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XI. Police Reform

The transition from military rule in 1999 marked the first real efforts or opportunity to undertake reform of the Nigerian Police Force. The Police Affairs Minister made a series of announcements in 2000 signaling the governments’ plans to reorganize the force: “The image of the new police this administration wants to build is that of a courteous, polite, well disciplined and well behaved police officer and men who are truly friends of the people.” 169  Initial measures undertaken to realize this were a massive recruitment drive to increase the force strength, the promotion of senior police officers and members of the rank and file, the provision of training and development facilities and improvements in the salary and welfare package for officers.

In 2000 the Ministry of Police Affairs produced a five-year development plan for the police force and with significant support from the United States and British governments, drew up a detailed strategic plan to guide its implementation. This included the drafting of a mission and values statement for the Nigerian Police Force and the identification of six organizational goals and strategies to achieve them. Covering a diverse range of issues the stated goals included the implementation of community policing, the creation partnerships with civil society, improvement in internal and external communications of the force, the provision of adequate resources, improvements in leadership, and the reduction of fear and violent crime in communities. 170

In 2000, also with the support of the United States Office for Transition Initiatives, a mechanism to ensure input on police reform from civil society was established.  The Network on Police Reform in Nigeria (NOPRIN) aimed to identify issues for reform, provide civil society input to the police reform process and improve police and civil society relations.171 The network is still in existence today and continues to play an important role in policy discussions on police reform.

The reform efforts intensified during the tenure of the immediate past Inspector General of Police Tafa Balogun, but they were accompanied by an increasingly belligerent policing strategy. On his appointment to the post in 2002, Tafa Balogun announced an eight-point plan aimed primarily at combating rising crime and the resultant insecurity felt across Nigeria, particularly in urban centers. The central pillar of his anti-crime strategy was the introduction of “Operation Fire-for-Fire,” which, while outlining a policy that was technically within officers’ right to act in self-defense, raised concerns that the police would take it as an invitation to engage in disproportionate use of force.172 With social unrest and confrontations between the police and criminals showing no signs of abating, Balogun in October 2002, further reiterated the orders. He stated: “Shoot and kill whenever they want to attack your barracks…All I want to hear is that as they were trying to burn a police station or barracks that no fewer than a certain number, say forty-five, were killed in the process.”173

Continuing the strategy of his predecessor, Balogun in 2002 pledged to improve the welfare package for officers, promoted more than 70,000 officers, ensured the payment of one year’s salary arrears, and ordered the building of supplementary barracks accommodation.174 To address the continued shortage of personnel, a campaign was launched to recruit 40,000 new officers per year. Under pressure from the federal government he undertook some efforts to tackle low-level corruption, in particular the ubiquitous roadside checkpoints used to extort money from passing motorists. However, this initiative appeared to have little effect. In July 2004 he announced that 900 policemen had been dismissed from the service for involvement in extortion.175 In 2003 Balogun also undertook a number of other measures to improve the police’s relationship with the general public. Police Complaints Bureau and Human Rights Desks were established in all state commands and with the support of the British government, a pilot community policing project was introduced in Enugu State, described in further detail below.

In January 2005, Tafa Balogun was forced to resign after it was revealed that he was under investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Three months later the former Inspector General was arraigned before an Abuja High Court on ninety-two counts of corruption and accused of stealing over thirteen billion naira (US$ 98 million) of public funds. He was replaced by Sunday Ehindero who is the Acting Inspector General of Police at the time of writing. On his appointment Ehindero took immediate action on two key issues that appeared designed to improve the public image of the force. Firstly, he scrapped the notorious “Operation Fire-for-Fire,” stressing the need to move away from “authoritarian and symbolic justice” to a more accountable and responsive force. A new slogan ‘To serve and protect with integrity’ was chosen to reflect this shift. 176 Days later he announced the elimination of police roadblocks, which had become synonymous with police extortion.177 Despite this declaration, local NGOs and the media report little evidence of a reduction in police checkpoints and roadside extortion.178

In addition he announced an ambitious ten-point program of reform to address what he referred to as the perceived shortcomings of the Nigerian Police Force. The program is divided into ten plans of action on a broad range of issues, such as improving the intelligence and investigative capacity of the police, combating violent and economic crimes, conflict prevention, community policing, improving relationships with the general public, anti-corruption and improving the salary and welfare package of officers. However there was no mention of trying to improve human rights or reduce torture or deaths in police custody as being part of the ten-point program.

Human Rights Watch was encouraged by initial discussions with the Acting Inspector General in March 2005. He talked with apparent sincerity about the need to change the philosophy and attitudes within the force and his commitment to reform. Significantly, he was one of the only senior police officials to acknowledge to Human Rights Watch that police torture existed and was a problem. Human Rights Watch welcomed his insistence that the perpetrators of alleged human rights violations should be first internally investigated and, if found guilty, taken to court for prosecution. However, it remains to be seen whether he is willing or able to live up to these promises. When Human Rights Watch asked the Acting Inspector General for further details of his program of reform, in particular on how it would be implemented, he was vague and unable to provide substantive information.179

While it is too early to judge the impact of these proposed reforms, looking back at efforts since 1999 and comparing the rhetoric to the reality, it is difficult to observe any significant changes in the conduct and attitudes of the Nigerian Police Force. The reform initiatives have, to date, tended to be superficial and disjointed. None have acknowledged the existence of the problems of torture and deaths in custody, let alone prioritized human rights protection. While there have been improvements in the salary and welfare package for officers and an increase in the size of the force, local human rights organizations and lawyers say there has been no marked reduction in the level of human rights violations, such as torture, killings and extortion, committed by the police since 1999.

For the Acting Inspector General’s program to be successful it must tackle not only the structural and legal aspects of reform, but also seek to change deeply held attitudes within the force. The police authorities must draw up a detailed and time-bound implementation plan to show how the 10-point program will be implemented. Most importantly, if the program is to bring about true transformation of the force and challenge the many vested interests opposing change in Nigeria, it must be given explicit backing -- both political and financial -- from the highest levels. President Obasanjo must publicly endorse efforts to reform and fund the development of the police with the same zeal he has thrown behind his anti-corruption drive. Obasanjo’s prominent role on the regional and international stage, particularly as a continental peacemaker, does not sit comfortably alongside the reputation of his police force at home.

Concretely the Nigerian government must provide more funding to the police and judiciary; in particular they must increase assistance to the Police Complaints Bureau and the Legal Aid Council to improve access to justice for ordinary Nigerians. It must also support community policing initiatives countrywide, improvements in police training and a nationwide campaign to raise awareness that torture and other abuses are forbidden under Nigerian and international law.

Review of the Police Act

The Nigerian Police Force is governed by a colonial law, which has seen no comprehensive review since its initial promulgation in 1943.  A recent initiative to review the Police Act is therefore timely and will provide a legal framework for the ongoing reform initiatives outlined above. The review started in November 2004 and is being undertaken by an interagency committee comprised of police, government and civil society representatives. So far several stages of public consultation and a legal audit of all the laws engaging the police have taken place. A draft bill will be discussed and approved by the interagency committee before final presentation to the House of Representatives towards the end of 2005.180 

A principal objective of the review must be to ensure the new law is compatible with international human rights standards, in particular the United Nations (U.N.) Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the fundamental rights provisions of the Nigerian constitution.

One of the key omissions from the current act is a code of conduct that includes the prohibition of torture. The new law should contain a full code of conduct in line with the U.N. Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials. Article 5 of the U.N. Code of Conduct states, “No law enforcement official may inflict, instigate or tolerate any act of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, nor may any law enforcement official invoke superior orders or exceptional circumstances such as a state of war or a threat of war, a threat to national security, internal political instability or any other public emergency as a justification of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” The new law must also include a definition of torture, compatible with that in the U.N. Convention Against Torture, which Nigeria has signed and ratified.

As Human Rights Watch has documented, there is a demonstrable link between unlawful and arbitrary arrest and the torture and ill-treatment of detainees. It is therefore essential that the sections of the law relating to arrest are redrafted to incorporate safeguards, including strict guidelines on what constitutes a warrant for arrest, thresholds of proof and judicial review that will prevent the misuse of this provision. In addition, measures to improve the effectiveness of the Nigerian Police Force, such as training, upgrading the requirements for recruitment and performance measures and the establishment of juvenile and women’s units, must also be included. Incorporating positive policy initiatives, such as community policing, are also essential to guarantee the long-term sustainability of such programs and insulate them from the whims of political leadership.

Perhaps the thorniest issue of the review is that of the political accountability of the police. The Inspector General of Police is appointed and accountable to the President who has overall operational control of the force. This clearly compromises the independence of the police force, leaving it open to political manipulation by the executive arm. Amending these sections to grant the legislature and Police Service Commission a role in screening, confirming and, in cases of serious misconduct, removing, the Inspector General is necessary to extend accountability and promote accountable policing in Nigeria. It is vital that members of the National Assembly endorse these amendments to ensure the new bill contains stringent safeguards to protect human rights and provides a positive legal framework for meaningful police reform in Nigeria.

Donor Governments’ Support for Police Reform

The British and United States governments are among the principal donors providing multi-million dollar support for police reform initiatives in Nigeria. Both governments have been closely engaged in supporting reform efforts since the transition from military rule in 1999.

The British Department for International Development (DFID), funds a thirty million pound (US$ 55.5 million) Security Justice and Growth Program which began in 2002 under its former title “Access to Justice.” Managed by the British Council, the five year program has three components, one of which concentrates on enhancing security and safety in Nigeria through collaboration with the Nigerian Police. The aim of the collaboration is to develop the quality of police service delivery, improve the effectiveness of informal policing systems, and help develop processes for conflict prevention, resolution and management. 181

The main vehicle for this collaboration is a program of community policing described as a holistic approach to police reform.182 Formally launched by President Obasanjo in April 2004, the community policing program aims to transform the culture and organization of the police, improve the police force’s relations with ordinary citizens and the quality of the service delivered. According to the community policing project plan, the six key components of the program are:  creating awareness of community policing both within the force and wider society; introducing intensive skills development and leadership training of local police officers; examining police structures and organization; reviewing training curricula and methodologies of the police; developing intelligence led policing and the use of new technology; and finally, reviewing legislation and procedures.183 The program is being piloted in Enugu State, with plans to extend the project to five other states in 2005. 

A core part of the British Government’s project involves intensive training of selected police officers, known as Community Policing Developers (CPDs). The training aspires to bring about major attitudinal change through leadership training and skills development. To date, eighty-four officers have been trained as CPDs in Enugu. In addition, the project aims to develop the Human Rights Units in each police division of Enugu. To this end a training program for police investigators to improve their effectiveness at managing complaints, victims, witnesses, suspects, and case files has been designed and initial training is underway.

Through the focus on training and attitudinal change, this program could have an important role to play in reducing human rights violations, such as torture, by the Nigerian Police Force. Careful monitoring and evaluation by independent experts will be crucial to determine the success of the project, especially considering the difficulty in assessing changes in attitude and culture. Human Rights Watch is concerned that a preliminary evaluation conducted in early 2005 by a team of local and international consultants, just months after the pilot project began, may have jumped to conclusions too soon. The preliminary findings indicate reduced levels of police corruption, reduction in the fear of crime, general improvements in the care and custody of prisoners and improved relations between the police and public.184

However, the manner in which the evaluation was conducted suggests a superficial and somewhat simplistic approach. The review was confined to interviews with police officers and members of the public, and did not, for example, seek to conduct spot checks of police stations or detention facilities to monitor more objectively improvements in conduct or behavior. Unless such reviews are conducted thoroughly, they risk the danger of overlooking the deeper structural problems and could jeopardize the long-term success of the project. There is also concern that unless the project is accompanied by wider structural changes, such as changes to the physical environment in which the police operate, increases in funding for police activities and commitment to change from the highest levels of the force, the overall impact will be limited.

In July 2002 the United States and Nigeria signed a comprehensive law enforcement assistance and cooperation agreement. A grant of US$ 3.5 million was dedicated to assist law enforcement agencies including the Nigerian Police Force, the NDLEA, the EFCC and Independent Corrupt Practices Commission. US$ 2.6 million of the overall grant funds police reform through provision of technical assistance, training and equipment.185 According to US Embassy officials the budget for the police assistance program has increased to US$12.65 million in 2005.186 Like the British government program, there is a strong emphasis on community policing to improve police and community relations and a pilot project is being run in Kaduna State.  There is also support for curriculum development and basic training for new recruits to the force. This was carried out for nine months at the Kaduna Police Training College and there are plans to extend to colleges in Kano, Maiduguri and Enugu.187

Alongside and as a complement to funding and implementing such police reform programs, the British and the U.S. governments, along with other members of the international community, has engaged in dialogue with the Nigerian police and government. The international community has a responsibility to raise the issue of police abuses, including torture and deaths in custody, directly with President Obasanjo and the Acting Inspector General of Police. Both the United States and the British governments have repeatedly assured Human Rights Watch that they are voicing concerns about human rights issues with the authorities. However, in the face of continued human rights violations by the security forces, including widespread torture and deaths in custody, this behind the scenes diplomacy has proved to be largely ineffective.

Human Rights Watch calls on these governments to review this approach. The international community, in particular the British and United States, must take a stronger public stance and put human rights and the promotion of the rule of law  in Africa’s most populous nation at the heart of diplomatic relations. Furthermore, any future assistance to the police or other law enforcement agencies in the form of funding, equipment or training must be conditioned to measurable improvements in this area, for example the investigation of reports of torture and deaths in custody, the suspension of officers alleged to have committed torture and killings and the prosecution of those against whom there is substantial evidence.

[169] “Reorganisation of Police Force Underway,” Post Express, July 29, 1999, and “Jemibewon to Overhaul Police Force,” The Guardian, July 15, 1999. 

[170] “Nigeria Police Force, Police Transformation in Nigeria, the Strategic Planning Process,” United States Agency for International Development, Office of Transition Initiative and United Kingdom, Department for International Development, December 14, 2000.

[171] Further information about NOPRIN can be found at

[172] “Human Rights Group criticizes Fire-for-Fire,” Daily Trust, April, 2002, “Student shootings spark concern over Nigerian police tactics,” Agence France-Presse, June 24, 2002 and U.S. Department of State, Nigeria Country Report on Human Rights Practices in 2002, 2003 and 2004.

[173] “Shoot Anti-Police Rioters On Sight, Law Enforcers Told,” IRIN, October 21, 2002.

[174] “We’ve restored sanity,” Newswatch, January 26, 2003.

[175] “Extortion: 900 Policemen Fired,” This Day, July 21, 2004.

[176] “Address delivered by Sunday Ehindero, Acting Inspector General of Police to the maiden conference of senior police officers at Force Headquarters, Abuja,” 25 January 2005, and also “IG scraps Operation Fire-for-Fire,” Punch, January 26, 2005.

[177] “Camps to replace roadblocks – Ehindero,” This Day, February 2, 2005.

[178] See for example, “Nigeria Roads Shows Corruption's Depth,” Dow Jones Newswires, April 25, 2005, “An Encounter with Nigeria’s Traffic Police,” BBC News Africa, June 2, 2005, and “A Police of Shame,” This Day, June 19, 2005.

[179] Human Rights Watch interview with Sunday Ehindero, Acting Inspector General of Police, Abuja, March 17, 2005.

[180] For a discussion of the full-range of issues, not just those relating to torture, discussed by the interagency committee see, “Report of the one-day interactive forum on the review of the Nigerian Police Act organized by the House of Representatives Committee on Police Affairs in Collaboration with the CLEEN Foundation and the Open Society Justice Initiative.”

[181] British Council Security Justice and Growth Program, Nigeria Police Community Policing Document and email correspondence with Blair Davies, Police Advisor, British Council Security Justice and Growth Program, May 3, 2005. 

[182] Human Rights Watch interview with Blair Davies, Police Advisor, British Council Security Justice and Growth Program, Abuja, March 17, 2005.

[183] Community Policing Project Plan: Report and Recommendation on the Implementation of Community Policing in Nigeria, February 18, 2004.

[184]  “Evaluation of impact to date of the Enugu community policing project,” Security Justice and Growth Program, document given to Human Rights Watch in March 2005.

[185] “Ambassador Howard F. Jeter's Remarks At Signing Ceremony for INL Letter of Agreement On Law Enforcement Assistance and Narcotics Control,” July 2, 2002, found at

[186] Email correspondence with Richard Roseing, United States Embassy in Abuja, June 24, 2005.

[187] Email correspondence with Russell Hanks, United States Embassy in Abuja, May 12, 2005.

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