The Police Equipment Fund Scandal – by Reuben Abati

No Comments » February 3rd, 2008 posted by // Categories: The Best of Reuben Abati's Editorials



 

GUARDIAN

Sunday, February 03, 2008              

The Police Equipment Fund Scandal
By Reuben Abati

A FRIEND told the story of how on a certain occasion, armed robbers had laid siege on the Estate where he lives. The hoodlums moved from house to house wreaking havoc and robbing innocent persons of their lives and property. One of the neighbours who lived to tell the story put a call across to the police in utter distress, to ask for help.

“Calm down, can you give us the address?”, the policeman at the other end, had asked. Help, it seemed, would be on its way at last. But the policeman asked yet another question.

“Oga, please can you tell me the kind of gun that the robbers are using?”

“How am I supposed to know the type of gun armed robbers are using and what has that got to do with your coming to help us?”

“Everything. I beg. It has everything to do with it.”, said the policeman. He then implored the caller to place his phone slightly out of the window so he could transmit the sound of the gunshots, which continued to reverberate through the night. The confounded SOS caller did as instructed.

“Okay. Okay”, the policeman later said furtively.

But the robbers continued with their evil operation for more than three hours. No police van showed up. The truth is that the security situation in Nigeria is compounded by the fact that the same policemen who have been recruited and mandated to protect lives and property are wont to take to their heels the moment their attention is drawn to an armed robbery incident. Similarly, Nigerian policemen run away from other criminals, preferring instead to limit their operations to safe activities such as the harassment and intimidation of hapless persons.

The explanation for this resort to cowardice as a rule of engagement is that armed robbers are better equipped than the average Nigerian policeman. Many of our policemen are carrying old rifles, whereas the armed robbers boast of superior fire-power. The sound of the robbers’ gun alone could make policemen scamper for safety. This was the case a fortnight ago when armed robbers struck around Toyota bus stop, a shouting distance from Rutam House, the home of The Guardian newspapers. The hoodlums took over the expressway and shot persistently into the air.

As is often the case under such circumstances, people fled in all directions. Policemen pulled off their uniforms and rushed into companies in the neighbourhood, to beg for protection. People obliged the fleeing policemen because somehow the Nigerian public has come to accept the police establishment as one of the big jokes in Nigerian life and society. Our policemen have no communication equipment. They do not have enough vehicles. Often when people ask the police to come to their rescue, they could be told that there is no vehicle in the station or that the caller should arrange transportation for them.

Most of the police stations in the country were built around the middle of the last century, and they have also become terribly inadequate. Policemen across the nation, are holed up in a devil’s slum known as police barracks, where there are no facilities that can guarantee decent living. Their take home pay is paltry, conditions of service are poor and salaries are never paid on time. In desperation, policemen earn their keep by extorting money from the public. They do so with such impunity which members of the public have also accepted. Motorists set aside “money for the police” the moment they get onto the roads. Some policemen were once invited to arrest a man who had assaulted and brutalised a neighbour.

They met the fellow having a meal when they got to his place. Their first task was to join the man at lunch; they actually settled down to eat and rendered the plate empty. The issue of assault came up subsequently, almost as an aside. The man who had been beaten black and blue wouldn’t dare complain. Justice at the police station and with policemen is for sale. Far more frustrated policemen often turn their guns on the people. Police brutality remains a major issue in Nigeria. The problem with the Nigerian police is the continuing theme of many books and reports, the latest perhaps being Taiwo Kupolati’s Remaking The Police: A Kaleidoscopic Inquisition (Lagos, 2007, 606 pp.)

Nonetheless, Nigerians continue to nurse the hope that the Nigeria Police Force, despite all its imperfections could be rescued and made to serve its constitutional purpose. To this end, there has developed, in recent times, a culture of private support for the funding and equipping of the police. People buy vehicles for police stations, communities and private sector organisations raise funds for the police sometimes out of their own volition, at other times, they are blackmailed to do so. The mobilisation of private support for police funding is in itself a problem. It compromises the integrity of the police. When persons and institutions that may be investigated later by the same police directly on their own fund the institution, could there not arise a conflict of interest? There are police stations in this country that are kept going on the fuel of private goodwill. This speaks to the failure of government to provide adequately for the police and to tackle the national security challenge more seriously.

But no other case demonstrates the dangers of private funding of the police than the scandal that has now been reported in relation to the Presidential Committee on Police Equipment Fund, which was set up by the Obsanjo administration in 2006. All the details are sordid. They point further to the abuse of power that characterised the Obasanjo administration. The Police Equipment Fund was a scam from the outset. Three persons: Godson Ewulum, Joseph Agharite and Ibrahim Dumuje reportedly had a brain wave about what could be done to help the Nigerian police so they drew up a proposal on a Police Equipment Fund.

But not knowing how to get this accepted by government, they turned to Kenny Martins, Obasanjo’s former brother-in-law and a self-styled man of influence. Martins took over the matter, presented it to his in-law and pronto, a Presidential Committee Police Equipment Fund was set up. This scandal provides useful insight into how certain policies were introduced under President Obasanjo. It will be recalled that when an Austrian company M. Schneider wanted to win contracts in Nigeria, it had to enlist the participation of Dr Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello, the President’s daughter. And everything went well with their deal-making until there were disagreements over the ownership and control of the business.

The reason the police equipment scandal has also become public knowledge is because of disagreements among the original promoters of the idea: Godson Ewulum, Joseph Agharite, Ibrahim Dumuje, and Kenny Martins. Much of what is known has been thrown at the public by Godson Ewulum. He feels that his other colleagues, Dumuje and particularly Kenny Martins who used family influence to secure Presidential approval for the idea, have short-changed him in the management of the huge wealth at the disposal of the Police Equipment Fund. If Ewulum had been carried along and given his due, I doubt if he would have raised any alarm.

Soon after the Police Equipment Fund was established, local councils across the federation, 774 of them were forced by the Presidency to contribute 7.8 million each to the Fund and the money was deducted at source from the Federation Account, a completely illegal seizure of local council funds. State governments, companies and other institutions also contributed generously to the fund. In 2007, the Fund also took a loan of about $100 million from the US Exim-Bank and another N50 million loan from First Inland Bank. There were also donations from the Chinese government. Soon enough, the Police Equipment Fund had at its disposal a capital base of about N50 billion.

If this amount had been used to improve the welfare of Nigerian policemen, much could have been achieved. But then events moved swiftly. Kenny Martins allegedly turned himself into the main co-ordinator of the fund, Then in due course, he registered the Fund as a Non-Governmental Organisation and created a Police Equipment Foundation. This brazen diversion of the assets of the Presidential Committee on Police Equipment Fund is curious. Ewulum is asking for a probe of the management of the Fund, including where interests on monies kept in the banks are, and how the resources of the Fund have been disbursed. In the past few weeks, the public has been fed with utterly salacious details. According to one report, under the watch of Kenny Martins, N5 billion out of the police fund was spent on the purchase of luxury cars which were handed out as gifts to influential individuals and government agencies. The cars were bought at inflated price and without due process. Another hefty sum of N202.6 million was allegedly spent on a so-called pre-launch dinner. Members of the House of Representatives are angry. The House Committee on Public Petitions is conducting an inquiry into the management and conversion of the Fund.

President Yar’Adua should also take an interest in the matter. Long before Godson Ewulum went to the House of Representatives with his petition, other members of the original Presidential committee had also raised objections about how the Fund was being managed. The present Senate President, David Mark, then the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Police Affiars was said to have complained. But his observations were ignored as were those of others, because we could safely assume, President Obasanjo was in power and his “untouchable” brother-in-law Kenny Martins was the one in charge of the Police Equipment Fund.

The Yar’Adua government must not abdicate its responsibility in ensuring that the N50 billion is accounted for. The individuals who collected car gifts from the Fund should be asked to return them with immediate effect. And this should include the Yar’Adua Campaign Organisation which received 15 cars from the Fund! Kenny Martins is the man at the centre of this storm. So far, his responses to all the allegations levelled against him have been at most contradictory and specious. He and his agents and collaborators should be talking to the police. The EFCC also has a job to do here. Those who donated to the Police Equipment Fund did so as an expression of Corporate Social Responsibility in the honest expectation that the Fund will be used for its advertised purpose. But now, what we are faced with is a case of “obtaining money under false pretence.”

If former President Obasnajo wanted to help his brother-in-law he could have found some other appointment for him instead of allowing him to mismanage the Police Equipment Fund. The same Obasanjo had returned the gift of two BMW cars that were sent to him as his own share of the largesse. This means he knew something was wrong with the management of the fund, and yet he did not respond to all the petitions that asked for a probe. This scandal is yet another explosive and embarrassing revelation from the Obasanjo past.

Reading these stories, the average policeman must be seething with anger. What has been done is like stealing from the dead. Political and family connections have been used to defraud society. The security of the lives of over 140 million Nigerians has been compromised. Rather than buy guns and bullet-proof vests for policemen, they were busy buying luxury cars and throwing lavish dinners! The last time anyone checked, policemen were still complaining about being poorly equipped, being poorly paid and being treated unfairly by the state which nevertheless expects so much from them. Lives could have been saved if the N50 billion had been well-managed. This just shows how callous and wicked some Nigerians could be.

But apart from the investigation of the Police Equipment Fund, the appropriate authorities must also begin to ask questions and provide answers to the conundrum of how the police is perpetually cash-strapped. The police receives its due allocations to cover its expenditure. How is this disbursed? Is anyone diverting police resources? These are questions that should be answered. To reduce the Nigeria Police Force to an organisation perpetually living off charity is unconscionable. This is certainly not how to ensure the safety of lives and property in Nigeria.

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