Azubuike Ishiekwene: Suleiman Abba – From idealist to yes-man to Buhari-pleaser

by Azubuike Ishiekwene

AbbaAfter what happened to him on Tuesday, I’m not so sure former Inspector-General Suleiman Abba will still want his son to follow his path.

Why should the young man wish to live his father’s dream after the harsh treatment his father got at the hands of President Goodluck Jonathan?

I still remember Abba’s official visit to LEADERSHIP in August after his appointment as acting inspector-general of police. It was his first media visit. He said how he’d like to be remembered and made a wish for his son.

“I will like to be remembered as the IGP who made sure we have ethical police officers… my prayer is that one of my boys (he has six boys and three girls) should be a police officer,” he said on that visit.

He had just taken over from M.D. Abubakar and, like his predecessor, he had broken the line of potbelly top cops in light blue shirts and black pants.

Abba looked trim and fit. His appointment came at a very difficult time – only weeks after Boko Haram sacked a major police post in Yobe and the police were forced to flee, with over a dozen of them still missing.

Like many institutions in Nigeria, the overworked and underpaid force had been brought to its knees by years of neglect and corruption. The humiliation at the hands of Boko Haram was just another episode and, frankly, not many were expecting Abba to succeed where his predecessors had failed.

With the police, under-performance had become the new normal.

After Abubakar’s retirement, it was commonly said that with less than one year to the general election, the main qualification for any successor was how far he could, with a hand from the other services, help the ruling party to rig the elections. When Abba was appointed, it was widely believed that Jonathan had, at last, found the man to do the dirty job.

But Abba had a different idea of his job – at least at the beginning.

During that visit, he said his main task was to “help to change the mindset” of the average policeman. He spoke of the need to rebuild confidence between the force and the public and said he was determined to lay the foundation for the force to reclaim its prestige.

From that point on, I was riveted on his every step in office. It was not long before doubts surfaced; it began with the governorship election in Osun which came only days after Abba assumed office. The role of the police in that election was a disgrace. The police impeded leading opposition figures and detained or arrested others.

The same Abba who had promised to rebuild the image of the force and change the mindset of its personnel couldn’t stand peaceful protests by Bring Back Our Girls campaigners. He threatened to ban the peaceful rallies.

And then as if he was determined to beat his subordinate, police commissioner Joseph Mbu, in a race to the bottom, Abba jumped into the fray of partisanship and declared that he no longer recognised Aminu Tambuwal as Speaker, withdrew his police cover and asked him to look to his new party, the APC, for help.

I’m not exactly sure what Abba thought he was doing. Whatever he thought, it was good enough to earn him a confirmation. As it has turned out, however, it was neither good enough to keep him in the job, nor sufficient to get him nearer his goal of building an ethical force.

Less than one year on, he has gone from idealist cop to Jonathan’s yes-man, and from a futile attempt at being a Buhari pleaser to a failed attempt at self-redemption. The cycle is complete.

How did it happen? Isn’t this the man who, for the first time in many years, paid policemen the full allowance set aside for them during election? What happened?

Abba wanted to be a hero, but he also wanted to have his cake and eat it.

With four full years ahead of him, and Jonathan smarting from a surprise defeat, the former IGP thought he could secure his own future by serving two masters. That’s typical Abbamylitis, a common affliction in this part.

It’s worship of, and loyalty to, the man in charge, the in-coming king or both at the same time as a guarantee of personal survival.

The same Abba, who warned voters to vote and walk away and ignore the opposition’s advice to stay until their votes were counted, was happy to dry himself in the sun at the airport when Buhari returned from Daura as president-elect. Later, Abba accompanied Buhari to collect his certificate of return at INEC office when Jonathan was still licking his wounds in the villa.

And watching US Ambassador James Entwistle praise the police for its role in the successful conduct of the elections during a visit to Abba may have been too much for Jonathan to bear. He wielded the axe.

Will the former staff officer to Tafa Balogun and new IGP, Sunday Arase, learn? It’s already being suggested that he was brought in to finish off what Abba had become unwilling, or indisposed, to do in Imo, Taraba and Abia, where the inconclusive elections will be held.

Arase can either prove the doubters wrong by doing what is right and proper during the remaining elections in these states, or go down in shame and disgrace as the shortest serving IGP. It’s up to him not to do anything that will make Abba’s tenure look like a glorious era by comparison.

But it’s dangerous to rejoice at Abba’s current misery. We are in this mess because we have left our lives at the disposal of leaders who think they do not owe us any explanation for their public conduct. Abba may have fallen short of Jonathan’s expectation, but he was not his houseboy.

It’s not right to hang him out to dry on the twitter handle of a presidential aide.

The public deserves to know why he was removed so unceremoniously after his appointment was ratified only six months ago. That’s fair and decent. And that way, too, we can hope to inspire confidence in public service, encourage honesty and get the best to serve.


Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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