In his first tell-all interview since his sack as IGP in 2015, Suleiman Abba has revealed why he was given the boot by the then President Goodluck Jonathan. He gave Daily Trust on Sunday a rare peek into some of the dirty jobs he was asked to do and why he believes that the appointment of an IGP should not be the business of the Presidency alone, among many other issues.
You have maintained a very low profile since you were relieved of your duties during the last administration. What has informed your silence?
First and foremost, welcome to the headquarters of Fasaha Solicitors, which is a law firm I chair. It is also the office where Kany Computer Technologies is domiciled. We also have Kany Aviation International Limited all, of which I chair, with their head offices here. That can give you a bit of what I have been doing after service.
But before we come back to that for more details, I think you asked a very important question: Why the quiet? It is in our training and character as police officers to hear more and speak less; that is one of the guiding principles.
Furthermore, because of the very high sense of discipline instilled in me right from home, coupled with my training as a police officer, I have also learnt to go by my training. This is, perhaps, why I have been quiet, but that doesn’t mean that we are not interested in what is going on in the country. I have been following with keen interest. It is my hope that God will continue to give me the strength to be interested in the development of my dear country, which I served in the management of crime for good 31 years. Let me also say that perhaps until there is no strength in me, I will continue to serve my country.
The circumstances leading to your removal were rather controversial as the announcement was made on Twitter. How did you receive it?
Believe me, I have always counted myself lucky. I think because of the little background I gave you about the strength of discipline in me, both personal and professional, I received my sack as a normal development. I was not shocked for a reason that I knew it would happen. Right from the time I started work as Inspector General of Police, I knew that I may not reach the date of my retirement, which would have been 2019, by which time I would have been 35 years in service and 60 years of age. I am saying this because the very first week I took over, we had the elections in Ekiti; that was August 2014. Arrangements had been made for the election by my predecessor and I think it was the same team that also did the Osun election, it was the same AIG.
One of the leading stalwarts in the PDP then said to me: “IG (you know I was acting then) deliver Osun to us and we will confirm you quickly.” I was shocked! That was when I knew that I may not last long in the office. Immediately, I said to myself, “How could I deliver when I am not an electorate? The voters are the ones to deliver, my own was to protect the whole process.” Of course I said to myself that what happened to one of my predecessors (may his soul rest in peace), Adamu Suleiman, was going to happen to me, maybe I would never be confirmed. He was Inspector General of Police and till he left office he was not confirmed.
So that is my approach; I accept things the way they come. I said to myself that I was going to leave that office without confirmation; but then, I went to Osun and did what I was supposed to do. Of course, having made up my mind that I wasn’t going to take the dictates of someone on what I had been doing for decades, I went to Osun, addressed the police officers who were very cheerful because they were seeing their IGP for the first time. I told them to go and do what the law protect the electorate, all other stakeholders, INEC officials, observers, and of course, any other person that had the right to be around the polling areas, collation areas.
I also told them to go and protect the outcome of the election itself. I warned them also that if they allowed themselves to commit any offence against the electoral act, their punishment would be double because they would lose their jobs and may be charged to court. They heeded my warning and did exactly what was expected of them and the outcome was that a winner emerged. Apart from that, the then INEC chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega and I addressed the stakeholders, including the contestants, and I assured them that this IG they were seeing had come to do the right thing, which was to tell my personnel to do the right thing and to assure stakeholders that the police would protect the process before, during and after the polls.
That was exactly what happened. From then on I knew that, perhaps, I was not going to get confirmed or last long in office. So it didn’t come to me as a surprise at all. I also think it was a blessing from the Almighty God, so I wasn’t shocked or disturbed.
I lost an office I should have held for four years, but that was my destiny. And that was why I refused to go to court, even when people were prompting me to do so.
Some of your associates were reported to have advised you to leave the country following your removal, for your own security. Were you under threat at the time?
I will say you are right. It wasn’t only my associates, anybody that had interest in my life and activities had expressed to me that I should be careful. In any case, there were threats, even from high places.
How were you threatened after they were done with you as IGP?
It is only a few people that can get annoyed by somebody’s action and forget it after, perhaps, taking whatever action they would have taken. I want to believe that for threats to have come, even after the action, was an indication that whatever reason that made them to remove me from office was out of annoyance. This is because I was not even given the chance to express myself, which to me is an act of injustice. In justice you listen before you act. Whatever white and dramatised lies that were said against me as an IGP, one would have expected that I would be called to defend myself before any action would be taken. But I leave it to the members of the public to judge whether there was justice or not. All those reasons I heard later on were nothing but white lies.
What were the reasons then?
Well, the reason given to the public was that the police was undisciplined. That was the official reason. If I were only about nine months in office and I could lead the police to conduct themselves in the most disciplined manner ever, that can tell you whether or not indiscipline could have been a good reason to remove me from office.
But did you heed the advice of your associates to leave the country after leaving office?
No! I had time to sit down and reflect properly and decide what to do with my life. Remember, we had just finished the most tedious election; an election that everybody believed the country was going to disintegrate, but we successfully prevented that. Of course, I left the country a week thereafter.
Can one say you went on self-imposed exile?
I didn’t go on exile. I wasn’t a politician to have gone on exile. People who go on exile are those who commit an offence or people who the government was after or those who lost an election. I didn’t lose anything. In fact, I was the one offended, so there was no way the issue of going on exile would apply here.
Were you requested to compromise the 2015 general elections as you were asked in the case of Osun?
Absolutely. Let me put it to you in a way that you would understand and perhaps now see the justification for my action. As AIG, I chaired the committee that planned the security of the 2015 elections. In the report we came out with we emphasized that police officers should be sensitised enough to do what is expected of them, to distance themselves from experiences where the police get accused after every national election the police help the party in power to manipulate the result. So when I became the Inspector General of Police and with the elections about six months ahead, the first thing I did was to begin the implementation of that report, particularly the sensitisation of officers. In doing that, I addressed senior police officers and asked them to sensitise those within their commands, heads of departments, commissioners of police and others. down to the constable. A commissioner of police, for example, would go back to his state, address his DPOs, and the DPOs in turn would conduct lectures routinely. I was emphatic that every police officer should be impartial and non-partisan. In that address, someone went to the Villa and told them what the IGP was doing and one of the big shots there called me – and in a form of query – saying, “IGP why are you telling your officers to go and be non-partisan while you should be telling them to help us.” Of course, they knew there was no way I could do a thing like that. He even advised that if you cannot talk to them in general why don’t you call the commissioners one by one. Of course, we went ahead and did the right thing and the result was obvious; the police was impartial and non-partisan.
Are you implying that there were demands to make you look the other way while electoral malpractices were being perpetrated?
I don’t think there was any way for them to put it than the way they did. It is all encompassing.
The ruling PDP then accused you of working in the interest of the APC, which was then in the opposition…?
I am hearing this from you for the first time. What I heard was that after the election I became close to the president-elect and even went to the airport to receive him. In any case, the public could judge if there was anything like that.
Did you try to go close to the then president-elect?
The only time I met the president-elect was like all the other service chiefs did, to go and congratulate him. It was a common agreement that we were going to congratulate him. I attended the presentation of certificate to the president-elect. Let me tell you why I did that. One, it is only the police that had a seat at that function. Let me also draw your attention to the fact that if you check the electoral act, the police are clearly mentioned as the custodians of security of the elections. Now the IGP had a seat and I appointed at that time, according to tradition, an AIG to represent me in all the activities of the collation, but when it got to the peak I went. In any case, if it was the then PDP candidate that won, I am sure if I didn’t even go there a bigger query would have come. So if we are talking about an election where a candidate that wins legitimately should get all the support, then I don’t see any reason why anybody should query me for attending those functions. Secondly, I went because I wasn’t sure if the desperation shown by those who wanted to disrupt the election or the results of the election would also attempt again.
I wanted to be there personally to take over the command of what was happening because in earlier efforts I was giving directives from my office. So there were good reasons for me to be there, and that was why I was there. Even while I was there, I never went to the president-elect to say congratulations. He was sitting on the far right of the sitting arrangement while I was sitting on the far left. So as I said earlier, it was just a gimmick; lies that were properly dramatised to sway the minds of people to call me what I wasn’t. I have never been a traitor to anyone and at that age I couldn’t be a traitor. I only did what was expected of me and I will repeat it uncountable times if I get the opportunity to do so (to protect the law and do what is expected of me.)
Talking about people attempting to thwart the process, one is reminded of the drama that played out during the collation of the presidential result. There were also speculations that security agencies heard about something being planned to stop the results from being announced. Was the police in the picture of such a ploy?
Yes, the police was in the picture. And thank God the police were in the picture because it did what was expected of it. It disrupted the efforts.
Let’s talk about the one you saw because there were other efforts the police under my leadership halted. If I may put it in a general form, the police in 2015 stopped another June 12 from happening. What you say was a clear indication that there were deliberate efforts to disrupt the results and, perhaps, bring about chaos that only God knows where it would have led us to. My happiness is that we were able to stop it from happening. Coming to your question, as to whether the police had prior information; yes the police had and we didn’t share it with anyone. This is because the police had reached a stage where, with information and efforts to disrupt the election, we were able to halt it. There was no need for me to trust anyone again. It is true I had prior information about what you saw that day. And that is because one of us who participated in the meeting where the disruption was hatched came and informed me. When he informed me, I immediately knew what to do. We already had men on ground, so we blocked all routes leading to the Conference Centre and only allowed those with cause to be there, like observers and party leaders. In any case, they were even there before that scene. We reinforced our personnel outside and inside the International Conference Centre, which served in many ways.
One of the ways was that the people who were mobilised to come in and demonstrate around the centre could not get access. Secondly, those who were in the Conference Centre, like the one you saw protesting, had no supporters. The people who were to demonstrate were expecting the police to assist them by releasing teargas so that there would be serious chaos in the centre so that they would be able to take away the results that had been brought so far. Only God knows what they would have done to the senior officials of the INEC that were administering the collation.
A lot of questions have been asked as to why Orubebe who spearheaded the drama at the International Conference Centre was not arrested by the police.
Let me tell you why. I had worked in the Presidential Villa for four years. I was in charge of presidential escort as a mobile commandant. I was an aide de camp to the head of state for almost three years. I am also a lawyer; and I had served in the Police Force for over a decade, so I should know where power belongs. I was talking with my AIG and was the one who directed him to prevent that person from doing what he wanted to do, but at the same time to be careful. Only God knows if he was arrested and handcuffed like you are saying; maybe that was what they were expecting so that their plan ‘B’ could take place.
Did they have a plan ‘B’?
I don’t know, but normally, people who want to do serious things like that usually have alternatives, so maybe they had a plan ‘B’. Mature actions may have also prevented the plan ‘B’. I was more experienced in knowing where power belongs.
In any case, I made the best decision because no problem came out of it. Maybe if we had acted that way, their next plan would have come in. Who knows I could have been sacked the same day. Remember that the results were not announced yet. Remember that there were also elections of the governors coming up. I wouldn’t have been there to ensure that it was done properly too. So I took the best decision, in my view.
In their attempt to have you compromise the outcome of the 2015 elections, did they also offer you financial inducement?
No! Rather the money was distanced from me because maybe I didn’t belong.
How best do you think security agencies can prevent themselves from being used to mar elections, especially ahead of 2019?
There is no better way than training, and that’s exactly what we did. The human mind can be changed, particularly if you make the resolve to change it. As IGP, that was what I started – attitudinal change.
While in the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru in 2009 as a participant, I was given the topic to conduct my research. In Kuru, normally, you select your topic, but when I submitted my own topic, they said, “No ,we will give you a topic that is important now to the Nigeria Police.” So I was given the topic: ‘Discipline in the Nigeria Police: An Assessment.’ I wrote what I think was a good research. I can beat my chest anywhere on this. In conducting the research, I targeted retired police officers when their association was holding their annual meeting here in Abuja. I came to them with my questionnaire, tapped from their experiences, used it and I was able to get the most modern write-up on issues of discipline. It was from that research that I said to myself if the police could use this it would enhance attitudinal change in the Force. I submitted a copy to the then Inspector General of Police. And then by the infinite mercy of God, I became the IGP and introduced the policy of attitudinal change within the police. Even before the launch, we had started implementation. For example, I printed a booklet, Attributes of a Police Officer for every policeman as a reference document. It contained how a policeman should conduct himself, assist members of the public, carry out his responsibilities, and all that.
Believe me, police officers had started memorizing it. The launch itself was to take place, but the elections were approaching, so we shifted it till after the elections. And we published a lot of things. The only difference is that I never put my name on any of the publication. If you go to the Force Headquarters you can still find them.
Is your attitudinal change policy still being implemented?
No, I don’t think so.
Between Osun and the 2015 general elections there was the siege on the National Assembly, which cast the police in a very bad light. What happened, more so that at a point people started accusing you of being both a policeman and a magistrate?
Well, I will let members of the public judge. The fact that an incident similar to it has just taken place and the consequences are different gives a clear answer to your question as to whether or not there was order from above. In any case, it wasn’t only the police that acted. Both the DSS and the police withdrew their personnel from the then Speaker of the House of Representatives , Aminu Tambuwal and, of course, other security agencies.
The fact that the police did not act alone is another indication that it wasn’t just a police affair. Let me also say that members of the public should be able to judge if there was an order from above. Was there any reaction from the top against the action? In any case, I was the most pained in that incident, and I am saying this because I chaired the committee that prepared the security of the 2015 elections. It was supposed to be a police affair but we also invited others, including the military. Even in 2011 when I was a police commissioner in Rivers, it was the same action we took, and for the first time there was a credible election in Rivers. I was pained when I was used to take an action that was not proper, and even where I protested in order to get some little understanding, I couldn’t.
God knows, and my wife is a witness to the fact that a very senior citizen of this country prevailed on me when I opted to resign than implement the order. The said senior citizen insisted that resigning would be like running away, especially at that stage when elections were around the corner and there were security threats. So I was restrained from resigning, but my happiness is that today, the truth can be seen. As I said, if you compare the two incidents you would know whether it was just the police that worked that day. We didn’t block the National Assembly; we conducted screening, according to the laws. Go and check the laws. In the procedures of the National Assembly, it is stated that anyone can be asked to identify himself before being allowed entry; no exception. Because of the way information came, the only thing we could do was to ensure that the screening was done, perhaps, in a stricter manner. That was why I assigned a commissioner of police to be there to ensure that it was done properly.
What parallels can you draw between the previous siege on the National Assembly and the recent one?
Clearly, you can see that government, in the recent action, clearly came out to say they didn’t know – he acted on his own. There wasn’t such in the previous incident.
You once argued that “a policeman should be held personally responsible for obeying illegal orders,” and here you were being prevailed upon not to resign at the verge of executing an illegal order. Did you find yourself in a state of dilemma?
There was no dilemma. I didn’t resign because good reasons were given to me. That is the sacrifice you make for your nation. If I made a sacrifice to remain and went on to prevent calamity for my nation, there was no regret for staying. In any case, since then I never had regrets for that action or for carrying out what the police were accused of doing.
Can you let us know the elder statesman that prevented you from resigning?
He was a very experienced Nigerian who had held many national offices at the highest level, with a lot of security background.
You don’t want to mention his name?
I wouldn’t want to at this stage. But even when the disruption at the collation happened, he was the first person I ran to and he did a great thing for this nation because he was able to handle the area I could not handle. That was how we were able to save the situation. My prayer is that he should continue to have good health.
You are a believer in sanitising the electoral process, having attempted doing that in Rivers. Did you succeed in changing anything?
The current Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, was the governor then and I saw a lot of fairness in him, I must tell you. He gave us all the necessary support to make sure that elections were conducted and votes counted. My colleague who took over from me when I moved to Lagos confirmed to me that the support continued. In any case, even before then, I had seen when local government elections were conducted in Rivers in 2010 or so and how the then ruling party, the PDP lost a councillorship seat and one of the top officials of government, of course, also of the PDP, insisted that the ruling party must take that seat. This was almost causing serious problems and I called the governor to say, “Look, this is what is happening, one of your top officials is insisting that they must change the results.” The governor overruled that senior official. Another one was when another party went to do campaign for the 2011 campaigns in Rivers and another top official of government said, “No, we won’t allow that party to do their campaign in Rivers.” I reported that to the governor and he overruled that official as well. So we saw how that sense of patriotism could protect the electoral process.
Elections in Rivers State are also characterised by violence. How were you able to cope?
Of course, there is no better way than sensitising the people. It is not only the police that you need to sensitise to change, the electorate should also be sensitised. They should go and cast their votes and leave. And they should accept the outcome of the results.
In Africa today, I am not sure there is any crime that threatens the general security of the state than national elections, and it happens during the outcome of elections.
As we speak today, there are problems arising from elections in some African countries where declared results are unaccepted. Thank God that in our own case, we forced those who lost elections to accept the results. The Nigeria Police forced those who lost elections to accept the outcome.
Are you implying you were the one that forced Jonathan to call Buhari and accept the 2015 results?
I said the Nigeria Police, I didn’t say Suleiman Abba. It was the action of the police that made them to have a change of mind and accept the results. The heroes of that election should have been the police.
You chose to combine technology and law in your office, how are you able to navigate your way through these?
Remember that I am the chairman of this law firm. I am not saying I cannot go to court today. Perhaps if I had read Law before joining the police, I would have been in the courts at a younger age. And perhaps, if I had read Law as a junior officer I would have been in the legal department of the police. I read Law while in the police as a deputy commissioner. By the time I finished in the Law School, just two years after, I became commissioner of police. So I chair this chambers and I also ventured into IT. I have the franchise of an international computer training outfit based in India. They are present in about 42 countries of the world. They have over 20 centers in Nigeria and I happen to be one of their franchises, and I have three centers already. One in Area 11, Abuja, another in Maiduguri Road, Kano, and I am opening one in Ikeja, Lagos. I also have the franchise, the first in Africa, to open an aviation and hospitality academy. I am opening one in Abuja. This will be the first in Nigeria and, perhaps, in Africa.
Are you into farming?
Yes, as far back as 1996, I bought my farm. I am into fishery and rice. God willing, I will get a loan. I am already at an advanced stage. I will esablish a rice mill, having seen the positive response from the government to develop agriculture. It is a very good move because I have never seen any country, particularly in Europe, reach the stage they are without sufficiency in food production.
It appears that going by your different experiences in the past, being an IGP is not without political interference. How can we avoid this, moving forward?
First, and I will be direct, make sure his appointment is not the sole responsibility of the president. As long as it is the president who can appoint and remove an IGP, there will continue to be problems. It happened to me because when I wanted to give another view on how to approach the information of the security threat at the National Assembly, I was made to realise that one person could hire and fire. I never wanted to say anything, all I wanted to say was, “Thank you for appointing me IGP,” but I was denied the opportunity of doing so.
Have you met with ex-president Jonathan since then?
It is only God that makes people meet. But you should know also that I have passed the stage to run away from setting my eyes from any human being.
The presidency has ordered that SARS be overhauled. How best do you think that should be done?
SARS is just a section of a department within the police hierarchy under the Deputy Commissioner of Police at the state level in charge of CID. At the national level, SARS is under the Assistant Inspector General of Police in charge of investigations. To me, therefore, the people in those positions should have greater control in the activities of SARS. That would enable proper supervision.
I think where things have gone wrong is with the fact that SARS commanders at the national level report to the IGP rather than the Deputy Inspector General of Police, who also has a deputy commissioner of Police that would be able to assist him in supervising that function. Same applies at the state level.
Secondly, I am not sure SARS personnel are specially selected and trained. So this comes back to the issue of training. Proper supervision and training would bring checks on their activities and ensure professionalism.
What are your fears for the 2019 general elections?
Well, my only concern is that there doesn’t seem to be honesty on the part of the players of the game. A situation where , just yesterday somebody moved out of a political party and condemned it, giving reasons to justify his action, then without a change of name you run back to the same party, is not proper. I think there needs to be more caution because if there is any security threat, it is from those political actors. I hope the aim is not to bring the whole process to a halt. My happiness is that the government is firm in tackling the security threats.