Sunday Magazine

Okiro: Why Buhari shouldn’t negotiate with criminals

Sir Mike Okiro is a retired Inspector- General of Police and former Chairman of the Police Service Commission (PSC). Now a security consultant and lawyer, Okiro, in this interview with BIYI ADEGOROYE analyses the security situation in the country and general policing, advocating strong political will on the part of the government and interagency cooperation to address the slide


How do you see the security situation in the country, with this daily issues of killings and kidnappings?


The situation is highly disturbing and requires that all hands must be on the deck to address and solve it. It is not something that will disappear through a magic wand but we must start from somewhere.


These are internal security issues and the police as the lead security agents in internal security matters must sit up and work with the other security agencies. But you and I know that a major problem is lack of manpower and other operational equipment to address this. They do not have the wherewithal to address this.

This issue is very disturbing around the country. Why have we failed to make regular recruitment into the police in conformity with the progressive rise in the population? After all, the then President Olusegun Obasanjo started a yearly recruitment of 10,000 personnel into the force?


It was discontinued and that was evidence of poor judgement on the part of our planners.


The question is why did they drop the policy, bearing in mind the fact that the UN recommendation of required police personnel is one policeman to 400 people?

That way, the police would be able to serve and protect the people, especially now that our population is about 200 million along with attendant security challenges. The police strength today is very inadequate and it is an irony in a country which has an unemployment population percentage of about 33 per cent, most of whom are young men and women.


This is very ridiculous. Look, this did not start today. Obasanjo ensured regular recruitment into the police but this was stopped, maybe, due to lack of funds or so, and this was affecting our operations.


In 2006, for instance, about 10,000 police officers and men left the force, and I had to make a case to bring them back when I became the IGP In 2013, when I was the Chairman of the Police Service Commission, we discovered that there was no recruitment into the police for five    and the force became incapable of meeting its manpower requirement.


And during this period, the police lost 59,000 officers and men due to retirement, death and dismissal and these officers and men were not replaced. That was why I wrote a passionate letter to the President then that the police could not continue like that, and in response, the President approved the recruitment of 10,000 into the force. Apart from the inadequacy of operational equipment, they lack the manpower to do the job.


The Police are complaining of manpower shortage, yet scores of its personnel are sent to protect politicians and the rest


Yes, VIP protection is very important. Look, the philosophy behind it is that top members of the country, whose position and or action can make them the targets of criminals have to be protected.


You are aware of the Diplomatic Protection Unit of the Nigeria Police, just like you have Judges Protection people and that of members of the National Assembly, governors and even the presidency.


Don’t you think the judges who hand down life sentences to criminals should not be protected? The same thing goes for ambassadors, who are presidents of their country but domiciled in Nigeria. These people and other VIPs deserve police protection.


But I am against the release of police personnel to all manners of politicians or noveau rich people at the expense of the larger members of the public. That is grossly improper and that is why every successive IGP withdraws such personnel upon assumption of office to enable them do a kind of personnel audit and determine and prioritise postings.


If other categories of people need personalized protection, they can seek guard services or escort from private security companies who have personnel and are licensed to carry a category of weapons. This is the way to go and it is a global practice to utilize the services of private guard companies.


In the face of these terrorism and attack on security facilities, what do you think can be done?


Inter-agency cooperation is very vital because the nation is under serious threat. With that cooperation, other services can give maximum support to the police. It is on record that during the war, the police were drafted in to support the Army. The Nigerian Civil War was fought by soldiers and policemen. And don’t get it wrong. Security must be approached from a multidimensional point of view.


The Nigerian Immigration Service and the Nigerian Customs Service are vital in the areas of international and national security. If our borders are porous as has been alleged and all manners of foreigners come in, that portends grave danger to our internal security. In the same manner, if the Customs fail to carry out full checks on shipments into the country either through the sea ports or land borders, weapons can be moved into the country to cause grave dangers.


You will recall that in the past few years, the Nigeria Customs services have intercepted lots of illegal arms shipments into the country, either at the point of entry or while in transit to some locations within the country. In a similar manner, the police   which are in charge of weapon registration must do their duties diligently and intercept illegal weapons during stop and search duties or upon receiving information from members of the public.


As part of interagency cooperation, the security agencies must also share timely intelligence such that crimes can be nipped in the bud, and criminals are deterred from carrying out their heinous intentions.


This is very important because as it is often said an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. In some of the states where major security cases have been witnessed in recent time, such incidents would have been avoided if intelligence were shared and acted upon promptly.


By and large, the intelligence community, DSS, CIB and even the intelligence arms of the various armed forces must rise to the demands of the time. I can tell you for free that at a time in this country, based on intelligence reports, we crime- mapped Nigeria, identifying the various crimes and security threats that were peculiar to each part of the country.

That way, we were able to itemise various security measures to address them at top level of the police and governance. The records are there in the office of the Deputy Inspector-General of Police, Investigation and Intelligence. To me, this is one of the benefits of institutional memory or records.

These records are available to the police leadership and indeed in every organization, so that successive leaders will not need to start from the scratch or reinvent the wheel. At this critical stage in our history, all eyes are on the security agencies and this is no time for inter-agency rivalry.

They must all work concertedly to ensure internal security, while the government provides the requisite political will, equipment and funds to address the various security threats facing the country.


There were operations Safer Cities, Highway Patrol and even Safer Schools, put in place by the police. Why do you think these have not been able to address the level of insecurity today?


I don’t know what have changed now but when I was the IGP, we tried our best to ensure regular aerial and land patrols of the highways and mobilised the officers and men to sustain this. I even put a bullet-proof helicopter on the Abuja-Kaduna Road to ensure safety and security.


The then Governor of Kaduna State, Architect Namadi Sambo, supported the police and we put a helicopter on the road in response to cries about security and safety on the road and the criminals ran away. So I don’t know what has happened since then.


That means we need more aerial patrol


Yes, along with vehicular patrol. Like it or hate it, this motorised patrol is still very potent in crime prevention and detection. You are also aware of the use of drones and other equipment in the area of artificial intelligence for these purposes. Policing must benefit from contemporary technological development because we cannot be fighting 21st century crimes with obsolete strategies and equipment.


But with this level of insecurity, aerial patrol should be done with caution because of recent cases of crash of security aircraft. I’m not saying that the crashed helicopters were brought down by any group but we need to utilise those equipment with caution. The police Air Wing is also there and they should be put into effective use.


Since the EndSARS protest, it has been said that the morale of the police has been down. It is even said that they sometimes vamoose at crime scenes now. What could be done about this?


The protest did a huge damage. To me, it was a huge setback to the country. It was hijacked and consequently about 73 persons, including 22 policemen were killed in the most barbaric manner. Several critical security formations across the country were destroyed. Besides, a lot of AK-47 and their magazines were stolen when some youths and criminal elements attacked over 205 critical national security assets, in the country during the attack.


In Lagos alone, 16 police stations were burnt while 13 other police formations were vandalized. However, as a retired IGP and former Chairman of Police Service Commission, I feel the pains of these officers and men who were attacked and were forced out of their stations by touts in the name of protests.


It is worth mentioning that the police leadership has responded to the needs of the officers and men to reboot and re-boost their morale to perform their constitutional duties more effectively. Even more recently, a number of police officers and even soldiers were killed in Imo, Rivers and Benue states.


This is alarming and the level of impunity should stop. It can be very demoralizing when the people you risk your life to protect are turning around to kill you.


Interestingly, some state governors have come to the aid of some of the families of the bereaved and given scholarships to their dependents. Besides, the government should look at their salaries, their allowances, mobility and other forms of motivation in order to boost their morale and show that they appreciate what they are doing.


There was this case of a policeman who was killed in the recent attacks on a police station and one week after, his family has not been informed about his death. The policemen on duty are watching this and will definitely lose morale.


What do you make of the so-called bandits kidnapping and killing students around the country, especially in view of calls on the government to negotiate with them?


This spate of killing of policemen, soldiers and even students is intolerable. It is a very grievous crime and the people should have a rethink. Neither the students nor the security agents have committed any crime against them.


The other day, my heart bled when I read about the killing of the Greenfield University students kidnapped recently and to worsen matters, some have called for negotiation with these criminals. This is unacceptable. Mr. President should not negotiate with them because you don’t negotiate with criminals. Rather, you give them the treatment they deserve.


What can the governors do in this milieu?


Besides the Police insurance scheme and other measures, the governors, as the chief security officers of the states can do a lot by assisting the police. It is only when there is security in a state that its economy can boom. Right now, how many investors are willing to site their business in Borno State? They will not go. I gave you the example of Kaduna State.

The then governor was fueling a police helicopter on that road every day. He had a fuel dump in Kaduna and that enabled us to patrol the place and provide security. I know they have limitations due to police structure but every governor has a vital role to play.


Are they going to call President Muhammadu Buhari who has the whole country as his geographical territory to address what obtains in their states? If the governors allow security to go haywire in their domain, they will be the first victim.


The new IGP has assumed office at a very critical time. What advice do you have for him?


I have called to congratulate him but my advice will be delivered to him in person. He has an enormous challenge but I will give him my advice during my next visit to Abuja.


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