Joining the police was a big gamble – Okiro
It would surprise many readers of this interview that quintessential cop and former Inspector General of Police (IGP), Sir Mike Okiro, never wanted to become a policeman. Left to the former Commissioner of Police, Lagos State, the pen profession was his first love. Being one of the lucky Nigerians who graduated from the university when university graduates were hot cakes, the super cop disclosed that among the offers he got after he completed his compulsory one-year national service, serving in Nigerian Police was least in his thoughts.
According to him, he had to take a gamble to determine what fate had for him, including a job in Nigerian Customs, and appointment as Features Editor at the Rivers State-owned The Tide Newspaper. After a round of shuffling the papers, the lot fell on his enlistment as Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP). With that, Okiro began a blossoming career in Nigerian Police, which culminated in his appointment as Inspector General of Police (IGP). Retired but not tired, the unassuming boss of the Police Service Commission (PSC), spoke with Effects on his journey to becoming a super cop.
At what point did you decide to join the police?
I joined the police out of adventure. I did my youth service in Maiduguri. At the time, Nigeria was not what it is now. Nigeria had no roads. Maiduguri to Port Harcourt used to be a four-day journey. So, during the service, I never had the opportunity to go home to see my parents. Imagine where you had five days permit and your journey took four days. I was very eager to see my parents because as at that time, there were no mobile phones. The only means of communication were letters telegrams. So, for one year, I didn't hear from my people. When we were doing our community development (CD) in Gashua, a town in today's Yobe State, we saw an advertisement in the newspaper asking young graduates to apply as Cadet ASP. One of my friends said last year, his brother who served in Kano applied for the police job and they flew him from Kano to Lagos. To me, I had seen something that would make me leave Maiduguri. I said that I would apply when I arrived in Lagos. From Lagos, I would go to Port Harcourt before returning to Maiduguri. I wanted to use the opportunity of the job interview as an excuse to travel. Thirty of us applied but only four of us were called. But my hopes were chattered. Instead of asking us to go to Lagos by flight; we were driven in a Peugeot station wagon from Maiduguri to Lagos. It was actually an interesting journey and it showed me how friendly and humane the police could be. We left Maiduguri, driven by an inspector with two armed guards as escort. Out of the four of us that went for the interview, I was the only one taken and I was given my letter of appointment immediately. I just put the letter in my bag and went back to Maiduguri. I never thought of the police job again but I was not happy.
So, what made you changed your mind?
Remember that my aim of going for the interview in Lagos was to have the opportunity to visit Port Harcourt to see my parents but that aim was not achieved. I couldn't go to Port Harcourt because they insisted we must go back via Maiduguri. The inspector said he had instruction to take us to Lagos and bring us back to Maiduguri. I had no choice but to follow them but I felt it was an exercise in futility. When I returned to Maiduguri, I went in search of other jobs. I got a job in Nigerian Customs, I also got a job with the Federal Ministry of Education as a lecturer; I was posted to Kaduna. I got a job with the Rivers State Government as Assistant Secretary and Nigerian Tide newspapers as Features Editor. I got a job with the University of Port Harcourt as Graduate Assistant and got a job in Maiduguri as a lecturer in the school of Basic Studies. But the job of the police I never thought about it.
How did you find your way back into the police?
When we passed out of youth service, I entered a bus as usual, going to Port Harcourt. I made a stop-over in Jos. Like I said, I grew up with so many people from all over the world. One of my classmates in the primary school was an Alhaji. He is Hausa but his father and my father were very good friends. He was in Jos then. When I arrived in Jos, I felt there was no point sleeping in the bus when I had a place where I could sleep comfortably. So, I went to sleep in his house, hoping to join the bus by 6am the next day. Unfortunately, I woke up by 9am and by that time, the bus had gone. We went to the park together and we saw that it was no longer possible to travel. We booked for a bus the next day and went back to his house. After I settled down, I remembered that there was a Police Staff College in Jos. I told myself, even though I didn't want to join the police, let me just go there and see what it looked like. When I got to the Police Staff College, I discovered that it was a beautiful edifice, a beautiful compound. I met some friends I didn't even know were there. One of them was a member of the students union at the University of Ibadan and he was happy to see me. They had heard of my recruitment and thought that I had come to join them but I told them that I only came to see the place and didn't know that some of my friends were there. When they asked me why I wasn't coming to join them, I told them a lie. I didn't tell them I didn't have interest in police job. I told them today is 25th of July and we are supposed to begin training on August 1. There was no way I could leave Jos on July 26, arrive at Port Harcourt, return and start training on August 1. It was not possible. They said it was alright and went and brought one DSP who was a course teacher and introduced me to him as one who had been admitted into course six. They told him I could not join them because of time. In order to free myself, I just wrote. Sorry I cannot come on the 1st of August, permit me to report on the 7th of August. He took it from me and wrote Approved on it. I left and thanked God, saying 'I'm free from your trouble, I won't come back here.' The next day, I took off to Port Harcourt. I never told my father that I was coming. When he saw me, he was happy that I had come back to join the civil service. But I didn't want the civil service job. What I wanted was the Tide job. My mission was to become a journalist and work at The Tide. I was supposed to resume work on September 1. While in Port Harcourt, one of my friends came to visit me and during our discussion, he asked me which job I had got. I told him that I had many job offers but I did not know which one to take. When I named them and got to the police offer, he shouted and said his brother attended the interview three times but he was not taken. He was surprised and wanted to know how I got the offer. I told him how it happened and he said it was a good offer.
When he left, I was confused. I didn't know what to do. So, I wrote the jobs on pieces of paper, squeezed them, knelt down and prayed to God to give me the best. I closed my eyes and picked one of the squeezed papers. When I opened it, it was the Police job. I didn't tell my father because he I knew that he would discourage me. I told my mother because I knew she would not stop me. My mother was indifferent anyway. I didn't tell my father because I knew that he would discourage me. But I told my mother because I knew she will not stop me. My mother was indifferent anyway. The next day, I went to Jos. When I got to the police staff college Jos, I thought they were going to tell me, you are late, go back. I was absorbed. That was how I started my training.
You are the first Igbo to attain the rank of the IGP in Nigeria; did you see this as an achievement?
I don't want to give ethnic coloration to that achievement. I see myself, first, as a Nigerian. I remember when I was the Commissioner of Police in Lagos; the late TV presenter, Yinka Craig of NTA, during an interview on a live programme asked me where we used to attend mosques on Fridays with my friends. We used to call Sallah, Hausa Christmas and we joined the boys to go and hustle for rice. There was no difference at all. An Alhaji friend of mine whom I knew in Jos, two of his children stayed here in my house, even though their father also lived here in Abuja.
What impact did your family background have on your adulthood?
It affected me in many ways, good or bad. It exposed me to many people outside my home. I grew up with different people. Sometime, we would go to a town; my father could be there for six months or one year. I may be the only non-indigene in the school. I found out that most often, I didn't know anybody and other pupils would gather to beat me up. There was nobody to fight for me. So, I cultivated the habit of having friends and that has left me with more friends than relations till today. Actually, at some point, I lost my brothers and I became the only boy in the family. After moving round, my father had settled in Oguta. In those days, Oguta was what you may call a cosmopolitan town. At that time Nigeria was dependent on agricultural products such as: cotton, cocoa, groundnut, palm produce and others for revenue. So, I grew up in a place where I saw people from all the nooks and crannies. Eastern Nigeria was producing palm produce-palm oil and palm kernel. Many companies just as UAC, GBO, SCOA and Lever Brothers we are all at Oguta were all at Oguta. They used to bring merchandise from Liverpool to Manchester by ships through Port Harcourt to Abonema. The little Yoruba and Hausa that I speak now were the ones I learnt when I was growing up in Oguta because at that time, we had Hausa Quarters, Yoruba Quarters, Nnewi Quarters, European Quarters. People from all over the world came and settled in Oguta and at that time they lived together in harmony. It's unfortunate that the civil war came and we had to go. I now realised that I was not from there.
After your retirement as police Boss (IG) how has life been?
Life has been very sweet, not as challenging as it was when I was the Inspector General of Police or when I was serving the police. Now, I wake up in the morning, not very early. Unfortunately, I still wake up very early because my body has been conditioned to wake up at that time. I go to morning mass, come back and start the day. Before I was appointed chairman of the Police Service Commission, anytime I returned from Mass, I would go to play golf in the evening. I visit my friends and they visit me too, we hanged out. As boss of the police service commission, things have changed because I have to go to work. I hardly have time to play golf.
How do you relax?
When 'I'm not working, I do some reading, writing and play chess. There's advancement, now, you do many things with the computer. In those days, you have to look for people to play chess, but now you play chess with the computer.
You are still strong and amiable, tell us the secret?
The secret is that I have a simple mind. I bear no grudge with anybody; I forgive easily; that's me. Nothing bothers me at all and I'm also blessed by God. I have good health, I don't have blood pressure, low sugar, low cholesterol, I sleep well. I have been in a meeting with people from the police micro finance. In fact, they reminded me that I funded the police micro finance to become a community bank.
What's your favourite food?
I don't have a favourite food; anything prepared for me, I eat as far as it's edible and tastes good.
What would you like to be remembered for as a police boss?
I want to be remembered for the man who came, who saw and conquered. - Culled from The Sun