The police have traditionally been regarded as men’s profession. In the Nigeria Police, no woman had held the post of national spokesman since the unification of the various municipal and regional police organisations to form the national police in the 1960s, until August 28 last year. That was when Olabisi Kolawole was appointed Force Public Relations Officer by Inspector General of Police Solomon Arase. How does it feel to be Nigeria’s first female FPRO, to manage the image of an organisation dominated by men? Yemi Akinsuyi, in this report, brings focus to the experiences of Kolawole
Force Public Relations Officer Olabisi Alofe-Kolawole enjoys helping vulnerable members of society. In her younger days she worked with groups dedicated to defending the defenceless, a field traditionally believed to be men’s forte. She transformed her hobby into a profession, when she enlisted in the Nigeria Police.
“I guess I didn’t think of gender when I was applying for the job,” she says, “but I know that when I was younger I liked to assist people and most especially the vulnerable people in the society. I will always volunteer and make myself available and ready to join any group that was set to go out to render help to other people, be it in the church or any community I found myself.
“So when the form for enlistment into the police came out, and knowing that I had all the requirements, I went in for it with the mind-set of having the opportunity to support people as a police officer.”
Kolawole says. “After joining the police, I realised that gender is never an issue even from our training at the police academy to the work we do in the field. Female officers have been doing the same work, just like our male counterparts.”
Gender may not be a big issue in the Nigeria Police, but the chief internal security organisation did not have a female spokesperson since its inception about 50 years ago, until the coming of Kolawole on August 28 last year. She took over from Mr. Emmanuel Ojukwu, who was redeployed to Kogi State as Commissioner of Police.
As if everlastingly destined for a perfect union of passion and profession, Kolawole’s caring passions came to light when on October 13, 2014 she was appointed Force Gender Adviser by then acting IGP Suleiman Abba to head the reconstituted Force Gender Unit. Her job was to, among others, try to stem the tide of violence against women and girls in the country and consolidate the gains made by the Nigeria Police in that regard.
The Force Gender Unit was also tasked with ensuring the implementation of a robust capacity building plan for officers in gender-related issues; inclusion of gender training in Nigeria Police curriculum at all levels; establishment of gender desks in police formations nationwide; and enhancement of the existing collaboration with other stakeholders in the area of gender equality.
As FPRO, Kolawole, an Assistant Commissioner of Police, says her greatest goal is to change the negative image of the police and remain committed to professionalism.
She says, “Our duty as police officers revolves around the perceptions that the public have of the police. My greatest goal is to change that negative perception to a positive one, and how do we do this?
“We need to change our attitudes as police officers and try to drive in our opinions through persuasion. When the public notice that the police have changed, gradually, they will start to change their attitude towards the police.”
According to her, “Fortunately, this is what the police regime under the leadership of IGP Solomon Arase is advocating. He has put a lot of mechanisms in place to change the narrative of the police from one that has been seen as unfriendly for a period of time to one that is friendly, that will carry out their duties professionally, and that has respect for the public and the rule of law.
“The feedback we are receiving from the public indicates that they are noticing dramatic change in the attitude of our police.”
Kolawole has a word of advice for women desiring to excel in the Nigeria Police.
“My advice is that they should be focused, they should be dedicated officers and professional in carrying out their assignments,” she says, adding, “one good news for them is that now we have officers at the helm of affairs that are gender sensitive, omen are gradually being recognised. Therefore, with hard work and prayers they can reach anywhere they want.”
Kolawole studied Law at the Ogun State University and graduated with a Bachelor of Law degree (LL.B) in 2000. She attended the Nigeria Law School and was called to the Nigerian Bar in 2002. She also has a Master’s degree in Police Leadership and Management (PLM) from the University of Leicester, United Kingdom.
The FPRO had held several positions in the Nigeria Police, including legal adviser, administration officer, and intelligence officer. At the international level, she served in the United Nations missions in East-Timor (2000), Kosovo (2004), Liberia (2006), and the UN headquarters in New York (2007).
She is a member of the pool of investigators assisting the office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague in the investigations of sexual and gender-based violence as international crimes.
Kolawole has attended several professional police courses within and outside Nigeria. They include Standing Police Capacity Training at the National Police Institute, Bramshil, London, in 2007; Counter Terrorism Studies at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, United Kingdom, in 2008; POC/Sexual and Gender Based Violence Course at COESPU in Vicenza, Italy, in 2013; and investigating cases of sexual and gender-based violence as international crimes at the Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption Centre, Doha, Qatar, in 2013.
Others are the Protection of Civilian Train of Trainers course, National Defence College, Abuja, 2014; Policy, Strategy and Leadership Course, National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPPS), Jos 2014; Tactical Leadership and Command Course (TLCC), Police Staff College, Jos, 2014; and Public Relations Course, Public Service Institute, Abuja, 2015.
Kolawole belongs to several professional organisations, including the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), International Association of Women Police (IAWP), International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), and United Nations Women Police Network.
She says, “At the end of my tenure, I would like to be remembered as an officer who did her work professionally, who had respect for human rights and the rule of law, and who related with everyone she came across with humility.”