Standing tall at over six feet with a bulky build which gave away his years as a Two-Star Traffic Warden police officer, Sunday Ogwo Okpalle, now slightly bent, having lost the ramrod gait which accompanied his strides to ageing and perhaps lack of his regular routine as an officer of the law.
When we first saw him, it was around 7.am, penultimate Tuesday. He was seen flagging down every private vehicle, Keke NAPEP and Achaba, telling the occupants that he had not eaten since the night of the previous day.
“Please help me so that I can find something to eat,” he had repeatedly told those who cared to listen to him.
While some of the occupants hurriedly searched their bags and pockets to give him some money, by their way of assistance, others simply ignored him or remarked, “Don’t mind him, that is how he is always begging everyday.
At other times, he could be seen by the road sides stretching forth his hand to receive “help” from public-spirited commuters moving along the road.
We took some interest in this “unusual” beggar, like a commuter addressed him, and thus moved in to speak with him.
It was a tricky one, as the man would not talk. “I’m not ready for that. I’m not here for any talk,” he had rebuffed our correspondent’s initial attempts to engage him in an interview.
Arewa PUNCH persistence finally paid off when he was asked why he took to begging alms for a living, and the man who was to later disclose his name as Okpella, informed our correspondent that he was not into begging until the cost of living skyrocketed and he could no longer afford the basic things of life from his meagre income.
Apart from his pension, which he said does not come regularly, he noted that he augments his living by standing by the roadside every day to beg alms from motorists and commuters going to or from work.
Arewa PUNCH investigations reveal that after five years in retirement and with five grown-up children and a wife, the retired police officer said life has never been the same for him.
Speaking in pidgin, Okpella reminisced with nostalgia his past years on active duty. “Wen I dey work, the work sweet because if I go work at times, I dey see N3000, N4000 before work close but now, I no dey see again anything again,” he recalled.
Pressed further, he spoke about how he retired after 35 years of active service in the Nigeria Police Force but did not get his entitlement on time.
According to him, “My name is Sunday. Or should I give you the one in my police file? I am Sunday Ogwo Okpella from Benue State in Oju Local Government. I entered police on June 1, 1988. I entered as a traffic warden. It is the same thing with police.
I was in the police force for 35 years. I retired June 1, 2018. From that 1st of June they didn’t pay me any money. We went for verification at the Women Development Centre in Abuja. They told me that my gratuity money is N6 million, and they said I should go home that they would give me within two weeks.
Then that two weeks passed, and they didn’t send me any money. They kept me for one-year-and-four-months without any money. I did not receive any alert. When I would receive an alert, I got an alert of N1.696 million with two months extra pay.
When I got that money, I had already borrowed money from some people to the tune of N200,000. So, when they gave me the money, I took N200,000 to refund the people who borrowed me money. I gave my wife N200,000 to add to her market.
I then travelled to my village to refurbish my house. I repainted my house. I did my ceiling. Then, when I came back to Minna, I withdrew some of the money, and we began to live on it as a family. I bought two bags of rice, I bought two buckets of oil and we began to spend the money.
From that time, they started paying me N30,000 as pension from that 2018 till today. But two months ago, it was increased to N31,000. My chief called me today and toĺd me that as from next week, they would be paying me N31,000. They increased it by only N1000.
“They told me to look for something to do to earn a living. I said at my age what would I look for again? I’ve walked up to different people and places, but they are refusing to give me something to do,” he lamented.
Arewa PUNCH asked to know some of the places he had worked as a traffic warden and if he only worked in Niger State throughout out his 35 years of service to the police and he responded, “During my time, I worked in the Bosso Division Police Station, I worked in Paiko Police Station, I worked in Central Police Station and I worked at Suleja. It was in Suleja that I retired. And if they had given me the money, I would have packed my load and gone home to settle down.
The place where I stay, I pay N50,000. The money will soon expire by April next year. I must confess, working as a traffic warden is sweet because whenever I go to work, at times, I return home with N3000 or N4000 but now, I don’t see any money again.
I never got transferred to another state. Even when I was transferred, it was my wife who told me not to accept any transfer. She insisted that I should stay in Niger and train all my children. My first child has finished National Youth Service Corps. He is in Port Harcourt presently working. The one next to that one is with me and studying in one of the higher institutions. She will complete her studies by January, next year. So that’s why I didn’t leave Niger State throughout the 35 years,” he narrated.
The retired Police Officer who said he was born in 1969, explained that there was no difference between a traffic warden and a conventional police officer, pointing out that it is the same work they are doing. He also disclosed that he attended Primary School, and it was with the certificate he got enrolled into the police.
Yes, when I was still in service, even my brother of same father but different mothers advised me to go close to my village and put up a structure, saying that if I put up the structure in Suleja where I worked then, that when I retire, I would not enjoy my life. After my retirement, I took a loan and purchased three machines and continued to use them to manage my life until I had an accident with one and injured my arm. I could not work again.
I did not move to the conventional police because it is the same thing. Our own work is when there is a road accident it is we that tell the cause of the accident and who is responsible. When we arrest a car or a taxi and you go to the station, the money is the DPO’s own. You don’t get anything. Our own are from the motorcycles. We get between N500 and N1000 for every motorcycle we bring to the station.
I finished Primary 6. They started promoting me from corporal, sergeant, inspector, and one star during President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration in 2015. My salary rose from N77,000 to N125,000 in 2018 during the Buhari government’s regime when I was promoted to two stars. They decorated us at Gawo, Lambata. After they decorated us, we did not see the allowance,” Okpella said.
Asked why he goes about begging and what he wants the government to do for him, with brightened up eyes, Okpella said, “I want people to help me. Here, they don’t help people. They don’t give you more than N500. Before, I was not begging, but it was after things started getting more difficult as a result of the rising cost of living. I can’t feed any more, even the customers that used to give me credit stopped. I would like the government to pay me my money so that I can find something to do to feed myself and my family,” he pleaded.