Yetunde Cardoso is Superintendent of Police, the Officer Commanding, Legal; and newly appointed Liaison Officer at the Lagos State Police Command. She talks to ALEXANDER OKERE about her career and why Nigerians find it difficult to believe the police are their friend
The Lagos State Police Command recently announced the creation of a judicial liaison office in the command and you are the liaison officer. What is the office about?
It is an intermediary between the judiciary and the police. It will be of great benefit to the public because it will be easier for the public to meet with the commissioner of police on a regular basis in respect of any judicial matter concerning the police and the public. It will be easier for the police to act on it (judicial matter) since there is a liaison officer in-between. But without a liaison officer, it may take time before the public will be able to get results from their complaints.
What are the other challenges the command hopes to address with the judicial liaison office?
There isn’t much because, presently, we have been working in good accord with the judiciary since I became the Officer Commanding, Legal. We (Lagos Police Command) work together with the judiciary and the Ministry of Justice and our working arrangement has been a good one.
How is it different from the legal unit of the command that already exists?
Actually, the legal unit is for the prosecution of criminal cases, while the liaison office is to be an intermediary, most especially, in respect to non-governmental organisations that deal with judicial matters. So, it is now easier for the NGOs to move closer to the police on any judicial matter.
What are your responsibilities in the new office?
My responsibilities are to enhance mutual relationships between the police organisation, the public and the judiciary, and to bridge the communication gap.
As the Officer Commanding, Legal, what is a normal day at work like for you?
I’m not always in court but, sometimes, if I have to be in court, I have to handle some processes. After that, I return to the office. From there, I go round the human rights desks. There is a lot of work to do in that area. Presently, I’m getting officers from the legal department to join me, but I would still lead. We have representatives in most of the divisions in the Lagos command. We have the human rights desks which will stand as representatives in all the divisions.
Were you a practising lawyer before you joined the Nigeria Police?
No. I studied law while on the job.
Where did you study law and what was the motivation?
I studied law at Lagos State University, Ojo. I was motivated by one of my former superior officers when I was serving at Area E, Festac, Lagos, as an Investigation Officer. There was a case I investigated in 1996 which my area commander was impressed with. He advised me to go back to school and get myself updated. I was motivated by his advice. I saw it as a challenge and took it up immediately. He was CP Okonko Iniedu; he was a former CP, Mobile Police, FCT Command and Special Duty.
Was he alive when you completed your law degree?
How did he react when you informed him about the completion of the university programme?
He was very happy. Even after I got my law school form, he was the one who took me to the Nigerian Law School. I wanted to postpone it due to one challenge or the other but he insisted that I must go to law school immediately. That was in 2003.
Were there challenges you faced while studying law that almost made you give up on your dream of becoming a lawyer?
Yes. The first challenge was time. I had to work night shifts. I registered for a full-time law programme and still had to go to the office to perform my primary duty to the police. So, what I did was to work night shifts at the charge room. At that time, we had eight-hour shifts. So, I resumed at 10pm and closed at 6am, rushed home, had my bath and got to school before 10am. I did these for six years because there were lecturers’ strikes in-between at LASU. For six years, I was in the charge room but I didn’t give up. With God on my side and prayers, I was able to overcome the challenges.
Why did you join the police?
I joined the Nigeria Police Force over two decades ago. I was influenced by my late uncle to join the police. The reason I took his advice was because he was a motivator who always told me I could do it.
How did your parents react when you informed them of your intention? Did any of them express worry or concern?
Actually, it was my parents he first told about it. The first day, I was taken to the police college, I left there and went back home. I told my mum we were asked to return in two weeks because I was called ‘gorilla’. Unknown to me, it was the name new intakes in the police were called. Being called such a name for the first time, I was embarrassed. I went into the dormitory, told my boss I wanted to get some things in the market but went home and lied to my parents that we were told to return in two weeks time. But my uncle came to college to check on me realised I was not in my hostel. One of my colleagues told him that I left a week earlier. So, he came to our house and told my mum I was lying. I later returned to the police college and enjoyed my stay there because the commandant of the college encouraged me.
What was the most challenging experience you had during your training?
The only challenge we had then was waking up as early as 4am, when at home, I used to wake up at 7am. At the college, we woke up early to work. Eventually, I became used to it.
Some Nigerian women in the military and the police express worry that men find it difficult to approach them or seek their hand in marriage because they think female security agents are too difficult to be with. Did you have that experience?
No. As a woman, no matter the position you have, you must be humble. If you want to go higher, even in your family, you have to be humble.
What is the best way for responsible single men to approach a policewoman who’s single?
It is the same way you approach other women. There is no difference. Policewomen make the best wives at home.
Are you married?
Yes, I am.
Is your husband a security officer too?
Yes. But I will not go into my matrimonial matter.
There is a public notion that female police officers face sexual harassment from their male superiors. How is the command handling this?
I have not witnessed that since I have been on this job. Maybe it happens, but I have not witnessed such at all.
What’s the most challenging thing about being a police officer in Nigeria?
I will say I don’t face any challenge. Once you know what you are doing, you know your duty and perform it diligently, there won’t be any challenges.
Nigerians know there are bad eggs in the Nigeria police. How are the responsible officers there coping with the challenge?
We make the public understand that, yes, in every organisation, we have bad eggs. But we are trying to bring the bad eggs to do the right thing so that they will understand that the right path is the way for them to move forward. I do counselling too; I counsel fellow police officers.
What do you tell them?
I tell them that the most important thing in you as a person is the fear of God. The moment you have that, you will be able to handle the public. Public relations exercise matters in everything you do. The way you relate with people matters a lot. People ask me whether I was trained in Nigeria or abroad because of the way I address people on any matter.
Why do you think Nigerians find it difficult to believe the saying, ‘the police are your friend’?
Surely, the attitude and character of the bad eggs in the Force make the public believe that the police are not your friend. But now, we are making the public understand that 95 per cent of the personnel of the Nigeria Police are good officers while the remaining five per cent cannot taint the Force.
How do you relax after a long day’s work?
In a day, I only have one hour to relax and that is if I find the time to do that. I go to work on Saturdays but take my time to relax on Sundays.
The police recently began the process of bringing in new recruits in the Force. As a senior officer, what advice do you have for the female applicants and others who wish to join in the future?
They must have personal integrity. They must have good morale and character. They must be ready to adhere to instructions and be disciplined. Academically, they must be sound. They must be ready to work, be honest and unbiased in any matter they are assigned to handle.