“I cannot say that because a container has been cleared by the Customs, whatever that is inside the container is good for the country”
Mr. Celestine Okoye is the new Commissioner of Police in charge of Western Ports of the Nigerian Ports Authourity. In this interview with Anozie Egole, he talked about his new job. He also touched on the Police and the maritime industry. Tell us about your background?My name is Celestine Okoye, Commissioner of Police. I was the CP in the Department of Operations in the Force headquarters. So I have served in a lot of commands. Notably among them is that most of my careers was in operations department. I was in charge of the Mobile Police for several years in Benin before I left. I was the Area Commander in Wukari, Assistant Commissioner; Operations in Asaba, Assistant Commissioner of Police; Operations in Imo, Kano and back to Delta again. Most of my career was operational. The last place I served before coming here was the Force headquarters were I served as the Commissioner of Police in charge of Administration. Having spent several years in operations, how do you intend to control Police in Western Ports considering the peculiarity?Yes, I will because this place is fully operational, it is a place where somebody in operation can function effectively. I have also realised that in the ports, one has to be up and doing, there is no sleeping moment coupled with this 24 hours ports operation. I even intend arranging this office in such a way that I will have one room where I can sleep, come out at night so that it will give me room for full supervision of my personnel. And that is one of the reasons for moving my office from Marina to Apapa.
What do you think your scope of work is? My responsibility is the ports; you know the acronym, the Commissioner of Police, Ports Authority, Western Command. So in all reports within the Western command I am in charge. So if you are talking about the scope, it is the Western command. I must see to it that there is enough security in all of the ports.
What is the state of security at the ports?As of now, you know I came in newly but so far, the Apapa area is secured, but not fully secured. I will have to move ahead to make sure that things are done properly. I want everybody to feel the presence of the Police and know that this place is the heart of the country. Every imported item comes through here and we have to provide security for it. And the miscreants should also know that we are not here for jokes, I want to deal with them, I am not going to leave anyone so that we can work well.
What are your plans to correct the image of the Police towards extortion especially the Western Command?In extortion, you know full well that my principle is very straight forward; if anybody is asked to give money the person can come straight to me; I operate open door policy. But we have to be very careful; the Police cannot see a criminal and leave the criminal. If materials and things that are not good for the country is cleared in the ports, you do not expect me to allow such things to enter into the market, I won’t allow it. So if I impound any and discover it is not good, I am not talking of clearing now because that is the work of the Customs. If there is anything criminal I will seize it and ensure that the person is prosecuted. I will not leave any stone unturned, I will follow it up. That police will see some containers and park it with the intention to extorting some money is not my own, if I see such thing I will deal ruthlessly with the officer that is involved. We have to understand something, if a container is cleared, that is the customs duty to do that. But that a container is carrying things that are deadly, dangerous and criminal, I can stop it; I can seize the container. The person must come and open what is inside so that we will check what is inside. And if I confirm my information, the container will go nowhere and I must make sure that the person is prosecuted. It is one of my reasons for being here; I cannot say that because a container has been cleared by the Customs, whatever that is inside the container is good for the country. The aim of bringing Police is to curtail all these excess.
What is the latest with the Police officer that was involved in the recent alleged extra judicial killing?You know that the Police officer that was involved in that incidence is not attached to Ports Authority Command. Definitely, I believe that Lagos state command is handling it because I was in touch with them and they are handling it. That is a case of murder, so the person cannot be released. Once they conclude their investigation, they will prosecute the person.
So far what would you say have been your challenges?There are lots of challenges, look at the structure where I am. I am trying to arrange the office very well, so that we can commence work. You see the way vehicles drive in here I have told them that they shouldn’t allow that. Containers are parked in this place, I won’t take it. Now I will form a strong armoury, I won’t allow anybody to come in and raid my armoury. So we must take the bull by the horn, we really need to do something. I still see security in the ports as being porous that is why I said that I will discuss with the agencies that are involved so that they can also tell us their own challenges, so that we will build it into our own plans so that we can fortify the security in the ports. As we move forward, we discover more and we put modalities in place to checkmate that.
What do you think is the role of Police in the ports?Wholesomely put, to provide security, protect lives and property in the ports. They can intercept a cleared cargo if there is sufficient information concerning the cargo. They will park it, the person will come and explain not that you have cleared it and we will accept. You don’t expect me to fold my arms and keep quiet. You see that we have Police men at the ports, criminals keep escaping but at times they are held. Snatched, stolen vehicles that have left Lagos might not be recovered by Police in Lagos, it might be recovered by officers at Benin but they are the same Police. So if in the process they have cleared a container it doesn’t mean the container cannot be stopped.
What do you have to say with cases were some policemen will stop people on the road to search their phones, laptops amongst others? That one is as par the state command level. But at times, you know this issue of searching phones and laptops to check for information, when you have a reasonable suspicion that somebody could be a criminal especially kidnapper and you stop that person the first thing you will go for is the phone. You search for information concerning victims. Information may come in that the man coming close to you might be a kidnapper. You can intercept the person check whatever he has including the phone you may end up discovering that they are kidnappers, victims of relations of a victim. That is why when we arrest a suspect we go straight to his phone to check for information. The most important thing to us is information that is why you see interceptions by the police.But at times, in the name of wanting to get these criminals, some of our boys go out of their own way. Because you telephone is your private property and you’re not supposed to go into such a property. But because of the rate of crime in the country you see us go in to check all those things. In Nigeria Police work with empty hands compared to what they do abroad. But what surprises most Nigerians is that this same Nigerian Police when they go outside; either for peace keeping or anything, they perform best, they are always regarded as the best outside the country.