A former Assistant Inspector-General of Police, Tunde Ogunsakin, grew up in Ikere-Ekiti, Ekiti State.
He was Director of Operations, Economic and Financial Crimes Commissions, Abuja and Head, Investigations, Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related offences Commission.
In this interview, he talks about his career and life as a police officer.
Do you have any fond memories of your childhood?
Yes, I grew up like every other person, but in a polygamous home. However it was a very peaceful polygamous home. My father was very strict and I went to a disciplined Catholic school, where two-thirds of the teachers were whites. Even though I was brought up by Anglican parents, the school shaped my discipline. Before every class, we prayed. After every class, we prayed. As each teacher came in, we prayed. It was like that. I finished at Annunciation Catholic School, Ikere-Ekiti and I left and went to the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), where I studied Political Science/History. After my youth service, I joined the police force. As Assistant Commissioner of Police, I felt I needed to read law and I finished the programme and continued like that till I became Assistant Inspector-General of Police.
Of all professions, why did you choose to join the police?
I was with a friend in Epe, Lagos State and we were arrested by a drunk policeman. He said that our vehicle was causing an obstruction where it was parked. He took us to a police station and an Assistant Superintendent of Police there investigated what happened. He then found out that the drunk police sergeant was actually on leave and not supposed to have been in uniform. So instead of detaining us, the sergeant was the one detained. He let us go and that moment, I was impressed with the police. The following day, I went back to the station to see the officer and told him that I wanted to be like him. He encouraged me to join the police force and even after that, we became friends. That was how I became a policeman.
If police work was as unpopular then as it is now, then you must have been discouraged by family and friends. How did you deal with that?
I have travelled far and I can tell you that everywhere in the world, police job is not the most attractive job. There are very few countries I have not been to and what I have found out is that police job is mostly not liked everywhere, but it is one of the most important jobs all over the world. And police work must be done. If anything happens to you, the first person you see is the police. But it does not mean that people like the police. There are countries where they are better remunerated, but police job is essentially a thankless job. But then, for police work to be more beneficial, it must have people that are dedicated and ready to do the job the way it is supposed to be done. Just like we always say, if you join the police, you are already saying that you want to die for your country. This is because when a policeman leaves his house in the morning, he does not know if he will return or not. You don’t know what will happen to you. If you are dedicated, God will help you. So I am here because of God.
But what reactions did you get from your parents when you told them you wanted to be a policeman?
When I joined the police and filled the forms, I didn’t contact any of my family members. It was a decision I took on the basis of what happened over an experience. As a matter of fact, my mum didn’t know I had joined the police until after some months. It was my mum that was crying and saying how could her son join the police after going to the university? My father was saying leave him, it was even the military that I wanted him to join.
How did you meet your wife? Did she easily accept you as a policeman?
I met my wife at a car wash. She was driving too slowly and I overtook her vehicle from the wrong side. She got angry but I didn’t stop. I went straight to where I was going- a car wash. But we later met at the car wash. She said you ran away, you almost hit me. I said but I didn’t hit you. So in the process, we opened discussion. And when I told her my name and that I was a policeman, she said I combined the two things she didn’t like, that I am Yoruba man and also a policeman. She said she could not be a friend to a Yoruba man let alone a policeman. I asked what did Yoruba (people) did to her that made her feel that bad about them. She said they could never be trusted on anything and that they could backbite. I said okay, I won’t defend anything. Reluctantly, I gave her my card because she was damn serious that she was not going to have a Yoruba man as a friend and I forgot about her. Later, she ran into trouble. She paid for accommodation and even though her rent had not expired, the owner of the house wanted her to leave. In the process, they took her to the police station. So she remembered that she had my card. She called me and I asked one ASP to follow her to the station to settle the issue. The matter was settled and they agreed to allow her finish her rent there. So later, we became friends. But I was impressed by her father the first time I met him- he is late now. He asked: ‘do you know this woman?’ I said I knew her well enough to want to marry her. He said, ‘she is very assertive and stubborn’. He wanted me to be sure of what I was getting. I said I knew her and that she was hot-tempered and so on. Most parents would not do that. But I realised that beneath all the hot-temperedness, she is very soft. When I told her what her father told me, she got angry and called her father.
Will you support any of your children that chooses to join the police?
At times, when I see my small boy, I remember how he used to ask me: daddy, why did you join the police? Do you want me to join the police? I tell him, you have to decide what you want to do. If I sit him down and tell him what I went through, he probably will not want to join the police force. I stepped on toes a lot. I was in Interpol (International Police) for about 11 years. There are cases you will handle that will make people, including senior officers and outsiders, mount pressure on you. For instance, I handled a case concerning some foreigners and a senior colleague wanted me to give preference to them. Nigeria had deported them once and we were planning to deport them again. But this man wanted me to change all that. For God’s sake, it was not possible. After, they were compiling names of officers to be transferred and he included my name. I was ready to go on the transfer when another senior officer heard about it and called me to ask if it was true that somebody wanted to transfer me because I refused to do what was wrong. I said I wasn’t bothered to be transferred. And it was one of those times that the Inspector-General of Police was very powerful.
Can you believe that the senior officer, a deputy commissioner of police, who wanted me transferred, lost his job because of me? I was just an ASP. I was not happy about it but then, it happened. There was a situation when I was superintending and an AIG wanted to transfer me because of a case I was handling. I was supposed to go to Switzerland to meet with a judge so that a court there could issue an order retraining a bank from transferring the fund that we were looking for to another bank. And if the money had gone, the beneficiary of the transfer would have got away. Unknown to me, I was going to meet the judge because he had sent me a message that I must meet him in court by 9am on a Monday. And then the AIG wanted to block it but the complainant had access to the then IG, Ibrahim Coomassie and unknown to them, Coomassie knew me well and knew what I could do. So they told the IG they learnt I was being prevented from travelling so that I would not recover that money. I was a superintendent then and he called the AIG to find out what was happening. It was the IG who made sure I travelled. I travelled and stopped the transfer and recovered the fund. In the 11 years that I was with Interpol, I was transferred out more than five times and it was mostly because I had stepped on toes but one way or the other, the transfers didn’t happen. When a former boss, who was the head of Alagbon Police Station, transferred me to Yola, he didn’t know it would be a blessing because that was how I got to do peacekeeping. When I got to Yola, I was there for one week. Then a friend called me. He said who transferred you? I said ‘oga’ now. So he went straight to Coomassie. So the IG asked me come to his office. He said the message he gave was that those who were no longer useful should be transferred. And he asked, ‘who is more useful in the whole of Alagbon than you?’As we were talking, they brought the list of those who were going to Yugoslavia for peacekeeping. He said Tunde, a lot of people don’t like you but you are doing your work. I will change that Yola to Yugoslavia. That was how I went to Yugoslavia and then, peacekeeping was hotcake. And he changed the transfer so that even if he left, I would not resume to Yola when I returned from the peacekeeping assignment. Then he called the AIG and put the phone on speaker. He asked, ‘did you transfer Tunde to Yola?’ The AIG said yes. The IG said but the instruction was to send those who were no longer useful. He asked him if I collected money from anybody? The AIG said he didn’t have any information like that. Then the IG said, okay, give yourself a query and explain to me why disciplinary action should not be taken against you for what you did. Then he hung up. Eventually, he went to see Coomassie and in the process, they quarrelled, that was how the officer left the force. So supposing that AIG became the IG, I was a goner.
You described police work as a thankless one. It must have been frustrating sometimes with the poor remuneration. How did you handle temptations to collect bribe?
You must have discipline and good home training. Your parents should be able to say no, my son cannot do that. And I told you the kind of secondary school I went to, it was a strictly catholic school. We had very disciplined teachers and my home training became a part of me. I agree that police job can be very thankless, but it helps when you have a disciplined background. It was in the Criminal Investigative Department that I really worked, yet, it was at CID that you would get a lot of temptations. There is nothing you would want to use to bribe me, I would just laugh at you.
What was the biggest bribe you were offered?
Someone promised to give me N900m. We arrested him for committing a crime and he said he would give me N900m. I said God will punish you. I told him if he paid the N900m, it would substantially reduce the money he took and was expected to pay back. There was a time someone also said he would build a house for me anywhere I wanted. I also said ‘no’. How many rooms can you even sleep in? How many cars can you drive? Usually, what I did when people tried to tempt me with bribe was to curse them. You know why, there were situations when people would offer bribe and when you refused, they would target people close to you. And those ones might collect the money and they would not know that you still did not collect from the money. So I curse and say whatever you are looking for, God will not allow you to have it if you go and give money to someone to give to me. Most people would ask: are you a saint? Why are you talking like that? I go to that extent to let them know that they should not send anybody to me.
At Alagbon, there was nothing we did not see. One day, a pretty lady lawyer came in and asked to take me for lunch. I said I had already eaten because I was always eating from home. Her client was in our custody. She went and met the Assistant Commissioner of Police and took him for lunch. Apparently, she collected money from her client to bribe us. Then the ACP called and asked why we were still detaining the woman. I said the matter had not been settled. I didn’t even know anything was going on. I said it was not possible to release the woman yet. Maybe he thought I had also been taken for lunch or that I had been given some money. And if I had agreed to release her, nothing would have happened. Then one day, I got to the office and was told that the suspect wanted to see me. Then she said all of you here will just be taking money and still be keeping somebody in cell. I asked, ‘are you talking to me?’ She said yes, I sent my lawyer to you last week and she said she gave you money. So I was calm. A moment later, the lawyer just walked in. I was so happy. So I asked an officer to arrest the woman. Then I said, ‘ask your lawyer if she gave me money’. Then the lawyer said ‘not this one’. I was tempted to slap her but I restrained myself. So I asked ‘who did you give money to?’ She said the ACP now. Apparently, she collected N40,000 from her client and had spent N20,000 on her car, and bought lunch for the ACP from the remainder. I felt so bad. So we told the ACP that the food he ate had become an issue and he had to pay N15,000 or so. If he had released the woman, she would have left with the impression that it was the bribe we collected that made us to release her. Since I joined the police force, I never collected any money from anybody. Why would I do that? And I spent over 33 years in service.
If that is true, how did you manage to survive? What we hear is that if a policeman refuses to collect bribes, he could get killed by his colleagues as many policemen are corrupt.
Whether you are in the police or anywhere, you should believe in God. In the police, especially if you are handling very sensitive cases, you should expect that people will do a lot of things to hurt you. If they have a way to get to you, they will use it. If they know you have a weakness for women, they will explore it. If you have girlfriends, you are in trouble. It will be a serious scandal if you allow yourself to be used. If you have a weakness, they will look for it. If you are not focused, determined, you are finished. One day, a man came to try to secure bail for a suspect that was in custody. As he was leaving, his agbada(traditional attire) caught a hanger by the door and a woman that was sharing the office with me shouted. Apparently, the man had so many amulets under the agbada. The woman said, ‘Tunde, they have killed you here’. So we asked the man to remove everything he had on. The man said I must be very strong. I said, strong, you want to kill me with all these? So people do all sorts of things.
People believe most police officers use babalawo. Is that why you had so much confidence?
I believe in God. I told you the way I was brought up. Before the start of every lecture, we prayed and at the end of every lecture we prayed. That is how I am.
Was there any operation you were involved in that made you really scared for your life?
It has to be when I was in the mobile police. I was in Lagos with my unit. We received an emergency report that robbers were operating in a neighbourhood. I had about six boys with me. Apparently, the robbers couldn’t finish robbing the house, so they abandoned the operation and tried to escape. As we were arriving, they were leaving. We met with our vehicles’ full lights beaming at one another. Before we knew it, we started hearing sound of gunshots. I told my boys to disembark and we all got out. And I told them not to fire. The robbers were moving closer to us, some on foot. There were eight of them-all armed. Our doors and windshields had been shattered. They were coming, thinking we were all dead. By the time they ran out of ammunition, we opened fire and killed all of them. It was about 2am. Everyone that saw our vehicle couldn’t believe that none of us was injured. That scared me.
Did you keep such stories away from your wife when you got home?
What I normally did was to minimise the effect of the risk taken even though she is a very strong woman and has a strong character. And she knows I take things easy. Like when they refused to promote me, the then IG wanted me to remove someone’s name from those being prosecuted and I said no. The person had taken a lot of money. Someone had informed my wife what happened and that I would feel very bad because I was denied the promotion. I didn’t know. But I didn’t bother myself. I got home and didn’t know she had heard anything. Sometimes I would go out but that day, I didn’t go out. The following day, she said what kind of a human being are you? You heard they were doing promotion and you were not promoted. She said she was the one that had trouble sleeping but that I slept and snored. I said there are things in life I cannot change and I don’t bother myself about them. Later on, the day I went to ICPC to report was the day they brought the former IG’s case there and I was the one who charged him to court. His case is still in court. He said he heard I didn’t like him. I said sir, when they wrote petition against you, I was still working with you. It is true you didn’t promote me but that belongs to God. But the Tunde you know, any case brought before him, he will do it to the best of his ability. But the instructive thing is that the IG that took over from him promoted me and backdated it to the date he should have promoted me, so I didn’t miss anything. So there is always the hand of God in everything.
You are one of those who people thought would get to become the IG last year. Were you disappointed it didn’t happen?
Well, everybody cannot be IG but of course personally, I had aspirations. I knew I had something to contribute but it didn’t happen so I had to move on after my retirement last June. There are things you cannot control, so you move on with your life. Now that I am retired, I have set up a security firm with international collaborators in UK and the US. We have an office in the US and we do training, consultancy, staff profiling, use drones and so on. My friends and I tried to set up a security company to do some of the things Blackwater Security Company (now Academi) did. We know it is going to be difficult here because the terrain is different. But we want to do as much and learn from the mistakes Blackwater made Iraq, where it exhibited too much power.
What would you describe as your most memorable time on the job?
There were so many. Joining the police will always be a memorable day for me. And the day I retired also because we were not expecting it. If they say you will not get a position, fine. But to now retire us was unexpected. But I had to shake it off. I have moved on.
After you had risen to become a senior police officer, did you have cases where your friends and family members felt comfortable to misbehave, knowing you would be there to get them out of trouble?
You could expect that from relatives and all that. There was an issue with one of my friends. We were really close. His brother-in-law was arrested and the wife thought it was because I didn’t like her, which was wrong. She felt that I deliberately kept her brother in detention. I didn’t even know he was the one but even if I did, nothing would have changed. She put pressure on my friend. He came and said his wife would not allow her to sleep. I said come and sleep here if you cannot sleep at home. The suspect was the head of operations in a bank and the matter involved some funds. How can the head of operations not have the details of the person who opened an account? I said give us the information and we will release you. He slept in the cell. The following day, he provided the information and left. And I said if you had provided this information earlier, you would not have slept in the cell.
I am very straight when it comes to that, I will not bend. If you like, hate me because of it. I will not say because you are my brother, I will do something that is wrong.
You worked with Interpol, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission. Can you recall the most high profile case you handled?
There were many of them but one was when I was deputy commissioner of police and I was in the ICPC then and in the Federal Government panel investigating Nigeria’s membership of African Finance Corporation. It was not easy because it was like investigating a sitting Central Bank of Nigeria governor. There was money that was alleged to have passed through the CBN. How did the CBN raise the funds? Was it with the permission of the government or the National Assembly? It was a lot of money- $543m- and it was believed that the President should have been aware of it. And the governor of the CBN at the time said they printed the money. What do you mean that you printed the money? Does that mean that the CBN can just go and print money without the permission of the government and the National Assembly? So the Federal Government said that the money that was released must be retrieved and proper procedure should be followed. So we went to JPMorgan Chase and Co. and met its head. So we wrote a letter and retrieved the fund. There was already suspicion that some other senior government officials were waiting to pounce on the money. There were even overtures made to us by some senior government officials that we should put the money in a bank in London so that it could yield interest. I was chairman of the panel and I said no, I don’t want to be investigated tomorrow on this issue. JPMorgan Chase and Co. is like Nigeria’s government banker because it uses the bank and has account there. So what we did was to put the money in JPMorgan Chase and Co. and put a proviso that no other person must have access to this money except the President of Nigeria and the National Assembly. How the two of them would do that was not our business. So we wrote to the government that the fund had been recovered and this is the condition under which it could be retrieved. And we put it in an interest yielding account which would belong to the government. I think it was the reason why I was posted to the EFCC in the first place. When they were looking for somebody to post there, I learnt the late President Umaru Yar’Adua said the person who handled the African Finance Corporation matter should be posted to the EFCC. – Culled from Punch.