Former Inspector-General of Police, Sir Mike Okiro, in this interview with JAMES UWEM shares his experiences as a career police officer and the efforts he made as the IGP to stem the tide of the spread of terrorism to Nigeria. He also speaks on ways to achieve an ideal Nigeria
Nigeria is currently being ravaged by terrorism, as former IGP, what is the ideal way of handling the situation?
There is no ideal security situation anywhere. Even in the communist countries where we are made to believe that wealth and properties are evenly distributed, they haven’t achieved a zero crime rate.
Not to talk of a capitalist country like Nigeria where there exists the bourgeoisie and the have-nots. So far there exists people that cannot afford their daily bread in any society, there must be crime! In the security parlance, you can talk about ideal situation if your country’s security situation is reduced to a manageable level so that innocent citizens can go about their normal businesses without fears of being killed.
More so, Nigeria is among the comity of nations, in one global community and can’t be isolated from whatsoever is happening to other countries of the world.
Criminals in that perspective take advantage of the expanded global knowledge and synergies, study crime situations in country A and perfect it in country Z. That is why I said Nigeria can’t be left out of the terrorism activities ravaging the entire world. In 2007, as the IGP, I studied the terrorism phenomenon.
I came to conclusion that there was no way Nigeria being a major oil producing country, multi-ethnic as it is and the most populous Black Country, with different religious beliefs can escape terrorism.
I foresaw that terrorism will someday spread its ugly wings to Nigeria. So in 2007 when it wasn’t prevalent in Nigeria, I had to be the first among other security agents to establish the ‘Police Anti-Terrorism Squad’ to prepare the police against what I anticipated will sometimes spread to Nigeria.
However, terrorism menace is apparently a new phenomenon in Nigeria. Other countries may have experienced it and in the process discovered best ways of dealing with the scourge. The foresight I had and the trainings the police team received abroad I think helped tremendously in some of the successes police have recorded.
Maybe, if not for the foiling of some attacks, the impact as we are seeing could have been more devastating and unimaginable.
But as a security and political stakeholder in the country, I am aware of the measures put in place by government; I don’t need to reveal them. God willing, if those strategies work, there is hope that in no time, terrorism shall soon come to an end.
How will you describe your days and experiences as IGP?
Oh fulfilling! I am always proud that I am a Nigerian. Being IGP was just one aspect of my career; that is why I always prefer talking and referring to Mike Okiro as a police officer who enlisted in the police as a Superintendent and left as an Inspector General of police.
Challenging I would say but my successes should be attributed to all the officers that at those times worked under me and contributed and ensured that that proper things were done and that we succeeded. Also my glowing tributes go to the entire Nigerians.
As a police officer, you have a duty and an over bearing challenge managing people. I had never seen myself as all knowing; I seek advice from fellow officers as no human has the monopoly of intelligence.
Maybe my successes were predicated on the premises that I was able to sift the bad ideas from the good ones. As a Nigerian, I was called to duty and served with the best of my abilities; thank God my services were appreciated.
What would you say were your memorable moments in the police force?
As commissioner of police and as IGP; to practically demonstrate leadership by example. There were incidences where I had to take my AK 47 to confront robbers. As commissioner of police Lagos State, on two occasions, I had to confront bank robbers on operation.
The bank manager called me and I felt I don’t need to further delay in giving instructions to my subordinates. I had to mobilize and we encountered the robbers, killed some and made arrests.
When I returned, I told my subordinates that I did that to prove to them that this police work is difficult but not impossible and I also let them know that there was no need as a police man to be afraid of death, that death will come when it will come.
As IGP, a friend called that that robbers were at his residence. I had forgotten the exact street and location of the house, so I couldn’t explain to the commissioner police FCT, than to call him and tell him to meet me up at the area we got there and encountered the robbers successfully, saved the life of his entire family.
You were chairman security committee at the just-concluded PDP convention and the event was adjudged as the best in terms of security, how did you achieve this?
At the early stage of Mr. President’s campaigns, there were security challenges; people died in Port Harcourt. In Lafia, the president’s convoy was attacked and so on. So my mandate was to make sure there would be no reoccurrence of any spilling of blood. I called other officers to the drawing board and came up with solutions.
You see, if you’re a good manager of humans, you will know how to share responsibilities and respect their feelings. I didn’t portray myself as all knowing, so when I give directives they follow it. Even in my days as IG, there was no way I could have been doing the work of the commissioners, so you have to be exemplary and others will be delighted to accept your commands.
The agitation for state police is still on, should government consent to state policing?
Section 214 of the Constitution states that there shall be one police for Nigeria. Prior to independence, we had the state and regional police but during the First Republic, it was used by politicians to intimidate political opponents. That was the major reason regional and state police were fused to one united Nigeria Police.
Now, do you expect us to go back to what we had experimented and found out that it did not serve any good? One united Nigeria Police Force is best for the country.
Soon after your retirement, you went into politics, aspiring to become a senator. How would you describe the experience?
In life, you have to experience many aspects of lives. There is this perspective that politicians were are bad and corrupt, I wanted to change the perception and also to use my wealth of experience to render service to the people.
What I learnt was that in politics people tend to be insincere and their loyalty are in doubt at all times, people only pursue their interest. This is far different from where I came from, the police where you are the boss and you orders are obeyed to the later and is the final. It was an awful experience but I am not yet through in politics.
You run an NGO, Salute Nigeria Initiative. What are the ideals of this NGO and what propelled you into it?
Over the years, even as a police officer, I learnt most Nigerians have primordial tendencies and are not patriotic. People talk first about their religion, tribe, community, state etc, it shouldn’t be so. Nigeria should come first. American citizens put America first, so that is the kind of spirit I intend inculcating into Nigerians.
We are starting from the school children and people at the grassroots to drive those patriotic tendencies into their consciousness. Ideally Nigerians should be united and patriotic at all times not only when Nigeria is playing a football match; we should be talking and promoting Nigeria.
Being a political stakeholder and a PDP stalwart, what is your assessment of President Jonathan’s administration, considering the plight of the common Nigerian?
First of all, I am a common grass-roots Nigerian; I feel the pulse of whatever those on the street feel. But I think President Jonathan is a promise keeper. He has made efforts in fulfilling all his campaign promises, like the free and fair elections, the promise of rectifying the power sector, employment generation and the rest.
We all know that the degradation, corruption and the rot in the country have been on for a long time, putting things right certainly would have to take a while. A lot is going on in the power sector.
There is a serious security challenge but efforts are also on to end the saga, like I earlier said it is just a phase that other countries had experienced. The wise approach he has taken is trying to create over 500,000 jobs.
If that is successful, some of those who are perpetuating heinous crimes and terrorism, will be engaged in useful ventures and will not have time for criminal activities which automatically will help reduce and subsequently lead to ending terrorism in the country.