In this interview with EMMANUEL OJO, the Police Public Relations Officer in Lagos, Benjamin Hundeyin, speaks on the measure taken by the police authorities to address the case of a group of policemen caught on camera drinking beer at a relaxation spot while in uniform during the festive season
There was a recent report about some policemen who were seen drinking at a spot in their police outfit. How do you react that as the image-maker of the police?
I don’t have anything to say about that because we have taken our decision. You can’t tell me you didn’t see the follow-up story, that all the officers have been transferred out.
Yes, I did, but…
So, what do you want me to say again? You want me to keep repeating myself so that there will be some discrepancies and you’ll have something to write, to say contrary to his earlier claim or something? I’m not talking about it again, sir. It’s been concluded.
I’m up-to-date on the issue and the follow-up story that the officers have been transferred to other stations. But was that transfer a form of punishment for the officers caught drinking beer on duty?
Well, it’s left for you people to analyse and decide. That’s the decision that we have taken and if it doesn’t yield any result, we will add another measure to it but that’s what we are doing for now.
What do you say to those who say transferring the officers is not enough measure to deal with the case? Don’t you think that the officers could continue with the habit of drinking on duty at their new locations they’ve been transferred to?
Listen to me, the decision to transfer these people (policemen) out was taken on December 25 after a lawyer was killed. At that time, there was nothing like some policemen were seen drinking alcohol. Alcohol was not an issue then. So, nobody should make it seem like they were transferred because they were caught drinking alcohol. So, if they go to a new place, they will continue to drink alcohol! Our (decision to) transfer (them) had nothing to do with alcohol. The transfer has to do with two (extrajudicial) killings within one month. So, it was to transfer everybody out because there were allegations from the community. People in the community around said they (the officers) had overstayed. That was what they told us when they came to see the Commissioner of Police. They said they (the policemen) had overstayed and that they now mingle with bad boys in the area and they don’t even do their work effectively.
(We said,) “Okay, fine, if they are mingling with bad boys, let’s scatter them around Lagos and bring people who don’t know the bad boys in Ajah, who will be able to do their jobs.”
So, talking about alcohol, it wasn’t because of alcohol that we transferred them. If any of them who takes alcohol, for instance, goes to Somolu, he will still take alcohol; if he goes to Ajangbadi, he will still take alcohol. So, the transfer is not because of that; because if you say you are transferring him because of alcohol, it’s not the solution, definitely not the solution.
For anyone that is taking alcohol, it is left for his DPO to identify him and punish him accordingly. The DPO is not a small boy. A DPO is a senior officer who is saddled with the responsibility of maintaining discipline among his boys and that’s why the DPO in Ajah dismantled all the shanties that were there, as a way of making sure that his boys don’t drink while on duty and after then, if they still find a way of getting drunk, they will be punished accordingly.
Talking generally now, are there rules or policies in the Police Force that deal with officers who drink while on duty?
Oga, you are a journalist. Go to Google and download the Police Act. Download it and you will see what it says about disciplinary matters and the things that constitute disciplinary matters. But to answer your question, maybe alcohol or drinking may not be exactly stated but whatever is unprofessional is punishable.
So, there is no specific punishment for a policeman caught drinking alcohol while on duty in the police uniform?
You don’t unilaterally give punishment. This is not military tribunal. Even within the police, you’ll still be made to go through what is called orderly room trial. You will still go through trial. There will be an adjudicating officer. Your offence will be read to you and you’ll be asked to defend yourself and tell us why you should not be punished and all of that. So, all of that will be done. Even in the court of law, your defence, your argument could either mitigate your punishment or when they see that you are not remorseful, it could actually increase your punishment and all that. So, I can’t give you any fixed thing but it’s a punishable offence and it (the punishment) could range from suspension to dismissal, to deduction in ranks. It all depends on the outcome of the trial.
Is there any plan by the police authorities to retrain or rehabilitate those errant officers?
Rehabilitation! Do we have any chronic issue like that?
By rehabilitation, I mean weaning these drinking officers off their wrong habits, so they can uphold their professional ethics.
You are making it sound like they are drug addicts and that they are permanently impaired and incapable of carrying out their duties. No! Don’t paint such a gloomy picture. It’s not like they are permanently impaired and they are addicts, but all the same, the new DPOs who are receiving these people have the mandate to observe them and see if they are behaving right. If anyone of them is not behaving right, appropriate steps will be taken.
Policemen are also humans, like every other person. What would you say is the acceptable way for a policeman to celebrate or make merry during the festive season?
Wait! Are you bringing Owerri issue into this? So, which one is how to celebrate? I don’t understand your context.
What I am saying is that, in a festive season like this, are there ways in which a policeman can celebrate, like any other human being, without flouting their work ethics?
I don’t know exactly what you are driving at but what I know is that when you are on duty, you need to be professional all the way. Anything that is not professional while on duty, either during celebration period or not, it’s unprofessional and should be treated as such.
You don’t expect me to be in uniform and be dancing. You don’t expect me to carry a riffle and be jumping up and down, that’s what I’m saying. So, whether December or not, whether New Year or not, when you are in uniforms, you comport yourself and act right. When you are out of uniform, anything you like, you do with your life.
In some professions, especially as it relates to protection of lives and safety, an officer is required to uphold professional ethics, both on and off duty, because some activities carried out when one is off duty can linger beyond then. What’s the stance of the Nigeria Police Force on the drinking of alcohol?
Oga! When I’m off duty, I am inside my house with my family, I can take as much alcohol as I want. It has not impaired my police duties. I am off duty and I am not at that point doing any police duty. I can take as much alcohol as I want. As long as I don’t go and fall inside a gutter on the street such that people will identify me, saying, “That’s a policeman in the gutter”. Even the policemen that were caught taking alcohol, they were not behaving erratically, they were not misbehaving. Yes, there was a tendency that they could misbehave because they were drunk but at the point when your colleague, Dayo Oyewo, took their pictures, they were not misbehaving. They were just drinking and they were drunk and that’s what makes it unprofessional, they were in uniforms but if they took same amount of alcohol while they are off duty, while in mufti, it has not constituted an offence, they have not committed an offence. They have not misbehaved, they have not assaulted anybody, they have not extorted (money from) anybody, they are just drinking. Anybody can drink. Police work is not slavery, anybody can drink.
But do policemen have such free time that they can be at home with their family to unwind and drink if they wish? Are policemen not really busy?
No, I won’t answer that question. Go and talk to policemen and find out for yourself. Dayo, your colleague, was able to take pictures without the policemen knowing, fine. (You should) also try to monitor some police officers. See when they resume and see when they leave and you will be able to tell if they worked 12 hours or they worked 24 hours but I’m not answering the question of routine and all that.
Like every other civil servant, we go on casual leave, we go on annual leave, we go on medical leave, we go on sick leave, we go on study leave. We are entitled to all the leaves, too, so, I don’t know exactly what you’re driving at.
I will say that you should download the Police Act. We don’t use the word drunkenness but whatever is an unprofessional behaviour is punishable and it will be punished and like you asked me, what the specific punishment will be and I told you that it depends on the specific outcome of the orderly room trial, which will range from suspension to deduction in rank, to dismissal.
There have been too many reports of extrajudicial killings by policemen, some of which people believe are influenced by alcoholism among policemen. Are the police authorities really concerned about this sad trend and what specific measures are being put in place to stop this menace?
Anybody that commits an offence will be punished. The first Inspector that killed on December 6 is still in detention as I speak to you. The second one is in Ikoyi Prison. So, all these punishments are deterrence to others and that’s what the law states and that’s what we will continue to go by.