His appearance belies his doggedness and courage. With a lingering smile playing on his lips and a twinkle in his eyeballs, he will pass as an average Nigerian. He doesn’t have the highly defined muscles, a sizzling six-pack, and the mannerism of Hollywood-themed super-cop but the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Imohimi Edgal, is reputed for his fast-paced, crime-bursting skills and feats. Loved by law-abiding citizens and hated by criminals that bedevil the state, Edgal has remained undaunted in his resolve to make the Nigeria Police Force the best ally residents can think of in fighting crime to the finish. Yet, the police commissioner is human. In this interview with Jonathan Eze, the unassuming and dedicated police officer talks about his personal, family safety in the line of duty, police’s face-off with the Badoo gang, why and how he became a policeman
Can you tell us about your background?
I am from Eme-Ora, Edo State. My dad, late S.F Edgal, was an educationist. He was the principal of Government College Ughelli. Thereafter, he worked in the Ministry of Education in the old Bendel State. He retired as commissioner, special duties, Governor’s Office. I grew up in a good neighbourhood because the senior civil servants lived in the Government Reserved Areas (GRAs). I grew up at Boundary Road, Benin City, Edo State. My mother is still alive and strong. I attended Ebenezer Nursery and Primary School in GRA Benin.
When we were growing up, we were instructed on civic education. Thereafter, I proceeded to Federal Government College, Warri – it was one of the best schools in the country. The school fostered unity as the students were from various parts of the country – most those students are still my friend. I went to the University of Jos where I obtained a first degree in History. Later, I got a master’s degree in Public and International Affairs from the University of Lagos.
Can you tell us more about your family?
My father had a first wife – she’s deceased. So, I have an elder brother, an associate professor in the United States of America. I also have an elder sister, an accountant with one of the top private universities in the country. I have another sister, who is a pastor. Then, I have two younger ones. I have a lovely wife, her name is Mary. Together, we have three lovely kids.
How did you meet your wife?
We met as mutual friends. I had just joined the Nigeria Police Force and my wife’s family were staying somewhere in Lagos. My brother, who is a banker, happens to know certain friends who knew her. We met at an occasion we were both invited to attend. Immediately I saw her, it was if I had seen an angel. From that moment, I did the best I could to woo her until we got married.
What is your favourite food?
I like rice, plantain, and chicken. I eat once daily and eat late. It is not good for me. But I always take tea and water.
Do you cook?
No. I don’t know how to cook. But I think one of the things I used to win my wife over when I was wooing her was making curried chicken sauce.
How do you unwind?
I play golf. I belong to the Ikeja and Ikoyi golf clubs. Recently, my work has been demanding, therefore I have not played golf for a while. I also like dancing. When I was a younger officer I had the opportunity to attend parties and I danced a lot. But I can no longer do that now – not for any particular reason. But you know what people will say when they see the commissioner of police dancing.
Why did you join the Nigeria Police Force?
I had always wanted to join the Nigeria Police Force. In fact, when I was growing up, my dad used to call me ‘Mobutu’ – after the popular Mobutu Sese Seko because of my plumpness. I like discipline because I was brought up that way. I like authority because of my desire to use it to ensure greater good. I don’t like people trampling on others’ right. I don’t like crime. Therefore, whatever I could do to fight crime when I was a civilian I did. My friends used to tell me then that I was risking my life passing information to the police. When I completed my National Youth Service Corps in Cross River State – fortunately, during that period my mum was in the judiciary and she was going for prison visits alongside a lot of the commissioners of police in Edo State then.
My mother called the Commissioner of Police in Bendel State, Etim Inyang, who subsequently became the Inspector General of Police and told him that she had a son who was interested in the force. The commissioner was excited. A form was sent to me to fill. Soon, I was invited to the Police College for an interview. I joined the Nigeria Police in 1986, appointed as the cadet superintendent of police. Since then, there has not been any dull moments and regrets.
Nigerian policemen complain of little or no motivation. What do you think can be done to improve their welfare?
A lot can be done to improve the motivation of officers of the force. It is that agenda that the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, is currently pursuing with the support of the government. This is why we accompanied him to the public hearing at the National Assembly for the passage of the Police Trust Fund bill. I was very happy that people are supporting that drive being championed by the IGP. Policing is an expensive business. Statutory allocations cannot take care of it. You can see Lagos is a model (in that regard).
Lagos was having serious crime problems before some people decided that there was the need to set up the Lagos State Security Trust Fund to get additional funds for the police. You can see the result; the RSS and the regular police are being supported through that fund. We have had well over 1,000 patrol vehicles from that fund. We have had 200 armoured personnel carriers, helicopters, gunboats, and other security gadgets. All this has contributed to the general safety of Lagos as a megacity.
What specific areas do you think the Police Trust Fund will address?
Crime rate in Lagos has drastically reduced and this is being handled at the national level. If this bill on the floor of the Senate becomes a law, it will take care of the issue of motivation of the police. Apart from the statutory allocations, the inspector general of police has a body he can run to, to take care of logistics, welfare, and other things that were there before and are no longer there. For instance, look at the conditions in our police stations. The police stations require direct funding which the IG cannot provide. This is because he doesn’t have the wherewithal; when you talk about proper service delivery its goes with certain things. You have a problem and you go to a station; you expect that the police are able to provide logistics to ensure that the problem is addressed. With what the IG is pursuing, I am sure that the issue of motivation and welfare for policemen will be addressed.
Before you became the commissioner of police in the state, not a few Lagosians knew your exploits in tackling crimes. Don’t you get scared of dying?
One thing is certain: if you don’t have passion for the police job, then you are in the wrong profession. The day you decide to become a police officer there are certain things you have given up. First, you have given up your privacy and time. Second, you have placed your safety and security in the hands of God because there are instances during your career when you will be faced with either running away or being faced with the duty of protecting the people you are paid to protect. Policing is serious business.
Today, crimes are becoming more complex and sophisticated. Therefore, as a police officer, you have to be at the top of your game. I’m a very spiritual person. I believe that if you have to make it as a policeman, you have to be very prayerful. You are expected to pray for wisdom because you will make split-second decisions that affect lives and property – it takes the wisdom that only comes from God to make such decisions.
So, what specific spiritual steps do you take to be at the top of your game as a police officer?
You need prayers for your personal and family protection. There were certain times in my career I felt I was placing my family at risk because I was touching on very sensitive issues and bursting very sensitive crimes. You must pray for (God’s) protection over your family. Definitely, there are a lot of risk factors in being a policeman. Some of these factors will be mitigated by adequate training. We are trained and know how to respond to some of the risks. Even with all the training, a risk is a risk.
When you joined the police, did it cross your mind you would one day become a police commissioner?
I wished for it. But you don’t join the force expecting to get to any rank. There are many ranks you have to cross before becoming a police commissioner. It has taken me 31 years of hard work, prayers, and diligence to get to the position of commissioner of police. Every police officer wishes to climb to the apex of the force, which is becoming the inspector general of police.
Though not everybody will get there, whatever rank you get to or whatever responsibility you are given along your career progress, handle it with all professionalism. Every rank has its usefulness. If you are a superintendent, a chief superintendent or divisional police officer, you have the responsibility to take care of the lives and property of those within the jurisdiction of your division. Your responsibility only increases when you become the a commissioner of police, and when the entire state becomes your platform. I always wish for the best and work for the best for myself.
Some believe you take the fight against the Badoo cult personal. Is that correct?
I took it personal because of the inhuman, cruel and wicked nature of the crime (committed by the cult group). What will inform a group of people to go to a location and wipe out an entire family? It is a spiritual crime; many people ascribed so many things to it. Some say it’s a ritual crime being used for pecuniary gains. People want to make money through ritual means. I don’t believe in that and I don’t see how you can make money without being hard-working or doing a business. But some people believe in that and that is why they commit such murderous crime. Therefore, I took the issue of Badoo personal because I visited the scene of some of these crimes and I saw a husband, wife and child killed in cold blood. So, I want every Lagosian to take it personal too. I also saw that people were using it as a standard to measure how efficient the police and the commissioner of police are in Lagos. This is not how we should look at it.
We should look at it as a crime against humanity which every one of us should collectively play a role in curbing. We have done a lot. We have identified the cult group’s shrines. They have been destroyed by policemen. We have declared some of their kingpins wanted and finally arrested them. We have made a lot of arrests. It is not Uhuru yet because we know that some of these murderers are still out there. Therefore, I’m calling on Lagosians to come forward with information to assist the police so that wherever the cultists are or run to anywhere in the country, we can catch them. Yes, it is personal and it will continue to remain personal.
You seems to be focusing on tackling crimes against children, girls, and women. Why do you focus on this group of people?
This group is most vulnerable in the society. They are the group that requires protection. Any man who cannot protect his wives and his children is not worth deserving that name ‘man’. In the larger context, any police who is in authority who cannot protect women and children is not deserving of that office he occupies. We must protect the vulnerable. Even in treaties and conventions, it is stated clearly that the women and children must be protected and given special treatment. This is what I’m doing in Lagos. I have told my area commanders and divisional police officers that every report concerning abuse or molestation either physical or sexual nature against a woman or child must be given priority over every other case.
What new things have you introduced in Lagos State aimed at reducing crime rate?
First of all, I came in with a clear strategy of community policing, community safety, and partnership. I hit the ground running by starting with 11 town hall meetings where I explained to the people the idea of community policing and community safety partnership – which simply means more community involvement in policing. The people immediately understood and since then there have been partnership across the board in the state. Now, we have functional vigilante group in partnership with the police in fighting neighbourhood crimes, and residential robbery. We have also intensified intelligence-led policing with the establishment of Intelligent Divisional Police Officer (DIOs).
We have also introduced the Vigilante Support Officers (VSO) – the liaison between the police and the vigilance groups. This is well documented. For the past three months I have been in Lagos, the crime rate has dropped drastically because of this strategy. I intend to deepen it. My legacy to Lagosians by the time I leave will be that I came and institutionalised the concept of community policing and community safety partnership as the official policing strategy in line with the instruction of the inspector general of police.
If you have not been a police officer, what would you have loved to be?
It is a difficult question. I have never thought of this question because I have always loved to be a police officer. Well, if not a police officer, maybe a civil servant.
What has made you cry or can make you cry?
Nothing so far and I hope it remains so.