The National President of Pentecostal Ministers Forum (PMF), Bishop Chidi Anthony, is a good friend of the Police. Recently, he has been decorating senior police officers with awards for distinguished services. However, he reveals that members of his forum were never exempted from police brutality, in this interview with TAI ANYANWU
You have been decorating very senior Police officers with awards of distinction. Could you explain that within the context of the wide spread protest by Nigerians, against police brutality?
Yes. Pentecostal Minister Forum (PMF) which I am the National President, has been giving distinguished policemen awards. We even gave the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, an award for his contribution towards securing the lives and properties of Nigerian in these troubling times. You see; out of every 12 there must be a Judas. That does not at all negate the reality of the brutality of the Police Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS) against Nigerian, Everybody knows about it. For instance, if you are travelling to the Eastern part of Nigeria, SARS activities there, to say the least, is despicable. When you see them; their attire alone will make you wonder if they are Policemen or some other gang.
What is your take on the on wide spread #EndSARS protest across the nation?
To the best of my knowledge, the protesters are not saying that the Nigerian Police should be scrapped. What the young people who are spearheading the nationwide protest is that killings and brutality against innocent Nigerians especially the youths will no longer tolerated.
Some Police officers have been shedding blood of many Nigerians who the police exists to protect. Hence, the clamour for end of police brutality. I listened to the IGP’s broadcast when he decided to ban SARS.
That is a step in the right direction because if the police is supposed to protect lives and properties of the masses, bad eggs in the police force must be roundly condemned and punished as deterrent to others. I say this because if #End SARS protest is not properly addressed, quite a lot can go wrong because the protesters can go to extremes.
Has the PMF had any encounter with some of the so called bad eggs in the police?
Yes! The PMF is a body made up of General Overseers of over 250 pentecostal ministers. Our first encounter with the bad eggs in the police took place during the reign of AIG Adamu Ibrahim. Four SARS officers, stormed one of our member churches and precipitated a hell of embarrassment. When the matter was brought to the attention of AIG Adamu Ibrahim, he was not hapoy at all.
So he locked the up the SARS officers, took them to court and later expelled them from the force. What Adamu Ibrahim did was right because these crop of SARS are so selfish and corrupt that if one cannot give them what they want, the officers can go to any length and even kill. Adamu Ibrahim is one of the Police Officers that I respect very much. I gave him an award when he was an Assistant Inspector General of Police in Zone Two.
What exactly did the four SARS officers do to the PMF Pastor?
The SARS men arrested the Pastor, took the him to a hotel room and forced the pastor to transfer N8 million naira into their personal account, at gun point. If the Pastor did not comply with the officers, he could have lost his life. He had no choice than to transfer the money into the personal bank account as directed by the. SARS officers. When the matter was brought to my at-tention, I went to Adamu Ibrahim.
He told me Bishop, these type SARS officers are not supposed to be in the Nigeria Police. Immediately he ordered for their arrested, investigated them, charged them to court and eventually dismissed the four from the Police Force. Now the PMF gives awards to individuals Police officers with proven track record of integrity.
We do so in recognition of the good work they have done in the area of protection of lives, properties of citizens and exemplary policing activities. It is our own way of encouraging such good officers; and if there is any piece of advised we give and pray for them.
I also remember when some officers of the Inspector General of Police Intelligence Response Team (IGPIRT) were going everywhere, to churches, shooting, embarrass, scare people, arrest pastors and collect millions of naira from the oppressed clerics.
I found out that the menacing officers did all of that without the consent of the IGP or the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Abba Kyari who is directly in charge of that unit. As the President of PMF, I had to organise a meeting between me and DCP Abba Kyari, because lots of my members were being exploited by the men of IGPIRT.
After I narrated the story of what the officers had been doing to my fellow pastors, during the meeting that lasted over four hours, DCP Abba Kyari felt so sad. He was very angry hearing that the officers forcefully collected monies. Some N2 million, N3 million, N5 million and so on; from pastors.
Even when he learnt that, during the era of CSP Felix, the erring officers seized cars belong to some pastors and cellphones, DCP Kyari felt bad; and he gave me his complementary card with an instruction to CSP Felix to release all the vehicles and cellphones the officers had collected from the pastors. The cars and cellphones were released to the pastors with immediate effect.
So the ‘Ogas at the top’ are often not aware of what their subordinates and bad eggs in the police do with the gun in their hand and under the cover of police uniform. And you know, one cannot argue with a man with a gun. Like Zik of Africa once said, only a fool argues with a gun wielded man.
Did you ever have a personal encounter with the unruly SARS officials?
Of course after the meeting with Abba Kyari, the daredevil officers started to threaten me, saying the would come for me. The said they will kill me, do this and that to me. I was so surprised the day I saw them in my church, in a bid to perfect their craft. But it didn’t work out for them because not everybody succumbs to every threat. I support the #EndSARS protest.
But then again, there are still good officers in our Police Force. I know that the Inspector General of Police, Adamu Mohammed, is a man of wisdom; he will come up with a viable alternative because not doing that will create room for a surge of criminal activities. IGP, however, needs to flush the bad eggs, who are given the police bad name.
Even within SARS, we still have honest officers but the corrupt ones seem to outnumber the good ones. They will collect your cellphone, enter into your private dealings when the IGP and other Senior police officers have severally said the police has no right to confiscate phones and pry into people’s private communications.
But it’s on record that police officers will take people’s phones check even your last bank alert. The next thing, they will compel you, at gun point, to transfer your money to their personal account. Along Benin Expressway, police officers carry POS machines to defraud travellers or their victims.
Aren’t you worried that the mass movement of youths against SARS might create chance for yahoo boys and other financial criminals to have a field day in no distance future?
If you check how the tempo of protest is increasing daily and in every city of Nigeria, you will agree with me that the IGP needs to act fast and wisely too. However, there are other existing branches of the Police Force that could handle financial crimes and related crimes.
For instance, there is the Special Fruads Unit (SFU), with the duty to handle high profile financial crimes, and a whole lot of other relevant units in the police that can do what SARS was created to do. After all was initially formed to check crime in Lagos State before other states began to copy it.
Not that the Nigeria Police Forced had no units that checked robbers prior to the creation of SARS. I want to talk about these criminals in uniform. Imagine going on the road with your personal laptop, and suddenly you see people who can hardly pass as officers of the law.
Some will wear canvass, some have tattoo drawn all over their bodies, others wear dreadlocks, ear rings and carrying guns without identification cards. Worst still, they do not move with Police vans, sometimes you see them with sienna, commercial buses and they will stop you and collect your laptop, cellphone and begin to check the item with every impunity.
If you dare talk the will beat you up mercilessly just because they are carrying arms; and they believe that nobody can do anything to them. And when they are beating someone, no one will actual cough because people are afraid of the police.
So the ‘officers’ always do what they like, and often take their victims to unknown destinations. It is the right of the citizen who is arrested by the police to have a chance to call his family, so they can be aware of his where about.
Two it is the right of an arrested suspect to call his lawyer to be around him or her and before he or she makes a statement. But this people deny suspect all of these rights. What they do is to quickly cease their victims cellphone; thereby cutting off that essential line of communication with relations who can come to the aide.
Can you tell us why the police were going after pas-tors?
Thank you for that question. The first pastor that the police arrested was a female pastor. They alleged that she used someone to boost her miracle making prowess. Precisely they accused the female pastor of giving somebody chance to give fake testimony in the church.
Alright, when police arrests a person, two things are involved. By law, the person is not supposed to remained in the cell for more than 24 hours.. Two is the offence alleged against the female pastor not a bailable offense? The person in question is not yet convicted.
Police cannot give final judgement. She was arrested as a suspect, she remains innocent until a court of law proves her guilty. She is not the only one that was arrested on similar charges.
They arrested over 40 pastors. Out of these 40 to 50 pastors arrested how many did the police arraigned in the court of law? None was taken to court, rather when they collect N1 million, N2 million or N3 million depending on the pressure a pastor’s contacts can mount on the officers. In some cases, we had to call some of their big officers and they will collect maybe N500,000 and release the arrested pastor. What worries the pastors most is the embarrassment the police subject ministers of the gospel to, before their congregation.
Is it correct to say that PMF was formed because some young pastors who being harassed by men of SARS, needed support from a father figure to get them off the hook when they find themselves in trouble?
No; PMF has been in existence before this incidents. The incidents that we are talking about happened just last year. I will tell you why we formed PM F. We have the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), we also have the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) and the PMF.
CAN and PFN are the parent or overall umbrella association of the church in Nigeria. We formed the PM F to help ourselves because there are many upcoming pastors who need help to stand.
The PMF provides this much needed support which the other two major Christian bodies are either to involved with other issues or too far away to care about. For instance, robbers broke into the church of one of our members and carried away all the musical instruments in the church, the lead pastor was frustrated and reported the matter to the PMF.
We simply posted the unfortunate incident on our group WhatsApp. And within fees ours, the affected church was provided with complete new set of instruments. The spirits of both the Pastor and the members were lifted from the agony the robbers threw the church into. We believe that we should always rally round any PMF member church in time of trouble.
How is the PMF helping its member churches to overcome the issue poor return of the congregation after the almost five months of ban on church activities?
COVID-19 pandemic had serious effect on every segment of society, not just the church. But we thank God because by His grace we have overcome. The miracle that happened to you and I is that after all the fears, threats of imminent death and brake down of social and economic activities in every nation of the world, COVID-19 is going down as the days go bye.
The church is trying to gather momentum again; it’s a gradual process. Somebody that was compelled by government directive and fear to confine himself or herself in the house, cannot be forced to rush back to church. It has to be a gradual process. I know the church will soon recover, for now members are returning gradually.
Don’t forget that we are still observing social and physical distancing in the church which compels the church to break into several service session in one Sunday. This is also contributory to the shrunken church attendance.