The Assistant Inspector General of Police for the Zone 2 Police Command, Mbu Joseph Mbu, is not your everyday cop. There is a hidden story behind his austere look. Clearly, Mbu, who graduated with a second class upper degree in Political Science from the University of Lagos, is driven by ambition but not in a negative way. It’s more of a drive to change the police and the society. Solomon Elusoji had a rare encounter with him at his office in Lagos, where he holds court
Beyond the newspaper headlines, only a few people have met the Assistant Inspector General of Police for Zone 2, Mbu Joseph Mbu, in real life. I met him on a recent Tuesday. With the sun blazing, Lagos Island is hot. Outside, the blazing sun forces men to stand under eaves as the ocean nearby is too distant to offer comfort. But for the traffic, which is a regular feature in this part of Lagos, motorists and commuters are moving unhindered in this Lagos district known as Lagos Island. The cacophony of noise coming from slow moving cars on the Island Club Road at the frontage of his office and on the long stretch of a bridge behind his office is not so deafening to impact on our conversation.
I am arriving at the Zone 2 Police Command Headquarters at a time Mbu is on a tour of the command to observe his men and perhaps to dish out orders. Cleverly, I merge with the multitude without him knowing it.
There is one conclusion I have, Mbu is a no-nonsense cop.
It’s hard before meeting him, not to form assumptions about Mbu. First, there are roles that have made him famous from when he was Commissioner of Police in Rivers State and the Federal Capital Territory. Second, just take a look at Mbu and you’ll feel some weight over you. But anyone expecting Mbu to be just a regular cop will be surprised. Sure, policemen in the country have lived with stereotype, but Mbu will not accept that from anyone.
For instance, when he talks about how he joined the police, it’s clear that Mbu is purpose-driven. “After my youth service, I saw some well-dressed policemen in Plateau State, and I became interested. And during the course of my studies, I discovered that a policeman is a very powerful person that is indispensable, but who must have the fear of God. However, you must be very brave,” he says.
So Mbu didn’t set out to be a policeman. It was a desire to help check excesses in a country where lawlessness reigns supreme that prompted his resolve. With a degree in political Science from the celebrated University of Lagos and as one of the best graduating students, it is not difficult to fathom why politicians and Mbu are often at loggerheads. His combined knowledge of politics and crime makes him one special cop. Of course, that may be the reason he has served in Nigeria’s most cosmopolitan cities and big-size states like Lagos, Rivers, Oyo, Kaduna and the Federal Capital Territory.
He deadpans: “What I said, and I still said I stand by it, as far as I am the AIG in charge of Zone 2 is: For any group of hooligans, lawless people, lovers of violence who attack my policemen, my policemen have orders to respond violently. They must repel them violently. Like what the League of Nations said: one for all, all for one. If one policeman is being attacked, other policemen should repel the attacker violently, because you are not going to arrest someone who is carrying arms. Have you seen the shootings in Paris and Copenhagen? Were the gunmen arrested?
“And I have told them, if they see an innocent person being attacked violently, we owe that person a duty to save his life by stopping the attacker. And do you go with bare hands to attack someone who is violently attacking someone else? No. You use violence to stop him, and I will defend the actions of the policemen.”
A couple of times, Mbu declines to comment on his days in Rivers State as police commissioner, but when he does, he feels extremely satisfied about his works there. “I did a lot in Rivers. If I enter Rivers today, everybody, including taxi drivers, will start hailing me. 89 per cent of people in Rivers State love me. I remember one of my friends who went to Port Harcourt and took a taxi from the airport. He overheard the drivers talking about how Mbu ensured peace and order in the city. If you begin to follow what people talk about you, you won’t do your job. But when people know that you will do your job, that you will not accept graft, that you will ensure that law take its course, they will respect you. I returned night-life to Port-Harcourt,” he enthuses.
It’s easy to know that Mbu is a disciplined officer who wants the same for his men. His three mobile phones trips many times as we talk, but Mbu maintains his concentration on the business at hand in his commodious office, where the main desk is entrenched close to two rolled up windows that let sunlight filters in. A stern, composed look on his face, Mbu is seated behind his grand desk where he responds to every question with the alacrity and sagacity of a studious man.
“I shake you, and train you. I don’t destroy you. Like Plato said in the theory of the form, that wood can be reshaped into different shapes – tables, chairs, cupboards, wardrobes. So, I don’t believe in destruction. I don’t believe in dismissing policemen. When I was a junior officer, they accused me of not taking drastic actions on people. But a human being is not a biro that you can break, and you call a factory and order for 50,000 pieces immediately. If you are a drunkard and you are working with me, I laugh. Any day you get drunk, I put you in a cell for one week. I want your family to come and see you there,” he explains. “I have reached the peak of my career and I am contented. But I will never allow anybody to rubbish the Nigerian Police. And I will never anybody to cower down the Nigerian police; and nobody can cower me down.”
On a comment recently attributed to him while he was addressing police officers of the Ogun State Command, which appears to be encouraging violence.
“There was never a time I addressed the press and I said if one policeman is killed, five people will be killed,” Mbu tells me. “There was never a time I addressed the press and said governors will be arrested. This is the work of mischievous reporters.
“I’m a student of political science. What brought crisis between late Awolowo and Zik was reportage – things that happened that involved the Igbo and Yoruba.”
To be sure, Mbu keeps record of his activities everywhere he goes. He lowers his head under the table attempting to show me recordings of his conversations with people to proof his point. At the same time, his hand is on his bell to call one of his aides to bring more. “I record every speech I make, but the problem is I don’t have the time to put them in writing,” he says.
I ask Mbu if he’s religious, because inside his office, a frame hangs on the wall whose content is: Policeman’s Prayer. He replies: “This seat is from God. All the seats I have occupied were brought down from God. Even today, if I am asked to leave this seat, I am ready to go. I don’t attach importance to wealth, property or my position.
“I am not a fanatic of any religion, but in the bible, there are many places that a policeman is mentioned. In the Beatitudes, it is written ‘blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God’. We are there for justice. That is why when I see policemen misbehaving, being drunk, wearing slippers and carrying guns, I arrest them, because they are supposed to be like gold. If gold can rust, what of iron? So, as a police officer, whether a Christian or Muslim, you must have the fear of God, to know that you have been appointed to be a peacemaker.”
Like a connoisseur of political science, Mbu tells me more about Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan, A.V. Dicey’s Rule of Law, Montesquieu’s Separation of Power, and uses them to explain the role of a policeman. Clearly, he is a man of books.
There is no reason on earth why Mbu, of all people, should feel remotely intimidated by anyone or anything, his medal of courage stamped on the edge of his breast pocket is what you should look out for the next time you see him in uniform. He’s not unconscious of it.
“That is why you see that I fall out with people, because I cannot play into anybody’s hands,” he points out. “I have an independent opinion and I am very contented with my career, and I am very proud to be a police officer, and anywhere I go, I embolden my policemen and tell them not to be inferior: read books, work hard, be punctual at your duty post, be exemplary, be prayerful, be kind to those who are in need, but don’t allow anybody to molest you. In fact, molestation and disregard to the police of any nation, is molestation on the country. Because if you ridicule your police, who is going to protect you?”
He doesn’t like to be ambiguous with words, so he adds: “If I am asked to go on retirement, I will. But I must know why I am going on retirement. If today they pick up a junior officer and appoint him IG, that very day, I will put up my letter of retirement, because I will not work under my junior. I don’t know how to obey such orders. I am very contented.”
And when he describes his family, Mbu gives you the impression of an activist in police uniform. A fan of Kwame Nkrumah, he named his first son after the Ghanaian legend. His second son is named after Congolese independence leader, Patrice Lumumba. His third son is called Frantz Fanon, an Afro-French revolutionary writer. And his daughter is named Indira Gandhi, the third Prime Minister of India. Why?
“I like people of courage, of intellect, of ideas, and who remained focused and died for their cause. Today, you can’t compare academics in Ghana and Nigeria. Kwame Nkrumah was misconstrued, and he was thrown out. In Ghana, they had a Ministry of Science and Education in 1961. They had aluminium smelting company. Those who were outside thought Nigeria was in Ghana. Kwame Nkrumah was the one who was appointed by the United Nations to go and see how he can make peace between America and Vietnam. But they plotted and overthrew him. Albert Einstein said ‘the world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it’. We see things that are wrong, but don’t do anything,” he replies evenly, and eyeballs me.
Of course, you’ll know that Mbu’s knowledge of human rights is not in doubt as he quotes copiously from the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Nigerian Constitution and United Nations Convention Against Torture, but this is where he draws the line: “Human rights comes with responsibility. God who gives the inalienable rights did not say people should be lawless. That is why I said God gives approval for the constitution of the police. Human right is human right. It is not sentiment. It is not politics,” he says.
On how he relates with his men, the police chief tells me it is that of a father-son relationship.
“If my policemen or their families are sick, I pay bills, up to N300,000. For my policemen who are shot or injured, I talk to people who donate millions and give to them. During Christmas or festive periods, we receive gifts in this office from good people and companies who appreciate the police. I share it to my men. But as you are working with me, you cannot predict me. You must maintain discipline, and behave yourself very well.
“Check my escort: they are alive and vigilant every second. And that is because I train them, even my driver. If I am driving, I ask my orderly which vehicle has just passed us? He says ‘I don’t know’. I ask which vehicle is coming behind us? He says ‘I don’t know’. Then I order him that from next week he must know. When I ask him again next week and he begins to stammer, I just reprimand him. But as soon as we get to where we are going to, I give them money to eat or look for hotels where we will all sleep. And you see that they change. When they work outside, people ask them where they got their training.
“Most of my boys, I buy plot of land for them. Because according to Ferdinand Oyono in his book Houseboy, “the dog of the kings, is a king among the dogs.” So, if my orderly is a sergeant, he should be superior to all sergeants. I buy things for them and their families during Christmas. That’s what makes them close to me. But if they want to meander, I deal with them,” he says.
“I have time for everything,” he smiles, when I ask him whether he relaxes. “I don’t do anything in excess. I divide my job. I have officers who are employed to perform certain duties. When you don’t perform your duty, I issue you a query.
“So, I relax a lot. I drink occasionally. I’m a social drinker. I take wine when I’m with my friends. I play squash, lawn tennis, badminton, and I take long walks. I can walk for about five kilometres. Even my food, I eat a lot of vegetables. I take fruits. I eat less of carbohydrates. I’m very health conscious. For my dressing, I go for good things like good wristwatches, good shoes and others.”
For a man who has criss-crossed the country from the south to the north to such places as Kafanchan, Nangere, Potiskum, Ughelli, Zaria, Ibadan, Awka, Port Harcourt, Abuja, Uyo, Suleja, Mubi and others working from one troubled spot to another, Mbu’s life has been one of metaphysics. The rewards are in the numerous awards of excellence he has received. For instance, Oyo State Government rewarded him with best Commissioner of Police for excellent performance in 2013. And in far away, South Africa, the Security Watch International awarded him the best crime fighting police chief in Africa.
As I stand up to go, I remember what I had seen at the entrance of his door: ‘No arms beyond this point.’