Budget 2012 (6) - Failing Police, Failing State

By: Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai


As an impressionable young boy growing up in Daudawa, in Katsina Province of the then Northern Region in the early 1960s, my first career choice was to be a native authority policeman or "Dan Doka". Mallam Ibrahim Dan Doka, our village policeman, was the face of state - the most visible and authoritative symbol of the northern regional government. When dressed in his bright green shirt, brown khaki shorts and red cap, he looked every inch the public face of government. All I wanted was to be like him when I grew up, because that one person - working with the village head, kept law and order and ensured peace in our community. The policeman was then generally respected, revered even, for his integrity, fairness and courage.

There was virtually no crime in our village in those days. I did not get to see the "Dan Sanda" (Baton-carrying Police, in Hausa) or constable of the Nigeria Police (with their blue shirts, black trousers and black berets) until years later when we visited my father's hometown of Zaria, the provincial capital. I do not know how many young people now ever consider a career in the Police. Let me therefore put my bias towards the police up-front. Warts and all, I admired the Nigeria Police. I think that they are the quintessential public servants who patrol the streets during the day and stay up at night so we can all sleep well. And some of the finest Nigerians I have met  - like M D Yusuf, Gambo Jimeta, Ibrahim Commassie, and Nuhu Ribadu were Policemen. And I believe strongly that we will never have a functioning country and government unless our police works as well as the days I dreamt about wearing a police uniform.

What has happened to our Police Force? Why did it attract the brightest and committed people then, and why is it populated by a different set of people now? As every society needs policing, can our police enforce the law when everyone looks upon its officers and men with such disdain and contempt? We will explore these by looking at the history and evolution of the Nigeria Police Force, its current structure and situation, the challenges and its spending priorities in the 2012 Budget. We will ask whether the spending priorities make sense, and then ask the standard quantity surveying question - is Nigeria getting value for the money being spent on our Police?  And how do other related agencies in the security sector compare in spending with the Police?

The Nigeria Police began life in 1861 as the Hausa Constabulary, established by Lord Lugard to pacify the conquered Hausa-Fulani Empire. This then became the Native Authority Police in the Northern Protectorate. The Southern Protectorate and the Colony of Lagos had their own local versions of the police force. A  federal police force only emerged in 1930 with a national law enforcement mandate, side by side with the regional police organizations. The 1960 constitution recognized the existence of Local Government Police of the West, Sheriffs and Court Messengers in the East,  and the N. A. Police in the Northern Region. The central government's Nigeria Police Force was situated in the office of the Prime Minister under the Inspector-General of Police (IGP). This structure worked to a large extent, but allegations persisted throughout the country about the use of regional police to intimidate, arrest and torture political opponents until the military take-over in 1966.

The events of 1966 and aftermath persuaded the military government that the existence of regional police forces almost divided the country and might have led to those political crises. Thus immediately after the war, the Gowon administration dissolved all regional police forces and absorbed the officers and men into a single Nigeria Police Force. This situation was first entrenched in s.194(1) of the 1979 constitution, and maintained in s.214(1) of the 1999 constitution:

"There shall be a Police Force for Nigeria, which shall be known as the Nigeria Police Force, and .... no other police force shall be established for the Federation or any part thereof."

The 1999 constitution went further in s.214(2)(c) to impliedly limit the power of the national assembly to create any other organization to perform police functions other than as branches of the Nigeria Police, so the Nigeria Police Force has a constitutional monopoly in the performance of all policing functions as defined in the Police Act, by whatever name called:

"The National Assembly may make provisions for branches of the Nigeria Police Force forming part of the armed forces of the federation or for the protection of harbours, waterways, railways and airfields."

The Police Act Chapter P19 of the Laws of the Federation of Nigeria listed the six broad policing functions (1) crime prevention, (2) detection and apprehension of offenders, (3) preservation of law and order, (4) protection of life and property, (5) enforcement of all laws and regulations enacted by federal, state and local governments, and (6) performance of such military duties within or outside Nigeria, when sanctioned by law.

Many lawyers believe that the interpretation of the combined provisions of s.214 of the constitution and the Police Act, is that the laws creating institutions like the Security and Civil Defence Corps, Drug Law Enforcement Agency, Federal Road Safety Commission, the ICPC and EFCC are unconstitutional as they ought to be mere branches of the Nigeria Police Force, if they must exist. This will be an interesting question that only Supreme Court can rule upon when brought before it, some day.

The Nigeria Police Force is the largest single public sector organization in Nigeria. In 2008, it employed about  380,000 officers and other ranks, posted to work in every nook and cranny of our country. The UN recommends that every nation has a police officer for every 400,000 citizens. This is one of the few global standards that we have very nearly attained, but this assumes that the police officers possess adequate levels of education, training, kitting, technical competence and operational capacity to discharge their lawful functions. There is very little debate whether our police possesses these. They do not, so making the ratio has little meaning.

The Police Force is operationally organized under the command of the IGP at national level, and under a Commissioner of Police (CP) of that state at state level. At the Headquarters, the IGP has six deputies - DIGs reporting to him each heading a department: A - Administration, B - Operations, C - Works, D - Investigation/Intelligence, E - Training, and F - Research and Planning.

There are also 12 zonal commands headed by Assistant IGs, covering the entire country, and 37 CPs for each state and FCT reporting to the zonal AIGs. Assistant CPs head 123 area commands nationwide, while Deputy Superintendents of Police (DSPs) head the 1,115 police divisions, which in turn oversee the police districts, 5,515 police stations and 5,000 police posts.  There are other specialized units and branches of the Police Force including marine police (now made redundant illegally by Tompolo's maritime security deal), Air Wing, railway, forensic, Police Mobile Force (PMF), mounted troops, dogs and veterinary services, and the Motor Traffic Division.

The current situation of the Nigeria Police in our national life is too well-known to every citizen, but needs restating. I will reproduce the exact words of the new IGP M. D. Abubakar in his maiden address to senior police officers in the country recently, which I think articulates where the Police is today so courageously and frankly.

“(The) police force has fallen to its lowest level…Police duties have become commercialized and provided at the whims and caprices of the highest bidder…


Our police stations, state CID and operations offices have become business centers and collection points for rendering returns from all kinds of squads and teams set up for the benefit of superior officers.


Our special anti-robbery squads (SARS) have become killer teams engaging in deals for land speculators and debt collectors.


Toll stations in the name of checkpoints adorn our highways with Policemen shamefully collecting money from motorists in full glare of the public.


 Police connive with suspects to turn against complainants and investigations are usually not conducted unless those involved pay money to the police.


 Justice has been perverted, peoples’ rights denied, innocent souls committed to prison, torture and extra judicial killings perpetrated and so many people arbitrarily detained in our cells because they cannot afford the illegal bail monies we demand.


Illegalities thrive under your watchful eyes because you have compromised the very soul of our profession. Our respect is gone and the Nigerian public has lost even the slightest confidence in the ability of the police to do any good thing."


These observations by the nation's top cop are unprecedented in the honesty and conviction they were expressed. We are therefore all hopeful that IGP Abubakar will implement a medium term reform programme to address these operational ills. In this regard, he will have no shortage of help from committee reports and white papers to recommendations of civil society organizations like the Network on Police Reform in Nigeria (NOPRIN). The various committee reports include that of former IGPs chaired by MD Yusuf (1994), Vision 2010 (1996), Tamuno on National Security (2001), Danmadami (2006), MD Yusuf (2008) and the most recent one under Parry Osayande (2012). As NOPRIN observed correctly, what is needed is not another committee but the will, resources and freedom to implement what has already been studied, recommended and accepted by government. We will go into some of these recommendations in some detail next week.

The total expenditure on the police sub-sector - the Ministry of Police Affairs, the Police Pension Office,  the Police Force, the Police Service Commission and the federal contribution to the Police Reform Fund will cost the Nigerian treasury some N331 billion in 2012 - about the budget of the Ministry of Defence, but excluding military pensions, internal operations and armed forces death benefits for 76,000 personnel. While we spend an average of N1.6 million per soldier, N9.8 million per sailor and N7.1 million per airman and woman, we spend about N0.87 million per police personnel - about half of what we spend on our soldier. The running cost of each naval staff is equal to that of twelve policemen, and each airman is nine times as important as a policeman. This spending priority suggests that we are more worried about non-existent external threats than the domestic insecurity challenges we face every day - something which not many Nigerians will agree with.

We will pause here to continue a more detailed analysis next week of the budget of the Police sub-sector, and the various recommendations to reform and remake this very vital national institution to perform its functions. On Boko Haram and many matters, the Police has failed the nation recently, true. But the Nigerian state has also failed the Police and the State itself is failing as a result. Is the condition of one the cause of the other? How did our once-effective and proud Nigeria Police came to be viewed in 2006, as the most corrupt institution in Nigeria? What can we all do to make the police our friend again? We will look more closely at these issues and a bit more next week, by God's Grace.