.
Many police officers are admired for their neatness and smart looks in uniform. Does looking smart matter even in rugged terrains?
Yes. Being in a rugged terrain does not mean a police officer should look shabby. A police officer going to the scene of a crime or a danger zone to confront criminals may want to use a certain uniform suitable for such. One must always turn out neatly because it is part of the discipline (expected of a police officer). Appearance depicts how disciplined an officer is. It conveys a message of reassurance. If you get to a police station and see smart and neatly dressed policemen, you would be reassured, especially because of the fake policemen we have here and there.
Second, it shows that neatly dressed policemen are responsible people one can repose trust in because policing is all about trust. It is important that the police force places a premium on how policemen are dressed.
Which among the police formations you worked were the most demanding?
For me, it was the Lagos State Police Command because, for one reason or the other, I spent most of my career there. The reason is that Lagos is a cosmopolitan state. It is a mini Nigeria, and in terms of fighting and maintaining law and order, it is more demanding. I had a lot of challenges policing various formations that I worked in while in Lagos, including as Commissioner of Police.
Which of the criminal cases you worked on was the toughest to crack?
As a Deputy Commissioner of Police and subsequently Commissioner of Police, we had the Badoo crisis in Ikorodu. It was difficult because it had some mystical connotations. We suddenly woke to the reality that some people were entering the homes of poor citizens, wiping out entire families and smashing their heads with some kind of mystical stones and used handkerchiefs to clean their blood. All our intelligence (gathering) and efforts put in place to stop the menace did not yield the desired result. I had to go the extra mile to find a permanent solution. I thank God we were able to jointly resolve that problem in Ikorodu.
What did you find worrying about the motivation the suspects gave for committing such crimes?
If one wants to talk about motivation for carrying out a crime, the first obvious one is financial. If a person kills people and uses a white handkerchief to smear their blood, the person must sell that handkerchief for such action to be meaningful to them. It means people bought such handkerchiefs from them. I believe their motivation was to sell those handkerchiefs and make money. They did not murder for fun. It was worrisome how heartless human beings could be, killing an entire family just to make money.
How did you handle pressure from notoriously criminal gangs trying to curry the favour of the commissioner of police in states?
There is no policeman – whether a commissioner or a constable – that will not face external influences to sway justice in one way or the other. That is where integrity, discipline and the fear of God come in. One would hear some colleagues saying a policeman does not have to be wicked. It is not about being wicked; it is about enforcing the law, and that is what we signed up to do. If we don’t enforce the law, we would have a lawless society and everybody would pay dearly for it. So, I had such challenges but I made sure my subordinates did the right thing according to the law.
Would you say the same for the pressure from politicians and political parties who want police chiefs to look away when their supporters foment trouble?
As some people say, one cannot separate policing from politics. It is only a person who is not a Nigerian that would claim not to know the antics of politicians and their desperation at times when it comes to winning elections and getting power. A policeman has to be prepared to deal with such situations. How they go about it is what matters. One cannot dine with politicians and turn round to say one wants to hold them accountable. If one wants to do that, then one should not dine with them. That is my principle.
Police officers in Nigeria face a lot of hazards. Did you have near-death experiences?
Yes. One cannot spend 35 years in service and not have one’s fair share of threats to life, both real and imagined. I was an officer that believed in leading his men in operations. The records are there and you can make your independent investigation. I did not send my men out and stayed behind. Right from when I was an assistant superintendent of police, whenever there was an incident, I led the men there. That was probably one of the reasons I rose to the rank (of AIG) before I retired. When one leads others in operations, one is exposed to danger. I cannot count the number of robbery incidents I led my men to abort, challenge or investigate. This is aside from other issues. Lagos is a city that doesn’t sleep, so when an officer works in Lagos, that officer must expect incidents to occur per minute. It is the responsibility of a police officer to attend to those incidents and by so doing is exposed to danger. Local criminals have a way of threatening police officers but I don’t take their threats seriously, especially when they know what a disciplined officer stands for.
How did you feel the first time you handled a firearm as a young officer?
I joined the force as a cadet assistant superintendent of police and one of the compulsory aspects of our training was firearms training and drill. Right from the training college, we were taught how to properly handle firearms, in terms of dismantling, cleaning and assembling, as well as how to aim and shoot properly. So, even before I went to the field, I had sufficient knowledge about various types of firearms.
As a Christian, did you have any reason to take the life of a human?
I have had reasons to use my service pistol in defending myself and those who were in danger, and I had no other option. It had nothing to do with whether I am a Christian or not. It was what the job required. Being a Christian does not mean I should fold my arms and allow criminals to take the life of another person or commit a crime and go scot-free.
At what point did you consider settling down in marriage?
It came pretty soon, not because I planned it so but because I met a lovely, beautiful and God-fearing woman. She has been my angel from when I married her. I was an acting deputy superintendent of police then and was working at Panti (in Lagos) as an investigator. I met my wife, Mary, and we fell in love. The responsible thing to do as a Christian and a gentleman was to propose to her and we got married. We have been married for 29 years. Our first daughter got married last month in Lagos.
What did you find striking about her?
First, it was her simplicity. Right from when I knew her, she has always been a prayerful woman. Perhaps, I should use this opportunity to advise young policemen. Our job is a difficult and dangerous one. They (policemen) need wives who are prayer warriors and can support their efforts in prayer. That was what came to my mind when I met my wife. She does not allow any achievement to affect her behaviour. That was why I married her.
Did your in-laws express any reservations about her marrying a policeman?
Funnily enough, no, because I was already in the force when I met her. I was introduced to her as a police officer, so she knew my job. If she had any doubts, she would not have encouraged me to woo her.
How did you propose to her?
In those days, we did not have the new forms of proposals we see on social media nowadays. I took her out for dinner, got an engagement ring and asked for her hand in marriage, and I thank God that she accepted.
What did she change about you as a policeman?
I was a very stubborn officer. My children call it ‘gra gra’. I was disciplined but it’s one thing to be disciplined and another thing to be calm and a team player. A policeman must have a listening ear, even when dealing with a criminal. My wife calmed me down.
Did any of your children follow in your footsteps by joining the police?
I am blessed with three kids. None of them is following in my footsteps.
Was that based on their choice or your advice, considering how dangerous policing is, as you said?
Children, these days, have minds of their own. The days are gone when a doctor would insist that their child must be a doctor. One would be surprised that the child could want to become a musician. It is good to allow children follow their passion.
There have been concerns about civilians not being comfortable marrying police officers because they feel they are too ‘hard’’. What do you think is responsible for that notion?
The condition of service of the police is extremely poor. I would concede that recently, the previous and present administrations did some review of salaries and added a little increase but that is still not good enough because the condition of service is not limited to salary alone. With the kind of barracks we have and the living condition of policemen, I too might be reluctant to give my daughter in marriage to a policeman. Everybody wants the best for their children. For a policeman to be able to have that confidence to approach a lady, they must have a good standard of living. They cannot live in a derelict barrack in a dirty environment and want to date the child of a civil servant or medical doctor and invite her to their room. This is most applicable to policemen in the junior ranks who did not join the force as graduates. Something must be done about the living conditions of policemen.
Also, there is a stereotype that the police force is a very corrupt institution, and citizens should not expect anything good from it. That is wrong. Yes, the force has a lot of issues and challenges but they are not peculiar to the police. Other paramilitary organisations also have such problems but the police relate with civilians more daily.
There are also bad policemen in the force. The police, over the years, has been weeding them out but they are still in the system. Some of them evade the disciplinary system of the police and keep rising in rank and before one knows it, they have become senior officers when they are a burden to the force. All these make people not to have confidence in the police. Members of the public do not have the needed confidence in the police and it is affecting a lot of things. If one does not have trust in the police, one would not report a crime to them, and the police would not perform optimally. Those are the issues.
What are your thoughts about the concern that some policemen were criminals and ex-convicts who found their way into the force?
That cannot be true because it is not the standard. But, I must give room for some occasional or accidental cases that might come up. Before recruitment, there is a screening process. What the law says is that the force must investigate the applicant even down to their local government and village level. The applicant should be investigated to check whether they have not been involved in any crime. What we see in reality is that some of the applicants come with fake papers. Some of them come with documents belonging to their relatives, so it increases the workload of the screening officers. But I think, by and large, the screening has been over 70 per cent effective.
Again, I have personal issues with some of the recruitment policies. When a government gives the police three months to recruit over 10,000 policemen, they lower the standard to make sure they meet up with the required figures and deadline. In those days, I know there was regular recruitment of policemen. The police colleges churned out new cadets regularly. They took them in smaller batches and trained them before releasing them to serve the public. I expect that to continue. It is not when a nation starts crying that there aren’t enough policemen, and the government directs the police to recruit a certain number. Those are some of the issues. But, since we realised that it was an issue, the force and the Police Service Commission, as far as I know, have been strict on the issue of screening.
You were mostly seen in police uniform. How would describe your style?
I would like to see myself as a very fashionable person. I have always loved fashion, even as a young boy. I could look at a person wearing a particular attire and admire that person. As a young officer, I made sure my traditional wear was made properly by tailors, well-starched and well-ironed. If you run into me at any occasion, I’m sure I won’t disappoint you. I also love smelling nice. Who wouldn’t want to smell nice? A man must take care of himself.
How do you relax?
I play golf and love to sit once in a while with friends and have a glass of juice or wine, whichever is applicable. I love egusi soup, and it is my favourite. As a young officer, I used to indulge in egusi and pounded yam. My wife knows me for that but we are getting older and can no longer indulge ourselves like that.
SOURCE : PUNCH