Mbu Joseph Mbu, the Assistant Inspector General of Police, AIG, in charge of Zone 2 comprising Lagos and Ogun police commands, is no stranger to controversy. In fact, he is very much qualified to be referred to as Mr. Controversy because it is as if everything about him revolves around controversy. Although it is this controversial nature that seems to stand him out among his professional colleagues, it also comes with a lot of temperature which, at times, may be quite excruciating.
Mbu is currently enmeshed in a tempestuous storm caused, perhaps, by his reckless use of the tongue. He had been, rightly or wrongly, quoted in the media to have told his men at the Ogun State Police Command Headquarters, Eleweran, Abeokuta, during his maiden visit to the command that: “If one of my men is killed, I shall kill 20 of them, but don’t shoot first. If they shoot you, shoot back in self-defence. Anybody who fires you, fire him back in self-defence.” Mbu was also quoted as having said that there is no big deal in the number of people policemen under his command can kill in self-defence. According to him, “Since policemen are also human beings, they should be ready to take revenge on any violent group(s) that might attack them or other innocent citizens.”
As the controversy raged, some journalists again approached Mbu, who led policemen to provide security for President Goodluck Jonathan’s recent visit to Lagos, to clarify the controversial statement credited to him. Mbu said the media account was mischievous and contrary to what he actually said in Abeokuta. Curiously, however, he restated the media account he had tried to debunk. He said, “I still stand by what I said. And what I said is very clear: that if any violent group attacks my policemen, my policemen should attack them violently. If any violent group attacks a law-abiding citizen in a bid to cause injury or cause harm, the police should repel and save that law-abiding citizen because we have the powers to do so… The number I kill is immaterial because a policeman is also a human being.”
When asked if his strategy of fire-for-fire is the best way to handle the situation, Mbu countered: “Which other way do you think you can handle it? You will shoot at the police. Is it not when the person is alive that he is coming to give evidence? How will somebody who is violently attacking others be stopped? Are you going to use your hands? You must repel him using a stronger force.”
As usual, these statements went viral in the media. Many notable Nigerians also kicked against the statements. Others went to the extent of calling for Mbu’s head. Right now, there is a subsisting court case in which the plaintiff is asking the court to declare Mbu unfit to be a police officer. Last week, Gbenga Adeoye, a Chief Superintendent of Police and Zonal Public Relations Officer for Zone 2, Lagos, tried to bail out Mbu from this mess. In a series of advertorials in some newspapers titled: “What Mbu said in Ogun State,” Adeoye tried hard to extricate his boss from the web of controversy by reproducing what transpired between Mbu and the newsmen and placing them before the court of public opinion saying, “let Nigerians judge.”
However, one curious aspect of the question-and-answer session was where Mbu was quoted as saying, “Anybody found with arms will be arrested by the police. Who we cannot arrest, we will recover arms (from) by force. And during this election, no politician and their followers should shoot at any policeman. If you shoot at any policeman, my policemen will shoot back in self defence.” Mbu’s defence, coming rather late in the day, shows that except for the non-mention of the number of people any policeman that is attacked could mow down, there is no significant difference with what he was initially quoted as saying in Abeokuta, and which he somehow upheld at another forum when he could have easily corrected the earlier misconception. It makes the whole thing look more like an afterthought.
Mbu’s travail reminded me of an interview I conducted with the late legal icon, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, in the company of two other senior editors – Adegbenro Adebanjo and Bola Adewole, for TELL Magazine many years ago. Fawehinmi had spoken on tape during the interview conducted in his chambers at Anthony Village in Lagos. By the time it was published the following Monday, a furious Fawehinmi put a call through to the office, threatening fire and brimstone. He also announced the severance of any relationship that had existed between him and the magazine. But because the management of the magazine had tremendous respect for him, we were simply asked to proceed to his office to conduct another interview asking the same questions in order to afford him the opportunity to put the record straight. He grudgingly accepted.
We went back to the chambers for the interview. By the time it was transcribed once more, even with slight modifications in his choice of words, it was discovered that he had actually said the same things all over again. The following week, we published the new version and people could not see the difference between the two interviews. At any rate, that rested the case.
Though he brooks no nonsense, those who knew Mbu when he was the Commissioner of Police, CP, in charge of the Mobile Police Unit at the Force Headquarters, Abuja, can attest to his dedication to duty. While his headship of MOPOL lasted, there were no complaints about his work ethic nor did anyone accuse him of professional misconduct. Perhaps, his no-nonsense posture started unfolding when he was posted to Oyo State as CP. There, he found out that the state’s security outfit had a 90 percent police component with a sprinkling of military personnel. But the command and administrative structures were manned solely by the military. He protested but the Governor was adamant. He simply withdrew his men and that grounded the outfit until the anomaly was redressed.
As CP in Rivers State, Mbu and Rotimi Amaechi, the Governor of the State, operated a cat-and-mouse relationship simply because he did not like the way the Governor was channeling official communication to him through his ADC, a Deputy Superintendent of Police. At a point, the two men resorted to throwing verbal punches at each other until Mbu was redeployed to Abuja, first as CP of the Federal Capital Territory, and later as a promoted AIG stationed at Zone 7, Abuja. It was when he was CP, FCT that he attempted to dislodge the BringBackOurGirls campaigners before higher authorities and subsequently, the court, overruled him.
In January this year, Mbu was redeployed to Lagos as AIG Zone 2. On his arrival, he was accosted by hordes of reporters and paparazzi who wanted a word or two from him as he took over his new command. Not a man to shy away from talking to newsmen, Mbu said he was in Lagos for purely police duties and promised a hard time for troublemakers during his tenure. His speech elicited a lot of reactions due to the fact that people already had pre-conceptions about him.
For too long, Mbu has allowed himself to be tied to the apron string of controversy which may not augur well for his career at the end of the day. In his more than 30 years in the police, he has served meritoriously wherever he has worked. He is a policeman to the core. He should talk less and concentrate more on discharging his duty, without fear or favour, as required by the law. Remember the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the late 32nd President of the United States of America who, in his speech at Washington DC, on January 8, 1936, said, inter alia: “A government, any institution personified by any executive, can be no better than the public opinion that sustains him.” And like I have always advised my friends: “Don’t be carried away by what people say in your presence, but be wary about what they will discuss in your absence.”