Sir Mike Mbama Okiro, was the Inspector-General of Police, IGP, in Nigeria from 2007 to 2009 – the 13th. Born on 24th July 1949 in Oguta, Imo State, he hails from Egbema in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni local government area of Rivers State.
He is the Agunechemba 1 of Egbema and Nigeria’s first ethnic Igbo to assume the post of IGP. He holds a degree in the English Language from the University of Ibadan, a Masters in Public Administration from the University of Lagos and LLB, LLM from the University of Jos.
In addition, he also holds an honorary doctorate degree from the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, Imo State and Novena University, Delta State. He is an Alumnus of the Prestigious National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies, NIPSS, Kuru, Jos, Plateau State.
His headship of the force ushered many laudable and bold achievements including the disbursement of tokens directly to divisional police officers all over the country as stipends to run their areas of jurisdiction among many others. He speaks on the insecurity in the country and the way forward.
By Emma Nnadozie, Crime Editor
What is your honest assessment of insecurity in the country now?
The insecurity in the country now leaves much to be desired. Nigeria is part of the global village and must line up for the international insecurity sting. But the sad and devastating scenario is that we have not yet developed an answer to this harrowing experience. We seem to have thrown up our hands in despair.
What do you think should have been done to stop its escalation?
To stop its escalation, all hands must be on deck to confront this evil phenomenon. It is not a problem for security agencies alone to handle. Security is a collective responsibility and must be tackled holistically as a general and public malaise. If every Nigerian cooperates and collaborates with the security agencies, we shall get out of this sorrowful and heart-rendering blues.
Where did we go wrong?
We went wrong in tackling the issue of security when we deliberately allowed our primordial views on religion, ethnicity and politics to interfere with the fight against insecurity. Let me cite an example. When I was appointed the Inspector-General of Police, IGP, I formed the Police Anti-Terrorists Squad (ATS). I had some police officers trained in Israel, Egypt, Spain and South Africa – countries with a prolonged history of terrorism. To avoid the high cost of foreign training, I established an Anti-Terrorists training school in Nonwa, Rivers State, to train the officers locally.
Unfortunately, this creation was visited with suspicion and unnecessary bias. Some government officials said that the IGP had established an anti-terrorist squad so as to gather some people from a certain religion and shoot them as terrorists. Even two newspapers wrote editorials condemning the ATS and stating that there was no terrorism in Nigeria, that the IGP was making Nigeria a pariah state by creating Police Anti-Terrorists Squad when there was no such situation in Nigeria. In an attempt to clear myself, I organised a press conference where I said that I had viewed and systematically studied the situation in the world vis-a-vis the countries surrounding Nigeria which was being besieged by terrorists. I concluded that it would be a matter of time before Nigeria would be invaded, and so I was taking proactive action by training police officers in advance to confront the issue should the need arise.
Secondly, I said that a bomb blast by terrorists would kill anybody within the killing range with no distinction among religions, ethnicity or political cleavage. Unfortunately, the government bought into and embraced the criticisms and condemnation of the ATS and so refused to approve the items and equipment I put in the budget for the ATS. However, I remained undaunted and had to employ the rule-of-thumb to monitor and maintain the security in the country since it was my avowed and constitutional responsibility irrespective of the actions and inactions of some of my fellow countrymen. Unfortunately, Boko Haram struck in Maiduguri about three months after my retirement from service. History has proved me right. What I am saying is that we should avoid bringing matters of religion, ethnicity, politics and other extraneous circumstances into issues of security.
Generally, how do you see efforts made by security agencies in tackling insecurity now?
Security agencies are doing their best within the limits of what is available for them to fight the scourge. They are also contending with a hostile environment.
As a former IGP, do you think the police has fared well in curtailing it?
The Police are doing their best also; but the challenge is lack of modern equipment to fight insurgents, lack of manpower coupled with lack of adequate welfare package.
What is your advice to the powers that be over equipping the police to live up to expectations?
The world has advanced tremendously and technology has its domineering effect on all spheres of life. So have crime, criminality, terrorism and their allied relations. Therefore, for the Police to live up to expectations, serve the people and protect life and property, they obviously need to embrace the advancement in technology, be not only at par with the men of the underworld but be one or two steps ahead to be able to subdue them.
Talking about state police, do you think it is better for the country given the present situation in the country?
Given the present state of insecurity in the country, one might be tempted to presume that State Police is the answer, but the historical antecedents of the Nigeria Police demonstrate otherwise. The abuse and misuse of the Police in the 1960s after the independence by politicians and powers that be prompted Gen Yakubu Gowon’s government, in its wisdom, to create unitary police for Nigeria in the early 70s. There were jubilations and sighs of relief when this was done. Can we now go back to the Regional (State) and District (Local Government) police which we had tested, faulted and abandoned?
But the call for State Police now is deafening?
Since we have now discovered innumerable inadequacies in the present structure of the Nigeria Police Force in the country given the prevailing state of insecurity, we should visit, adopt and domesticate the Canadian model to suit our geographical, cultural and political dispensation. Instead of State Police, we should have Zonal ( South-South, South-West, South-East, North-West, North-Central and North-East) Police.
Police officers will be recruited from the Zone, promoted and work within the Zone unless they become DIG or seconded to police Force Headquarters or its ancillary sections. The Federal Government will pay the salary of the police officers while the State Governments will equip them and pay for their accoutrements. The strength of the police in the state will be determined by the population and commercial activities in the state. The Geopolitical Zonal Police will be headed by a DIG.
At the Nigeria Police Force Headquarters, the IGP, whose appointment will be rotational from the six zones and with a definite term of office will administer the Nigeria Police with DIGs appointed from the zones to head the various police departments. The IGP will promulgate policies for the entire police to give a national outlook. We shall take a pinch from the American model, like the FBI, where a section in the IGP’s office will handle matters that are inter-zone or beyond the capabilities of zonal police.
I believe the creation of Zonal Police will put paid to the agitation for State Police, get the police officers closer to the people with whom they share the same culture and language, and get the governors involved in the affairs of the police within their state/zone without surrendering ultimate powers to them to avoid the pitfalls of the police of the 1960s.
The vexatious issue of retired IGPs heading the Police Service Commission and its attendant power tussle with police hierarchy, what is your take on it?
The vexatious issue of retired IGPs heading the Police Service Commission, PSC, and its attendant power tussle with the police hierarchy is normal. Tell me of any serious human endeavour, especially in a developing society like ours, where there are no such skirmishes. Skirmishes and disagreements will lead to corrections and perfection.
The grandstanding between the IGP and Chairman of PSC as you mentioned is caused by personality traits and the defects in our extant legislations. These human traits often expose the bad/backside of some individuals.
Let me explain what I mean with some memory lane examples. When I was the IGP, DIG Parry Osayende was the Chairman Police Service Commission. We worked harmoniously and I respected him like my elder brother and father. I even used to visit his house without an appointment, open his refrigerator and serve myself while waiting for him to return from the golf course or wherever. We carried out our official functions according to the constitutional mandates. When I became Chairman of PSC, I worked with three consecutive IGPs, did police recruitment, etc without rancour.
Then came IGP Idris who let hell loose and created an unwarranted and dangerous chasm between the police hierarchy and the Police Service Commission. He did not attend our meetings in PSC if and when invited to do so. We had a backlog of letters we wrote him without reply. He hijacked the recruitment of police constables and I had to invoke the letters of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 ( as amended) to get the exercise back to PSC and restore order. As I left the PSC, the lingering issue came up again and degenerated into an inimical face-off between the current PSC and other IGPs.
Some people have expressed the view that the problem between the Police and PSC can be solved if a non-police officer (retired) is made the Chairman of PSC.
This conjecture is far from the truth and reality. The first Chairman of PSC in the present democratic dispensation was Chief S. N. Okeke. He had no problem with IGP MAK Smith. But he had serious issues with IGP Tafa Balogun (now late) who took over from Smith. They came to frontal physical altercations and ended with the intervention of the President who referred them to the Attorney-General of the Federation. There were no social media than to make the violent conflict viral. The issues in contention included the constitutional provision on who should post the state command commissioners of police.
The constitution provided that the PSC should post state command commissioners of police. I had my reservations on this when I was IGP but did not go into confrontation with the PSC on it, nor on recruitment, since we had to comply with the letters of the constitution. I took the opportunity of my valedictory speech during my retirement pulling-out to talk about this operational error in the constitution.
I said that the IGP knows his men, their capacities and capabilities, therefore the state command commissioners of police should be posted by the PSC in conformity with the constitution (until amended) but with recommendations from IGP since he knows them. When I became Chairman of PSC, I asked the IGP to recommend commissioners of police for posting as state command CPs to the chagrin and constant complaints from the commissioners and staff of PSC who felt I was relinquishing PSC’s responsibility to the IGP. I convinced them with reasons on how and why it should be so. The problem between the PSC and the IGP was created by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
In an article I published in a national newspaper a few months ago, I called it “lack of hire and fire authority syndrome”. The constitution said the PSC has the power to appoint, promote, discipline and dismiss all officers of the Nigeria Police Force except the IGP. Some arrogant IGPs with an innate penchant for insolence and unruly behaviour will ignore and downrate the PSC because the PSC lacks the power to hire and fire him.
As far as this section of the constitution remains unamended, the bad blood between the IGP and the PSC will linger on, no matter who becomes the chairman of the PSC. There can only be peace and amicable relationship if the IGP and Chairman PSC know that they have duties to perform on behalf of the teeming Nigerians for whom they hold the offices on trust and bury their pride and differences in the performance of their constitutional duties.