Suleiman Abba: Nigeria Police Must Change Her Colonial Mentality


Mr. Suleiman Abba is the Chairman, Board of Trustees of the Nigerian Police Trust Fund (NPTF) and also a former Inspector-General of Police. He spoke to THISDAY on the challenges facing the force, his experience while in office and the way forward. Excerpts:

Can you introduce yourself, sir?
My name is Suleiman Abba, a former Inspector-General of Police. I have become a businessman. At least, since I left service, I have gone into the business of practicing as a lawyer and also acquiring the franchise of an IT international firm, an India-based firm.
So far, I have four centers of the firm in Nigeria. One at Allen Avenue; one at Festac town; one in Abuja here, in the city center, and I also have one in Kano, in Dutse, my home state. I am also into estate management and development. I’m also a farmer. I have my farm in Keffi Road and a few other businesses. So, I must say I’m a lucky man.

A former Inspector-General of Police found me worthy of becoming the chairman of the NPF Pensions Limited. That’s about four years ago. He proposed me at an annual general meeting that I didn’t even attend and I was voted in as the director and chairman. This was in 2017. And I have remained the Chairman. I believe I am serving my last time. Annually, it gets renewed.
Now, I have been given another bigger responsibility as chairman of the Nigeria Police Trust Fund Board of Trustees. So, that is, Suleiman Abba, you are welcome to the offices or the headquarters of the law firm, the IT outfit and business activities.

Let’s start by having your perspective on the challenges that are confronting the police force, which you served for years.
Thank you very much. I think the challenges of the police have been there for a very long time. We inherited them, I would say, I inherited those challenges. And looking at the set of the policies today, I can also say that the challenges are the same.

Mainly, there are three or four challenges for the police. That is why even the reform committees that have looked into the problems of police and medical conditions, if you look at the recommendations, believe you me, they can be summed up into four mainly the problems of funding, inadequate funding, the problem of inadequate manpower, the problem of lack of, you know, special care about the welfare of the police.
That’s why I say three or four, maybe if we reflect more, we’ll get the fourth one. But these are the main problems. Then, of course, the training, the quality of the training, I believe that is the fourth one – the quality of the recruitment and the training. So, those are the challenges.

But then, if you look at it in the discharge of duties, we also come across other challenges. Like you don’t get the needed cooperation from or the maximum cooperation you need from other services. Rather, there you see competition, repetition and stuff like that.
For example, if any of the services has information that is purely criminal in nature and you that you know that you should report that to the police or most of the services would like to go in to investigate without your own qualitative training in that aspect, will go in to investigate, perhaps spoil the case before informing the police or before handing over even the suspects. They can successfully address this as well but in the process, could have destroyed a lot of evidences.

Another thing that I said is duplication. You will see a lot of duplications. Now, for goodness sake, who will ever convince me that it is not an aspect of duplication for civil defence to be opening police stations? I don’t know what to call them whether civil stations. Now, what I don’t know is the name they give them in all the local governments repeating what is in existence? Confusing members of the public on which one to go to or allowing members of the public to take advantage.
You are a suspect here; you are a complainant on the other side. So, these are part of the other challenges that may not be in-house the ones that are highlighted earlier on. And, of course, the biggest one to me, the lack of trust from members of the public, who ought to be the number one partners in the fight against crime.

Let’s look at the challenges one after the other. We talked about the quality of manpower. Is it because competent or qualified people are not in the police force?
Yes, I’m a product of the graduate scheme. We joined as graduates and we were trained for complete one year. We were exposed to a lot of trainings – police duties below operations. We went for mobile police training. We went for leadership, training and quite a detailed training. But before I come to that, let me start from the recruitment.

Believe me, nobody intervened for me to get admitted. But nowadays, you can see clearly. I can see almost 95% of those recruited. If ever, anyway, the graduate scheme does not exist much anymore, but now we’ll be talking about, maybe 50% of those who did come in through ‘I know somebody’ and you cannot run away from it. Politicians are many in that regard.

So, it is no more about adequate qualifications. And these qualifications do not end at paper qualifications. Physique is there; background is there. That’s the most important one to me. These are now thrown to the dustbin, particularly the issue of background. The moment it is said that the so, so politician or so, so person in so, so high place recommended him, that aspect is never looked at, at all. And even the physique unless it is very, very serious, it is ignored.

And that is why I support the importance of the police and the Police Service Commission coming together to do the recruitment. The police should solely be responsible for certain aspects of recruitment, including these checks of background physique and so on, and in any case, even the papers, because the Police Service Commission do not have the capacity to check the tens of thousands of recruits. So, they still need to come together.
And in our recent intervention, that is what we have succeeded in reaching. So, I think maybe that is where the problem is: the recruitment level. Well, the quality of the training, I don’t think the syllabus has changed. No. I can agree that maybe the quality of life of the trainees might have changed either because the accommodations are not as clean and comfortable as perhaps they used to be. Maybe the quality of the food they eat, you know, be as good as it used to be during our time. But I want to believe that even the trainers are qualitative ones.

Now, let’s talk about the quality of the recruits. What will you be looking out for? Is it the physique or paper qualification?
Yes, that’s a very important question. And believe me, I have learnt something from that question And I think maybe from the onset, let me let you know that it may not be a policy but I need to find out. But the recruitment of graduates OND, HND and NCE holders, who come in as cadet inspectors seem to have been degraded and that is because the Police Academy has come into place and has gone far really. There’s no way perhaps they can have graduates coming in from the academy and then continuing to employ graduates.

So, I think that’s part of the reasons. So, I think for about five years now, they have not recruited graduates like when we came in. So, that will tell you the level of understanding you will get from a graduate police officer will certainly not be the same from what you will get from perhaps a secondary school leaver, who is not just coming in from secondary school. Perhaps, he has been wandering, without job for about three to five years, and perhaps has learnt all the vices. They seem to have, you know, become escalated in the society. What I’m talking about, of course, issues of drugs and so on. So, the behavior will not be the same.

Unfortunately, if for whatever reason, we agree that the quality of the education in our secondary schools has dropped, then, it then means also that those secondary school leavers may not be able to perform as expected for the graduates. So, I think it’s a combination of the paper quality of what they came out with from secondary school and their behaviour. Maybe they have learned bad habits since they left. So, a combination of the two has always been problematic.

You also spoke about funding, which has always been there. In any case, you are now heading the Police Trust Fund, which should address the problems. There still has to be a budget line. What kind of funding do you think should be adequate? There has to be a budget line. I mean, everybody in every department of government is not getting enough and still wants more. Now, what kind of budget funding are you looking at apart from the ones that are coming from the Police Trust Fund?

Unfortunately, you know, there is no any other law that gives the police another source of funding other than the normal statutory – what they call the statutory funding. This is budget, you know, doing a budget, defending it and getting it appropriated and approved by the National Assembly, there is no any other way.

Unfortunately, even though what could have been approved for you as a project if you are lucky to get one third of it released, you should count yourself lucky, so it’s not just what is quoted that is released. But I think the Nigeria police are lucky at this time. We all IGPs had been praying that this Trust Fund happens during their period.
I think Adamu Mohammed is lucky. It has happened in his time. And I think I’m also humbled by the fact that I am the first Chairman of the Board of Trustees, of course, the highest decision making body of the trust. So, I would say that, with that intervention, the police now have another source. In summary, the objective of the trust fund is mainly to improve on the budgets of the Nigeria police.

The Nigeria Police Force was created with the ideology of the colonialists as an oppressive agency and it appears the curriculum has not changed. Don’t you think it’s time to change it to fit into the current challenges of the society?
I don’t think the problem is from the curriculum. And even the colonialists, I don’t think they go into the formality of training for this man to be suppressed. They didn’t do that. Those guys are very wise. Perhaps the suppressive activities will only be taught in the field so that the records will not be there that they had been taught to be suppressive. I think what you’re trying to say is that the police are a creation of a suppressive regime, which was the colonial era. No doubt about that. Are those tendencies still with the Nigeria Police? I will say yes, some of them are still there.

And I’m happy to say that I’m one of those who made a sacrifice that seemed to be putting a stop to one of the tendencies, one of the biggest tendencies, that is the tendency of supporting the party in power, and protecting it by all means, even at elections. So, we are making progress. But then, when it comes to the attitude, the suppressive attitude, and this is where I will say it anywhere.

What happened recently, the outbursts, the rejection of some of the methods of policing the community, by the police was rejected by the youths, when they went against SARS. If I tell you that I didn’t foresee it, I will be telling you lies, because in 2009, I was in NIPPS. That’s to say a participant in National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies course, at NIPPS, the highest policy research institute in Nigeria.

Normally, you choose a topic for such, but in my own case, I was assigned a topic. I was assigned to do a research and they titled it, “The State of Discipline in the Nigeria Police: An Assessment”. I said Why are you giving me a topic? They said since they started only one commissioner of police or participant had done a research. I found myself lucky, because I got exposed to this state of discipline in the Nigeria Police, believe me.

I’m a lucky man in every aspect, because while the research was going on, someone gave me the hint that retired police officers would hold their annual general meeting. And believe you me, almost all the DIGs were there and they turned it into a kind of fiesta. They gathered from DIG to ASP mainly. When I got there, the likes of Damadami was there, Oyakhilome was there, Ali Jos was there, name them and I gave them my questionnaire. They gladly responded. So, I had a good response. And then I had the opportunity to also go down into some police stations in Jos and Kano to also get my questionnaire filled by junior officers and it was so good such that I became and external examiner.

I saw the need to look at the attitude of the police. Certainly, it can’t go on. If the society is changing like we are saying from colonial era, independence to post-independence, the police attitude should change from colonial mentality to post colonial era. And, unfortunately, some of those tendencies especially, the high-handedness to some extent, and in some offices, they are still there.