Nigerian Government Should Be Courageous Enough To Reform The Police — Okiro, Ex-IGP


There has been clamour for reforms in the Nigeria Police, do you think that is what we need to tackle the series of security challenges in the country

The issue of police reform is necessary because the police need to be reformed. Within this period, a lot of things have happened. Political changes, social changes, economic changes, changes in crime, changes in the modus operandi of criminals. So, for an organization to exist and answer the call for which it was created, there must be constant reform. I don’t know, before I joined the police, what happened? Police reform was started by Dan Malami but at the end of the day not much came out of it. When I was the Inspector General of Police (IGP), I formed a retired IGP’s forum, where I recommended police reform, which the government accepted and made MD Yusuf of blessed memory chairman of the reform committee and there were recommendations and a white paper, but it has not been implemented yet. The issue of police reform is essential. It is not enough for the committee to go round and at the end of day nothing happens. The government should implement the things that have been recommended. The government cannot continue to do the same thing for decades. Society is changing; police must change with the society. The Police should be dynamic. So I support this idea of reform for the police.

Are you in line with the clamour for state Police?

The issue of State Police has merits and demerits. A country like Nigeria that has diverse culture and ethnic multiplicity, people have to behave in a way that is conducive to the environment where they are operating. Police officers if drawn from the community will have more commitment to the society that they are policing. But unfortunately, Nigeria is not ripe for it because some governor’s cannot even pay the Police. Imagine a situation where some governors have not been able to pay teachers or medical personnel. The strength of the police in a state is more than the civil service put together. If the government cannot pay the civil servants, is it the Police that they can pay? It is dangerous to hear that the police are not paid for one month, there will be chaos! So, I recommended the Canadian model which runs like this: the community employs the police and the Police work in the community. If you are transferred, it is within the community. The Federal Government pays their salary, equips them and if for any reason the governor of the province buys anything for the police it remains there. The helicopters that are bought by the governor of the province remain the property of the Police in that community. Invariably, in our Constitution the governors are supposed to be the chief security officers of the state because the governor’s know that if there is no security there won’t be economic development in that State. I think I will recommend the same model in Nigeria. The communities and the states should employ the Police but funded by the Federal Government.

The issue of intelligence gathering is very critical in modern day policing. It is however sad to note that most times you go to court cases are dismissed judges for lack of proper investigations. What do you think can be done to strengthen intelligence gathering in the Police? 

Intelligence gathering is very important but unfortunately the Police is lacking in that area now. Before now, you had the special branch of the Police which was devoted to gathering criminal information for the Police. Unfortunately, that special branch was carved off from the Police to form the NSA which transformed into the Department of States Services (DSS). So the Police are now left bare. When I was the IGP, I scrapped the Criminal Investigative Bureau (CIB), created the intelligence section led by late AIG Dawodu. They were working very well but again when I left nothing much was done until during the time of Solomon Arase as IGP. He again tried to make the Police intelligence driven. If you are going to an operation, you should be able to know the terrain, the kind of people you are going to meet. Intelligence is very important for the Police. Am happy that Arase continued from where I stopped. What I don’t know is whether the IGP after Arase and the present IGP continued from where Arase stopped. If they do not I will advise them to go back to the drawing board and ensure that intelligence gathering in the police is fortified so that the police can be more effective and result oriented.

There have been debates about making the appointment of the IGP tenure based. Do you subscribe this position? 

On the issue of IGP’s tenure, when I was the IGP, I wrote a memo to the National Assembly and recommended that the IGP should be given a four year tenure, that the appointment of the IGP should be rectified by the National Assembly, and he should not be removed except by ⅔ majority of the national assembly. People said Okiro wants to remain after spending four years. I said the issue was not about Okiro but the Police force and Nigeria. It was thrown out because of the clamour that Okiro wanted an extension. The extension given to Muhammed Adamu the former IGP is not extraordinary, it has been happening. I think we should devote our time to something profitable.

Over the years, there have been conflicts between the IGP and the Police Service Commission. The IGP will say one thing and the Commission says another thing, and just recently they went to court over recruitment of police personnel. How can this situation be rectified going forward so that cordial working relationship can be restored?

The matter of recruitment between the IGP and the Police Service Commission is in court, so I won’t want to say much about it. But the fact remains that that issue has been there all the time. When I was IGP, it came up, the IGP before me it came up. I recall that Tafa Balogun and the Commission had this battle also. I tried to wade in. I contacted retired IGPs and held a meeting at late Gambo’s house and we invited both parties but unfortunately, the chairman, Police Service Commission was not in the country so he couldn’t attend the meeting. But I told them that whatever the court decides, nobody should appeal. Its unfortunate that once there is a new IGP the matter comes up, once there is a new chairman Police Service Commission, the matter comes up. Let the court decide once and for all so that we know who is in charge of police recruitment, the Commission or the office of the IGP.

For some years now, issues of banditry, kidnapping, terrorism and other associated crime have been on the rise. As someone that has been there, what is the way out of this predicament because from the way it looks, it seems like the government is helpless and unable to find a solution to the situation?

It is not beyond us neither is it beyond the power of the government. These are creations of human beings, so human beings can equally solve the problem. We talked about intelligence driven Police that can get information about these criminals, these terrorists and proffer solutions to them. You cannot just sit down and wake up in the morning and come up with a solution. It has to be systematic! Like I told you before, when issues concerning Nigeria come up people don’t look at issues, they indulge in arguments because of the personality involved. The issue of criminality, kidnapping, robbery and the others (people seem to have forgotten robbery), there are ways you can solve it. All the IGP needs is to harness the experience of people like us, people who have seen it all. It’s not beyond our capacity but things have to be done properly.

Have you been contacted as a former IG for support?

Nobody has reached me, maybe they reached out to others I don’t know.

We need peace before this country can make progress. We need peace for things to go smoothly. Would you say that we are really dealing in the direction of peace for this country?

When you talk about peace and crime both go together. It’s not the particular preserve of any agency. We are all Nigerians; we should help ourselves, help the community and help the government. We cannot say there is crime in Kaduna for example and we sit down. From Kaduna, it can come to Abuja. We should not isolate criminality to a particular part of the country as if it is their problem. The country is one. On the issue of peace, I am trying to organize a summit called Peace, Unity, Reconciliation, Engagement (PURE), preaching peace to all Nigerians because without peace we cannot progress. No community makes progress when there is strife, when there is confusion, when there is in-fighting. For a community or a people to live together, all hands must be on deck to move the country forward.

In the global arena the police is seen as the best in terms of security but this is not so in this part of the world. If our police go on peacekeeping they excel, what is missing? 

That is a very pertinent question. Nigerian Police officers go on peacekeeping and do well. Namibia was led by Ifejinka in the ’80s and they came out the best. They were given awards even in Namibia. Our Police officers went to Yugoslavia and they came out the best. They went to Haiti they came out the best. In fact, our Police officers were respected and feared. If there was a disturbance and other Police officers went, once they hear Nigeria everybody runs away. But back home they are relegated to the background, and they think they are not effective. Then you ask yourself this question: what is the problem? This is the same organisation that goes out to Asia, Europe, America and Africa and do very well but they come back to Nigeria and they do badly. Definitely, the fault is not from the organisation, the fault is environmental, societal. I recall when I was Commissioner of police in Lagos, I had a live interview on TV with late Yinka Craig, talking about the Police. And I challenged the viewers to name any agency of government in the country that is doing very well. At the end of the interview nobody said anything. I challenged the viewers again that they have not pointed out the agency that is doing well in Nigeria, therefore, they shouldn’t castigate the Police if other agencies are not doing well. These Police officers do well outside the country, in Nigeria they don’t do well. There must be a problem; the problem must be in Nigeria.

As an expert sir, where do you think the problem lies? 

The problem lies in us! It lies in our culture. Before I became IGP, I was DCO, DPO, 2i/c to Area Commander, Area Commander, I saw it all. I served in Lagos for 8 years.The problem is in our culture. Nigerians behave in a particular way. Let me give you an experience; policemen at a roadblock stop somebody and ask them to open the boot of their cars, the next thing you hear is ‘who are you, I am going to report you, the commissioner of police is my friend, you are not even up to my driver, and you are stopping me? When you talk to somebody that way, you have wounded their ego. This kind of things happens every day on the road. When I was Commissioner of Police in Lagos, I knew the number of calls I received in a day. ‘Your men just stopped me’, I will ask them what did you do, they will say nothing. You must have done something before they stopped you, talk to them, I normally tell them. When I was DPO Bode Thomas in Surulere, Lagos, there was a road block at Eric Moore; there was a day they stopped a woman for her car to be searched. She refused and was making so much noise, they called me on walkie-talkie and I asked them to bring her to the office. When she came to the office, I asked her what was the problem? She started, ‘I have been in America for 10 years, nobody treated me like this, I am now in my own country how would they treat me like this? I said madam calm down, what is the problem? She said, they rough handled me in my own country. I said madam you are from America, you are not from America. Then she said ‘see my passport, see my ticket! I said yes, you people go to America and learn good things, the moment you arrive at the airport the good things you learned you put aside and put on the Nigerian toga. In America, if the Police stop you, is this how you are going to talk to them? I have not been to America but I am told that if the Police say you should stop and raise your hands. If you don’t do that or you decide to put your hand into your pocket to bring out even your handkerchief you might be shot, is it not so? Why are you behaving like this in Nigeria? She kept quiet! I said, give me your box, and when I checked there was nothing there. I said ‘madam take back your ticket and your passport, you are now in Nigeria, behave like a Nigerian’. She left. That is our culture, our habit in Nigeria. They show I am this, who is a Policeman, how much does he earn, why must he stop me on the road? That is our culture! The moment we realize that we are now in the 21st century and not 1914 Nigerians should obey laws. Whenever I am driving, they stop me, check my papers and when they recognise me they allow me to go.