The director of music at the Nigerian Police Training College, Ikeja, Lagos, Favour Chinonyerem, has been accused of extorting some 183 students of the college to the tune of N8.23 million.
PREMIUM TIMES learned that the director demanded various spurious charges from the students of the 2018/2019 academic session, who were reportedly forced to pay as much as N45,000 each without the knowledge of the police management.
They also received no form of evidence for the payment.
The students also told PREMIUM TIMES that the director has refused them becoming graduates allegedly due to their failure to pay another round of N5,000 each for the repair of damaged property at the college.
Further investigations have also revealed that the director had been enmeshed in similar allegations in the past, which reportedly led to her punishment by the management of the Nigerian Police Force.
But, rather than denying the allegations, the director has told PREMIUM TIMES that the students only paid for materials given to them by the college.
The police management has also confirmed that she is currently being investigated over the allegations.
Upon their successful employment by the Nigerian police force, these set of music students underwent a four-month mandatory training in general duties alongside other colleagues in various police training schools across the states of the federation.
The 185 officers, who opted for music, resumed to the music school in Lagos on October 15, 2018, for a year-long professional training.
Some of the affected students, who spoke to our reporter in confidence for fear of being sanctioned, narrated their ordeals since 2018.
According to them, they were surprised that the school director ordered their uniforms allocated to them at their various academies be seized. She said they could do with their vests and shorts until they pay N20,000 each for a new set of uniforms and course materials.
The director asked them to pay “cash” to one of her aides, Benson Stephen. Mr. Stephen was popularly known among the students as General Number 1 with NPF number: 515966.
The N20,000 is said to cover N5,000 for a new set of vests; N5,000 for course materials, and N10,000 for “the director as their support token.”
“Some of us trained in police college Maiduguri, some in police training school Bauchi, and some in Benue, kwara, Lagos, among others, and none of us was told of anything about any money to be paid at the college,” one of the affected students told PREMIUM TIMES, adding that; “There was no receipt and it is not stated anywhere in all the official documents we obtained.”
According to the students, the sum of N3.7 million was paid to Mr Stephen between December 2018 and February 2019.
Shortly after all the 185 students paid to the officer, the director informed the students that Mr Stephen had bolted with the entire cash, and so requested them to make fresh payments of N15,000 each to her secretary, Jordan Murte, an assistant superintendent of Police.
“We were initially told that the officer was dismissed, but when we questioned further, we were then told he just ran away,” another student said.
As soon another N2. 7 million was paid to Mr Murte, the director ordered that their seized uniforms be released, and gave them new sets of vests and some course materials.
Some of the college’s graduates who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES on condition of anonymity said prior to the emergence of Mrs Chinonyerem as the director, course materials were usually provided free of charge.
A police officer at the counter terrorist unit said the director had once been queried over similar corruption allegations.
The officer said; “She had demanded money from recruits in 2008 and the money was paid but one of them wrote a petition against her which led to her suspension. But later, she was brought back.”
Another police officer, who also pleaded anonymity, confirmed the corruption allegation against the director. According to the officer, their set was part of the trainees in 2008 when “she was busted.”
But while the students were still grumbling over what they described as extortion, the director was said to have advised the students to contribute additional N10,000 each, if they would like to conclude their programme on schedule.
According to our sources, another N1.83 million was contributed by the officers and paid to the director.
“We were asked to pay N10,000 so that we could be prepared for passing out in December, 2019. Because we were eager to leave the school, we paid as requested,” another student said.
But some of the students who were not comfortable with the payment were said to have reported the matter to the Force Headquarters in Abuja, which PREMIUM TIMES learnt had commenced investigation into the allegation.
However, in spite of the payment, and having spent almost two years at the college, the officers are yet to graduate, even as a new set of students have since resumed.
“We are aware that when the authorities interrogated her over the allegations, she said we are yet to fully understand the instruments and we would need to stay for 18 months instead of 12. A new set of students have resumed but they have not started training for more than a month now because we are still in the hostel,” the source said.
Meanwhile, the director has further requested that the students pay additional N5,000 each for the replacement of facilities including chairs that may have been damaged during their stay.
The source added; “She said we must buy all the chairs before we are passed out and that failure to pay could keep us in the school for as long as she wishes.”
The director reacts
When asked for response to the allegations, the director said the money received from the students was for their materials needed for the course.
“They were given materials, just like they gave materials to them at every other place where they were trained for the general studies before they were posted to me. They were posted here for professional training.”
She confirmed that the initial N3.7 million was paid to Mr Stephen, and said since the payment was made, the officer’s whereabouts has remained unknown.
The director said efforts were made to trace the officer but that he was yet to be found till date.
“We have done everything that we can do, I have even told their trainers to use them too because he has friends among them, but they couldn’t find him. Is it in my place to go looking for a criminal?”
The Director declined speaking further on the allegedly dismissed officer.
On the prolonged course duration and claims that the officers are being held for failure to pay for damages, Mrs Chinonyerem said it was due to the outbreak of coronavirus disease in Nigeria.
She said; “I don’t know that they have chosen to go through your office to report the matter to you. I couldn’t have in my capacity kept them here. There is COVID-19 and there is no movement; they have to take their final exams and we cannot gather them together to cluster.”
“They are accommodated and are receiving their salaries; I don’t know why they are complaining. I don’t know why some people are so recalcitrant and have refused to understand simple instruction. Even the headquarters know about this,” she said.
Mrs Chinonyerem said she has been called up by the Inspector General of Police’s Office and she has given them an answer on why they are still at the school.
“I am the Director of Music and they are under my professional training; until I certify that they are what I want them to be, there is nobody….,” she cuts.
“For the first time we have not been paying people salaries except this set, maybe because they have so much money as salary that is why they are doing all these,” she said in annoyance.
Mrs Chinonyerem declined speaking on the requested N5,000 for damaged chairs.
“There are questions I don’t have to answer you; what I need to answer you, I have answered. Whatever they have written to you, they have already reported at the headquarters and I have given them my answers,” she added.
But the officers have described as lame the use of coronavirus as an excuse to keep them at the college.
According to them, 50 of them sleep in a room at the hostel and there is neither social distancing nor observation of any regulation against the disease at the school.
“If you see us in the hostel, you would think we are animals. Come and see us on parade grounds and during our morning duties. In fact, we are more at risk here than anywhere else. People go out on Sundays to mingle outside, and they still come in to mix with us here freely,” one of the students said.
Police spokesperson speaks
When PREMIUM TIMES’ reporter contacted Frank Mba, the Nigerian Police Force spokesperson on the matter, he requested time to make findings.
Mr Mba, who responded three days after our reporter’s enquiry, said he found out that some of the contributions, especially payment for shirts, was initiated by some of the officers (the students).
“T- Shirt is not part of the official accoutrements of the police, so police will not issue T- shirts, so people can contribute money to buy T- shirts to make their lives easier. I also made a T- shirt at my last training, we contributed to people,” he said.
The police spokesperson said the contribution, if necessary, should have been made amongst the officers and not compelled by any superior.
Mr Mba further said that the action of the officer, who allegedly bolted with the first N3.7million contribution, was reported at a police station.
When asked about the fees paid by the students for posting and other unofficial matters, Mr Mba said he could not comment, saying the matter was still being investigated.
“I don’t want to box myself up; if I say she didn’t do it and she did it, all I can say is that the matter is under investigation.”