Allegations against Okiro: Our regrets – Comfort Obi

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Dame Comfort Obi

She did not hide her deep seethed anger and resentment over the lingering issue of alleged sleeze recently levelled against the Chairman of Police Service Commission, Sir Mike Mbama Okiro, former Inspector-General of Police.
Her vituperations emanted from what she tagged ‘negative reactions’ to the ICPC report over the ‘vexacious’ issue of missing N350m provided by the Federal Government to the Commission for the just concluded elections in the country.

Dame Comfort Obi, the Publisher of Source Magazine and a member of the Police Service Commission, PSC, opened up in a no-holds-barred interview with our Crime Editor, Emma Nnadozie, over the issue and ended up throwing shocking highlights into the goings- on at the commission and spectacularly; her recent meet with President Buhari and how it changed her views about the first citizen of Nigeria. It is explosive.

Excerpts:
Appraisal of the ICPC report on the Commission
The ICPC report, I would say is good, very, very good, at least it exonerates the Chairman of the Police Service Commission, Chief Mike Okiro who has been so scandalously maligned, and so terribly painted as if he embezzled any money, as if he stole Police service commission money, as if he mismanaged the sum of N350m given to the Police Service Commission to monitor the elections.

So, we are very happy for the report that categorically, specifically exonerated him. Let me, at least, refer to the areas of the report that exonerated him completely and signed by the Chairman ICPC. It says; “The investigation has not revealed any act of criminal infraction against the person of Sir (Mr) Mike Mbama Okiro, Chairman of the Police Service Commission, as all issues outlined above are administrative in nature and within the ambits of career, public, civil service act.”

I don’t understand how the social media and some media houses are deliberately turning the report upside down. Some wrote, ‘ ICPC asks Okiro to refund N100m’. There is nowhere in this report that the ICPC asked Okiro as a person or the Police Service Commission to refund money. If you were asked to refund, it means that you stole money or you mismanaged it.

The genesis
As has been the case for general elections, the Police Service Commission monitors the behaviour of policemen during the elections. In doing that, it finds out how they behave, those that have compromised and those that have not compromised. Before then, we advertised, in conjunction with Cleen foundation that the Commission will be coming to monitor the behaviour of the police.

Nothing more. We also put phone numbers for you to call us and we will be there. Now, there are thirty-six states and Abuja in the federation, and then we have the number of polling booths and for every booth, policemen are attached.

It is the job of the Commission to go round the federation and all polling units to monitor elections. And since this exercise started, policemen are no longer involved in rigging elections because, once you are caught, you are disciplined on the spot. So, they are very cautious and conscious now.

N350m released for 900 people
The Commissions got the sum of N350m to monitor the recent elections and it includes; training of the commission staff and ad-hoc staffs because, the Commission has only about 377 members of staffs and these include drivers, secretariares and some policemen who have no business with the election. We cannot use policemen to monitor policemen. These are the things that they add together. What we do is that we recruit ad-hoc staff. If we add them to the ones we have, you will have about 900. This money was made for training of 900 people.

Between ICPC and the Commission
The training was billed to take place in Lagos, Abuja and Kano. Unfortunately, the money was received a few days to the elections. There was no way anybody would have done any training in Lagos and Kano. It was concentrated in Abuja only. In any case, we finished this thing and the ICPC report states that the staff of your commission who took part in the 2015 general election exercise and were paid two-way return tickets and airport taxi within FCT and states of close proximity to Abuja amounting to N11,750,000, should refund same to the treasury of the ICPC recovery account.

I don’t know if ICPC took into consideration that staff going to Lokoja for example , or even within Abuja, were not going to trek to those polling booths and that they were supposed to hire vehicles to take them round. That aspect, I am not a civil servant but I think between the ICPC and the permanent secretary of the commission, they will sort it out.

The question of 900 PSC staff
Another thing that they are referring to in the report is the question of the 900 staff. They are now giving the impression that the Chairman of the Commission deliberately inflated the number of staff at the commission just to get money. The money given to the Commission was N350 million and they said out of that, according to the petition that sparked this whole issue, the chairman embezzled N275m.

Then, how come the elections were still monitored countrywide? How come out of this sum, there is still a balance of N133 and something million naira in the commission account? It is called budget account because when such monies are given to the commission, it is not for the running of the commission, it was specifically for the monitoring of elections. So, it is domiciled there. The balance of N133m is still domiciled in the police service commission project account in FCMB and I will give you the account balance.

Now, it is this N133m that is left there as balance that they are now adding to the one ICPC has asked staff that didn’t take any flight to return, that they are adding together and saying that Okiro fraudulently spent and, that Okiro has been ordered by the ICPC to refund money. My brother, in this report which copy I am going to give you, is there any place it stated that Okiro or any staff of the commission embezzled money?

They think anybody associated with or connected to government or working for government must be very corrupt and I read all these things, and my heart breaks because there is no kobo at the Police Service Commission. The commission is so underfunded that we are almost not functioning. In the past three years, the commission has not been able to recruit any personnel considering the fact that the Police has lost over 21,000 personnel.

We cannot recruit because the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan had no provision for the commission to recruit. We have lost over 21,000 personnel and there has been no recruitment and I will give you documents.

Why petition was not nipped in the bud
No, no, no, on the contrary, it was Okiro, when they began to blackmail him over this matter, someone was asking him for over N10m so as to kill the story and the petition. He told the person that I didn’t steal any money. How will I pay N10m. From ten million naira they went down to N5m and he said; I didn’t embezzle any money, from where am I going to get N5m.

I am not going to be blackmailed and they were telling him, you know a new government is coming and he says I know the man as a straight forward man, that the president is not coming to fight innocent Nigerians. The fact that he is going to fight corruption, every Nigeria should support him to fight corruption but he is not going to be blackmailed and be asked to pay money. That was why it was not nipped in the bud. In any case, you try to stop a story when you know you are guilty of the allegations.

The issue of retiring the money
The other day, someone was saying, why didn’t he retire the money. You retire money at the end of the year. There was no way the commission would have retired that money. This is the first time I got involved in working for government.

Fate of the petitioner
Of course, he is on suspension, but it is not based on anything with the commission, absolutely nothing. He allegedly took the sum of N1m from one man to procure him American visa. The person took policemen, after he saw no visa, saw no money and he is asking for a refund. I don’t know the business they entered, but this was what was presented and it is in the public domain.

The petitioenr is a very servicable person. In fact, the first time I heard that his name was connected with this petition, I said no, no, no, it is totally wrong. Because I took him as my son, because he is a young man with a good future. I don’t know who or what pushed him into this. He allegedly took N1m from the man, the police came to the commission and arrested him. The commission chairman went and asked why are you holding my staff and they said it is in connection with this.

They took him and the man that reported him and charged them to court. And, the court remanded him in Kuje prisons, he perfected his bail and came out. He now wrote this petition. Maybe, he thought that it was Okiro that invited the policemen. But, I don’t know how Okiro would have gone to fish out a man the petitioner allegedly did business with.

Consensus in disbursement
All the members of the commission took active part in all discussions that led to the disbursement of the money and, of course, everybody signed for his or her own.

Vouching for Okiro
I can vouch for Okiro on this, as far as this N350m is concerned. I stand by him and I can vouch for him.
Damages to the image of the commission.

Oh my brother, I tell you something, the commission is a very powerful commission, very influential. It has oversight functions on the police and you are alleging that the commission is corrupt. You see the chairman of the commission, a retired Inspector- General of Police.

Shocking findings in the police
I will tell you something else. The commission is going round states now to do an upgrade of police personnels, upgrading them to officers. In Enugu state for example, I interviewed two medical doctors. They are surgeons and they are sergeants in the police. So, maybe you see such people wearing their uniform as a sergeant and you begin to abuse them. We have many who are corporals but are lawyers. I went to court to prosecute cases, I saw a pharmacist that is a corporal. We went round states for the upgrading but the commission did not give anybody a kobo for upgrade.

Raising funds for the commission
Well, it depends on government funding? I will tell you something, there was a time at the commission, maybe during Osayande’s time, we survived while travelling here and there offically because people were funding the trip. Now, we are all so scared to even ask agencies to, at least, fund us. Okiro is afraid to do that. What he said is that if we try to reach out and people support us, they will say we have embezzled the money. There is no doubt that it will affect our morale.

The way forward
The way forward is for the good people, my colleagues in the media, to please help us tell people that no money is missing and that Okiro has not stolen any money. That this money is domiciled in the commission’s account and that anybody can go and confirm at the bank. There is freedom of information and people can confirm if that money was stolen or misappropriated.

The money is there and there are elections coming up in Kogi, Balyesa and Ondo states and the year had not ended for the commission to retire the money and the elections are still on. The commission is not about to go to the presidency to request for funds to go to these states to monitor the elections. The ripple effect is how would President Burhari trust us to go and do this. But the good thing is that you know you need to be close to somebody to realise how effective the person is.

Last Thursday when we went to brief the President, I was very impressed with what I noticed about him. You know during the campaign, you read different kinds of things about people. I was not that exposed, so to speak during his military days and his war against indiscipline and decrees and jailing people. Meeting Buhari up-close, I was watching him when they were presenting their cases, he was taking notes.

Where he wants you to clear yourself, he will stop you and ask the relevant questions and he will take you on that. And, he did take people on about three or four places and I watched how permanent secretaries tried to give details and they were nervous about him. From the way he answered it, I chuckled within me when he was asking us to recruit and he told us hilarious stories.

I was taken aback by his obvious sense of humor like when the Legal officer of the commission introduced himself, he said you are the lawyer of the police service commission, he said ah ha ha, you must be overwhelmed with so many legal issues, and my mind went to the ICPC issue and I started laughing. The fact that the president has some sense of humor gives me some comfort that he is highly articulate contrary to insinuations during the electioneering campaigns.

He reads, understands and makes deductions and he would laugh when he wants to laugh and he will tease you when he wants to. He is not somebody that you can say this person stole this thing and he will persecute you over it without duly investigating. I guess he has learnt that this is not the military era and that we are in a democracy. All these people that are deliberately maligning him and dragging his name around are undoing themselves. I am saying this because with all sense of responsibility and humility, the man I saw is not the man you can push around.

Rating the commission.
So far, so good, considering that it is not being funded, the commission has not stopped functioning. The only thing is that we have not recruited which by the grace of God, the president has said go ahead and recruit and has approved the recruitment of ten thousand people. But in the area of discipline, we are up to date. In the area of promotion, we are up to date. In the area of appointment and postings, we are up to date.

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