Charles Omole, CEO, Prodel Global Services

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Challenges affecting policing in Nigeria 19 Mar 2020

Some officers of the Nigeria Police Force

In my column in last month’s edition of this publication, I examined the economic implications of insecurity in Nigeria. The aim was to demonstrate that insecurity is not an isolated phenomenon. I explained the nexus between security and economic prosperity of the nation.
Following my last column, I feel it is appropriate to address the challenges facing the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) as it is the primary agency of civil security in the country. How the police are organised, managed, governed and funded can determine its ability to deliver on its constitutional mandate of protecting the life and property of Nigerians. Understanding these dynamics can help in appreciating what needs to be done to improve security in the country.

For many years I have researched policing in Nigeria and Africa. I have also written extensively on these issues. It is clear to me that Nigerians do not fully appreciate the depth and scale of the challenges facing the police. It is easier to be critical of the police force (and police men and women usually deserve the criticism); however, I maintain that the police have not been set up to succeed, but rather to fail.

Effective policing in Nigeria is almost impossible unless there are fundamental changes. Indeed, the constraints faced by the police are used as excuses for various misconducts and unprofessional behaviours by many officers of the force. Despite many attempts by the leadership of the police to enforce discipline and even sack a few bad eggs, improper conduct by the police undermines their ability to fight the pervasive insecurity across the country.

The following are challenges that need to be addressed for effective policing and improving security in Nigeria.

1.    Institutional Challenges:
The Police Service Commission (PSC), the civilian oversight body of the police, has no independent capacity to investigate or ‘police’ the police force. Complaints against Nigerian police officers made to the PSC end up being investigated by the police itself, who then report to the PSC. This lack of an independent complaints system is unsatisfactory. It is part of why internal discipline is weak and a corporate culture of excellence in service delivery does not exist in the force. For this reason, there is no framework for rating police commands or measuring their effectiveness.

2.    Structural Challenges:
The way the police are organised is the reason community policing is ineffective. State Commissioners of Police take instructions from the Inspector General of Police (IGP), who receives instructions from the president, rather than from State Governors. The over-centralised structure of the police does not help it to connect with communities as it should. The current command structure of the police was created by the military governments prior to 1999 and has not changed despite over two decades of democratic governments.

3.    Legal/Establishment Challenges: The legal framework of the NPF needs to be changed to provide security of tenure for IGPs. S215(3) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) states that: “The President or such other Minister of the Government of the Federation as he may authorise in that behalf may give to the Inspector-General of Police such lawful directions with respect to the maintenance and securing of public safety and public order as he may consider necessary, and the Inspector-General of Police shall comply with those direction or cause them to be compiled with.”
So, what can the IGP do if the President gives him an order that is unlawful? Absolutely nothing. In fact, the constitution in S215(5) states: “The question whether any, and if so what, directions have been given under this section shall not be inquired into in any court.”

This means the IGP cannot seek judicial review of an unlawful order by the President. The IGP has to obey all orders given by the President – whether lawful or not. These legal constraints make manipulation of the police by any President very easy. The President can easily remove any IGP that does not play ball. That is why we have had about 13 IGPs in 15 years.

4.    Operational Challenges: Lack of adequate equipment and tools is a major challenge for the police. Up to 40 per cent of officers are on personal guard duties to protect so-called very important persons (VIPs) who are public and private sector personalities. Regardless of the insufficient police personnel in the country, anyone that can afford to pay for their services gets an officer. This creates operational difficulties for the core policing functions given the scarcity of available officers.

5.    Financial Challenges: In my view, not enough is being spent on policing in Nigeria. Nigerian police often receive support from donations and corporate goodwill. Basic infrastructure and equipment do not exist in many police locations. For instance, fingerprint searching and matching is done manually on paper cards using hand-held magnifying glass. The paper is kept in old filing cabinets. Even in Lagos, there is no computerised fingerprint database. Most officers buy their own uniforms and allowances are paid very late, if at all.

6.    Environmental Challenges: The weakness and poor public perception of the criminal justice system (which includes courts, prosecution agencies, etc.) has collateral impact on the police. Proliferation of security outfits in Nigeria has also diluted the role of the police so much that people often get confused as to who to report certain crimes to. These disparate security agencies compete instead of co-operate with the police.
For example, all private security firms in Nigeria are licenced by the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and not the police. The firms pay millions of naira annually in registration fees to NSCDC, which keeps the police out of the loop of those security firms’ operations.

7.    Capacity Challenges: In addition to the personnel shortfall in the NPF, continuous training and validation of the existing workforce is not a widespread practice within the police. Even the recruitment system is so compromised and inefficient that you can finish a prison term for armed robbery in Kaduna today and join the police in Abuja tomorrow. There is no central database of convicts.
The recruitment process is not designed to accept only those who are qualified. Heads of police training colleges have tales of “instruction from above.” This means that even when half of the applicants fail the recruitment course or examination, powerful individuals in government can order that they should be given a pass mark.

8.    Historical Challenges: The military historically emasculated the police by usurping the functions of the force under the various Nigerian military dictatorships. Underfunding of the police can also be linked to this era. Even under the democratic dispensation, the police have not oriented itself with the principle of "policing by consent" to achieve legitimacy with the public.

9.    Leadership Challenges: Removing IGPs in quick successions leaves the police force without much stability. This also deprives it of strategic focus since IGPs are not in office long enough to make strategic plans and impact. The uncertainty of their tenures does not support long-term strategic planning.

10.    Political Challenges: There is too much political interference in policing in Nigeria. This demotivates good officers as political patronage becomes a basis for promotion and benefits. This interference has also reduced the number of Specialist Duty Officers in the NPF. These are the officers often requested to become security aides by Governors in violation of the police internal rules, which give such duties to General Duties officers. Once those officers assume the duty of protecting politicians, they usually never come back to their specialist posts.

The numerous problems of the Nigerian police are well known. But simply recruiting more officers will not solve the problems. Nigeria needs an ethical police that respects and protects civil rights. While this requires proper training, the police need to be adequately funded to achieve this and improve the living conditions of the members of the force. Reforming and transforming policing in Nigeria would require addressing the numerous challenges mentioned above. The security of the life and property of every Nigerian depends on it. The prosperity and economic wellbeing of the country depends on adequate security.