■ I didn’t betray former president Jonathan
■ Why police invaded NASS to stop Tambuwal
■ Jonathan wanted me to rig 2015 election for PDP
Former Inspector-General of Police Suleiman Abba, a lawyer, has opened up on the actions he took to forestall the plan to scuttle the 2015 presidential election.
In this interview with IHEANACHO NWOSU in Abuja, he dismissed claims that he betrayed ex-President Goodluck Jonathan.
You have been off public view since you left office as Inspector General of Police in 2015. What happened?
Truly, I have been off public view, but it was for good reasons. I needed to rest after a meritorious service to Nigeria. You can recall that I left office few days after the 2015 general elections. However, I was extremely happy and glad that my retirement came at a time the police were being showered with accolades from local and international organizations for the great role in the 2015 elections. Police were praised for their neutrality at the 2015 polls. The international community confessed that it was the first time the police played a professional role in Nigerian elections. No one accused us of changing results neither were we accused of aiding or abetting electoral malpractices or violence. The height of it all was that envoys of foreign countries in Nigeria visited the Force headquarters one after another to congratulate and appreciate our efforts. The Peace Committee, which was made up of eminent and highly respected Nigerians also congratulated us for the good job we did. I was deeply proud and fulfilled then to have been part of Nigerian Police Force. Someone asked me few days after I left office, if I will still serve in the police in the next world, and I convincingly answered yes. My reason was that the police is a noble profession that had given me joy and peace of mind. I found peace, love, enormous blessings and responsibilities in the Nigerian Police. I am extremely grateful and happy that I served in the Force. However, there was several allegations by those who lost the elections that I betrayed them. But as a trained police officer, I kept my cool because I knew that nothing like that happened. I believed they would know the truth in time to come.
Your accusers have alleged that you worked secretly for the success of Muhammadu Buhari at the polls. They also accused you of flouting protocol by your going to the airport to receive a President-elect when you are still answerable to a sitting president. What is your reaction to these allegations?
There were many allegations, but they were false and baseless. I wish they could give me examples or instances that such things happened. Some of them alleged that I quickly switched loyalty after Jonathan lost the election. That was totally untrue. I will love them to tell me how and when I did that. They should also substantiate claims of hobnobbing with the then President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari. I am a gentleman to the core, a trained policeman who has given his best to the service of Nigeria. It is unfair for someone to make such allegation against me. They alleged that I went to the airport to welcome Buhari who was President-elect then. Remember that a sitting IGP doesn’t travel alone. He must go with orderlies, escorts and some close senior police officers. So, they should provide videos to justify their allegations. Besides I can’t be stupid or careless enough to go to the airport to welcome a President-elect when there is a sitting President. I have worked in the Presidential Villa for years and I have mastered presidential protocols and I also know and appreciate the powers in the office of the president. So, it will be unfair to say that someone like me that knows the truth and protocols will violate it. I was in charge of Mobile escort in the Presidential Villa for one year between 1994 and 1995. I was later appointed Aide de Camp (Police) to the then First Lady.
I held that post for four years. That gave me good exposure and knowledge of the Presidency. So, anyone that accused me of going to welcome the President-elect when there was a sitting president was being economical with the truth. However, I must confess that I was at the International Conference Center, Abuja, when the then President-elect was being presented with the Certificate of Return. I attended that event because it was the peak/climax of the 2015 electoral exercise. I was duly invited to that occasion. As a matter of fact, a seat was kept for me right from the point of collation of votes because Electoral Act only recognized the police as regards security. I was there to take charge in case of any kind of “Orubebe” incident. I didn’t have to wait for INEC Chairman to call me about any security breach. So, I took precaution and made myself and some of my senior officers available at the event because, at that point, I had lost trust in people around me. I must also confess that I visited the then President-elect to congratulate him on his victory at the polls. That was the first time I met him face to face. But I must tell you that it was a common agreement between me and other Service Chiefs. For some reasons, they went without me, so I had no option but to go on my own to congratulate him. I did no wrong in my own interpretation of the scenario.
You said few days ago that the former administration attacked you because you simply refused to do their bidding. What was their bidding that you declined to do?
The truth about the entire thing was that a certain political party won an election and another political party lost an election. We (the Service Chiefs and the IGP) had privileged information few hours after the election was concluded that the then President Jonathan had lost that election. Even Jonathan himself knew that he had lost the election. His Principal Secretary was in a meeting where the entire electoral process was being reviewed bit by bit. Immediately it was clear that Jonathan had lost the election, his loyalists began to plot how to disrupt the process. That was when I cautioned them to be careful so they don’t put Nigeria into flames. I suggested that they should allow the process to conclude to avoid crisis that would lead to the death of people. That was when they calmed down and began to accept defeat.
Were you able to meet with the then President to brief him about the situation of things?
I couldn’t. Remember that whenever things have gone wrong, the people in power choose who to see. Besides, they never believed in me. They were never satisfied with my approach to the elections. Shortly before the elections, I was queried by the Presidency for asking the State Commissioners of Police to be civil, impartial and non-partisan in their handling of the elections. I also received a communications from some senior government officials seeking to know why I asked the CPs to be impartial and non-partisan, instead of asking them to help their party win the elections. I was made the chairman of the election security committee and I knew the importance we attached to the election. However, I gave the directive at the regular meeting of police senior officers. But the government officials queried why I should give such directives. They suggested that I do it individually instead of collectively. Meeting and interaction of police officers are regular exercise in the police service whether during elections or not. It is always an opportunity to constantly remind the officers of the need to be professional in their conduct.
Many Nigerians thought you were on the side of the then president, particularly given the role you played in the plot to remove the then Speaker, Aminu Tambuwal. Why did you block the National Assembly if you were not working for the presidency?
I didn’t act alone in that saga. The then president gave us the assignment to withdraw the security details of the then Speaker. The assignment was not given to me alone. Myself and the Director General of the State Security Service (SSS) were given that assignment. I tried as much as I could to convince the president to, at least, allow me retain the ADC of the ex-Speaker, but I couldn’t succeed. Nigerians didn’t really understood what happened at that time and that was because the information available to the public was limited. My happiness was that I never allowed myself to be used by people in the corridors of power.
But did you ever regret allowing yourself to be used for that incident?
That doesn’t bother me. The fact of the matter was that I have more regret with the treatment given to police officers who were assigned to carry out specific duties as requested by the president.
People had the impression that you hobnobbed with the then President-elect so as to retain your office. Was this perception correct?
That was untrue. Besides, I don’t need to hobnob with the then President-elect to retain my office. You can ask yourself this question. Did he reappoint me as the IGP even when he has the power to do so? The answer is no. So, that argument holds no water at all. And in any case, the instances I met with him does not suggest that I became close to him.
Have you met the president since he was sworn in three years ago?
It is not about meeting him face to face, but the matter of supporting a legitimate government that enjoyed massive support from Nigerians. That is how I see it. Even in advanced democracies that we emulate, they give their best support to whoever emerged the leader irrespective of party affiliations, as long as the leader was elected or appointed legitimately. It is beyond whether I have met with the president face to face. It is about supporting a legitimate government and that is what I have done over the years.
Beyond what transpired during former President Jonathan administration, what other impression do you have about him?
There is no argument that Jonathan is a good man with a good heart. He never shouted at me as the President of Nigeria. I have never seen Jonathan drunk like people say. After he removed me from office, I made efforts to meet and thank him for the opportunity he gave me to serve. I never saw the president as a bad person at all. The only time his attitude towards me changed was after the presidential election, which he lost. And that I understood, I know it was because I refused to cooperate with him and his loyalists to disrupt the process.
What came to your mind when Jonathan’s aides recently issued a statement and called you unprintable names?
I wasn’t bothered because they never mentioned the things I said to you earlier. I expected them to have picked the issues I raised and dispute them one after another. But they didn’t do that. It might not make meaning to people who would read statements out of words. I challenged them to mention instances where I lied and I will feed them with the truth of what transpired with evidences. Let me correct this impression, I was never removed from office because of the Osun election. That was what the then government told Nigerians, but that was untrue. Others said I was removed because of indiscipline in the police. What they described as indiscipline was a case a serving minister who directed an Inspector to compromise the Osun electoral process and the Inspector refused. That was what they meant by indiscipline in the police. We must know that only INEC officials have the right to issue directives at polling units. However, before that election, a senior member of PDP asked me to aid their victory at the polls and I will be confirmed as quickly as possible. It made me wonder how a non-voter like me could deliver electoral victory to PDP. Before the election, I visited the state and as always, met and asked the officers to be impartial, civil and non-partisan. I informed them that double sanction awaits anyone that violates the Electoral Law or processes. INEC chairman and I were together at another meeting where I promised all stakeholders that level playing field would be provided for all and that was what we did and no regrets.
Why are you speaking out now on all that transpired few years ago?
I am speaking out now because I want some people to stay off my way. They called me betrayer after I was removed from office and I kept quiet because of my background as a trained and disciplined policeman. They called me unprintable names while I was away, but I kept quiet and accepted it with fate. But they have begun again to call my name in their meetings, perhaps, because the elections are around the corner. They have begun to re-strategize on how to regain or retain power. But I am being forced to ask if life is all about power and money. But the most important thing for me is for them to leave me alone and I hope they would do that.
Why do security agencies tend to pitch tent with incumbent administration at the detriment of Nigerians?
It has to do with nature of Nigerian society. In every aspect of the society, the issue of give and take, lawfully or unlawfully, is always there. Research I conducted in National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) in 2009 about the conduct of policemen during elections gave me the opportunity to know so many things. I found out that the only way to know what happened is to deeply study the report of the local and international observers. Reports of previous observers had confirmed that the police have been conniving with the government in power to rig or better still change the outcome of the election. However, as regards the 2015 elections, we agreed that the officers should be sensitized so they could know their responsibilities and that greatly helped us to reduce bickering and malpractices at the polls.
Do you believe the proposed decentralization of the police is the way to go?
It is contrary to the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria. I choose to believe that government was talking about administrative decentralization. I also choose to keep my fingers crossed and watch them do what they think is right in that regard. However, there is need for more explanation, consultation and input from the stakeholders. The fact of the matter is that Nigerian Constitution gave recognition to one central police system. And it will be an effort in futility to do otherwise. The constitution must first be amended before anything of such could happen.
What do you think is the problem of the police?
The problem of the police is the police itself. What I mean by that is that the quality of manpower is poor. I took that position because each police officer ought to have the attribute of a police officer. And that was why if a police officer carries out illegal responsibility, whether directive came from superior officers or not, such officer must not go unpunished. I had the privilege of starting a reform in the system, but the attitude of the policemen posed a big challenge in that regard. That could also be described as indiscipline, and an undisciplined person will always find it difficult to achieve targets. An average police officer ought to have self-discipline training so he or she could imbibe those attributes that would distinguish him as disciplined and professional police officer. It helps
him to get the acceptance and confidence of people he is serving. It would also make them
to collaborate and support the police to succeed in preventive and investigative services. Change of attitude is critical and important for the success of the police service in Nigeria.
The current leadership of the police has faced so much criticisms by Nigerians. What could be responsible for that?
Sincerely speaking, it is not in my character to beat about the bush in my statements. It is also not in my character not to speak direct from my heart. I want to believe that people are complaining because Nigerian police has never been this divided. Impunity and injustice seem to be reigning. The division is obvious to the point that some officers have compromised. How do you explain a situation where some officers are promoted not based on qualification, competence and experience, but based on who you know. There are huge animosity, envy and anger among the officers. And it ought not be so.