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Nigeria Police Force (NPF)

In the 1980s, serious crime grew to nearly epidemic proportions, particularly in Lagos and other urbanized areas characterized by rapid growth and change, by stark economic inequality and deprivation, by social disorganization, and by inadequate government service and law enforcement capabilities. Published crime statistics were probably grossly understated, because most of the country was virtually unpoliced--the police were concentrated in urban areas where only about 25 percent of the population lived--and public distrust of the police contributed to underreporting of crimes. In the late 1980s, the crime wave was exacerbated by worsening economic conditions and by the ineffectiveness, inefficiency, and corruption of police, military, and customs personnel who colluded and conspired with criminals or actually engaged in criminal conduct.

Nigerians frequently voice intense complaints about the National Police Force (NPF). Nearly everyone believes they are incompetent, corrupt, and involved in much of the crime that plagues Nigeria's large urban areas. Experts concur that the NPF is understaffed and that personnel are extremely poorly trained, poorly equipped, and very poorly paid. Given these facts, it is not surprising that police resort to frequent roadblocks and vehicle stops to collect dash from many citizens. Nor is it surprising that they are largely ineffective in investigating crimes or even in policing their areas. The roots of these problems lie in the funding, staffing, training, and pay issues noted above, but also in what most respondents describe as an utterly failed formal judicial system, where "justice" is available to whoever pays the most. They lie as well in the misuse of the police for political purposes and the obvious gross corruption of the 20 years of military rule. As a result, professionalism, morale, and ethics have all collapsed in the NPF.

In this climate, crime has exploded. Area boys, armed robbers, and the like have taken over market areas and neighborhoods, while the police reportedly cower in their barracks, look the other way, or aid and abet. In response, militia-like vigilantes such as the Bakassi Boys (Okafor), the armed wing of the Yoruba OPC, and other local groups have "identified" those whom they believe to be robbers (with NPF members often among those identified), attacked them, and frequently executed them. Although such lynchings are greeted with much grassroots approbation, these acts add a significant increment of violence in an already violent society and reflect further erosion of an already weak state. These vigilante groups exercise the fundamental function of the state, the use of coercion, without the due process and checks of a functioning formal legal system (with predictable consequences; see Abayomi, 2001). Some actions by such groups have led to broader, ethnic-based confrontations and lethal violence.

Violent crime affecting foreigners is an extremely serious problem, especially in Lagos and the southern half of the country. Visitors, as well as resident Americans, report widespread armed muggings, assaults, burglary, carjackings and extortion, often involving violence. Carjackings, roadblock robberies and armed break-ins occur often, with victims sometimes shot by assailants for no apparent reason. Reports of armed robberies in broad daylight on rural roads in the northern half of the country appear to be increasing. Law enforcement authorities usually respond to crimes slowly, if at all, and provide little or no investigative support to victims.

A major and continuing problem is the commercial scam or sting that targets foreigners, including many US citizens. Such scams may involve U.S. citizens in illegal activity, resulting in arrest, extortion or bodily harm. The scams generally involve phony offers of either outright money transfers or lucrative sales or contracts with promises of large commissions or up-front payments. Alleged deals frequently invoke the authority of one or more ministries or offices of the Nigerian government and may even cite by name the support of a Nigerian government official. The apparent use in some scams of actual government stationery, seals, and offices is grounds for concern that some individual Nigerian officials may be involved in these activities.

The Nigeria Police Force (NPF) is designated by Section 194 of the 1979 constitution as the national police with exclusive jurisdiction throughout the country. Constitutional provision also exists, however, for the establishment of separate NPF branches "forming part of the armed forces of the Federation or for their protection of harbours, waterways, railways and airfields." One such branch, the Port Security Police, was reported by different sources to have a strength in 1990 of between 1,500 and 12,000.

Nigeria's police began with a thirty-member consular guard formed in Lagos Colony in 1861. In 1879 a 1,200-member armed paramilitary Hausa Constabulary was formed. In 1896 the Lagos Police was established. A similar force, the Niger Coast Constabulary, was formed in Calabar in 1894 under the newly proclaimed Niger Coast Protectorate. Likewise, in the north, the Royal Niger Company set up the Royal Niger Company Constabulary in 1888 with headquarters at Lokoja. When the protectorates of Northern and Southern Nigeria were proclaimed in the early 1900s, part of the Royal Niger Company Constabulary became the Northern Nigeria Police, and part of the Niger Coast Constabulary became the Southern Nigeria Police. Northern and Southern Nigeria were amalgamated in 1914, but their police forces were not merged until 1930, forming the NPF, headquartered in Lagos. During the colonial period, most police were associated with local governments (native authorities). In the 1960s, under the First Republic, these forces were first regionalized and then nationalized.

The NPF performed conventional police functions and was responsible for internal security generally; for supporting the prison, immigration, and customs services; and for performing military duties within or outside Nigeria as directed. Plans were announced in mid-1980 to expand the force to 200,000. By 1983, according to the federal budget, the strength of the NPF was almost 152,000, but other sources estimated it to be between 20,000 and 80,000. Reportedly, there were more than 1,300 police stations nationwide. Police officers were not usually armed but were issued weapons when required for specific missions or circumstances. They were often deployed throughout the country, but in 1989 Babangida announced that a larger number of officers would be posted to their native areas to facilitate police- community relations.

The NPF was under the general operational and administrative control of an inspector general appointed by the president and responsible for the maintenance of law and order. He was supported at headquarters in Lagos by a deputy inspector general and in each state by police commissioners. The 1979 constitution provided for a Police Service Commission that was responsible for NPF policy, organization, administration, and finance (except for pensions), In February 1989, Babangida abolished the Police Service Commission and established the Nigeria Police Council in its stead, under direct presidential control. The new council was chaired by the president; the chief of General Staff, the minister of internal affairs, and the police inspector general were members. As part of the government reorganization in September 1990, Alhajji Sumaila Gwarzo, formerly SSS director, was named to the new post of minister of state, police affairs.

In late 1986, the NPF was reorganized nationwide into seven area commands, which superseded a command structure corresponding to each of Nigeria's states. Each command was under a commissioner of police and was further divided into police provinces and divisions under local officers. NPF headquarters, which was also an area command, supervised and coordinated the other area commands.

The 1986 NPF reorganization was occasioned by a public eruption of tensions between the police and the army. A superintendent was suspended for a time for grumbling that the army had usurped police functions and kept police pay low, and there were fights between police and army officers over border patrol jurisdiction. The armed forces chief of staff announced a thorough reorganization of the NPF into the seven new area commands and five directorates (criminal investigations, logistics, supplies, training, and operations) under deputy inspectors general. About 2,000 constables and 400 senior police officers were dismissed by mid-1987, leaving senior police officers disgruntled.

In mid-1989 another NPF reorganization was announced after the AFRC's acceptance of a report by Rear Admiral Murtala Nyako. In 1989 the NPF also created a Quick Intervention Force in each state, separate from the mobile police units, specifically to monitor political events and to quell unrest during the transition to civil rule. Each state unit of between 160 and 400 police was commanded by an assistant superintendent and equipped with vehicles, communications gear, weapons, and crowd control equipment, including cane shields, batons, and tear gas.

The NPF operating budget between 1984 and 1988 remained in the N360 million to N380 million range, and in 1988 increased to N521 million. More notable were large capital expenditure infusions of N206 million in 1986 and N260.3 million in 1988, representing 3.5 and 2.5 percent of total federal capital expenditures in those years. These increases were used to acquire new communications equipment, transport, and weapons to combat the rising crime wave, such as 100 British Leyland DAF Comet trucks delivered in 1990. Despite these purchases, an NPF study in late 1990 concluded that the force's budget must double to meet its needs.

Although generally considered an attractive career, the NPF experienced endemic problems with recruiting, training, inefficiency, and indiscipline, and it lacked expertise in specialized fields. Corruption and dishonesty were widespread, engendering a low level of public confidence, failure to report crimes, and tendencies to resort to self-help. Police were more adept at paramilitary operations and the exercise of force than at community service functions or crime prevention, detection, and investigation. During the Obasanjo period, an attempt was made to expand the NPF by reducing the recruitment age from nineteen to seventeen and by enrolling demobilized soldiers, but it failed. In mid-1980 the then federal police minister acknowledged that the police had recovered only 14 percent of the US$900 million worth of property reported stolen in the preceding six months, and that only 20 percent of the 103,000 persons arrested had been found guilty, a performance record about the same as that reported in the 1960s. The use of excessive violence in quelling student disorders led the AFRC in June 1986 to direct the police to use only rubber bullets in containing student riots. Reports of police collusion with criminals were common, as were official appeals to police officers to change their attitude toward the public, to be fair and honest, and to avoid corrupt practices. In an effort to reduce bribery and to make identification of offenders easier, police officers on beats and at checkpoints were not allowed to carry more than N5 on their person.

Police training was directed from headquarters by a deputy inspector general designated as commander. Recruits were trained at police colleges in Oji River, Maiduguri, Kaduna, and Ikeja, which also offered training to other security personnel, such as armed immigration officers. The Police College at Ikeja trained cadet assistant superintendents and cadet subinspectors. There were also specialized schools for in-service training, including the Police Mobile Force Training School at Guzuo, southwest of Abuja, the Police Detective College at Enugu, the Police Dogs Service Training Centre, and the Mounted Training Centre. The NPF inspector general visited Algeria in January 1988; as a result new training practices were under consideration.

In August 1989, Babangida laid the foundation stone for a Nigeria Police Academy (NPA) in Kano State. The NPA was to be affiliated with Bayero University until adequate infrastructure was available for independent operation. Admission was to be regulated by merit, by the quota system, and by federal character. The commandant was to be at least an AIG and assisted by a provost who would oversee the academic program. Modeled after the Nigerian Military University in Kaduna, the NPA would offer a five-year academic and professional degree program for new cadets and an eighteen-month intensive course for college graduates aspiring to a police career. Babangida also disclosed plans to obtain technical assistance from Britain to establish a central planning and training program to modernize and upgrade police training.

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Page last modified: 28-07-2011 00:54:00 ZULU