Breaking the Triumph of Politics Over Policy – Reforming the Nigerian Police – Part Two

by | May 13, 2021 | Policy Blog Post | 0 comments

Usman Alabi, May 2021

There seems not to be serious intent at reforming the Nigerian Police, and this has little to do with the Inspector General of Police. The usual ceremonial charge to incoming IGPs to take up the challenge of improving policing is nothing but a shenanigan official hypocrisy, the reality is that no Nigerian IGP is empowered to engage in wide structural reform of the Police Force. None has the capacity in all ramifications to interrogate or dare embark on a massive structural reform. The Nigerian police system is an insidious massive patronage infrastructure that is self-perpetuating at the expense of the very reason for its creation. It completely lacks the capacity to reform itself, hence we would continue to wait forever if we expect any IGP to reform the institution or improve policing, since they are a direct product of this patronage system, and their appointment is simply to oversee it for the principal not to challenge it.

There are two strands of policy solutions to the immense problems plaguing the NPF, there are those that are given within the context of the present National frame work and there are those that are completely advocating for a structural excision or reform. None is wrong given the peculiarity of the Nigerian state. The usual solutions of capacity building, funding, massive reorientation, re-empowerment of the police with state of the art technology to detect and investigate crime, community policing, advocates of these strand are all correct. However, what is most important is the factor of urgency. We can no longer wait to effect the necessary reforms or changes needed for the police, and like never before, it has to be brought to the front burner.

We must understand that as important as it is, training or equipment or funding are challenges faced by the Nigerian Police, but they are rather symptoms or consequence of the structural malaise. The Federal government cannot fund policing for the entire federation, even if it has the capacity to do so. It is structurally not advisable and at the same time not feasible, when the fundamental problem of structure is addressed, the symptoms can easily be picked out.

This new structural approach to solving the problem of policing should advance a thorough value reorientation with a constitutional re-engineering of the responsibilities of the police force. Not as a force of order in the interest of the ruling class but in the interest of the populace, what is called policing by consent. This is important because Nigerian police force was not created for the people or to maintain a security order that advances individual trust and then encourages them to freely go about generating capital for development, rather it was created to instill fear in the people, keep them at bay to encourage loot and pillage by the ruling class, you can glimpse this from the Yoruba synonym to it. Olopa (the bearer of the stick or baton).

However, it is important to state that there are real issues confronting the police and every blame a typical officer receives or his incapacity to carry out his or her work is not down to him, he is also a victim of a failed structure and system which makes it impossible for him to channel his energy to his work. He is poorly paid; he practically has nothing to work with; he is the master of alternatives, when the system fails to evolve, he devices a better way to keep policing going. In the absence of forensic laboratory, CCTV cameras, credible and dependable data base, he has to find a way to crack the puzzle of crime, he does not torture arbitrarily but he has no other way to get out the truth, something that would have been enhanced via a tech driven policing. Against all odds, he has to find a way to survive despite his paltry income even if it means that he has to solicit for bribe, he cannot respond to crime the way his colleagues in other countries does because he is probably having substandard equipment compared to those he is mandated to confront. In fact, the odds are stacked against a typical Nigerian police officer, he probably should be commended for finding a way despite serving in an institution that is designed to fail.

Addressing these challenges does not have to be bottom-up or top-down, it just has to be eclectic from the point of structure which may then require a constitutional amendment. All states do not have to subscribe to have their own police. Those that feel they are not ready to bear such responsibility can have a joint police structure with neighbouring states with proximate geographical contiguity, by so doing, there is a shared burden. The Police should be granted autonomy within the ambit of the law, the head of the police should not be constitutionally compelled to obey without questioning the orders of the governor or the president, as a matter of fact, we can have the police being responsible to the people via the National Assembly or state assembly, this means that he is appointed, and his appointment is certified by the national assembly. There should also be a fixed tenure to enable him to implement a planned strategy.

But there is a caveat, we should be circumspect in our optimism given the fact that the challenge with pivot institutions in Nigeria such as the Nigerian Police Force is that they suffer from the structural and fundamental problem bedevilling the Nigerian state which is a fattened centre in terms of power distribution. This peculiarity explains why the state gets away with the habitual failure of governance. It may be important to state that we may find it difficult to excise the NPF from the centre or devolve the power of policing until we are ready to address the fundamental question of the state in Nigeria.


Usman Alabi is an extant believer in the Nigerian project, passionately opinionated about the emergence of a new Nigerian nation. Usman is an expert on policy development, civic advocacy, critical social development, governance and political strategy. Usman specializes in geopolitics, political economy, terrorism, critical security and globalization.

He has published articles on the fragility of the Nigerian state and why it is incapable of auto-centric development, and has also written on the political economy of privatization, as well as globalization and state in Africa.

He is a Team Lead at the highly respected Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) and also serves as a Research & Policy Associate with Liberty Career Academy. 


Views expressed in this article are those of the author and not the position of the Academy or its other associates.


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