Reforming the Nigerian Police

SIR: SARS was established in 1992 to nip armed robbery, kidnapping and other related crimes in their buds. Unfortunately, its operatives went about this mandate in a diametrically opposite way, in the process, routinely perpetrating acts of extrajudicial killing, torture and cruel, inhuman acts against citizens in their custody.

But, can the disbandment of SARS end police brutality? Will the defunct SARS operatives, now redeployed to other units of the police, change overnight? The SARS menace must be seen as a just a part of the rot in the Nigeria police. The security agency simply needs overhauling.

To understand why wanton brutality and violence have become the modus operandi of the Nigeria police in general, one needs to understand the psychological makeup of the personnel of the security apparatus.

In a recent study on the violent and aggressive tendencies of Nigeria police, Nwankwo et al (2020) investigated the role of empathy, psychological wellbeing and emotional intelligence on the aggressive tendencies of the personnel of Nigeria police. Relying on extant literature and data elicited from 230 respondents from the Force, selected through cluster and incidental sampling, the study concluded that the low empathy, psychological wellbeing, emotional intelligence of the Nigeria police personnel significantly leads to the personnel’s high aggressive tendencies.

Correspondingly, Ahmad Lateef noted in his Walden Ph.D thesis that “Over 90 percent of police officers in Nigeria are confronted with psychological illness and injuries as a result of occupational stress, which is compounded by a lack of attention to police officer welfare by government, insufficient annual leave, and poor salaries that contribute to poor performance.”

What all these imply is simple: Nigeria police is in dire need of reform. Thank goodness, the agitation in the streets has moved from #EndSARS to #ReformPolice. But one important caveat that Nigerians should bear in mind is that reformation cannot be a day project. It can only take an incremental process.

Before now, the Nigeria police had undergone many reformations. From the days of Musiliu Smith to the present leadership of Muhammad Adamu, many inspectors general of police introduced one reform or another to ensure seamless operation of the security agency. Tafa Balogun pursued 8-point agenda when he assumed office after the compulsory retirement of his predecessor, Musiliu Smith, who, in his time, offered a blueprint for reform designed to address the legacy of military rule when he assumed office in 1999. Sunday Ehindero talked about community policing and secured international support from countries. The United Kingdom, UK, funded a programme of community policing, the United States of America, USA, donated anti-riot equipment while Spain offered anti-terrorism and forensic science training, and Ukraine.

Needless to say, all these reforms, despite their usefulness at the time, could not end the endemic corruption within the Nigeria police nor were they able to foresee the monster that SARS transmogrified into.

One suggests that recruitment into the Nigeria police, for now, should be limited to graduates. Graduates who intend to join the Force should first undergo a one-year compulsory training at the Police Training Institute where only those that distinguish themselves should be employed.

Furthermore, community-police relations should, as well, be encouraged. Today’s idea is democratic policing, essentially implying police that is publicly accountable, subject to rule of law, respectful of human dignity and that intrudes into citizen’s lives only under certain limited circumstances as established by the law.

Another critical area to consider in the ongoing agitation for reform is the issue of state police. SARS operatives were able to perpetrate many heinous crimes with impunity because of the federal hierarchical structure of the Nigerian Police. In many occasions, commissioners of police were unable to rein in the excesses of SARS officers on the ground that the SARS personnel only take orders from Abuja and not the state command of the police.

Definitely, state police when emplaced will, amongst other things, enhance swift and effective policing which will negate the resort to “order from Abuja,” a situation that makes nonsense of the concept of the state governor being the chief security officer of his state.

#EndSARS will not solve the problem of police brutality if we do not overhaul the whole system. Police reform is a desideratum.


  • Asikason Jonathan, Enugwu-ukwu, Anambra State.