Olufemi Ajisafe, a 65-year-old retired Assistant Superintendent of Police, speaks to TOLUWALOPE KAREEM about his experience and regrets in the Nigeria Police Force
What kind of childhood did you have?
I came from a poor background; my father was a bicycle repairer, and my mother was a petty trader. When I was in school, I wasn’t even privileged to go further in my education. I came down from Ikole-Ekiti to Lagos to work as a factory worker. I was later laid off, and that was what prompted me to become a policeman.
I attended St. Saviors African Primary School, now known as our Savior Primary School, between 1963 and 1970. I attended St. Michael Anglican Modern School from 1971 to 1972; then I went to Egbe-Oba High School from 1973 to 1977, all in Ikole-Ekiti. When I finished my secondary school I went to work as an apprentice, then I came down to Lagos and worked with Bata Nigeria Limited.
You said it was after you were laid off as a factory worker that you joined the police. Why was police the option for you then; was it something you’ve always loved?
Not at all, it was joblessness that made me join the Force. I was working at Bata Nigeria Limited in Ojota, Lagos, but we were laid off from the job in December 1980; by January 1980, I became jobless. One day I went to the bank to withdraw the little money I had when I met a classmate, Samson Akinyemi, who worked in Wema Bank Ikeja branch back then. He was a policeman who was guarding the bank. We had a discussion and I told him that I had just been laid off from my place of work. He asked me to come and join the Police Force. I listened to him, I went for recruitment and I was enlisted on February 1, 1981.
In July 1981, I was posted to Ondo State and later to D Division Oke-Aro Akure. I was there till 1982 when I joined the Mobile Police Force in Lagos. From Mobile Police Force, I was posted to the Lagos State Command again in 1985. And that was when I started working at main police stations and I started getting promotions until I got to the rank of an Inspector. I became an Inspector after 19 years in the Force.
Having joined the police out of joblessness, did you later develop a passion for the job?
Joining the force wasn’t as a result of passion; it was because of my situation. When you are jobless and someone offers you a job, once you are fit and capable of doing the job, you have no option but to do it. The day I went to the bank, I had gone to withdraw a sum of N20 from the little money I had saved; if I hadn’t joined the Force, I would have ended up withdrawing everything and be left with nothing.
What were some of your memorable times in the police?
When I was eight years on the job and I had not got a promotion, some of my mates were already sergeants, corporals, and constables. But I was promoted to the rank of corporal later because of my performance and I later became a sergeant. Suddenly again, after some gallantry performance I was promoted to an Inspector even before some of the people who were promoted to sergeant and corporal before me. These were some of my most cherished moments in the Force.
Did you have any sad or regrettable moments?
Ordinarily, I would never have regretted working in the Nigeria Police Force, but what the police did to me was bad. Policing is a very nice job if things are done the way they are supposed to be done, just like the way we were trained in 1981; we were well trained and told not to be corrupt, rather, to be disciplined and honest. But when we started the job, we saw that the police are corrupt right from the top. When your senior colleagues send you on patrol, whether vehicular or foot, the junior ones would go out and make money and give to senior colleagues and up till now it’s still bad. I have regrets working in the Nigeria Police Force.
What exactly did you do or was done to you?
It is a very long story; I was posted to Area H in Ogudu; before then in 1996, I was a sergeant and I had misplaced my ID card and I went to the police station at Ebute-Metta to report that I had misplaced my ID card. I was given a proof to show that I misplaced my ID card and I had reported it. I also went to the court to swear to an affidavit that I had misplaced my ID card; then I went to the Force headquarters to report as well and request for another ID card. I was issued another ID, indicating my sergeant rank at the time.
Six years after misplacing the ID, in 2001, I was promoted to an Inspector. One day, I was radioed on my walkie talkie and asked to report to the station at Area H Ogudu. When I got there, I met the area commander and some people with him. The area commander told me that the people with him were policemen from Eleweran police station, Abeokuta, Ogun State. He said my missing ID card was used in a robbery operation at Ogere tollgate. I told them that I lost the ID card about six years before. The area commander asked me to go with the policemen to Abeokuta to make a statement. I followed them and made my statement. I told them that I was an Inspector and no longer a sergeant, which was the rank on my missing ID card. I added that I had documents that prove my story and that the ID card that was given to me as a replacement was returned to the police headquarters after I was promoted to Inspector.
But they said I was going to be detained. The following day, they handcuffed me and took me to my house for a search. They ransacked my house and I brought out the documents, asked my wife to make photocopies of all the documents and gave them copies to show them as proof. But I was taken back to the police station and detained.
After a month in detention at Eleweran, Abeokuta, I asked them why I was still being detained; then they then demanded a bribe of N100, 000. That is the worst thing that ever happened to me in my life; that is why the police remain the most corrupt organisation in Nigeria. I told them that I was in the system, that I was a serving police officer, yet they insisted I must pay them N100,000 because someone used my lost identity card to commit a crime. Then I asked them to show me the old ID card, but they said they weren’t going to show me; and up till today, they never showed me the ID card.
What I later found out was that the number on the ID card found at the robbery scene was different from the number on my misplaced ID card. My number was 109-266 while the other one was 124-311. It was just the name, Olufemi Ojisafe, and the rank of sergeant that was the same.
Despite seeing my cash book and seeing that the balance in my bank account was N18, 600, they were still demanding N100,000 from me. Where did they want me to get N100,000? And even if I did have such an amount, I wasn’t going to give them because I did nothing wrong. They did four different identification parades, they asked the people who were robbed to identify those who robbed them, but I was not indicted by anyone.
After spending two months in detention, I wrote a petition to the then Inspector-General of Police, Musiliu Smith, and copied the Commissioner of Police in Ogun State, Ekpo Udo. When they learnt that I had written a petition, they thought it could be dangerous for them, so, the next thing they did was to bring in crime fighters, who paraded criminals then on NTA, LTV and so. So, they paraded me as an armed robber and constantly showed me on television every week for three months. They said I was an Inspector of police who specialised in hijacking vehicles on the highway by using my ID card; this went on for three months and the whole world watched it.
After spending 102 days in detention at Eleweran, I was charged to court for conspiracy, armed robbery and unlawful possession of firearms. The matter was before justice Bode Shodipe, and the police told the judge to convict me at all costs. But as God would have it, when I was in detention at Eleweran, there was a student union leader, Tajudeen, who was also detained. In the cell, some of the boys wanted to beat him, but I protected him. The boy and I got talking and he asked me why I was in detention and I explained to him. He told me that he would be taken to court the next day and that he would be meeting with a human right activist. He promised to discuss my case with the activist.
Incidentally, the student union leader was released that same day he went to court and he came back to see me and took my case to the National Aids Control Organisation, headed by Mr Gbenga Sesan. Later, Mr Gbenga came to visit me in prison and I told him everything that happened.
He told me he would go and investigate. When he went to speak to the police, they told him that I was rude, that I did not cooperate with them but they denied asking me to pay a bribe. When he asked them for the ID card used in the operation, they couldn’t provide it. He asked if I was indicted during the identification parade but they said I was not. He then asked why they had to charge me to court. They said it was an order from above; they said since they had paraded me on crime fighter, they had no other option but to take me to court.
How was the case resolved eventually?
The human rights activist hired a lawyer for me. I was arrested on November 10, 2001; I was arraigned in court on January 23, 2002 and I was discharged and acquitted on July 24, 2004. The ordeal lasted three years and during that period I was not paid my salary.
In the Force, an Inspector of police who is under investigation should be paid half salary until the case is settled; if he is innocent he will be paid his arrears. I was not paid the half salary or the arrears after I was released. They continued holding onto my salary and leave bonuses for more than a year. They only resumed paying me my salary the day I was reinstated.
How did your family take all of this?
There was nothing they could do; I was a member of a club called “The Ikole Club’’. It was the club and my other friends that helped my family. Relatives, especially from my mother’s side, also helped. They never saw me as a thief and they believed me. One of my friends, Emmanuel Adeyemo, and human rights activists helped me and my family. Whatever I needed in the prison they provided; they hired a lawyer for me and also paid him. The worst part of it was that the state counsel who prosecuted the case was inhuman; she continued to drag my case after she realised that there was no way they could win.
With what you went through as a policeman, how do you think the police can be reformed?
Nothing can change in the Nigeria Police Force; as long as there is a vehicle for police patrol, and there is no money for fuel and maintenance, they’ll definitely look for ways to make money. Not that the government doesn’t provide money for these, but the money is being shared among the superiors while the junior ones rot away. If a DPO oversees three departments, all the departments must bring returns every weekend. Out of the returns, he will give to the area commander, he also has to give to the Commissioner of Police, Deputy Commissioner of Police, and Assistant Commissioner of Police, SOS. This is money extorted from members of the public.
Source: The PUNCH