The first police force was established in 1861 by the British colonial administration in the territories known today as Nigeria. This 100-man contingent was essentially a consular protection force based in Lagos, which later became known as the “Hausa Force,” so-named after the ethnicity of the men recruited into the unit.
As the British expanded their reach to the east and north, they formed additional police forces comprised largely of recruits from outside the communities in which they were to be deployed.
These early forces were notorious for their abuses and general lawlessness. In 1891, the consul general of the Oil Rivers Protectorate in what is presently eastern Nigeria expressed shock at the “numerous acts of lawlessness and pillage” by the police, who were commonly referred to in the community as the “forty thieves” in police uniform.
Similarly, the governor of Lagos colony acknowledged in 1897 that the Hausa Force “no doubt behaved very badly in the hinterland by looting, stealing and generally taking advantage of their positions.”
The primary purpose of the colonial police was to protect 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.
Establishing a National Police Force
The British merged Lagos colony and the southern and northern protectorates in 1913 and named the new colony Nigeria. The northern and southern regional police forces were later merged, in 1930, to form the colony’s first national police—the Nigeria Police Force (NPF).
The British also established local police forces under the control of traditional leaders. During the colonial period, both the NPF and the local police forces were implicated in numerous acts of abuse and corruption. In 1952, for example, a member of the Nigerian parliament decried the “old sergeants” in the NPF who, he claimed, were “steeped in corruption.”
Members of parliament also criticized the NPF traffic division during this period for having “exposed itself to bribery and corruption and thus lowered the prestige of the force.”
Early Years of Independence
Nigeria gained independence from Britain in 1960, and its first constitution devolved substantial power to three regional governments, known as the Northern, Western, and Eastern regions. The federal government retained control of the NPF, but the regional governments continued to maintain their own local police forces.
The military government that emerged after two military coups in 1966 disbanded the local police forces amidst allegations that the local police had been used for partisan purposes by the regional
governments against political opponents.
By 1972, the local police forces were fully integrated into the NPF. Since then, the NPF, a national force under the control of the federal government, has been the sole entity responsible for policing in Nigeria.
Marginalization and Police Corruption under Military Rule: 1966 to 1999
Nigeria’s first four decades following independence were dominated by a series of military coups and successive military dictatorships. The police force—which at independence numbered approximately 12,000—was larger than the military, and thus was perceived by military leaders as a threat. As a result, the NPF was chronically underfunded and marginalized by the military governments during this period.
As the military government of General Olusegun Obasanjo prepared to return Nigeria to civilian rule in 1979, the government embarked on a massive police recruitment campaign while largely discarding recruitment and training standards.
By 1979, the NPF had grown to “80,000 ill-trained, ill-motivated and ill-equipped men.” The civilian government was short-lived, however, and was overthrown by a coup in 1983 that resulted in an additional 16 years of military rule.
Internal government and civil society reports during this time consistently identified problems of misconduct within the NPF. A commission set up by the military government in 1967, for example, found that the “despicable image of the police” was in part attributable to “bribery and corruption.”
The report of the commission concluded:
Unsuitable candidates had bribed their way into the force; “lucrative”
stations are bought. The term “lucrative” applies to border stations such as Idiroko and Calabar where smuggling is rampant…. Bribes are offered to affect assignment to duties with opportunities for extra income, otherwise styled “moving line” duties. They include traffic, vehicle inspection and criminal investigation duties. By the early 1990s, the Nigerian police had established a reputation for being “consistently repressive, corrupt, and ineffective,” for taking kickbacks, and also for accepting bribes from criminal suspects to avoid prosecution and other forms of case fixing.
The successive military governments installed few effective checks on abuses of police authority, leaving
misconduct and corruption to flourish. Over time morale declined and the police’s deteriorating public image deterred quality candidates from entering the force.
As one former senior police official described to Human Rights Watch, “It ended up with most of the people who were joining the Nigerian police, joined it simply because it was a very easy way of making money.”
Rapid Growth under Civilian Rule: 1999 to Present
At the end of military rule in 1999, there were approximately 140,000 police officers in the Nigeria Police Force. This amounted to just one police officer for every 820 Nigerians, well below the United Nations-recommended general benchmark of one police officer per 400 citizens.
In response to rising levels of crime that followed the end of military rule, thenPresident Olusegun Obasanjo ordered the inspector general of police to undertake yet another massive recruitment drive aimed at adding 40,000 police officers per year for five years.
Similar to the recruitment drive of the late 1970s, police authorities made little effort to screen candidates for criminal backgrounds, and many recruits simply bribed their way into the force.
By 2008, the police force, at some 371,800, had more than doubled in size in less than eight years. However, the Nigerian government failed to provide a commensurate increase in funding to train, equip, and manage the vastly enlarged force. The 2008 Presidential Committee on the Reform of the Nigeria Police Force noted that police training became further overstretched during this period, and that “very little, if any, attempt was made to upgrade the police training institutions.”
As a result, the committee concluded, Nigeria is now “saddled with a very large number of unqualified, under-trained and ill-equipped officers and men many of whose suitability to wear the respected uniform of the Force is in doubt.”
Structure of the Nigeria Police Force and Its Oversight Bodies
The Nigeria Police Force is a federal government institution with a centralized command structure headed by the inspector general of police (IGP) who reports directly to the president. According to Nigeria’s constitution, the president must “consult” with the Nigeria Police Council prior to appointing or removing the inspector general.
However, the council, a civilian oversight body whose membership includes the 36 state governors, has rarely met in the past 10 years. The independent Police Service Commission (PSC) is responsible for appointing, promoting, and disciplining all members of the police force, with the exception of the IGP.
However, the PSC has delegated these powers back to the police force for all junior and rank-and-file police personnel. Over the years, civilian oversight of the police has fallen under several government ministries, including the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Police Affairs. Since 2008, the Ministry of Police Affairs has had budgetary and general administrative oversight of the police.
Each of Nigeria’s 36 states, as well as the Federal Capital Territory, is served by an administrative unit known as a state command. The state commands are grouped into 12 zonal commands—with two to four states in each zone—each under the supervision of an
assistant inspector general of police (AIG). Each state command is headed by a commissioner of police (CP) who is directly accountable to the AIG in the respective zone.
State commands are divided into smaller area commands, police divisions (headed by a divisional police officer, or DPO), police stations, police posts, and village police posts.
Courtesy: Human Rights Watch (2010 Report on the Nigerian Police)