I wasn’t promoted for 23 years as a policeman

I wasn’t promoted for 23 years as a policeman ••

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A retired police officer, 80-year-old Peter Ogbonmwan, tells ARUKAINO UMUKORO about his life and career

When and where were you born?

I was born on June 20, 1937 at Number One, Imasabemwen, Lane One, Uzebu quarters, Benin City, Edo State.

How was growing up in Benin City in those days?

My father was a farmer and my mother was a trader.  At the time I was born, he used to work in the water works. I am the second son of my mum’s three children. My father had more than one wife.  But life was beautiful in those days. There was a sense of communal living. As a child, one belonged to the community and not just to one’s parents. My father used to carry me on his bicycle to the farm.

How would you compare your childhood days with today?

Things are different now. Remembering my childhood brings back a feeling of nostalgia. In my days, if one offended anybody in the community they would ask, “Is this not the son of this man that did this?” Everybody knew each other. After finding out one’s background, the elders would report one to one’s parents. Thus, one was careful in those days not to do or engage in anything bad. In those days, most of us children did not wear clothes but walked around mostly naked. Also, I was not circumcised at an early age, until I was about 17 in 1954. Due to tradition and the prevalence of things such as abiku (a child born to die), it was a common practice in those days to circumcise children when they were much older because people were afraid that infants may die if circumcised. Doctors and hospitals were not available and medicine was not as advanced as they are now.

How old were you when you started school?

I started school in 1951 at the age of 14. Going to school in those days was a luxury. I spent much of my time with my father on his farm. But when my parents saw the importance of education, I was asked to start schooling. I attended St. Joseph’s Catholic Primary School, Esama, Benin City, which was far away from where we lived. I changed schools and resumed in St. Angela Catholic School Okeke, which was closer to my house. Due to my impressive performance, my age and height, I was promoted to standard one from infant one class in 1952. Then, the process was that one starts from infant one A to primary two, before proceeding to standard one. In 1955, I resumed standard six in St. Thomas Catholic School, at Ogbe, near ICC, Benin. In 1957, I went to St. Patrick Secondary Modern School, also in Ogbe. I graduated in 1959 in year three. At that time, leaving school at that stage was a big achievement. Soon after, the Catholic Missions came to the school and gave us – I and about 15 of my classmates — immediate employment as teachers.

Where were you posted to?

I was posted to St. Jude’s Catholic School in a village called Uronigbe. It was an interesting experience. From there, I was posted to St. Anthony Catholic School, and after a year, to Ekose Catholic Primary School. In 1963, I was reposted to Uronigbe, St. Charles Primary School. I taught primary four to six. During that time, I was able to pass my four ordinary level papers through Bennet College, London. I passed the qualifying test in English first before I took the examination.

In 1964, I got admission to a teacher training college but I didn’t attend. It was at the same time I saw people at a police barracks at Ring Road during a recruitment process. I went there, passed the examination after selection and was sent for training at the Police College. That was how I joined the Nigeria Police Force.

What prompted you to join the police force?

I wanted a change. But also, I became interested when I got a horrendous treatment by a policeman in a local government in Oba Market, Benin City. Then, the local government police was different from the federal police. Then, the law was that one shouldn’t ride a bicycle in the market place, but on that particular day, I was just rolling the bicycle when the officer accused me wrongly of riding it. He kicked me with his boots. I was bleeding. Despite that, he took me to the police station and I was detained. It was my father who came to beg for my release the following day after they had earlier refused him access to see me.

My father had a brother in the Force then. I felt what the police officer did to me was a disservice to me. I also felt bad that people (police officers) who were supposed to protect citizens could instead molest people like me. I made up my mind then to join the force and see how things can change.

How long did you work in the police?

I worked for 35 years in the police. I retired in December 1999. With my experience, I could have been promoted to a higher rank, but I retired as an inspector of police in Ibadan, Oyo State

Why was that so?

I rose fast in the first few years after I joined the police. I was already a corporal. Three years after, I was promoted to a sergeant. By 1978, I was already an inspector. That was when my promotion stopped coming. They said I was from (the old) Bendel State (now Edo and Delta states) and because of that, I had to wait for the northerners. My superiors said there were too many Bendel people in the Force. That was when the quota system started. Hence, each time one went for an interview for a higher rank, and was maybe among the top candidates, one wasn’t considered.

When I was doing my last interview before my retirement in 1999, I saw a copy of my promotion letter to the position of acting Assistant Superintendent of Police. It was signed by the then Commissioner of Police, Nasarawa State Command, in 1985. But it was hidden in my file for several years. I wasn’t given the position till today. The officer who saw it exclaimed, “Look at the way human beings are!” I still have the copy. When the then Inspector General of Police later saw the letter, he was angry about the incident but he said there was nothing he could do about it.

How did you feel about that?

I felt bad. And when I remember the incident, it feels like something that aches the bones. Those I recruited later became my superiors, I feel bad. I remember the father of Sergeant Rogers, his name was Mitchel. He was my course mate at the inspectorate course in Kaduna State. Some of the northerners couldn’t speak English, but we did the same course at Kaduna Police College. We answered the examination questions in English but they answered theirs in Hausa. Six years after that course, he was promoted to a superintendent, but I was not. I was kept in the same rank (inspector) for 23 years.

What rank do you think you would have been retired if the system was fair?

I really cannot say because promotion comes from God. I remember an incident in 2002, when I had retired; I had gone to receive my pension allowance and a senior police officer who was then my course mate at the police college saw me and we hugged. His name begins with O, like my surname. When he saw my salary, it was about N1, 024, he asked, “Peter, what can you do with this amount?”

I looked at him and laughed. I told him, “With this N1, 024, the trouble bigger than this has not come to me, so I am contented.” He held me and was crying. If I had been promoted to ASP in 1985, one can only imagine the rank I would have been in 1999 when I retired.

At a point, when I became the oldest inspector in the federation, I was laughed at in the police barracks. But I still met others to celebrate with them. Some officers were promoted to DSP or SP and their ranks were later reverted. Promotion in the police force was like a game. If one misbehaved, the superiors would bring one down. The quota system, as it is being applied now, seems better since when former president Olusegun Obasanjo made some reforms.

Do you regret being a police officer?

Because of my rank? No. I enjoyed every bit of my service, even though I didn’t get the promotion I deserved. I think I did my best. Throughout my over three decades of service, I only got one minor entry punishment, no major one. Again, I was never charged to court, I had no punishment. I related well with all my officers and men.

Was bribery rife in your days like it is now?

Bribery was a misnomer in my time, maybe particular because I worked for a long time, 17 years, in the force headquarters, under several IGs, about eight of them, starting from Kan Salem to Inyang. I was the one supplying them records in the record section. I enjoyed every bit of it. Then it was normal for senior officers to come to the station and share popcorn, groundnuts and suya with us while working. Even though there was no money, people were happy to work. I also learnt to depend on the little I earned. I thank God I am benefitting from it today.

What was your salary as an inspector in 1999?

I think my salary was a little less than N2, 000.

What do you think is responsible for the rate of bribery and corruption in the Force nowadays?

There are many factors. One, putting square pegs in round holes; people who were not deserving of promotion were rushed into positions of leadership because of where they came from or who they knew. People who could not carry themselves well to the admiration of people watching them were now the ones training other officers to serve. Also, getting promotion then became about whom one knew in the Force and when they did something wrong, and were reported to the same superiors who promoted them in the first place, nothing was done about it. That was another factor that brought about bribery and corruption. There were no corrective measures initially. Again, the role of orderlies to big men was bastardised. For instance, is saying ‘Good morning sir, how is madam, what can I do today?’ part of police work? Also, police officers are not well trained any more. In our days, we attended trainings. Then it was compulsory to attend at least two courses. As an officer, I was trained as a photographer, typist and stenographer. Another factor was the quality of recruits to the police. Some people couldn’t even write their names but they were recruited into the Force. Cleaners recruited were converted to supernumerary constables and to regular in a year, and they were promoted over those people who had been in the police for longer and were more qualified. Also, corruption was entrenched when officers started living above their means.  I remember when I was in the Lagos State Police Command and was overpaid by N10, 000. I returned the money.

What are you most fulfilled about?

I am glad that I put in my best everywhere I was posted. All my superiors and colleagues were happy with my work. I am also grateful for the people God has used to help me after my retirement. People like His Royal Highness, Oba of Ajiron, Oba Akinloye, and his deputy, Bakare, and others. Till date, I owe them gratitude for the noble roles they played in my life since I retired. They asked me what I would live on after I retired. I’m enjoying God’s grace in my retirement. I live a quiet life.

When did you get married?

I got married in 1969. I met my wife through my mother. She was worried that all my younger ones were getting married and I was already training their children. So, she brought a woman for me. I call it ‘marriage by posting (laughs).’ Even though I had a girlfriend at the time, I had no alternative than to marry her (my wife). I fell in love with her afterwards. She changed my lifestyle when she came and I looked inwards.

We had a beautiful union for almost 50 years. No matter how people laughed at me that I was in one rank for 23 years, the woman never looked another way. She was happy with me and supported me wholeheartedly against all odds. She was a woman any man would wish to have.

We have seven children together and several grandchildren. I’m glad all my children are graduates and doing well. My wife died in 2013. With her death, a greater part of me has gone. I miss her till today.

What do you think are the secrets of a good marriage?

Love and understanding.

You are still agile at your age….

People say this a lot. I wonder how old I should look like. But at my age, I still do basic things like house chores, sweeping the house, washing my clothes, cooking and so on. It is only now that my children employed a house help for me. They have been taking good care of me. But I enjoy doing little things to keep me agile. I exercise regularly too and ride my bicycle. I enjoy eating fruits too.


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