Whatever position I find myself, I always like to effect positive changes — Musiliu Smith

Alhaji Musiliu Smith is a former Inspector General of Police and now, Chairman of Police Service Commission. In this interview by Saturday Tribune on his 75th birthday, he spoke about the significance of the birthday, his growing up, what motivated him to choose policing as a career, security issues in Nigeria and guiding principles in life. Excerpts:

 

Sir, what is the significance of this birthday to you?

Special thanks and appreciation to Almighty Allah because one has gone through a lot from infancy to adulthood, particularly, when I joined the Police force. After passing out, it was as if someone was doing country wide tour, because, that was when I had the opportunity of knowing Nigeria very well. I am sure it will be strange to you that, it was after I joined the Police Force as a Cadet officer, that I had the opportunity of going beyond Ibadan. We were the second graduate set. We enlistedon the 1stof April, 1971 and finished in May 1972. Before we completed the course, we had the opportunity of travelling to Jos in Plateau state for Man-O-War training. It wasn’t a child’s play. It was a very hectic and adventurous training. We went by train that time and we were put in first class. We were very happy. Thereafter, I was all over many places. I was in Jos, Kwara, Kano and at a point, I was heading the Intelligence Unit of the Nigeria Police Force. All the officers in charge of intelligence throughout the country were under me and that also gave me the opportunity of travelling round the country to lecture them and do their annual assessment. I preferred putting vehicle on the road with good security. The security in those days was better than now. Definitely, I need to give thanks to the Almighty for sparing my life because all through that period, I travelled by road because air travel then was very limited.Throughout these journeys, Almighty God was there for me to ensure my safety to and fro.

 

How was your growing up?

I was born in Lagos to the family of Late Alhaji Liasu Akande Smith,MON.who in his lifetime rose to be the Chief Surveyor of Lagos Executive Development Board (LEDB) then. Our family housewhere I grew up was at No. 55 OFFIN ROAD in the heart of Lagos while that of my grandfather was at ALAKORO a major commercial area of Lagos Island then. At that time, very few Lagosians had cars. In fact, at that time in Lagos Island, our father happened to be one of the few car owners in Lagos.

I had my elementary education at Ansar-Ud-Deen primary school Alakoro, Lagos from 1952 – 1959. My parents were prominent members of Ansar-ud-deen society of Nigeria, a religious body that has always been establishing schools at various levels in our Country. It was a very safe period in Lagos then. A lot of prominent people today who got to the top of their careers were my school mates. At that-time we were not used to attending schools far away from Lagos. I was called for interview by a highly reputable secondary school in the old Western Region, but because I had also had admission to Ansar-ud-deen College, Isolo where many of my friends too gained admission, our parents sent us to the college. For my University education, I attended University of Lagos and I happened to be one of the members of first set of Sociology departmentbetween 1967-1970. It was a very interesting period for me and close to ten of my close childhood friends also got admission in to the University at the same time.

 

Can you remember some childhood pranks you played?

Yes, as children then, we indulged in some pranks, but not ones with negative colouration. I remember, I always sneaked out to play football with my peers that lived within the neighborhood. If my parents sent me on errands in those days, I always had stop over at my friends’ houses on the way to play with them. We would go together and come back together. We would go to playing grounds to watch football matches. We had some local playing grounds that time in such places as Elegbaata, Isale Eko Apongbon, Olowogbowo and Isalegangan. These places had produced some good and fantastic footballers in the past. Great sportsmen like Tunde Disu, Muyiwa Osode, General Tajudeen Olanrewaju (Rtd.) who used to be a good footballer before joining the military, were products from these places.These playing grounds used to organize tough competitions. Interestingly, despite all our childhood activities, we were not distracted from our studies. We were subjected tofamily control, close monitoring and strict supervision. At that time, many elders in the community had roles to play in ensuring that children didn’t misbehave. Any child who misbehaved was always promptly disciplined by elders around in the community and such child dared not report what he or she experienced to his or her parents. Because, if the parents should get to know, they would add their own beating which would be more severe than the beating from outside. This is unlike nowadays when some irresponsible parents will protest if their children are punished from outside, a conduct that is not helping in proper upbringing of children. So, during our growing up days, you just have to behave well because if you misbehaved and you were reported to your parents, you would get double of the punishment from outside. And when I was to gain University admission in 1967, my friends within the area also gained admission. We were about twelve of us but majority of us chose  Unilag while about three chose University of Ibadan.

Though we attended University of Lagos, we were well behaved and focused just to ensure we came out within the stipulated time for our courses of study.

 

What motivated you to join the Police Force?

This question had been asked many times by many people. Well, I would say that I started making up my mind to go into uniform service,Police or Army when I was about finishing my primary school education. That time our economy was good. There were a lot of magazines from abroad which one could subscribe to via Post-Office. I used to subscribe to some of them especially the one in circulation called “True Detective” magazine. I developed interest in it and I was subscribing for it.  I would collect money from my parents to subscribe for it and I was getting it virtually every month regularly. I would pay locally for it through Post-Office and they would post it to me. I was reading the magazine virtually every month. I think I cultivated the habit of reading early because of the influence of both my Late father and grandfather who were educated. They were products of CMS Grammar School. They had great influence on me and other children. Not only that, they also encouraged other parents within the family, to do same to their own children too, what they did to their children. They arranged special lessons, and teachers would come to the house to takethe children on the subjects they were not too good at. I started reading newspapers when I was in Primary three because my father used to take daily supplies of newspapers in his office. He would bring them home after close of work and as soon as he dropped them, I would take them up to read. So, I would say reading of “True Detective” Magazine, really contributed greatly to my decision to opt for the Police because I was able to read many interesting criminal stories and happenings even abroad. Reading Nigerian newspapers too was an added advantage becauseI was also reading crime stories in them too. It reminded me of our experience during my final year, there was a Course,titled “Labour Economics and Industrial Relations”when during our first contact with the lecturer on a course with the Head of the Department then, late Prof. T.M. Yusufu who was a former Vice Chancellor University of Benin. So, one day, during our final year session, he came to the class but did not teach anything that day. He informed us that he would want to know our job preferencesat the end of the session. Then, we had many commercial organizations in the country, such as UAC, GBO, Leventist, PZ and UTC and some others.  Those of us that were reading Business Administration, Accounting, started mentioning  high Profile organizations but I remember that only two of us mentioned uniformed work. One was a guy whose father was a military officer and who grew up in the barracks when he was asked what career he would like to pursue, he said “Army or nothing”. Our mates were surprised at his response. When it was my turn, I said Police or Army and interestingly,the two of us ended up becoming what we chose as careers but sadly, the guy died early in life after attaining higher rank in the Army. By dint of hard work, disciplined life, also deep religious devotion and unbelievable grace of the Almighty. I continuously give thanks to Him for all He has done for me in life and still doing for me.

 

Before you got to this enviable position you must have encountered some challenges, what were these challenges and how were you able to surmount them?

That is to be expected but what is important thing is for one to be focused and determined. Also one should be ready to do the right thing at all times, because if you’re in the habit of doing the wrong thing, you never can tell when you will be caught. One thing about me is that, I learnt very fast from good officers that I was lucky to work under. This is why so many of them, even after their retirement were not surprised with my professional achievements in the Police, especially reaching the level I reached. I always strived to do what is expected of an officer and refrained from what an officer is not expected to do and anywhere I’m posted to, I always like to make a good change so that whenever I’m leaving, the changes will be noticeable and referenced. I brought up well so many officers who worked under me. These officers today, despite the fact that I had left office, they still referto themselves as “Smith Boys”. I regard them as such because they emulated my high standard of work, discipline and integrity.

 

One will not talk about challenges without mentioning achievements. Sir, how fulfilled are you?

Even while I was getting up there, I was already believing that I was getting fulfilled in office. This is because, there was no where I got to, within a short while, people would begin to notice my good qualities and they would begin to talk about me. They would make good passes and compliments about me. In any office or capacity I found myself either as CP or AIG, people always compared me with some of my predecessors. Some would mention same to some senior officers. People were always of the belief that I would make the seat more challenging whenever I leave. It is my belief too that, my successors   should strive to surpass my achievements. Infact I brought up a lot of officers, some of whom still tell people close to me they learnt a lot from me while I was in Service and served under me.

 

One of your happiest moments in life must be when you were appointed as the Inspector-General of Police. How did you feel when you heard about the appointment?

Not only my promotion to the position of IGP was my happiest moment, there was an appointment before that which was also great. When I was AIG In-Charge of Zone 1, Kano that time, then overseeing Kano, Kaduna, Jigawa and Katsina states. If there was any crises in Kano and it’s not promptly and maturely managed, such could escalate. But to the glory of God, I was able to manage the Zone very well during my time there. During the regime of General A. Abdulsalam, I was appointed as the second Police member of the Provisional Ruling Council in addition to the Inspector-General of Police Alhaji Ibrahim Comassie. Since becoming AIG, I knew that one can be called for duty at any time. So, in view of that, I always had a box full of my personal and necessary needs in preparation for any emergency meeting. It was when I got to Abuja that I learnt that I was going to be sworn in as second Police member of Provisional Ruling Council. That was how I became a member of PRC in September 1998 which was the highest decision making body in the country then. One thing is that, if you are in service and there is going to be vacancy at the top and your set are next in line to that top, there will be speculation that the next IGP will be this or that. During our own time, there were about three of us and out of these, two of us belonged to the same set. It is not that one is bragging, I knew, if competence, integrity and track record would be the yardsticks in choosing the next IGP, I had a better chance than the others.

 

`As an elder statesman and by virtue of your position as an expert in Security matters being the former Inspector-General of Police, what is your stake on the worrisome insecurity in the country now?

It is not only me as a former Security Officerwho is worried about the deteriorating insecurity in the country now, every concerned Nigerian should be worried, and every right thinking Nigerian will want to join hands with all and sundry for all Nigeriansto find solution to our security challenges. There is urgent need to give all our support to our security agents to fight insecurity in the country. Security arrangement on the ground in Lagos State which has been on ground for some years now is recommended for adoption by states to make them well prepared for necessary and consistent assault on all forms of criminal activities. This should be supported by well set up and modern intelligence body needed for productive Intelligence Gathering round the clock.

Definitely, we cannot get drastic improvement in the current situation without being ready to fund the foregoing in a sustainable manner without ensuring the comfort, motivation and necessary equipment for the men in the right quantity and quality.

 

What are your guiding principles?

Anywhere I am, I make sure I perform to the best of my ability. What is not expected of me, I don’t do.

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