Campbell: Why Nigerians Lost Confidence in Police

  • Argues for devolution of federal policing powers
  • Suggests strategies for functional regional police

Gboyega Akinsanmi

The Nigeria Police has lost public confidence due to the deteriorating security conditions nationwide, widespread corruption among its officers and overreliance on the armed forces to ensure public order, a former United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Dr. John Campbell has said.

Campbell, currently a senior fellow at the Council for Foreign Relations (CFR), has also observed that these compelling considerations have invigorated the agitation for the decentralisation of federal policing powers, thus leading to the creation of regional security architecture such as Amotekun.

In a research analysis published on the website of the CFR recently, the former ambassador defended the decentralisation of the police force as an antidote to the country’s worsening security conditions, though warned that the organisation of police “is only part of the problem.”

Providing the historical background to the country’s security architecture, the former envoy explained that since the colonial period, the police had been a national gendarmerie, with no local or state police service.

He said security in the country “is the responsibility of the armed forces and the Nigeria Police Force (NPF). The army has long been used to maintain domestic order, and its units are now present in almost every state.

“One justification for a national, rather than local, police is the fear that local police could be suborned by local political big men, a concern with some merit. As Nigerian states multiplied under military rule, many came to be dominated by a particular ethnic group.

“Hence, the concern that local or state police would favour that group to the disadvantage of ethnic minorities. The overreliance on the military to ensure domestic law and order, together with increasing crime, has sapped public confidence in the police,” Campbell explained.

Obviously, with the failure of the police force to guarantee domestic law and order, the former envoy observed that the government authorities had tacitly sanctioned the presence of vigilante groups for the purpose of ensuring internal security.

He, however, argued: “In areas of unrest, notably the northeast under assault from Boko Haram and in the oil patch threatened by militants, local vigilante groups have emerged where the government has proven inadequate.”

In Southwest, for instance, Campbell acknowledged that the state governments “are taking the concept of local security a step further, cooperating to establish what amounts to a regional police force, though, in theory, it is meant to support, but not replace, the national police.

“Amotekun, officially as the Western Nigeria Security Network, is funded by the state governments and has the blessing of traditional Yoruba leaders. The National Assembly is considering recognition and authorisation of regional police forces and, presumably, regularising their relations with the NPF.”

Supporting the advocates of the regional security architecture, the former envoy argued that police forces under the control of the states would be congruent with the federal system and that the states could impose greater accountability on the police than the federal government.

Campbell observed that some critical stakeholders envisaged that the NPF would transform into something akin to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, with state-based police dealing with most criminal activity.

He said: “Small community policing initiatives, some supported by the United States and United Kingdom, have been met with success in the past. The issue has always been institutionalising such initiatives and scaling them up.”

While most stakeholders welcome the decentralisation of policing, the former envoy warned that the organisation of police “is only part of the problem.”

Campbell pointed out that the Nigeria Police had been underfunded in the past; its operatives grossly under trained and its staff strength abysmally too few for a country with a population of over 200 million people.

On these grounds, he noted that the police “are widely hated, not least because of their corruption, which, in turn, reflects their low and inconsistently paid salaries. Those issues would not appear to be addressed by the devolution of local policing authority from the federal government.”

Citing compelling evidence of insecurity nationwide, Campbell lamented that in Nigeria, personal security “is rapidly deteriorating. There is the Boko Haram insurrection in the northeast, unrest in the southern oil patch, and conflict over water and land in the middle of the country.”

Adding to the list of security crises, the former US envoy cited nationwide crime waves involving kidnapping for ransom, cattle rustling and home invasions, noting that many of these challenges “are long-standing.

“Such crimes have long existed in one part of the federation or another, but what is new is their intensity and reach; even the poor are now victims of kidnapping.”