“I said the order he gave me was wrong. I have to tell you it is wrong. My conscience will not allow me to do it.”
Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja
The immediate past Chairman of the Police Service Commission, Sir Mike Mbama Okiro, has disagreed with the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Ibrahim Kpotun Idris, over the latter’s recent objection to the appointment and removal of the IG by the Senate.
Idris had during a public hearing on a bill for an act to repeal the Police Act said that the aspect of Senate confirmation and removal of the IG should be expunged from the bill.
But in an exclusive interview with Sunday Sun, Okiro, the 13th IGP, said the move by the Senate vindicated his position on the matter when he was IG, as well as Chairman, Police Service Commission.
Okiro also spoke on issues regarding the Force and the most probable ways of achieving an effective and ideal policing of the country.
The president recently approved salary increase for the police. Has this move addressed key challenges facing the police? Are we going to see a new police with that?
The police are bedeviled with a lot of challenges. One of them is welfare. Welfare equally includes salary package. The salary package is to address an aspect of the welfare package where a police officer had to go home with a living wage. It is something that is admirable and also appreciated. It is also admirable and the president was actually praised for doing that. Hitherto like all other civil servants, the police officers have been highly short-changed. If you compare the nature of the job, vis-à-vis the job done by the core civil service, you find out that a police officer is on duty 24 hours.
There is no overtime being paid to him, he has a lot of risks he takes and the salary had not been proper. But now that the government has done something about the salary, that is a step in the right direction. Apart from salary, the issue of accommodation is also very essential. You cannot compare the police with the core civil service.
A teacher goes to school, he teaches from maybe 8 O’clock to 2 O’clock as the case may be and he goes home. A teacher may be living in Kaduna and be coming to work in Abuja. He could live anywhere and come to work anywhere, but not so for the police. The police are on 24 hours and they are on call anytime. It is good that police officers are given accommodation in barracks; they are given adequate accommodation where they have to live. So, the issue of accommodation is also very essential. Now, you talk about the equipment for the job. To pay salary is good. That is for the individual. But to perform the job, he needs the equipment. He needs arms and ammunition, he needs tear gas, he needs vehicles and he needs so many other things that are required for the job. So, if by paying a new salary to a police officer, you are asking me whether you can see a new police force, yes you can if all the other things follow suit.
Why has the situation always been like this? Why hasn’t it been changed since?
I think part of the problem is that one, police have got the police salary structure and anytime they increased salary of the civil servants, the police, which have a different salary structure are not affected. But generally, civil servants are shouting that their salary is not enough, they talk about minimum wage, which cut across the entire civil service, but it is not being earned in the police and it cuts across the entire public service.
The Senate Committee reviewing the Police Force recommended among other things that the appointment and removal of the IG should now be subject to Senate confirmation. Is this proposal okay?
I am so happy about what they are saying because it goes to show that a villain today may be a hero tomorrow and a hero today may be a villain tomorrow. I am so glad about this because it looks like I saw ahead of my time. When I was IG, I wrote a memo to the Presidency that IGs should be appointed by the Council of State and confirmed by the Senate and also removed by two-third majority of the Senate. Some people picked it up on me that Okiro is about to retire, he wants elongation of his service and they knocked it down. When I was Chairman of the Police Service Commission, I brought up the matter again. I said this time around, I am not the IG, so nobody will say Okiro is trying to prolong his stay in office because in that my memo, I equally said that the IG should serve four years when he comes in.
So, they knocked it out. When I became Chairman of the Police Service Commission, I brought up the matter again that the IG should be appointed for a period of time; a tenure to be confirmed by the Senate and removed by two-third majority of the Senate. Another line of thought came up again and said that if that is done, it means the president cannot have control over the IG and that is going to affect the security of the state where the IG can disobey the president in issues concerning security and nothing is done to him because the Senate may not be able to remove him. And assuming the IG is appointed by the president and the president wants to remove the IG and the Senate says no, it is going to affect the security of the state. That is the argument they equally used against my proposal. Another argument they brought forward was that the IG is a public servant who should serve and retire after 35 years of service or 60 years of age; that if they take my memo, it will go against the civil service regulations. The IG is supposed to serve the country, Nigeria. So, if the Senate feels that this man is not doing well, the Senate represents all the constituencies in the country, if the majority of the Senate feel that the IG is not doing well, he can be removed by the majority of the Senate, two-third majority of the Senate. I think I am very happy that my idea that was killed is surfacing again.
How do you see the position of the current IG that the move will lead to the politicization of the process?
It will not lead to that. I have said it. The Senate represents the entire country. You have three senators from every state and one from Abuja. So, if the majority of them toe a line of thought, that is like the whole country toeing a line of thought.
Recently, there have been issues between the National Assembly and the Nigeria Police, like the Senate summoning the IG and all that. Could this be responsible for this new move?
I don’t know the intention of the man summoning the IG. So, I wouldn’t know if that is responsible for this new move or there is another reason for doing that.
Some people are accusing the police of leaning towards the All Progressives Congress ahead of the 2019 elections. From your vintage position, is it true?
I wouldn’t say it is true. As an IG and as a law enforcement officer and also a line or staff officer to any government or to any personality, you should be able to tell your principal the truth even if your principal wants to do something which you feel is unconstitutional. You have to tell him the truth. There are some cases I did when I was the IG. I wrote the president and told the president the truth. I said if sir, you appoint me the IG and ask me to do what is wrong constitutionally, if you insist, I may have to resign.
You told him?
Yes. He agreed with me and told me what I said was right. There were two or three instances like that. I said I wanted to resign. Even as Chairman of Police Service Commission, an issue came up. A person gave a directive, which was not proper. I went back to him.
You went back to the president?
Yes. I said the order he gave me was wrong. I have to tell you it is wrong. My conscience will not allow me to do it. If he insists I should do it, maybe I will assign someone to do it for you. He said, yes, I was right, I was right. Later, after giving me the information or the directive, he found out that one of the governors misled him.
He said the governor didn’t tell him the truth, so I was right. So, don’t always take directive hook, line and sinker. You have to sometimes tell your principal what is the truth. The man knows the truth.
Who was the person and what was the issue all about?
I can mention names, but I don’t think it is necessary.
Could that be the reason why the president didn’t allow you to serve a second term?
I had five years tenure.
But you could have been allowed a second term?
It may or may not be. He has the prerogative to do that. So, I served my five years and I was okay with that.
Did you feel bad that he didn’t allow you another term?
I didn’t feel bad. I am even happier now. Free and happier! So, even if I was given a second term, I could have said sorry sir, I want to go and rest.
You mean you could have rejected it?
Is it possible to make security agencies be insulated from the political class?
Definitely! The security agencies have a duty to perform in terms of security of the entire country, plus political parties and politicians. So, they should be highly insulated from political interference.
You attempted to go to the Senate. Why did you contest in Abuja and not your home state?
I contested in Abuja, though I had offers to come and contest in my state. I turned it down because I wanted to make a statement and that statement I made. I wanted to make a statement to show that Abuja is for every Nigerian who is working or lives in Abuja and pays tax. I went through the whole hog, brought my birth certificate, brought everything and I was allowed to contest in Abuja. Secondly, I wanted to have an experience of what it means to be a politician. For me, it is not worth the while. I am not a politician. I just wanted to have experience of what it looks like to be a Nigerian politician.
Did you feel bad that you did not eventually get to the Senate?
That was why I said I wanted to get that experience and I got it. Even this time around, they invited me and I said I am not coming.
Looking back, will you say you met the expectations of Nigerians while in office?
I don’t know. It is for Nigerians to say whether I met their expectations. As far as I am concerned, I did my best and I felt my best was good enough.
Considering your relationship with past IGPs, do you enjoy a cordial relationship with the current IG?
My relationship with the current IG is cordial. He has never abused me, I have never abused him. Have you ever seen in the papers where I was abusing him or he abusing me? He has a role to play. He has his job to do and I have my rest to enjoy.
But is he very close to you because he used to be your subordinate?
When I was the IG, I think he was either a CSP or ACP. That is okay. But he is a very busy man. So, I don’t expect him to come and have breakfast with me every day.
What practical steps do you think should be taken to have an ideal and effective policing of the country?
The steps are very, very germane. One is that you can have a police officer that is well paid, well accommodated, welfare package, one you should be proud of. He should be able to stand in the crowd and say I am a police officer, have enough equipment to work with, have good training. That is alright. If well trained, well equipped, well paid, he should put in his best.
Promotion is still an issue within the Force. What steps did you take while in office to ensure non interference and fairness in the promotion of the rank and file of the police?
An area that I addressed seriously, which I tried to address also when I was IG, but I failed because I was overruled in a way, is the area of promotion. In the police, you have a bottleneck at the top in the sense that by 1999 when democracy came into play in Nigeria, we had 13 states plus Abuja. The population of the police then was between 80 and 89,000 people in terms of strength. But now, it is approaching 400,000. We still have the same 36 states of the federation with Abuja making it 37 commissioners of police. It means you cannot promote anybody commissioner of police without giving him a state. It means that there is a bottleneck to get up. What 89,000 were doing is what 400,000 population is doing. So, you cannot promote, for example, an Assistant Commissioner of Police without giving him a post. When I was Inspector General of Police, I wanted to increase area commands. I created more area commands in Lagos, Rivers, Delta, Kano, Maiduguri and so on and so forth. But the minister then said area commands are based on local government created in the constitution, therefore, I had to amend the constitution before I could create area commands. So, he turned it down. When I became Chairman of Police Service Commission, I didn’t get to transfer anybody. I will just write the IG to call a meeting of the commissioners of police. Now, Nigeria is so expanded, Nigeria is not what it was in 1999. For example, look at Abuja. Where I am staying here, in 1999, it was a bush. Abuja has expanded and other states have expanded. So, I told the IG to call a meeting of the commissioners of police, look at the crime wave in the country, crime wave in their states, crime wave in sections of certain towns to see whether they can create more divisions, more area commands. That was done and I created more area commands.
Is it under the current IG?
Yes. That gave me almost 251 assistant commissioners of police, created new so that so many CSPs were promoted to assistant commissioners of police. We equally created additional offices within the Force headquarters for more ACs, more CPs, and more DCs and so on and so forth. That created more vacancies for promotion. So, that opened up a little bit and that kind of removed it to a certain extent.
When I became the Chairman of Police Service Commission, I found out that people who were promoted CSP in 2008 were still CSPs. They are doing their job very well, have very good performance record, but there was no vacancy. But before I left the commission, almost till 2010, we cleared all the backlog of promotions.
What happened in the case of the Force Spokesperson?
The issue of Jimoh Moshood came up. Not with Jimoh Moshood, it started with Frank Mba. Frank Mba was Force PRO of the Police Force. All along, during my own time and right from the time of Tafa Balogun, Ehindero, myself and even before then, Force PRO used to be commissioners of police. You find out that during the time of Frank Mba, he was a CSP and he used to go to meetings. The Army has a major general as spokesperson, so we looked at how somebody who is a CSP can be shaking hands, sitting along and sharing ideas with generals. That was what informed it. We had to move him. Equally the same thing for Moshood because of his rank and the duty he is performing.
So, there is nothing new about his promotion?
It is not a new adventure.
2019: will you predict victory for the PDP and its presidential candidate?
Nigerians will decide and not me. I will only cast my vote and you will cast yours. Whoever has the majority votes will win.
What is your next political step?
My next political step is to sit and watch, play my role. People are looking up to me as some nominated me as national leader. But it is not to hear from me who they will vote for. That means I have to be neutral and advise them. But if I belong to any political party, my advice will have no meaning.
What currently keeps you busy?
Now, I have time to attend to my people. My late brother was a traditional ruler. The stool is there for me, but I have not had time yet. But I have time to attend to my people, their problems and assist them.
Why don’t you want to take over the throne?
In actual fact, I don’t want to take it for various reasons.
Known to you alone?
Known to me and my family.
Are you going to nominate someone to ascend the throne?