The New Dawn Interview
Honourable Justice Andrew Okon, First National Vice President of the Association of Retired Police Officers of Nigeria (ARPON) was at the Force Headquarters recently. The retired Police Officer and retired High Court Judge of Akwa-Ibom State shares his inspiring story from retired Police Officer to an accomplished retired High Court Judge in this interview with The New Dawn Newspaper.
By Femi Adedeji & Friday Adaga
It is nice running into you and finding out what you have been in the past, as a retired Police officer and a Judge of the High Court. Sir, can you tell us about yourself?
My name is Andrew Okon. I joined the Force in 1968 as a recruit constable. By 1970, I was sent on cadet course, what they use to call Force entrance, Cadet Course 18. Then, after the training, I was first posted to Abeokuta. From there I rose through the ranks until I got to the rank of CSP. I was promoted to CSP in 1986.Before then we had a Minister of Police Affairs, Prof. Osang. We were told at that time that he was a son to a policeman and had lived in the barracks. a So, when he became Minister of Police Affairs he decided to do something for police officers. One of the first policies was that any police officer or policeman admitted to study in the university, would be sponsored by the Force. The officer will get bursary, scholarship, and if he is due for promotion during the study period, he would be promoted. If the study is abroad and he has a resident Visa, he would be allowed to keep the residency and then be made to sign a bond to serve the Force for five (5) years. Thereafter, if you leave before the end of five (5) years, then you will refund every money that was spent on you in the university.
So after my service, (I retired in 1987) I went into private practice in Akwa Ibom state as a lawyer.
Then, by the grace of God, in 1998, I was appointed as a High Court Judge. I served in various Divisions in Akwa Ibom state. Then, in 2020, I retired as a High Court Judge. So, that had been my brief background both in the police and the judiciary. Presently, I’m the first National Vice President of ARPON. When we came to Ogoja in 2018 for the Annual General Meeting of ARPON, I was elected as the Vice President of the association. DIG Oyakilome (Rtd) is our President. So recently, I decided to put my thoughts in a book. So that members of the Force can also benefit from my wisdom.
Sir, what was your experience like when you were in service?
I joined as a police constable. Not that I would have liked to join as a police constable but because of the civil war that broke out in 1967, I was not able to get my papers. So after Calabar was liberated from Biafran troops, I was now able to get my certificate. Then, with that, I was sent to Ikeja as a cadet. But as a constable for a few years, it was really interesting being a policeman.
At that time, Police officers were highly respected irrespective of rank. Also, there was a lot of commitment at work. Several times, we were posted to Magistrate residence, and Magistrates were quite highly respected at that time. So, if you were posted to a Magistrate’s residence, you will not sleep; you will be patrolling throughout the night. I’m not sure whether that is the position now. And there was also a commensurate benefit to police officers. You were promoted when you were due. You don’t need to know somebody before being promoted. So, things worked out very well at that time. There was some level of corruption but it was not as pronounced as it is now. Because what is happening now is a reflection of society. It is not peculiar to the police alone. So, there was a lot of hard work and compensation for hard work. It was very fine. And if you aspire to study, (because after my school Certificate Exams) while in the police, I had to read for ‘A’ Levels. I took the Correspondence Lessons from Exam Success. They used to have their office around Yaba at that time. So, if you were prepared to work, facilities were there. Either you go to formal school or you go through correspondence school and all that. But one thing that was sure at that time was that hard work was rewarded.
Sir, even now do you have any regrets?
No, I have no regrets, I’m very happy being a policeman at that time. And that is why I insisted I must leave something for the Force by way of putting my thoughts in a paper. No regret whatever. Looking back, I can see that I appear to be one of the best at my age either in the civil service or anywhere and that is attributed to the service in the Force because it groomed me and gave me a lot of discipline.
I have been very disciplined and I owe that to the police. By the way, in my cadet course, I was the best all-around. At that time, A.O. Tinubu was our commandant and that also helped me a lot.
Sir, as a Judge, did your experience as a trained police officer helped you do your work?
It helped a great deal, especially, in criminal matters. I was also able to guide the police officers who appeared in my court to testify. As much as possible. I stood out amongst other Judges.
Sir, now that you are retired, what are the other things that you are doing?
I spend quite some time in the church; I teach in the church. You know. what we call catechism. Because I’m a catholic. I spend my time teaching the children for Baptism and other things. Then, I also spend some time for the ARPON, from time to time; we come to Abuja for meeting. We pursue several things for retired police officers, we write papers, and so on.
Sir, what would be your advice to Police Officers now?
My advice to police officers now is that they have to move with time, I know that a lot of policemen spend time studying. They go to school. There was a time that some policemen suffered. We have police officers who had gone to the university, as we had, as constables, corporals, or sergeants and then came back no promotion to be commensurate with their qualification. So, some of them became frustrated. I know of a particular person who left, went into private practice because he read law but unfortunately, he couldn’t make it very well. So, I think hard work, discipline, and some patience will also help. The way things are going now, I’m seeing a great future for the police. I think there is a future for the police, provided government would want to spend money. Because they have to improve infrastructure in the police and embark on training and re-training. Because you gain so much through training and re-training. In those days, you go for detective courses and various courses like that. I don’t know whether that is still applicable but police officers must be trained and they must be helped. Their welfare and that of their families must be uppermost by those manning of the leadership or hierarchy.
Thank you very much for giving us some of your time; we hope to see you again.
It is my pleasure.