The police institution in Nigeria has featured prominently in the discourse of corruption in the country, and this feature by Awwal Abubakar establishes the devastating costs of the systemic compromise on internal security.
The Nigerian Police Force is the principal law enforcement and the leading security agency in Nigeria. It started operating in its present form in 1930. It was first established as a small consular guard in the then Lagos colony in 1861. It was a law enforcement units in the various British colonies of what is now Nigeria. Each colony had it disparate law enforcement unit, until they were merged in 1930.
Although the roles police play in the country are fluid and open-ended, the main ones, according to 2018 Police Act are: Prevention of crime, protection of lives and properties, enforcement of laws, and the maintenance of peace and public order. But rather carry out these duties within the precinct of the law, members of the force, several research have shown, perpetrate all sort of impunity chief of which is corruption. They do it in different form.
Corruption in NPF
Good policing is the bedrock for the rule of law and public safety. Article 324 of Police Act provides for the standards of conduct required of a police officer to include “offer prompt obedience to lawful order” and “be determined and incorruptible in the exercise of his duties.”
After conducting a natonwide opinion poll, CLEEN Foundation, a major Non-Governmental Organisation (NG0) with a focus on security sector reform, ranked the Nigeria Police Force as the most corrupt public institution in Nigeria.
Corruption in the institution is so dire to the extent that Daniel Egiegba, a security consultant in Abuja, feels that, “apart from their black uniform, the best thing that defines the police in the eye of an average Nigerian is corruption.”
According to Egiegba, “the Nigeria police has a long history of selectively preying on the people it was established to protect. The force has the [legacy] of arbitrariness, ruthlessness, brutality, vandalism, incivility, low accountability to the public, and corruption.”
For the fact that the public sees the force in this light, apparently, the simple precept of good policing being the bedrock for rule of law and public order does not tag in Nigeria.
Ways police perpetrate corruption
According to Egiagba, “Corrupt practices in the Nigeria Police Force are institutionalized through a lucrative system of returnsw hereby rank-and-file officers are expected to
give a cut of the money they extra-legally take at checkpoints to officers higher up the chain of command. Police corruption in Nigeria takes various forms, including traffic duties; arrest and prosecution of crime
suspects; court trial in form of delay of justice, undue adjournment of cases;
destruction of exhibits and evidence; issuing of licensing and permits; falsification or tampering with statements and police investigations. Not infrequently, some police officers fail to arrest, investigate, or prosecute offenders because of family or friendship ties to colleagues in the
force. Others collect bribes from suspects either to overlook their offences and not to arrest them, or to present weak cases in court.”
For Transparency International (TI), while the rank-and-file officers perpetrate their own at the various locations they are deploy to ‘secure’, the high-ranking one carry out their own at the stations.
According to TI, “countless ordinary Nigerians attempting to make precarious ends meet as taxi drivers, market traders, and shopkeepers are accosted on a daily basis by armed police officers who demand bribes.
“The police frequently extort money from the public at taxi stands, in marketplaces, or while going about their daily lives. However, the most common venue for extortion occurs at police roadblocks, ostensibly put in place to combat crime. In practice, these checkpoints have become a lucrative criminal venture for the police who routinely demand bribes from drivers and passengers alike, in some places enforcing a de facto standardised toll. Motorists are frequently detained and endure harassment and threats until they or their family members negotiate payment for their release. Extortion-related confrontations between the police and motorists often escalate into more serious abuses. The police have on numerous occasions severely beaten, sexually assaulted, or shot to death ordinary citizens who failed to pay the bribes demanded.”
For Abdul Musa, a resident of Abuja, who has had many such encounters with the police, “At times they will just round up random citizens in public places like restaurants, markets, or bus stops. At gunpoint they would take their victims to nearby police stations where they demand money in return for their release. The police often make little effort to veil their demand for bribes, brazenly doing so in open corridors and rarely bothering to question those in detention about any alleged crime. Those who fail to pay are often threatened and unlawfully detained, and at times sexually assaulted, tortured, or even killed in police custody. Many of these abuses are perpetrated as a means to further extort money from ordinary citizens or from fearful family members trying to secure the freedom of those detained.”
Beyond the money extorted from citizens, senior officials also squander or steal part of police budget. This impedes on the institutional functionality of the force. For example, in 2005, the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) charged the then-Inspector General of Police, Tafa Balogun, with embezzlement, bribe-taking, and laundering more than US$98 million. In a plea bargain agreement later that year, he pleaded guilty to failing to declare his assets. The court sentenced him to six months in prison and ordered his assets seized.
In the same vein, in 2012, a former Inspector-General of police, Sunday Ehindero, faced trial for embezzling N16 million. Ehindero was however, acquitted in 2019.
Instances of Police Corruption
Corruption is so endemic in Nigerian police force to the extent that Transparency International’s report says 69 percent of Nigerians sees the officials more as bribe takers instead of people saddled with the responsibility of combating crime. This is because reports abound of the officials taking bribes which in some cases resort to extra-judicial killings.
In “Killing at Will,” a 2009 publication of Amnesty International, two intances of checkpoint extra-judicial killings because of of bribery were chronicled. The first one, according to the report, involved a commercial motorcycle rider named Aneke Okorie. The 39-year-old father of four, failed to pay a bribe to the police at a checkpoint in Emene, Enugu State, on 15 May 2009. He was shot and later died on his way to the hospital. An eyewitness recounted that the police
officer shot Okorie in the stomach and then hanged his gun around his neck, to
suggest that the police officer was attacked by an ‘armed robber.’ The dastardly act was revealed by the eyewitness through a petition to the IGP, and disciplinary actions were later taken.
The second case involved Joseph Onu (not his real name), a commercial driver who was killed by the police in Imo State on
15 December 2008 after he refused to pay a bribe at a roadblock. He drove off but police
officers chased him, and he was stopped and shot. The police took him to the hospital, where he later died. An autopsy established that he had died of gunshots. The Imo State
Commissioner of Police promised to dismiss the officer involved, but Joseph Onu’s family is unclear whether this has actually happened
In January 2016, according to a report by Premium Times, a truck conductor was shot dead by a policeman along Okene-Abuja highway over a N100 bribe. This led to the blocking of the highway with trucks by many truck drivers in protest.
In some cases, the police go beyond only collecting bribery to blatant highway armed robbery. An infamous case reportedly happened on Abuja-Okene road in 2014. Some policemen from the PMF on illegal duty, mounted a checkpoint along Okene-Abuja highway. They stopped a bus conveying traders and a male student. After robbing them of their money amounting into millions of naira, they set the vehicle ablaze with the passengers. It was a savage spectacle. But luckily, the student was able to escape from the vehicle and he raised alarm which led to the arrest of the policemen. They were later convicted by the court. In its ruling, the court said that they were not fit to live in a decent society and ordered that they be killed by hanging.
In April, at the peak of the lockdown occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), reported that 18 people were killed across Nigeria by security agencies, eight of which were by the police over disagreements on bribery.
Implication on National Security
The most worrying aspect of having a police force which is blighted by corruption is the negative implications it has on the nation’s security. It cannot be said that corruption in police is the sole cause of the exponential rate of insecurity in Nigeria in recent years; there are other factor. Among them are high rate of unemployment and poverty. The country’s borders are also porous, making it easy for smuggling of small arms and light weapons. Equally is the expansionist agenda of the national and international terror groups such as Boko Haram, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, al Qaeda, al Shabab and many others. Lack of birth control leading to overpopulation has also been identified as a push factor as this is said to have accounted for increase in out-of-school children who grow to become societal terrors. However, a key trigger and driver of insecurity is corruption.
For Samuel Ameh, a crime reporter in Abuja, “if the police are corrupt, insecurity will definitely be endemic in that society. In a situation in which the people legally trained and given the right to enforce laws are corrupt, lawlessness will thrive. That has been the case in Nigeria. Nigeria has had cases of the police conspiring with armed robbers to rob innocent people. We have had cases of the police freeing confirmed criminals because they were bribed. We have had cases of top police officers stealing for money meant for the institution. All these come together to engender insecurity in the country. In fact most robberies pepetrated in Nigeria are with the cooperation of the police.”
Closely corroborating Ameh, Mr Barnabas Ujah, who owns a private security firm in Abuja said it is a case of abusing entrusted power for private gain, hence “the impact the can be far reaching. When basic functions of law and order are compromised by corrupt practices within a police force, the state cannot legitimately prevent and punish violations of the law or protect human rights.”
Continuing, the security consultant noted that, “Police corruption results in public mistrust of the police, rendering it more difficult for the police to perform what should be their primary task, which is mainly countering crime. It compromises the institutional integrity of a policing system and undermines its legitimacy. If the public is to respect the law, they must be confident that the police adhere to the law in general, and that, in applying the law, they treat people equally. A serious result of police corruption is weakening ethical standards in society. If the public perceives the police to be benefiting from corruption, this could lower their own moral standards and make them more willing to engage in criminal behaviour.”
The consultants further stated that “Police corruption can also damage a state’s international reputation if, for example, there is evidence of police involvement in transnational arms, drugs or human trafficking. In short, police corruption can be harmful to democracy, the role of police in society and the community trust’s in the police force.”
The first media engagement of every new head of the Nigerian police is often promises of plausible reforms. Some go on to hastily annouce new modes of operation or institutional policy which in many cases elapse in weeks, and the force goes back to its default setting.
However, according to Barnabas Ameh, “the reform often does not hold water because the force is often working to reorient itself but is doing so amid serious security
challenges and institutional limitations.”
Since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999, there have been a number of attempts to have the force reformed. In 2004, there was a Bill for an Act to repeal the Police Act Cap, P19, Law of the Federation of Nigeria before the National Assembly. The Bill was to make the institution “more efficient and effective” based on the principles of accountability and transparency; and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
In 2006, the then President Olusegun Obasanjo attempted to reform the force, hence inaugurated a 12-man committee to carry out the task.The Presidential Committee was headed by Alhaji Mohammad Dan Madami, a retired Deputy Inspector General of Police. The Committee held public hearings in all 6 geopolitical zones in the country where they engaged Nigerians, NGOs who documented police abuses, and police officers themselves. The country-wide tour ended in Abuja where they interviewed police officers, from the then IGP, Sunday Ehindero to the lowliest constable. After 5 months, the committee delivered its findings to the President. The findings of the committee were never made public and any hope of reforms died as the frenzy for the 2007 elections took over.
When President Umaru Musa Yar’adua took over in 2007, one of the things he met on his table was the recommendations of the 2006 Presidential Committee on Police Reform. That report promptly went into the bin as he inaugurated his own committee to reform the police. The 16-man Presidential Committee was inaugurated in January 2008. Former IGP, Muhammadu Dikko Yusuf led the committee. Yar’adua also appointed a new IGP, Mike Okiro, as part of his police reform plans. Okiro came up with a highly publicized plan to motivate, bolster the welfare and confidence of the officers in the NPF.
Nigerians waited with bated breath for the changes that Mike Okiro’s plans would bring. Like all other attempts to revamp the force made by other IGPs before him, Okiro’s plans didn’t yield any tangible result.
Unlike in the past, this time around, the recommendations of the Committee were made public. A sum of N2.8 trillion spent over 5 years was recommended by the committee to equip and train police officers, increase their pay and revamp the various arms of the force. The recommendations of the committee went to the bin as the president died in office.
Yar’adua was succeeded by his deputy, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. And like his predecessor, Jonathan inaugurated another committee on police reforms, discarding the Dikko committee report. Jonathan’s committee was headed by retired Deputy Inspector General of Police, Parry Osayande. The committee delivered its report to the Presidency in August 2012. Their recommendation put a stop to the whispers of state police which had been bandied around as a potential solution. Some of the content of the committee’s recommendations were made public and the Jonathan administration promised to spend N1.5 trillion to modernize and reorganize the Nigerian Police Force in 5 years. To Jonathan’s discredit, his administration couldn’t fund the recommended amount of N300 billion yearly to revamp and modernize the force. A measly N16.1 billion was allocated to fund the modernization of the Nigerian Police force but only N10 billion was released. The woes which plagued the entire police force and by extension, SARS continued.
Since President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office in 2015, several stakeholders and civil pressure groups have called on him to implement the Dikko Committee recommendations from 2008 to no avail. Buhari’s administration did not say anything on police reform until in August 2018, when the public outcries over the impunities perpetrated by a unit of the force known as Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) became too much for them to ignore. Created in 1992, Nigerians have been calling for SARS to be disbanded but only their satellite offices were closed when the current IGP assumed office in early 2019. Today, members of the squad are still going on with the impunity.
In 2019, the Nigerian Senate passed the Police Reform Bill 2019. The Bill was designed to make the force “service-oriented and modern that will meet globally acceptable policing standards in a democratic setting. The modernization of the current Police Force (which was conceptualized and established in the Colonial environment to protect colonial interests) with a Police Force that is geared towards protecting and safeguarding the lives and properties of Nigerian citizens.The establishment of guiding principles to ensure effective policing in Nigeria. These principles include efficiency and effectiveness; accountability, and transparency; protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms; and partnership with other security institutions. Methods of dealing with abuse of weapons by police officers. The Bill also ensures that the police and police officers are held accountable in their actions especially in the areas of arrest and detention of persons and searches. Clauses that mandate record keeping by the police and clauses that ensure that citizens are fully protected from abuse by Police officers.The establishment of a Community Police and Boards in all the States of the Federation that will consist of broad representatives of the community and the State to ensure effective, efficient and participatory community policing. The establishment of an independent complaint authority to receive and investigate and effectively deal with complaints against police officers misconduct from the public.”
Nigerians are not waiting for Buhari to sign the Bill into law.
Combating Corruption in Police
To root out corruption that is endemic in Nigeria police in a fashion that would foster peace and security in the the country, experts are united that first, security must be seen as everybody’s business. In view of the increased threats to national security in Nigeria in modern times, the issue of security should not be left for the police alone. Police community or police public relations should be revived, closely monitored and encouraged.
Secondly, adequate funding must be provided for the police. It is widely believed that poor remuneration was what initially led the personnel to be accepting bribes.
The first must also be restructures. Experts believe there is a tension between the centralised structure and operational demands. State governments already create special task forces, but do not work to full effectiveness with the Nigeria police.
On this basis, experts are of the opinion that “the continuing debate over state police obscures other options for enhanced
accountability, such as regularisation of the police Council provided for in the
constitution, which offers State and Federal Governments a joint forum for oversight.”
According to Olly Owen, a security scholar, mode of recruitment should be refined to end police corruption. He said recruitment embeds a tension between ensuring quality recruits and those wishing to subvert the system, adding that regularisation of standards and the involvement of the Police
Service Commission will go a long way.
Speaking further, the scholars said, “there should be adequate training, the public should boost the morale of the personnel, the leaders should build discipline, the government should build motivation, and every policeman should feel and practise professionalism as the benchmark of his job, thus Nigeria will have a worthy police force.”
Awwal Abubakar reports from Abuja Nigeria.