The July 1966 coup was planned, and conducted by officers from the Northern region of the country, in revenge for the earlier coup which had installed Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, and which was seen as an Eastern coup. What this meant was that officers from the Western region more or less sat out this second coup. By the time the shots had been fired and many Eastern officers, including Ironsi were dead, the leadership of the army, and as a result the country, had to be occupied by someone from the North. To the victors the spoils, right?
This threw up a peculiar problem however - when the January coup happened, the newly departed Aguiyi-Ironsi was the most senior officer in the army, so when the civilians decided to give up power, he stepped in. When Danjuma and Mohammed executed their counter-coup, the most senior Northern officer was a certain Jack Gowon. His superior was Babafemi Ogundipe in the Army. Joseph Wey in the Navy also outranked Gowon. Problem was, neither was from the North, and so Gowon became head of state anyway, and while being that Wey was not in the Army, he could easily become Gowon’s number two, Ogundipe simply faded into the night and became Nigeria’s High Commissioner in the UK, where he died in 1971.
But, a precedent had been set, and nine years later when Murtala Mohammed took over from Gowon, names such as Wey, Nelson Soroh, Emmanuel Ekpo, Hassan Katsina, George Korubo, Emma Ikwue, Kam Salem and David Ejoor, were retired into the night. The case of Kam Salem, was instructive. Born in 1924, and joining the police in 1942, Mr. Salem had not served for the 35 years required by the Police Service Act, neither had he reached age 60 required by the same Act, for retirement. Himself, and a few other of his contemporaries were retired to make way for the emergence of Dikko Yusuf, seven years his junior, and thus entrenching in the police, the bad habit which had started with Ogundipe nine years earlier - the retirement, along with all of their experience, of senior officers, to make way for a favoured junior one.
Forward the hands of the clock some forty years, and Ogbonna Onovo, who was appointed Inspector General of Police in 2009 by President Umaru Yar’Adua, complained about the trend of forced retirement of experienced police officers after watching an AIG, Joseph Mbu, being forcefully retired as one of 21 senior officers who had to make way for the emergence of Ibrahim Idris, the current Inspector General of Police. Onovo faulted the entire exercise, the largest mass retirement of senior police officers in Nigeria’s history, saying that to just retire Deputy Inspectors General of Police and Assistant Inspectors General in one fell swoop amounted to a colossal waste of valuable policing experience.
Onovo said, “The DIGs that were sent away, some of them still have about five years in service. Some of the AIGs have seven years in service. When we joined this job, no one told us we could be sent away by mere whims and caprices of politicians. We were trained both inside and outside the country. So, all the experiences have gone with the officers.”
The officers retired along with Joseph Mbu were Musa Abdulsalam, Umaru Abubakar, Femi Adenaike (who was in charge of training), Yahaya Ardo, Adisa Bolanta, James Caulcrick, Patrick Dokumor, Mohammed Gana, Bala Hassan, Yemi Kalafite, Tambari Mohammed, Danladi Mshebwala, Edgar Nanakumo, Magaji Nasarawa, David Ogunbayode, Johnson Ogunsakin, Sabo Ringim, Denrele Shinaba, Lawal Tanko, and Irmiya Yarima. With the benefit of hindsight, the question can now be comfortably asked if retiring that many officers on a single day did not do more harm to the force.
Again, I cannot stress enough that retiring senior police officers for sport did not start under the Buhari government, but, the trajectory of the police following the retirement of 21 of them at a swoop has proved Onovo right. On April 23 this year, the Punch newspaper ran an editorial highlighting how extortion by police officers has gone up, drastically, under Idris’ watch. We have all seen how Idris as an IG has acted like a law unto himself, even disobeying direct orders from the President, and how the disarray has been transmitted to the rest of the force. While his predecessors (at least since Tafa Balogun) ordered highway roadblocks to be removed just once each, Idris has made that order four times, and the roadblocks are still there. Then there is SARS...
The habitual occurrence of the forceful retirement of officer of the Nigerian Police Force is an unjust practice detrimental to the force. This practice deprives the force of having competent and experienced officers who can help with change management, and show their younger ones the ropes.The only silver lining I can see from Idris’ disastrous tenure, is that it has strengthened the hand of those, like me, who believe that the police should be reorganised along community lines, and removed from the direct supervision of the Executive.