Etim Okon Inyang: Odyssey of a Colossus

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Godwin Etakibuebu
I heard about Etim Okon Inyang from a very elderly retired police Sergeant; Pa Alfred Amiomvanyomwan Amu, alias Okokobioko, first in 1979 but did not meet him until 1982. He was then an Assistant Inspector General of Police in charge of Administration (AIG “A”). The structure of the Nigeria Police Force then had an Inspector General (IG), one Deputy Inspector General (DIG) and five Assistant Inspectors General (AIG). The five AIGs were charged with administration, finance, works, investigations, research and intelligence gathering, listed as A, B, C, D, E and F respectively.

Okokobioko, who joined the Nigeria Police Force on 1st of November, 1932, and retired on 31st of December, 1957, was no doubt the first most acclaimed and respected detective policeman of his generation. He was decorated with three medals – CPM (1942), KPM (1947) and MON (1982). Queen Elizabeth of England even recognised and rewarded Okokobioko for his uncommon successes in the Police Force, during her visit to Nigeria in 1956. Those who knew Pa Okokobioko respected him. It was he who told me about “one Commissioner of Police by name Etim Inyang who should have died long time ago because of a curse placed on him for defecating Bini culture and tradition”.

The story was about the long culture and tradition of the Bini people in shaving their heads as mark of respect whenever their King died. Oba Akenzua 11 died in 1978 and the compulsory tradition of shaving heads by the indigenes was over-prosecuted by some Bini chiefs and people, as they stopped commercial vehicles passing through Benin City to other parts of the country and forced passengers (non-indigenes) in those vehicles to shave their heads before they were allowed to continue their journeys. Of course there were protests by the non-indigene travellers and Etim Inyang, being the Commissioner of Police of Bendel State then, did not support such barbaric act and he stopped it. The Bini traditional authority was irked by Etim Inyang’s action and summoned him to the Palace where a curse was placed on him “to die within seven days”.

Etim Inyang confirmed the story to me later when l met him in 1982, but the most interesting part of the whole episode was that Etim Inyang was transferred from Benin to Lagos immediately after the “death sentence of seven days” and instead of dying, the man was promoted Assistant Inspector General of Police three months after the curse, and eventually retired from the Force as Inspector General of Police in October 1986.

A highly disciplined officer; Etim Inyang was an introvert, a man of few words who could listen for hours without uttering a word. He could read peoples’ minds sometimes because he had common sense. Like most officers of his time, he was very suspicious of journalists, even as of the time I met him. The suspicion was so high that he never allowed me to sit down in his office the few times he let me inside until the intervention of another officer; the late David Isang – then a Commissioner of Police.

Once he accepted me, he took me more as a son and in that capacity; I became so close to him both in the office and at home, where he introduced me to the wife – Auntie Mary as l called her. From then till the time he retired from the Police Force as IGP, he so trusted me that he invited me to all official functions of the Police Force, both inside and outside Lagos. In the Police Game held in Bauchi in 1986, l was not only flown from Lagos to Bauchi in a Police plane but my seat at the Bauchi Stadium was labelled “IG’s friend” and when the Military Governor of Bauchi State then, Major General Chris Garuba, was to present gifts to dignitaries at a State dinner he hosted us to, at the Government House, on the closing night of the Police Game, he singled me out as “the only friend of the Inspector General of Police ever-known to us”.
“Ete Kamba”.

“Ete” means father while “Kamba” means big in the Efik language of Akwa Ibom State of Nigeria and I called him “Ete Kamba” (meaning big father) throughout our relationship. My tribute here therefore remains a testament of a son close to his father. It is with this sense of responsibility that l stand bold to say that Etim Inyang was a man of high principle and integrity, stood by the truth all through his life, his tenure as IGP inclusive.

He was a dedicated professional. He was not a sycophant. He never bootlicked, not even for elongation of his career in the police force. He never believed in lobbying to be promoted to the next rank throughout his career because, as he told me, his mother (he is the only child of the mother) prayed for him, immediately he joined the Police Force, saying “you will not leave that work you are doing until you get to the head of it and it shall all be while l am alive”. He believed in the mother and everything the mother pronounced on his life came to pass. It is in this capacity that l can reveal with firm authority how the man became IGP against the run of play without lobbying.

At the wake of the massive protest that mounted against the electoral victory of Shehu Shagari (NPN) in the 1983 general election in the South/West, Sunday Adewusi; then IGP, gave the “shoot at site” order against protesters (starting from Osogbo). Etim Inyang; being AIG in charge of Administration, authorised the press release of the “shoot at site order” to another junior officer; Salami Alabi [then Assistant Commissioner of Police] and the later released it to the Press. The furore from both the local and international Press was too much for Shehu Shagari, who queried IGP Adewusi why he issued such order. The later denied ever giving such order, called AIG Etim Inyang to his office and told him to deny authorising AC Alabi about it.

Etim Inyang refused to deny passing the order to the AC. He told his boss that “Sir, you gave the order but should you want to deny it, I will take responsibility instead of destroying the career of a junior officer who carried out a legitimate order.” He instead took responsibility for the whole action and Sunday Adewusi (the IGP), trying to save his career, put Etim Inyang on trial and found him guilty of “issuing an operational order without clearing with the IGP”. He was demoted from the rank of Assistant Inspector General to a Commissioner of Police and directed to proceed on terminal leave from 1st of January 1984, in a letter that he was yet to pick. This happened about 28th of December, 1983.

By midnight of Saturday, 31st December, 1983, there was a military coup which toppled the democratically elected government of President Shehu Shagari. On Sunday morning, Etim Inyang, knowing the risk of travelling out of Lagos without informing the newly installed Military Junta (more so when the office of IGP had become vacant) went to Dodan Barrack to report himself and events of retirement so that the Military would not declare him “awo o”. He met General Buhari, who doubted his claim of being a Police officer of such rank until he showed his identity card. General Buhari took him by hand to General Tunde Idiagbon and asked “Tunde, do you know this man or ever heard his name before?” General Idiagbon said no and Buhari then told his second-in-command that he was a top Police officer of the rank of AIG (he just did not talk of the fend and demotion) and concluded by saying “Tunde, we cannot afford appointing another controversial name like Adewusi as IGP”, adding “I think we should appoint this one that nobody knows his name”. This was how Etim Inyang became the Inspector General of Police.

Etim Inyang reformed the Nigeria Police Force as best as he could. One of such reforms was raising the entry point into the Police Force from Primary Six Leaving Certificate to West Africa Examination Council Certificate. It was a move that was highly commended by the International Police Community. It became sad when his immediate successor in office revised this gain. Another thing of note was his refusal in succumbing to selfish demand of a few influential Nigerians who wanted him to change the police uniform. He reasoned that changing the uniform from the colour it was to another would not enhance police efficiency. Such venture could only “enrich the pockets of these influential people and a few of my officers”, was his conclusion and he stood by his decision. Changing of police uniform became an urgent assignment of his successor so much so that three different colours of police uniforms were being worn by the men and officers of the same Police Force in Nigeria at one time.

In retirement, the old man maintained his dignity and honour. He refused to be drag into the controversial formation of the Association of Retired Inspector General of Police; a formation that was to back the candidature of Michael Okiro emerging as IGP because of some alleged dirty financial manipulations which cannot be issue of discuss in this exercise. I hope that somewhere in the nearest future, l shall have the privilege and opportunity of discussing the man; Etim Okon Inyang, more elaborately for prosperity’s documentation.
It is with sad heart that l had to say goodbye and goodnight to my own “Ete Kamba” who died on 26th of September, 2016.
Adieu Sir and may your gentle soul rest in perfect peace.

Etakibuebu, a veteran journalist wrote from Lagos