By Augustine Ehikioya
Police officials in the habit of extorting money from the public in Bayelsa State have been warned to desist from such act.
If caught extorting or involved in any other form of corruption, they would have themselves to blame as severe punishment awaits them.
This warning was handed down by the Commissioner of Police in Bayelsa State, CP Ben Okolo.
He spoke in an exclusive interview with Security Watch Africa (SWA).
According to him, the Bayelsa State Police Command has Zero-Tolerance for extortion and corruption.
He said “I have taken a cue from the position of IGP on zero – tolerance for extortion, corruption, whether at the police station, State CID, whether by investigators or by our operatives on the roads. Taking that cue from there, we have worked hard to ensure that our men we deploy for duties are doing professionally what they should do.
“We have done that by giving them lectures, appropriate lectures, and it is a continuous process. We will continue to do that.”
When told that motorists complain that policemen on the roads extort money in the name of making returns to their senior officers, he said, “That is a complete lie, it is unimaginable that a senior officer of a DPO calibre will expect that people will go to the road and extort money and bring to him.
“That is unthinkable. Perhaps those who engage in such behaviour, may be to do some justification, will probably allege and what they say are not true. I have been here for barely 2 months and I have not gotten such report and we have kept telling them that we will commence serious enforcement and if you are caught, severe sanctions will be meted to you.
“So, anybody who is doing that and he is claiming he is giving anybody money is telling a lot of lies. So, that is the truth.”
He gave reasons why there were many road blocks by the various security agencies on East / West road.
The road blocks, he said, have been streamlined while security personnel have been made to be more professional on the road.
“At inception, when I assumed duty, I discovered that between the stretch of Bayelsa State on the East / West road, we had several road blocks manned by a lot of security agencies.
“But what we have done is to streamline and reduce the number to a manageable level. If you recall before my inception, some months back there used to be kidnappings on that road. So, perhaps that was what necessitated the increase in number of visibility policing on that road.
“But now that it has been brought to a manageable level or non-existence again, we have reviewed that strategy and ensured that the number is reduced. Meanwhile, we have equally ensured that they are professorial on that road.
“On the issue of human rights, we are doing lectures, we are doing briefings to inform the people that the only way we can be people – friendly is to observe people’s rights. So, even a criminal has rights and should be treated with dignity. We’ve been professional in handling suspects. That is the position,” the CP added.
He also denied the report of subsisting curfew in Yenegoa from 7pm.
“There is no curfew in Yenegoa metropolis. But if you recall during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Federal Govt took some measures along the line of the Protocol to ensure that the entire country is safeguarded.
“So, the policy of putting curfew at entry and exit points of Bayelsa State was enforced and has remained enforced since the pandemic.
“And now that you have this variant, Omicron, coupled with the Yuletide period and expected upsurge in influx of people and criminal activities, the government of Bayelsa State reminded residents and visitors that that curfew in place is still in place. It starts by 10pm, but it is for entry points. Life goes on within the metropolis of Yenegoa,” he said.
He commended the IGP’s open door policy and his leadership style to officers in the area, being his former terrain.
The CP said “The IGP’s leadership style that I see is something that is commendable and should be emulated. He is easily accessable and he gives the requisite.
“Being experienced as a field officer, he understands the technicalities of all operations and all that. And he carries officers along, like presently, there is some technical hitches about salaries and all that, he is quick in explaining that, this is why this is happening.
“So, in every stage, and every stage we get to, he calls officers and tells officers this is the way forward, these are challenges that we have. So, he is doing open door policy. It is not when you do something like, maybe a voodoo arrangement, nobody knows what’s going on, etc.
“The operations are open for everybody to see and he is easily accessable. If you need any assistance, if you need any guidance, and one dials the IGP’s phone, he will respond and able to solve whatever problem you want him to solve for you.”
On what he wants from Bayelsans towards helping him and his men to police the State, he said “Primarily, I will say that first, thank you to all Bayelsans. Thank you particularly to the government of Bayelsa State. And I want to use this opportunity to appreciate my colleagues who are working day and night to ensure that the Command succeeds.
“I will also want to thank other security agencies who are collaborating, and synergizing with us. Then for members of the public, I will equally say thank you, to a large extent, I see their good intentions in offering information and giving us feedback in areas that we need to do improvement.
“So what I will say, is that Bayelsa State is safe and we will continue to work to make it safe for all of us. Even though I am not from this State, but I am a Bayelsan now as long as I stay here.
“And it is to assure all of us that, as long as we are here and we will work with the stakeholders, work with the State government to ensure that Bayelsans will sleep with their two eyes closed. That is the promise we are making. They will support us, I know they are supporting the government.” he said.
He also declared that Bayelsa State is unsafe for trouble makers.
The CP advised them to change their vocation and embrace peace.
He said “Primarily, I will say that this State is not safe for any trouble maker. Some father have good children and bad children and my advice for that person that has taken that other way is to change his ways.
“We will continue to do advocacy and do enforcement. We will do Kinetic and non-kinetic. This place is not safe for troublemakers.”
He expressed confidence that Bayelsa State has more good people than the bad ones.
“There are more good people here. 99% of people in this State are good. Maybe, its one percent, coming from outside, or maybe a few within, that want to create problem. The ones here will not allow it.
“But we have set up a good feedback system, getting information from youth groups, from traditional rulers, from volunteers, vigilantes, and so on and so forth. So the State is not safe for troublemakers. So, we advice them to change their vocation and live peacefully with all the people.”
On how helpful his course at the National Defence College is assisting to police the State, he said “It has been very very useful because the critical thing is to train you as a strategic leader, and to train you not only as a strategic leader, but as a leader who is able to manage men and material, and be able to work with other security agencies at this level.
“So, it has been a wonderful experience and I think that every Police officer, at this level, should be given that opportunity to gain this experience.”