How I wish I were playing the proverbial fly-on-the-wall when President Muhammadu Buhari received a delegation from the Ministry of Police Affairs and the Police Service Commission the other day in Abuja and warned his visitors that it was “totally unacceptable” for applicants to pay bribes, as was the case in the past, before being recruited.
Media reports have it that the President told his visitors that the police board must be above board and eschew every form of extortion or underhand dealing in the coming recruitment of 10,000 officers.
I would have scanned every muscle on the face of Mike Okiro, the chairman of the Police Service Commission, as Buhari delivered that poignant charge. For it was under Okiro’s watch as inspector-general of police that a recruitment scandal broke.
Taking unconscionable advantage of desperate job-seekers, the police charged a fee of N2,000 per applicant, presumably for handling and processing. To be fair to the police, it has to be stated that other government ministries, departments and agencies were also charging application fees.
The practice was illegal through and through and the police, more than any other institution, should have known that. But that was not the most troubling aspect of the matter.
The police authorities said N1.6billion from the N2 billion realised from the application fee had gone into paying the consultancy fees to an IT company identified only as Bharmos Ventures Nigeria Limited, widely believed to be a front. The names and identities of its owners were never disclosed.
Nor was this again the most troubling aspect of it all.
The most troubling aspect, as I saw it, was that in this digital age, the Nigeria Police Force lacked the capacity or the will to develop a computer programme to handle a procedure as elementary as recruitment, and instead outsourced the task, at a price that should have gone into making life better for its ill-paid, ill-clad and ill-housed personnel.
Nigerians have long been conditioned to expect nothing but the worst from their rulers and leaders. Hence, on any given day, damning allegations of sleaze proliferate about them even in the more responsible newspapers. In the less discriminating newspapers and the misnamed social media, the public gets little more than a steady diet of actual sleaze and rumours of sleaze, at the centre of which are the men and the women we have been conditioned to regard as persons of great consequence.
This may well be the case with Mike Okiro
Still, few in the attentive audience can have failed to notice what appears to be an affinity between former police Inspector-General Mike Okiro and allegations of sleaze since his days as the top cop to the present, quite apart from his uncanny capacity for multi-tasking long before that term entered popular usage.
Only such a facility could have explained how Okiro hounded former EFCC chair Nuhu Ribadu out of the anti-corruption agency so as to get him off the back of sleaze grandmaster James Ibori, now serving time in a British jail with his wife and his mistress and his lawyer; how he worked tirelessly to ensure a PDP victory under the most improbable circumstances; how he chased contracts for his pipe-laying company, raked up huge non-performing loans for his many businesses, and how he cranked out a book on policing in a democratic Nigeria – all this while holding down a full-time job as a senior police officer.
For these and other services, Okiro was at his retirement rewarded with an appointment as chair of the Police Service Commission by former President Jonathan Goodluck, a position he holds to this day, and the capacity in which he was received by Buhari and handed a terse admonition.
Just several days later, that curious affinity between Okiro and allegations of sleaze surfaced again, big-time, and in copious detail.
Aaron Kaase, an official of Okiro’s Police Service Commission, had filed a petition with the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICRC) linking Okiro to acts most unbecoming, following which ICPC operatives had grilled him and several officials of the Commission in their Abuja offices and thereafter granted him “administrative bail”.
In the complaint, Kaase asserted that Okiro had obtained N350 million, purportedly for the training of PSC staff due to be deployed to monitor the performance of the police in the 2015 general elections. Of the prospective trainees, 500 were to be selected from PSC staff in Abuja, 200 from Kano PSC staff, another 200 from PSC Lagos staff, for a total 900.
Based on Okiro’s projection, the Bureau for Public Procurement (BPE) had duly cleared the project and approved payments to designated contractors in the following amounts: N95.3 million for training the 500 Abuja participants, N93.5 million for training the 200 Kano participants and N85 million for training the 200 Lagos participants.
I must digress again, for the last time. Why is Lagos, our Lagos, always being short-changed at every point?
To return to what is now likely to be a significant entry in the annals of official sleaze in Nigeria, actual or rumoured, Kaase stated that the entire staff of the PSC number no more than 400. It is his contention that Okiro misled the BPE into approving a dodgy disbursement of N275 million out of the N350 million the Commission had obtained from the National Security Adviser.
How Kaase arrived at his figure for the dodgy disbursement is not clear. But there is no imputation in his deposition, and none in this space, that Okiro personally profited from it.
It is, however, instructive that, at the end of its investigations, the ICPC directed Okiro to remit the sum of N133 million to the Federal Government, being the difference between the N350 million the PSC obtained from the National Security for training 900 staffers nationwide, and the N217 million it actually expended in training 391 staffers in Abuja.
The deposition goes personal when Kaase asserts that back in 2013, Okiro obtained N4.6 million for a first-class airline ticket for a trip to the United States that he never made, and that he routinely used fronts to collect allowances from the PSC at various times.
In what seems to establish a pattern, Kaase charged in his deposition that Okiro collected travel grants for two conferences scheduled for the same time frame in Orlando, Florida, in the United States, and Dublin, in the Irish Republic, but attended only the latter meeting.
The ICPC’s report does not dispute the fact. But instead of taking a dim view of it, the Commission recommends that Okiro return the grant for the Florida conference only if the Federal Government rejects his offer to apply it to another conference coming up in October.
Meanwhile, Kaase has been suspended from his duties in the press and public relations department of the ICPC , allegedly for leaking his deposition to the media.
Compared with the trillions being casually tossed round in recent and ongoing allegations of Jonathan-era sleaze, the figures Kaase cited in his deposition amount to no more than a pickpocket’s haul on a good day.
But what counts is the principle, not the sum. And the principle here is that the chair of the Police Service Commission should live and be seen to live above the merest suspicion of impropriety, financial or otherwise.
The cumulative evidence suggests powerfully that Okiro has not done so. If he does not know it, his friends must tell him that his continuing tenure as chair of the Police Service Commission is incompatible with the temper and tenor of these times.