Daniel E Agbiboa. Africa Today. Volume 62, Issue 2. Winter 2015.
The corruption and abuse of policing is a serious problem facing many people living in Africa today, especially the poor and marginalized who fall within the lowest quintile of income (Agbiboa 2013a; Oluwaniyi 2011). A study of twenty-three developing countries by the World Bank found that ordinary citizens perceived the police as a source not “of help and security,” but “of harm, risk, and impoverishment” (Power 2009:52). In Nigeria, the legacy and public image of the police has been that of “arbitrariness, ruthlessness, brutality, vandalism, incivility, low accountability to the public, and corruption” (Alemika 1988:161). As captured in surveys and popular culture, public representations of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) are strongly negative (Owen 2014:7), and “no government agency in the country is criticised more than the Nigeria Police Force” (Mwalimu 1990:53-54). In particular, the culture of predation that speckles the NPF today has not only eroded public support for this law enforcement agency, but has severely undermined the legitimacy of the federal government (Hills 2008:215-34). Despite its imperfections, however, ordinary people do report crime to the police more than any other nonfamily agency, as demonstrated in a 2009 national survey of criminal victimization by the Center for Law Enforcement and Education (CLEEN) Foundation: some 52 percent of respondents reported crime to their family and 20.2 percent to police, but only 3 percent to traditional leaders, 2.3 percent to religious leaders, and 2.4 percent to vigilante groups (Owen 2014:10).
This article critically examines the problem of corrupt and abusive policing in everyday Nigeria, with particular attention to the threat it poses to the basic human rights of ordinary citizens, many of whom see members of the NPF as enemies, not friends. The analysis takes a sociohistorical perspective, foregrounding colonial and military strategic policies that played a decisive role in entrenching a culture of predation in the NPF. The article contributes to existing scholarship by directly relating police misconduct to complex historical and societal conditions in Nigeria, rather than seeing it as a purely managerial problem, whose solution lies in simplistic recommendations for internal reform or removal of so-called rotten apples. The article attempts to fill a gap in empirical scholarship by approaching policing in Nigeria from the angle of everyday practice, rather than by taking normative structural approaches and basing suppositions of actual behavior upon these. The article draws on evidence from eight months of ethnographic fieldwork in southwestern Nigeria (Lagos State). The fieldwork evidence is supported by analyses of public discourse, literature reviews, some semiformal interviews, a review of national constitutions and international human rights law, and historical research.
The article is divided into five sections. The first explains the key concepts and general approach of the article. The second presents competing explanations of corrupt policing. The third provides a historical overview of the trajectory of formal policing in Nigeria, with particular attention to the effect of British colonialism and military rule on the culture of predation in the NPF. The fourth section explores the context of policing in Nigeria, with attention to severe poverty and negative public perceptions. The fifth section looks closely at the culture of predation and abuse which characterizes police dealings with Nigerians on a daily basis. These sections build together to suggest some conclusions pertinent to the democratic reform of the NPF.
Conceptual Analysis and Approach
The concept of corruption, though slippery, is used loosely in this study to describe the misuse of one’s position or authority for personal or organizational (or subunit) gain, where misuse in turn refers to departures from accepted societal norms (Annand, Ashforth, and Joshi 2004:30-53). The corruption that is implied here is everyday corruption which ordinary Nigerians are au fait with because “they come into contact with it, exploit it, or become its victims, on a daily basis” (Olivier De Sardan, 1999:28). Specifically, the study adopts Roebuck and Barker’s broad definition of corrupt policing as “any form of deviant, dishonest, improper, unethical, or criminal behaviour by a police officer” (1974:423-37). Corruption is here approached from the perspective of Olivier De Sardan’s sixth thesis on corruption in Africa, which states, “the real borderline between what is corruption and what is not fluctuates, and depends on the context and on the position of the actors involved” (Olivier De Sardan 1999:34). Thus, the roots of corruption are conceived in this study as “grounded in a country’s social and cultural history, political and economic development, bureaucratic traditions and policies” (Kindra and Stapenhurst 1988:1).
The importance of a context-specific understanding of, and approach to, corruption is evident when we consider the disparity that characterizes corrupt policing and related abuses in both developing and developed countries. Actions seen as corrupt in the United States, for example, may be viewed as social obligations or simply good manners in other cultures (Bayley and Perito 2011). As Harold Lasswell (1968) spells it out, corruption “can only be grasped when it is explicitly related to the cultural setting where it appears and with which it continually interacts.” Moreover, most surveys, media accounts, and observer reports point to the fact that corrupt policing in developing countries is more visible than it is in developed countries. As supported by a recent US Institute of Peace (USIP) report on corrupt policing:
Corruption in the developing world is an open fact of life for anyone who encounters a police officer, voluntarily or not. In the developed world, police corruption is out of sight, confined by and large to the shadowy world of vice regulation. It is concentrated among officers who commonly work undercover[,] rather than among officers who are uniformed and visible. (Bayley and Perito 2011:5-6)
Variation in the form of police corruption affects public regard for the police service, especially perceptions of legitimacy. As the USIP report notes:
Corruption in Western countries may be as costly in the aggregate as in other places, but it is invisible to the public at large. For the most part, it victimizes people knowingly engaged in illegal activities. Hence, the public can write it off as a fringe activity, perhaps even as righteous cost for illegal behaviour. This kind of corruption does not tarnish all police officers, only the few who knowingly exploit the opportunity. In developing countries, however, bribery becomes a transaction fee for doing any business with the police. It afflicts everyone, not just criminals, and it implicates all police officers. (Bayley and Perito 2011:6)
Competing Explanations of Corrupt Policing: Voices from the Field
For as long as there have been social theorists, there have been theories of police corruption. Two predominant explanations of corrupt policing may be gleaned from the policing literature. On the one hand, the rotten-apple thesis views corruption as an individual pathological issue, denying that police corruption is an institutional problem (Knapp 1972; Tankebe 2010). As far back as the years 1021-1086, Wang An-Shih explained Chinese corruption as a result of “bad laws and bad men” (cited in Sherman 1974:1). According to this theory, the key to resolving the corrupt policing impasse lies in “carefully screening applicants for police positions, pursuing defective officers aggressively, and removing them from their police positions before their behaviour spreads throughout the agency” (Klockars 1999:208). However, studies have shown that corruption is a widespread and systemic-in other words, an embedded-phenomenon (Olivier De Sardan 1999), intelligible only its social context (Osoba 1996). Explanations based on the individual pathology or deviances of police officers therefore stop short of explaining corrupt policing (Tankebe 2010:302). Indeed, they fail to hold ground in the face of overwhelming evidence of organized corruption in policing history. A classic example is the hearings of the 1970 Knapp Commission in New York, which “destroyed the police union’s argument that police corruption was confined to a few ‘rotten apples’ in an otherwise healthy barrel” (Sherman 1978: xxvii). The commission made clear that “a high command unwilling to acknowledge that the problem of corruption is extensive cannot very well argue that drastic changes are necessary to deal with the problem” (Knapp 1972:6-7). This view was endorsed by Patrick Murphy, the reform commissioner, who argued that the idea that the barrel was clean could not be supported:
The “rotten apple” theory won’t work any longer. Corrupt police officers are not natural-born criminals, nor morally wicked men constitutionally different from their honest colleagues. The task of corruption control is to examine the barrel, not just the apples-the organization, not just the individuals in it-because corrupt police are made, not born. (Barker and Carter 1986:10)
The commission’s report identifies two types of corrupt policing, which it calls meat-eating and grass-eating. Meat-eaters are police officers who “aggressively misuse their police powers for personal gain” (Knapp 1972:4), rather than passively accept offered bribes or other opportunities for corruption, as grass-eaters do (Tankebe 2010:302). Evidence from my fieldwork suggests that what many ordinary Nigerians call and strongly condemn is meateating corrupt policing (Knapp 1972) and the unrestrained rapaciousness and brutality of such meat-eaters (for Ghana, see Tankebe 2010).
The rotten-apple thesis aside, some studies have argued that traditional norms and values sanction corruption in the sense articulated by scholars like Peter Ekeh (1975) and Le Vine (1975). Analyzing politics in the postcolonial African state, particularly Nigeria, Ekeh draws an interesting distinction between two publics: primordial and civic. The primordial public is ruled by indigenous shared norms and customs, but the civic public-governed by the postcolonial state and its institutions, including the police-suffers from weak moral commitment. According to Ekeh, the reason for this detachment lies in the legitimacy deficits of the colonial state and the failure of many Africans to decouple the postcolonial state from its predecessor (Tankebe 2010:302). Ekeh further argues that the dialectical relationships between the two publics are implicated in the sui generis political problems for which postcolonial Nigeria is deservedly notorious. Corruption is the “acme of the dialectics [and] arises directly from … the legitimation of the need to seize largesse from the civic public in order to benefit the primordial public” (Ekeh 1975:110).
Corruption certainly implicates cultural factors, but they are inadequate in explaining the biting corruption of the postcolonial state (Tankebe 2010:302). The displacement of traditional cultural values by what Assimeng (1986:249) calls rugged materialism-a condition of aggressive preoccupation with material accumulation without regard to values of probity and propriety-furnishes a useful explanation of the kind of corruption that plagues societies like Nigeria today. Three decades ago, Brownsberger criticized studies that explained third-world corruption by reference to anachronistic traditions and to the special pressures on officials in developing countries. With reference to Nigeria, he argued that the roots of corruption go deeper, to “a materialism and political fragmentation that are the products of a moment in development” (1983:215). He added that the “dazzling status of the white man (and the successor black elite) burned into the populace a desire to appear and act as did their dominators, and this led the most successful to corrupt excesses” (1983:215-33). His view is supported by evidence from my fieldwork in Lagos. One of my observations was the close relationship between corruption and fast money-people seeking to get rich by all means necessary. In everyday life, Nigerians are portrayed as people in undue haste, who have abandoned the traditional value of ise (work) before owo (money). Thus, corruption is seen as an outcome of the penchant for fast money without regard for due process. The extremely monetized and materialistic culture in Nigeria is more appropriately conveyed in the ubiquitous vehicle slogans that I encountered in Lagos, including Omo owo (‘Child of money’), Omo dollar (‘Child of dollar’), ‘Pounds Sterling’, Ori owo (‘Head of money’), Ninalowo (‘Money is for spending’), Pa owo (‘Make money’), Fowosere (‘Use money to play’), Jo’wo (‘Eat money’), Owo de (‘Money arrives’) ‘Owo po’ (‘Plenty money’), Olowologbon (‘Who has money has sense’), Fowo soro (‘Talk with money’), Wa owo omo yi (‘Look for money this child’), Owo oga (‘Big man’s money’), Owo ni koko (‘Money is the key’), ‘Time is money’, Owo kia kia (‘Fast fast money’), Owo tie da (‘Where is your money?’), ‘GET RICH or DIE TRYING’, ‘Ontop Money’, Owo lewa (‘Money is beautiful’), Owo ni eyan (‘Money makes a person’), Owo ni keke iyin rere (‘Money is the engine of good news’), Olowo n soro … talika loun ni idea (‘The rich man speaks and is obeyed … the poor man says ‘I have an Idea’), Ibanuje ni ojo ori, owo l’agba (‘Age without money is sad’), ‘Show me the money.’
The quest for fast money came out clearly in an interview I had in 2014 with M. O. Balogun, a vehicle inspector officer, in Alimosho LGA:
As far as I am concerned, we members of the public, Nigerians as a whole, we are a problem to ourselves. We want to look for where we have easy, day-to-day money. For instance, what happens to all the artisans? Nobody wants to go to apprenticeship anymore … That is why I said we need to work on the psyche of the general public. A lot of people are just interested in what brings in fast cash, not considering what happens on the long run.
According to an elderly Yoruba driver whom I interviewed in Oshodi in 2014:
Nigerians of nowadays don’t want to work for their food. They just want money, money, money at all cost. Even when they have to use someone in their family to make money, most will do it. They forget that they must first learn to crawl before they walk. When I was growing up, we were taught that work is the medicine of poverty. But now, people of today have lost the virtues of hard work and patience. They can kill themselves because of money, forgetting that there is reward in patience.
Another perspective that emerged during my fieldwork in Lagos was that of corruption as a socioeconomic problem. According to this rationalization, corruption is closely related to material insecurity, especially widespread poverty and unemployment. In particular, the poor salary situation in Nigeria is perceived as forcing public servants like the police force to turn to corruption in order to supplement their income and ensure their everyday survival. According to this view, poverty, unemployment, and underemployment arise because the ruling cabal have refused to “circulate the national wealth.” Thus, Nigerian leaders are seen as “enslaving the masses.” A retired police officer in the Traffic Management Unit of Alimosho told me (2014):
Things are getting worse daily because there is [a] scarcity of jobs outside. Look at the turnout of students every day in the university. There is no job for them. [It] is just the problem of this country. So if it happens that I say that I want to employ people for [a] traffic job and I ask them to pay N50,000 each, they will bring it, because there is [a] scarcity of these jobs outside. And it fuels corruption. The Yoruba adage says eni ebi npa ko gbo wasu [‘You don’t preach to a hungry person’]. So you find out that corruption increases.
Moving on, a range of other explanations for corrupt and abusive policing exists, including: dishonest and criminal recruits (Lewis and Blum 1964), faulty training and supervision (Tappan 1960), political corruption (Gardiner 1970), a dearth of professional standards (Skolnick 1967), societal demands for illegal services (Merton 1958), and the socialization of newer recruits into corrupt practices (Roebuck and Barker 1974). In a helpful review, Porter (2005:143-69) collapsed several factors of corrupt policing into organizational factors and social factors. The former include organizational culture, particularly an emphasis on performance and clear-up rates, policy and rules, leadership, opportunities such as undercover work and informant handling, and ineffective investigation. The latter includes social culture, for example, the social customs among officers that encourage solidarity and discourage reporting fellow officers. Focusing on the factor of colleague influence in corrupt policing, Howitt (2002) argues that corrupt practices may be handed on by serving officers to new recruits, since the introduction of new officers often requires on-the-job training with experienced officers; thus, corrupt behavior among new police officers may have been learned from experienced colleagues. This is all the more likely if we bear in mind the song of Fela Anikulapo Kuti, the late Nigerian musical iconoclast, which criticized the ‘follow follow’ mentality among public officials in Nigeria who perfunctorily close ‘dem eyes,’ ‘dem mouth,’ ‘dem ear,’ and ‘dem sense’ to what is right (Kuti, Mr. Follow Follow 1996).
A Culture of Predation: The Unmaking of the NPF
Before considering the everyday context in which corrupt and abusive policing occurs in contemporary Nigeria, it behooves us to delve into the evolution of the NPF through Nigeria’s colonial and military trajectories.
The Colonial Legacy
The primary purpose of the colonial police was to protect the British economic and political interests. The police accomplished this objective through the often brutal subjugation of indigenous communities that resisted colonial occupation. The use of violence, repression, and excessive use of force by the police has characterized law enforcement in Nigeria ever since. (Human Rights Watch 2010:14)
African local policing methods were, traditionally, community based and closely associated with social and religious structures, consisting of, for example, age grades (formal organization whose membership is based on predetermined age ranges), secret societies, and vocational guilds, including hunters, farmers, fishermen, and other professions (Rotimi 2001). British colonial administrators adopted the concept of using local police forces to enforce local ruler administration. Traditional policing institutions were integrated into the newly created colonial policing system following the theory of “likes policing likes” or “strangers policing strangers” (Ahire 1991). Colonial administrators created and utilized policing institutions to ensure the smooth running of the colony. Ahire argues that the sole raison d’être of colonialism was the political subjugation and economic exploitation of the governed by the governors. The local police were seen by the British colonialists as a means to achieve their ends. The colonial state, in confronting its subjects so violently, and its police force foreclosed all prospects of legitimation (Ekeh 1975).
In the colony, it was the policeman and the soldier who were the “official, instituted go-betweens, the spokesmen of the settler and his rule of oppression” (Fanon 1963:38). Brewer argues that the “police were vital to the success of colonialism because they imposed law and order on the subject population and, by acting as agents of the state in civil and judicial administration, helped to disseminate the standards and practices of the metropolitan society” (1992:518). This was mostly operationalized by coercion and consent, necessitating “the use of police to facilitate the process of pacification of the vanquished countries and the subsequent patrol of cities and commercial enterprises” (Mwalimu 2009:865). Ekeh argues that, from the beginning, “the purpose of the NPF was to protect [the colonial] government functionaries, sometimes against natives” (2002). Thus, at the inception, the colonialists stamped a military character on the police (Omotola 2007:626). This character has continued in the NPF, as will become apparent when we consider the modus operandi of corrupt policing and related abuses in everyday Nigeria.
The local police performed several colonial functions, including “investigating and detecting crime, escorting residents and other officials; prosecuting offenders; guarding goals and prisoners at work outside the precincts of the prisons, serving summons and executing warrants; patrolling, aiding and protecting revenue and customs officials, guarding and escorting goods; and suppressing slave raiding” (Human Rights Watch 2010:14). Charged with maintaining order in the colony, the local police often found itself at odds with its own people, especially in activities such as “exacting taxes and labour that for all intents and purposes amounted to servitude, suppressing dissent, harassment, and abuse of nationalists especially those agitating for independence and demonstrations in urban areas by a semblance of labour movements” (Mwalimu 2009:866). As Fanon (1963:38) argues:
In the colonial countries, the policeman and the solider, by their immediate presence and their frequent and direct action[,] maintain contact with the native and advise him by means of rifle butts and napalm not to budge … The agents of government speak the language of pure force … He is the bringer of violence into the home and into the mind of the native.
Since the police were created as a coercive force and agent provocateur to silence all forms of opposition from Nigerians to colonial rule, and since they were required to enforce colonial policies, especially regarding labor, taxation, and criminal laws, “a selective process of recruitment was employed to incorporate into the force those [Nigerians] from the ent but tribal groups to ensure docile compliance to orders but at the same time capable of combat type arrangements into a parliamentary parliamentary setting” (Mwalimu 2009:865). In this regard, the British had an unconcealed preference for using native police in northern Nigeria, and from 1907 to 1915 armed government police were completely excluded from the emirates (Ahire 1991). In 1861, British colonial authorities created the first hundredman police force in Lagos as the first organized policing unit for the territory that became Nigeria. This contingent was called the Hausa Force because of the recruits’ ethnicity (Rotimi 2001).
The local police forces were an effective tool of local political oppression in northern Nigeria. From the beginnings of party politics and its associated escalation of electoral violence in 1951, to the collapse of the First Republic, the local police were able to hamper the activities of opposition parties throughout the north (Rotimi 2001). In the west, they had a hand in the harassment of political opponents in the post-1962 Action Group party schism (Ahire 1991). In short, as T. N. Tamuno argues, “there were widespread fears, particularly in the former Western and Northern Regions of the 1950s and early 1960s, that the local police were used as the instruments of party politicians in government” (1979:135-59). As far back as 1891, the consul general of the Oil Rivers Protectorate in what is presently eastern Nigeria voiced his concern over the “numerous acts of lawlessness and pillage” by the local police, whom the community called the “forty thieves” in police uniform, and the governor of the Lagos colony expressed similar sentiments when he announced in 1897 that the Hausa Force “no doubt behaved very badly in the hinterland by looting, stealing, and generally taking advantage of their positions” (Human Rights Watch 2010).
The foregoing suggests that the NPF was a colonial creation, imbued with a quasi-military character for furthering the cause of British colonization of Nigeria.
The Military Legacy
The military ruled Nigeria for nearly thirty out of its first forty years of political independence and has intervened intermittently in the country’s postcolonial politics ever since. No other country in Africa has been as coercively dominated for so long a period by its own military as Nigeria (Ekineh 1997:272). While the Nigerian military has often arrogated power through extralegislative means, it has justified its actions by claiming them to be corrective (Agbese 1992:220-53). Yet after one civil war, seven military regimes, and three botched attempts at building democracy, one key factor in the failure of all attempts to govern Nigeria remains: corruption (Agbiboa 2011:83-102). In fact, since 1966, most military leaders have “either been engaged in many forms of opportunism to enrich themselves at the expense of the people or have allowed members of their regime to turn governmental structures into instruments of plunder” (Mbaku 2000:23; see also Agbiboa 2010, 2014).
On balance, military interventions in Nigerian politics have caused more harm to the Nigerian polity than any other single factor. An elongated and largely meaningless military dominance of the Nigerian political landscape merely served to hasten the state’s degeneration into unfettered prebendalism and untrammelled cupidity, as well as the emergence of an increasingly predatory and self-interested political class. By weakening the structures of rational government, accountability, and democratic participation, Nigeria’s military governments inadvertently strengthened the institutions for arbitrary, oppressive, and insensitive personal rule. Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo frankly acknowledged the military’s role in entrenching corruption: “One of the greatest tragedies of military rule in recent times is that corruption was allowed to grow unchallenged and unchecked even when it was glaring for everyone to see” (BBC News 1999).
Prolonged military rule in Nigeria had far-reaching effects on the NPF. First, the periodic balkanization of Nigeria into states under successive military regimes, as it turned out, affected the structure of the NPF. For example, the twelve states created on 27 May 1967 and used as police commands, with each headed by a commissioner of police, rose to nineteen in 1976 with the creation of the nineteen state structures. In 1986, 1991, and 1996, more states were created, eventually reworking the federal structure into thirty-six states and the federal capital territory, and these in turn supported thirtyseven police commands. On 14 October 1986, zonal command, headed by an assistant inspector-general of police, was introduced to conform to the political structure of the country (Omotola 2007).
The second impact of military rule on the NPF is the problem of marginalization and funding. The NPF, which at independence numbered roughly 12,000, was larger than the military, and thus was perceived by the military leaders as a threat. To prevent coups, successive military regimes “failed to fund the police adequately” (OSJI 2010:30). The constitution had no provision to allocate a certain percentage of national revenue to the police, which therefore have been subjected to a perpetual crisis of underfunding (Agbiboa 2013b; Omotola 2007). Analysis of the national budgets for the NPF since 1980 reveals a pattern of continuous underfunding. Through 2012, apart from 1983, under the Shagari administration, when the police received an allocation equivalent to 10.7 percent of the national budget, the NPF with its 400,000 staff got allocated an average lower than 5 percent. Moreover, when the funds are released, the headquarters and zonal and area commands withhold substantial amounts, leaving little for intelligence gathering, street patrols, and policing at the divisional and station levels, where most law enforcement is done (El-Rufai 2012).
The third far-reaching effect is that successive military governments deliberately installed few effective checks on abuses of police authority, leaving corruption and abuse to snowball. For example, under the military, the suspension of such democratic institutions as the National Assembly, the Police Council, and the Police Service Commission (OSJI 2010:22), all of which have oversight functions over the NPF, left the police institution “an orphan at the mercy of the ruling military” (Osayande 2012:23). Recruitment into the NPF and training were suspended for many years, while a goodly number of officers left the service through compulsory retirement and dismissals (Mwalimu 2009). Not surprisingly, vices such as “corruption, greed, indolence, tribalism, godfatherism, nepotism[,] injustice[,] and various malpractices crept into the police and attained their peak during this period” (Osayande 2012:6). Over time, morale declined, and the NPF’s deteriorating public image deterred high-quality candidates from entering the force (Human Rights Watch 2010). In 2008, the Presidential Committee on Police Reform explained the full impact of military intervention and constitutional instability:
Successive military regimes erroneously regarded the NPF as a rival power base (to the armed forces) and as such did everything they could to undermine its capabilities and effectiveness, so as to sustain their political hegemony. As a result, standards of training, discipline, kitting, etc. fell drastically as a result of deliberate under-funding and neglect. Worse still, through several interventions and subterfuge, the military deliberately created rival law and order institutions, and usurped police duties by setting up anti-crime taskforces and other outfits and effecting so many changes in the institutional organization, appointment, and deployment of the NPF, which further eroded public confidence in the Force. This trend went on throughout military rule, from 1966 to 1979, and from 1983 to 1999. The advent of democratic administration from 1999 did not change matters, because the former President came with the same military mindset. As such, the position of the NPF even deteriorated. The cumulative impact of all these has been a NPF that has been weakened, deficient, incapacitated, lacking in confidence and orientation. (Yusuf Commission Report 2012:196)
Under the military regimes of General Aguiyi Ironsi (January-July 1966) and General Yakubu Gowon (1966-1975), the local forces were dissolved, at least in theory, in favor of a centralized police force, the NPF. Both the 1979 and 1999 constitutions, which Nigeria uses, explicitly prohibit the establishment of police forces other than the NPF. Section 213(1) stipulates: “There shall be a Police Force for Nigeria, which shall be known as the Nigeria Police Force, and subject to the provisions of this section no other police force shall be established for the Federation or any part thereof.” According to the 1956 Police Act, the duties and responsibilities of the NPF are “prevention and detection of crime; apprehension of offenders; preservation of law and order; protection of life and property; due enforcement of all laws and regulations which they are directly charged; the performance of such military duties within and without Nigeria as may be required of them under the authority of the police act” (Fayemi and Olonisakin 2008:252). As the number-one state provider of internal law and order in Nigeria, the police service remains a federally controlled body because the constitution, as noted above, prohibits the formation of local or regional police forces, yet nonstate security providers, such as private security companies, militia, and community vigilante groups, are increasingly present and even collaborate with the police as service providers (Fayemi and Olonisakin 2008:245).
In the early democratic years in Nigeria, the NPF grew rapidly to almost 300,000 officers (CLEEN 2007). This growth highlighted existing challenges and inadequacies in training quality and scarce resources (Hazen and Horner 2007:10). Almost every police training period, according to Omideyi (2012), lasts “no more than twelve weeks, and only touches the aspects of policing in its basic forms[,] since most of the police recruits cannot assimilate instructions in advanced legal training, [and] political and civic education.” To be sure, resource and management inadequacies have negatively affected police efficiency and conduct. These inadequacies, as outlined by Alemika and Chukwuma (n.d.), include poor manpower, both in quantity and quality; inadequate funding; poor crime and operational information management, including inaccurate recording and collation, poor storage and retrieval, inadequate analysis, and infrequent publication of criminal statistics; poor remuneration and general conditions of service; inadequate initial and on-the-job training and deficient syllabi, placing too much emphasis on law enforcement and order maintenance without adequate liberal and broad training that can illuminate the nature and sources of law and criminality; poor resource management; inadequate logistics, arms, and ammunition, uniform and accouterments, telecommunication and transportation facilities, both in quality and quantity; inadequate office and residential accommodation; inhuman conditions under which suspects are held in police cells; unhygienic working environments; limited contacts or relationships with citizens outside law enforcement and order-maintenance functions; low commitment; indiscipline and involvement in crime or collusion with criminals; lack of integrity; perversion of the course of justice (including procuring and supplying false evidence, tampering with exhibits, and false accusations); poor knowledge of the law and disregard for human rights; corruption and extortion; and brutality (Alemika and Chukwuma n.d.:15).
The Context of Policing in Everyday Nigeria
The context of policing in contemporary, everyday Nigeria is characterized by political instability, moribund institutions, ethnoreligious diversity, poverty, and poor infrastructure. Nigeria is Africa’s most populous and oil rich country, with roughly 150 million people. This self-acclaimed Giant of Africa is the eighth-largest oil exporter in the world. This has made oil the dominant factor in Nigeria’s economy for the past five decades, with more than 87 percent of government revenues, 90 percent of foreign exchange earnings, 96 percent of export revenues, and almost half of the GDP derived from oil dealings. Oil wealth aside, Nigeria comprises about 389 ethnic and language groups and has a long history of interethnic sectarian and political violence, which affects the deployment of policing resources (Agbiboa 2013b).
Despite its abundant natural resource endowment, corruption wrought with poverty has turned Nigeria into a “crippled giant” (Osaghae 1998). Approximately 70 million Nigerians live on less than $1 a day, 54 percent of Nigerians live below the poverty line, and more than one-third live in extreme poverty, defined as those who cannot afford 2,900 calories per day. In the context of poverty and immiseration, it is hardly surprising that “there is a social class bias” to police abuses in Nigeria (Access to Justice 2005:26). As in the colonial times, the poor and socially disadvantaged are most likely to be abused by the NPF (OSJI 2010:31). A presidential committee found that nearly three-quarters of suspects in pretrial custody lacked legal representation because they could not afford it (Federal Republic of Nigeria 2005). This supports the argument that those who suffer extrajudicial execution or other severe abuse in police custody are mostly persons in the Nigerian society who are too poor to afford a bribe, bail, or a barrister (Nwaka 2007:27, 31).
Historically, the remuneration of police personnel, especially in the lower ranks, has been appalling, leaving most in or on the margins of extreme poverty; based on an exchange rate of 1 USD to 118 NGN, low-ranked NPF personnel are paid $1.46 per day, or $43.71 per month. A 2008 report of the Presidential Committee on Police Reform found that fewer than 10 percent of all police personnel in Nigeria are housed in police barracks “and even a lesser percentage can claim to have personal dwellings that they can call their own and look forward to retiring into. As a result, the police have some of the most dysfunctional families among occupational groups in the country. Even where barrack accommodation is provided, the facilities are dilapidated one room buildings, often with no toilet facilities” (Yusuf Commission Report 2012:112). Reportedly, some police personnel have been reduced to begging to meet their subsistence needs (OSJI 2010:34). This impoverishment plays a significant role in the general climate of popular discontent among police personnel and feeds corruption and abuses. In this context, extortion becomes a common way through which “lower cadres try to supplement their meagre incomes” (Ibeanu 2007:54, 61).
Most police extortion occurs in the urban public transport sector. Observations during my fieldwork in the road transportation sector of Alimosho Local Government Area (LGA)-the biggest LGA in Lagos State- revealed that traffic police officers now employ motor-park touts, otherwise known as agbero (in Yoruba, ‘caller of passengers’), and position them on key roundabouts to extort money from danfo (minibus) and Keke Napep (tricycle) transport operators. The amount extorted by these agberos on behalf of the police is often called owo askari (‘Money for the police’). After owo askari is extorted from the bus and tricyle drivers, a mark (X) is put on their side mirror to indicate that they have paid so that they are not charged in their next trip. In one of the danfos that I entered in Ikotun Egbe, the driver was stopped by the agbero who demanded owo askari of N150 ($0.75). The driver pleaded with the agbero that he had just resumed work and therefore needed more time to make money: “Pity me abeg. I just dey start work. Make I make small money to chop. I go settle you.” Ignoring the driver’s plea, as well as those of the passengers who were desperate to get to their respective destinations in good time, the agbero quickly dismantled the side-view mirror of the danfo. He then reported to the police, for whom he apparently works, who promptly commanded the driver to park and ordered everyone out of the danfo to look for another vehicle because, “This one no dey go again.” Turning to the driver, the police said: “My friend, you think say you get sense. You don’t want to pay your fee. If you refuse to pay, you will remain parked there. Your work is finish [sic] for today” (fieldwork observation, 6 September 2014). In another experience in Oshodi LGA in Lagos, I interviewed Ahmed Tajudeen, a traffic police inspector, who told me jokingly: “I love my job because, even though pay no good, plenty chances dey to chop belleful” (Tajudeen 2014). Ahmed was referring to the many opportunities available to him, by virtue of his job as traffic officer, to extort money from transport operators. I interviewed another danfo driver, Azeez Bakare, in Ikotun Egbe, who noted:
In this our business, when agbero or askari demand illegal money from you, you have to pay them so that they can allow you to do your work and make your money before the night falls. Otherwise, they will delay you and even damage you and your vehicle. They are very dangerous people. So you have to give them their monetary demands so that they don’t hurt you or waste your precious time. Because here in Lagos, “time na money,” and it is who is in good health that can chop and feed his family. [His conductor, who had been listening to our conversation, added] “If you can’t beat them, join them.” (Bakare 2014)
Most literature on corruption by police officers ignores the supply side-publics who want to influence the police to their own advantage (Owen 2014:18). In other words, public discourses that stigmatize the NPF are often blind to the instrumentality in which some citizens engage with the police to maximize their own agency. Transport operators in Nigeria are typically cast as the innocent victims of police corruption (Oluwaniyi 2011), but my fieldwork experience in southwestern Nigeria suggests that they are also active participants and agents. During my fieldwork research in Lagos, for example, some transport operators that I interviewed openly admitted their own role in reproducing the corruption that they themselves condemned or rationalized. As one danfo driver, Bankole Odediran, plying the Oshodi-Ikotun route, frankly told me:
Sometimes it is not only the askaris who extort money from us. We conductors, drivers, and owners deliberately influence and encourage their actions in a corrupt way. I have seen many drivers go directly to the askaris and agberos and bribe them with cash even before they ask anything so that they can defend them in times of trouble. This often happens with danfos that are not roadworthy, or when the drivers do not have [a] license, or the conductors are not registered. Sometimes, drivers do this so that they can pass one way without any hindrance from the traffic inspector. In this way, they can get to the bus park on time to load more passengers. The rest of us who try to follow the rule, we simply rot away in traffic. So we ourselves are part of the problem, too. (Odediran 2014)
The above statement reinforces Daniel J. Smith’s (2007:52) ethnographic finding in Nigeria’s southeast, namely that ordinary Nigerians “participate in one way or another in the social reproduction of corruption, even as they simultaneously lament and condemn it.” This relational ambiguity reflects a dualism that typifies how ordinary Nigerians relate to the state and their everyday experiences of politics (Gore and Pratten 2003).
The situation of corrupt policing and abuses in Lagos is not helped by the Lagos State Road Traffic Law of 2012, which allows more room for police officers to extort money from transport operators. The law states that driving vehicles with doors left open attracts a first offender fine of N20,000 and a subsequent offender fine of N30,000 (Lagos State Road Traffic Law 2012:A124). However, my interviews with danfo drivers in Lagos revealed that most police are abusing these laws to enrich themselves, rather than strictly enforcing them correctly. As one danfo driver in Oshodi told me:
When the askari [police] catch us with our doors open, they will order us to park. Then they will threaten us that if we take you to Alahusa [the state headquarters], you will have to pay N30,000 and your danfo will be grounded. But if you pay N7,000 now, we will let you go. So choose which one you want. Since we want to avoid the wahala [troubles] of Alahusa, we will look for money to pay the N7,000. Our case is a clear one of “monkey dey work, baboon dey chop.” What can we do? Nothing. God will save us, sha. (Danfo driver 2014).
Aside from the impoverished and abusive context in which policing takes place in Nigeria, there is the problem of public perceptions of the NPF as a hopelessly corrupt and abusive institution. In 2006, CLEEN conducted a nationwide opinion poll, in which respondents ranked the NPF as the most corrupt and violent public institution in Nigeria (Alemika and Chukwuma 2007b:46). Research conducted in 2000 by CLEEN had found that the use of violence by the police against citizens in Nigeria was widespread: of 637 respondents in fourteen states, 14.8 percent said they had been beaten by the police, 22.5 percent said police had threatened to shoot them, and 73.2 percent said they had witnessed the police beating another person. Of 197 prisoners and detainees interviewed in the CLEEN study, 81 percent said they had suffered some form of physical abuse, with 39 percent having been burned with hot objects while in police custody (Alemika and Chukwuma 2007a). Access to Justice, a Nigerian nongovernmental organization, reported: “The use of violence is an important aspect of the self-image of the Police. Police officers see themselves as agents of violence and consider the application of violence and force on the slightest provocation as fulfillment of their social essence” (2005:6). To my question about how the work of traffic police affects the transport business, Akeem Ogunsanwo, a danfo driver interviewed in Ikotun Egbe, said:
Let me make something very, very clear. Policing is not work: it is stealing by force. Traffic police officers are not workers: they are violent thieves, stealing in broad daylight. Police are thieves and terrorists.
The NPF itself is not oblivious of the pervasiveness of corruption and violence in its ranks. As early as 1990, Ibrahim Coomassie, secretary of the NPF, decried the “corruption, lack of supervision, negligence of duty, abuse of office, insubordination, … misappropriation of funds, … extortion[,] and demanding by menaces” that had become police officers’ trademarks. While corruption in the NPF is glaring enough for everyone to see, some officers have argued that it is not unique to the police service, but implicates every institution in Nigeria. As one police officer rationalizes:
How can people say that the police are the most corrupt agency in Nigeria? What about Immigrations? As far as I am concerned, every sector is corrupt, including the most important decision-making institutions in the country. (Cited in Oluwaniyi 2011:74)
Rationalizations such as this pave the way toward defining the NPF’s corrupt and abusive practices as business as usual or help ease misgivings about police behavior (Anand et al. 2004:43). David Bayley, in a study of the causes of police corruption in India, found that “corruption is not unique to the police but permeates society generally. Because the malaise is nationwide[,] there are few examples serving to strengthen the resolve of the uncorrupted to resist temptation” (1974:86). A similar situation applies in the Nigerian social context, where “individuals are left with a typical collective action problem[,] in which their choice not to engage in corruption is seen as illogical or even ridiculous” (Marquette 2012). Thus, as in India, a policeman in Nigeria is subject to endless temptations:
His work brings him into contact with the dregs of society, those whose moral standards are rock bottom. Given the prevailing climate of corruption, the policeman need not make opportunities; they are constantly being proffered to him routinely … Even the lowest police officer has enormous powers. When greed or necessity is combined with power to harass, corruption is the ready result. (Bayley 1974:88)
A Law unto Itself: Corrupt Policing and Related Abuses in Nigeria
For most Nigerian police officers, the police uniform is a license for legitimate income generation and wealth maximization. This is despite Article 324 of the Police Act, which requires a police officer to “offer prompt obedience to lawful order” and “be determined and incorruptible in the exercise of his duties” (Omotola 2007). Corrupt policing and abuses in Nigeria are institutionalized through an organized scheme, under which senior officers approve and profit from extortion committed by junior officers (Ngunyen 2010). Police personnel on patrol are expected to deliver the highest amount. Failure to deliver or “make returns” can result in severe penalties, such as transfer to nonlucrative locations or dismissal from the force (OSJI 2010:82-83). Alemika argues that police corruption elicits serious concerns for three significant reasons:
First, the police are expected to be moral as well as law enforcement agents. If the police[,] which are employed to prevent and detect corruption, and bring culprits to judgment[,] are themselves stinkingly corrupt, the society’s crusade against corruption is guaranteed to fail. Second, the police exercise powers that have profound implications for the life, property, safety, and freedoms of citizens. Where the exercise of such powers is contaminated by corrupt motives, the citizens feel exceedingly vulnerable, insecure, and powerless. Third, police corruption is often tantamount to extortion, a form of robbery or demand with force. These dimensions of police corruption explains [sic] why the public is threatened by such practices … The most significant source of negative police-community relations is corruption. Corrupt motive is also a source of police brutality. In many circumstances, police brutality is a means of coercing individuals to succumb to demands for bribes, and at some other times, it is a punishment for not cooperating with the police in their demand for gratification. (Alemika 1999:10)
Corrupt and abusive policing in Nigeria takes various patterns, including traffic duties, arrest and prosecution of crime suspects, court trial in the form of delayed justice, undue adjournment of cases, destruction of exhibits and evidence, issuing of licensing and permits, falsifications, and tampering with statements and police investigations (Human Rights Watch 2010; Omotola 2007). Not infrequently, some police officers fail to arrest, investigate, or prosecute offenders because of family or friendship ties to colleagues in the force (Tankebe 2010). Others collect bribes from suspects, either to overlook their offenses and not to arrest them, or to present weak cases in court. The majority mount roadblocks to collect bribes from motorists and so-called traffic offenders. However, the most visible forms of police corruption in Nigeria are bribery, extortion, and brazen human-rights abuses, committed largely by rank-and-file police officers, mostly low earners (Human Rights Watch 2010).
Corrupt policing in Nigeria occurs mostly by coercion, echoing the colonial mentality, and most directly and disproportionately affects the poor and socially marginalized. Ordinary Nigerians driving or commuting on the country’s roadways, including those buying or selling at markets, are routinely subjected to police extortion and abuses. Refusal to give in to frequent demands for bribes by trigger-happy police officers often holds grave consequences: poor Nigerians are frequently threatened and illegally detained, and at times physically and sexually assaulted, tortured, or shot dead (OSJI 2010). The fact that members of the NPF make little attempt to conceal the collection of money clearly underscores the near-total lack of political will on the part of Nigerian authorities to hold police officers accountable for their malpractice. It corroborates the earlier view that corruption in the developing world is an open fact of life for anyone who encounters a police officer. This has led to the legitimation of corruption in the Nigerian society to the point that it is now seen as the “Nigerian factor” (Smith 2007).
Corruption in the NPF usually occurs at police roadblocks and checkpoints. Ostensibly set up to curb crimes on highways, these checkpoints have in practice become lucrative criminal ventures and centers of extortion. The main victims of such extortion are motorists. In particular, commercial drivers are obliged to stop at illegally and randomly mounted roadblocks, where they are subjected to routine extortion under threat of arrest, detention, and physical injury (Human Rights Watch 2010). The modus operandi is simple. Most motorists will likely have something wrong with their papers. For such lapses, the policemen intimidate the drivers to part with sums of money ranging from N20 to N20,000 ($0.13 to $167)-a substantial amount when considered in the local context, where, as earlier noted, roughly 70 million survive on less than $1 a day. Commercial drivers of danfos are often required to pay a prearranged amount ranging from N20 to N100 (depending on the size of the vehicle and distance of journey) to the first police-mounted roadblock and then are usually waived through without incident. The commercial drivers have come to accept this as a sacrifice they have to make to avoid higher penalties and a waste of time, since motorists who refuse to pay are delayed for hours or taken to the station, where they may face trumped-up charges ranging from dangerous driving to receiving stolen goods or even armed robbery (OSJI 2010:86). As one commercial bus driver noted:
We don’t waste time in giving them the money. When you don’t bring out the money in time, they will tell you at gunpoint to park[,] and then you might be required to pay more than the regular bribe. They won’t collect anything less than 500 NGN. (Omotola 2007:627)
In this sense, Andreski’s description of police behavior in Africa in 1969 remains valid:
The Police are among the worst offenders against the law: they levy illegal tolls on vehicles, especially the so-called mammy-wagon[s] (heavy lorries with benches and roofs)[,] which usually carry many more passengers than they are allowed and transgress a variety of minor regulations. [These vehicles] are allowed to proceed regardless of the infractions of the law if they pay the policeman’s private toll. (Cited in Okereke 1995:281)
In some local government areas in Nigeria, police extortion has become so common that it is now standardized. In the Bariga District of Lagos, for example, commercial minibus drivers who pass through police checkpoints on more than one occasion each day complain about having to bribe the same police officers repeatedly. In response to these complaints, the police, along with motor-park touts, set up a creative system in which drivers are given a password-for example, a number on their license plate-to identify drivers that had already made the daily payment. One transport operator that I interviewed in a busy motor park in Oshodi lamented that
more than half of what I make every day enters directly into the fat pocket of these askaris. I find it difficult to settle [balance] the owners of my danfo at the end of the day. The government have [sic] turned a blind eye to our protest against these extortions. We are completely at their mercy.
The foregoing gives an indication of the extent to which corruption has become widespread and systemic in Nigeria and the object of policing. As one retired police officer at the Traffic Management Unit in Alimosho LGA puts it: “Corruption is mixed with our blood as Nigerians. Look, it is our problem: it is right in our blood.”
Illegal and innumerable police roadblocks and checkpoints, and the corruption and barefaced abuses they give rise to, are not a recent phenomenon in Nigeria. The usefulness of these checkpoints for cleaning up crime was challenged by the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions, which found that rather than preventing crime, police checkpoints in Nigeria are “used primarily for the purposes of extorting money from motorists” (United Nations 2006). Since corrupt police officers are more concerned with how much money they can extract from motorists, members of criminal gangs find it easy to bribe them and have their way (Human Rights Watch 2010). Acknowledging the veracity of this finding, national authorities have more than once ordered the removal of checkpoints. In 1992, Aliyu Attah, Inspector General of Police, ordered the withdrawal of the mobile police from checkpoints; however, checkpoints soon returned under the façade of stop-and-search patrols (Civil Liberties Organisation 1992:6). Today, the problem of police checkpoints, and the extortion that pervades them, is getting worse, despite dubious claims- recently made by Mohammed Abubakar, Inspector General of Police-that the withdrawal of police roadblocks has reduced corruption in the NPF by 80 percent (Kuramo News 2013). Members of the NPF still look for every means to obtain money from motorists (Agbiboa 2013b).
Another major source of police corruption in Nigeria is the unlawful detention of individuals and groups (who are never formally charged) with the intention of extorting money from them or those related to them (Agbiboa 2013b). An arrestee unable or unwilling to “drop” the required “speed money” (bribe) is typically held in a police cell overnight, and may be detained for days or weeks and subjected to threats, beatings, sexual assault, torture, or even death (OSJI 2010). The longer the unlawful detention, the more opportunities the police have to extort money from the victims and their close relatives. The police strategy, according to one civil-society leader, is “to cast the net very wide so they can arrest as many suspects as possible. This affords them more chances for extortion and corruption” (Agbiboa 2013b: 25). In most cases, the bribes paid to the police range from 800 NGN to 398,000 NGN ($5 to $2,636); the median comes to 3,500 NGN ($23). Yet, according to police regulations, the police are not permitted to demand or accept money to release a person in police custody, and posters at police stations often state that “bail is free” (Human Rights Watch 2010).
A usual police tactic is to round up groups of citizens from public spaces, especially restaurants, bars, bus stops, and markets, who are then transported to the police station in a police van. Such raids are often done under the alleged reason of a crackdown on crime. At the police station, police officers demand ransom money, either from the arrestees or from those close to them. It is not unusual to hear stories, from victims and eyewitnesses, about how police officers have commandeered a commercial minibus, collected unsuspecting passengers at bus stops, and then diverted the minibus to a nearby police station, where they detained them and demanded money for their release (OSJI 2010:87-88). This crime is commonly known in Nigeria as one chance. Such misconduct belies the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, ratified by Nigeria in 1983, which provides that “every person shall be entitled to his personal liberty[,] and no person shall be deprived of such liberty [except] … in accordance with a procedure permitted by law. In particular, no one may be arbitrarily arrested” (cited in Lawyers Committee for Human Rights 1992). Further, the Nigerian constitution stipulates that for a warrantless arrest, “reasonable suspicion” must exist that the suspect has committed a criminal offense, and any arrestee “shall be brought before a court of law” within twenty-four hours.
A major tool of police corruption and extortion is torture. In 2007, a report by a special rapporteur found that “torture and ill-treatment are widely practised in police custody” and are “an intrinsic part of the functioning of the NPF” (United Nations 2007:18). Several victims of police extortion have described how they were threatened with or subjected to torture as a means of forcing them to give in to bribery and corruption (OSJI 2010). In most cases, the families of victims have no choice but to pay huge amounts of money to free their loved ones. A report of the Open Justice Society Initiative found serious and different methods of torture in the NPF, including
- Beatings, which are often severe in nature and may be directed at certain parts of the body such as the head or genitals, and which may involve several officers even if the suspect is not resisting;
- Beatings and other cruel treatment administered by fellow detainees, often as ordered by the police;
- Forced gymnastics[,] including frog jumping, prolonged standing, and forced stress positions aimed at humiliating or physically exhausting the victim;
- Tear gas or pepper spray[,] which may be directed at the eyes and nose or, in female detainees, at the genitalia;
- Clubbing of the soles of the feet and/or the ankles;
- Slapping of one or both ears with a cupped hand, which can rupture the victim’s eardrums;
- Banging the victim’s head against the wall or floor;
- Burning the victim with cigarettes, hot irons, or flame;
- Squeezing or crushing of fingers, ripping out finger or toe nails or inserting sharp objects under the nail;
- Suspending the victim off the floor by the wrists and[/]or ankles, usually supplemented with flogging;
- Exposing the victim to climatic stress, including cold, damp cells or brutally hot ones;
- Exposing the victim to mosquitoes, flies, roaches, spiders, rats, and snakes, knowing that these can induce a phobia in many people;
- Asphyxiating the victim through submersion in water;
- Sexual torture through rape, including sexual violation using objects such as bottles and broomsticks;
- Mental torture, including threats made to the detainee or his loved ones and mock executions;
- Non-therapeutic administration of drugs[,] including pain-inducing drugs or threatening injection with dangerous drugs of HIV;
- Psychological manipulation, including promising to end the torture if victims cooperate, or offering drinks or cigarettes, better prison conditions, or the removal of handcuffs where applicable;
- Sleep deprivation;
- Denial of needed medical treatment;
- Starvation and/or deprivation of water;
- Constant interrogation;
- Shooting both legs, known as V.I.P. treatment. (OSJI 2010:67-68)
Ironically, Nigeria is a signatory to several international treaties that prohibit torture, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman[,] or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. In addition to the absolute prohibition of torture found in the African Charter and the covenant, the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials prohibits the police from “inflicting, instigating, or tolerating any act of torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment” (United Nations 1979). Sections 31 of the 1979 Constitution and 33 of the 1989 Constitution guarantee the right to freedom from torture. The UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, accepted by the international community for decades, stipulate that “unconvicted prisoners are presumed to be innocent and shall be treated as such” (United Nations 1977).
Despite all these national, regional, and international legal measures against torture, “the NPF routinely use[s] torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, and are [sic] rarely held accountable for it” (Human Rights Watch 2010). On several occasions, the NPF has used rape (or threat of it) and/or other forms of sexual assault as a means to extort money from Nigerian women stopped at checkpoints, accosted by the police in public places, or detained in police custody (CLEEN 2008). In most of these cases, well documented by human-rights organizations, women are given the option of providing sex in lieu of cash payment (OSJI 2010:89). Drawing on police data, CLEEN reported 1,359 cases of rape and indecent assault in 2008. One police officer, acknowledging the ordinariness of the behavior, called rape by police a fringe benefit of certain patrols (Agbiboa 2013b).
Perhaps the most alarming issue concerning police misconduct in Nigeria today is that those who do not comply risk being killed. In 2009, a comprehensive report by Amnesty International revealed that the NPF “is responsible for hundreds of extrajudicial executions, other unlawful killings[,] and enforced disappearances every year” (Amnesty International 2009:1). As early as 1991, the Nigerian Civil Liberties Organisation estimated that at least three persons are killed by the police extrajudicially each month (Civil Liberties Organisation 1991:1). In 2006, a special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions (United Nations 2006:15) found that police checkpoints provide the occasion for a large number of extrajudicial executions by police. These checkpoints are centers not only of extortion, but of police altercations with motorists who refuse to yield to demands for bribes. Frequently, these confrontations escalate into accidental deaths or extrajudicial execution by the police. Numerous such killings are reported in Nigerian media each year (Guardian 2010). In not one of these cases was there a conviction. In November 2007, Mike Okiro reported that the police had killed 785 and arrested 1,628 “armed robbers” in his first hundred days as Inspector General of Police. This translates into a daily killing rate of 7.85 persons and a yearly rate of 2,865 (Guardian 2010). In June 2005, members of the NPF in Abuja shot and killed six young Nigerians, who became popularly known as the Apo Six. According to a commission of inquiry, the police had called the family of the victims (allegedly arrested for armed robbery) and demanded 5,000 NGN ($38). The families could not raise the money, and several of the arrestees were executed within hours (Human Rights Watch 2010:48). Such arbitrary killings contravene not only the law that strictly prohibits the use of excessive force through Nigeria Police Force Order No. 237 (Lawyers Committee for Human Rights 1992:2), but also the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement (United Nations 1990), which prohibits the use of firearms against persons
except in self [sic] defence [sic] or defence [sic] of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury, to prevent the perpetration of a particularly serious crime involving grave threat to life, to arrest a person presenting such a danger or resisting their authority, or to prevent his or her escape, and only when less extreme means are insufficient to achieve these objectives.
In a report entitled A Culture of Impunity, the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights stated, “the unwillingness of [the Nigerian] government and judicial authorities to sanction police offenders indicates a tacit acquiescence in the situation and signals to the perpetrators of such violations that they are free to continue” (1992:3).
Corrupt and abusive policing in Nigeria is rampant among lowerranked officers, but large-scale embezzlement by mostly senior officers underlies and drives much of it. Indeed, down the years, several high-ranking police officials, from inspector general of police to commissioner of police, have been implicated in scandals that have involved embezzlement and misappropriation of staggering sums of public funds earmarked for basic police operations. These cases are well documented (Agbiboa 2013b; Human Rights Watch 2010; Omotola 2007). In many of these cases, the federal government and the police leadership have failed properly to investigate, prosecute, or discipline implicated officers, much less take tangible steps to prevent future such crimes. One of the major embezzlement cases in the NPF was that of Tafa Bologun, an Inspector General of Police, who was convicted in November 2005 of laundering $150 million (Agbiboa 2013b). The entire amount stolen by him (for which he was handed a six-month jail term) “would have been enough to fund the total budgeted operating costs of the police force-apart from personnel costs and capital projects-for nearly two and a half years” (Adigun 2005).
Conclusion: Which Way Nigeria?
This article has explored the complex and pervasive culture of predation in the NPF, with particular attention to its impacts on the basic human rights of ordinary Nigerians. It has examined the decisive role of British colonialism and prolonged military rule in the unmaking of the NPF. To respond effectively to predatory policing, significant changes are required. Corrupt and abusive policing should be understood as embedded in the culture of the NPF. Thus, rather than removing certain corrupt officers (so-called rotten apples), it may be more rewarding to focus attention on altering the social context in which police officers operate and the ways in which certain police functions are managed and implemented. In particular, changes should include strategies such as visible leadership, encouraging the reporting of corruption, and implementing stricter procedures for work prone to opportunities for corruption. Greater attention should be paid to the social customs among rank-and-file officers that encourage solidarity and discourage reporting fellow officers. In addition, there is an urgent need to address the historical issue of poor salaries and working conditions among the NPF, especially in the lower ranks, which continue to drive corrupt and abusive policing (Bayley 1974:93). The living and working conditions of service must reflect rising expectations for the NPF: “the scale of wages is significant not only for its effect upon honest practices, but because it shows the place of the police in the thinking of government” (Bayley 1974:93). After all, police work can be arduous, dirty, and dangerous. Improvement in the standards of living of members of the NPF would remove the virtue in necessity upon which a great deal of toleration of corruption rests.
The NPF requires greater skill and quicker responses to meet the increasing sophistication of criminals and their organizations. It needs to conduct in-house training sessions and outreach work to the public to publicize the appropriate role for the police. NPF authorities should make all their officers aware of the relevant provisions of the national constitution and (inter)national law. Educational standards for admission to the police service should be raised as rapidly as is consistent with meeting increasing recruitment demands and maintaining ethnic balances. There is a need to establish an independent commission to address complaints of corruption and abuses committed by members of the NPF; this commission should ensure that all members of the NPF against whom allegations of extortion or undue force are brought are investigated and sanctioned as expeditiously as possible. While investigations are pending, officers should not be permitted to serve on the force. Finally, the Nigerian public should call a halt to an attitude that is prepared to believe the worst about a member of the NPF, as this does not help strengthen the resolve of police officers trying to resist everyday temptation of easy bribes and easy satisfaction.