In our previous Deep Dive (read it here) we explored President Tinubu’s challenges. In this latest Deep Dive we shall analyse the potential solutions. Over the last two decades, the performance of the security forces has been an area that has focussed minds among the Nigerian political elite.
State security organs comprise of:
- The Nigerian Police Force (NPF)
- The Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC)
- The Nigerian Army
- The Nigerian Navy
- The Nigerian Air Force
- The Department of State Security (DSS)
- National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA)
All these structures are deployed internally in roles that range from counterterrorism, through conventional policing, to counter-smuggling operations. There is a significant degree of overlap in operational footprints, roles and terms of reference. The Army is increasingly deployed in roles that are conventionally carried out by police forces. Agencies compete for budget allocation, resourcing, and operational primacy. Some competitiveness continues to exist between the Army and the NPF, which sometimes leads to clashes between the two. The Navy has also steadfastly resisted the establishment of a Nigerian Coastguard Service. Against this omnipresent and complex mosaic of security delivery, the average Nigerian is routinely frustrated by the intrusiveness of the security forces operations, the delays caused by them and the ineffectiveness of the response when a crime is committed.
The NPF is the largest security organ in terms of manpower. Police officers are routinely armed with assault rifles, generating an environment where the sight of a weapon is absolutely commonplace. The carriage of weapons in public places is a response to the availability of firearms to the criminal elements faced by police officers. Firefights in crowded spaces are not uncommon, and collateral casualties sometimes occur when such incidents happen. As the largest and most commonly encountered security body in the country, it is the police that can be most heavily criticised by the citizenry.
In the last 20 years, we have witnessed several attempts to reform and restructure the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) – all of which have been unsuccessful. Almost every regime in that period has attempted to improve the performance of the largest security force in the country. Most recently, in 2020, President Buhari oversaw the ascent into law of the Police Bill, which repealed the previous Bill set in 1943 during the colonial era. At the beginning of January 2023, Buhari’s regime introduced the Presidential Roadmap on Police Reform. It pledged a 20% increase in police salaries. The increase had not been paid as at the beginning of June.
So, against this background of stagnation and outdated practices, what should we expect to see from President Tinubu’s government? When analysing the performance of the NPF, we should firstly identify the major areas of concern that require immediate and effective reform.
The NPF faces a number of stubborn challenges that impact on performance and delivery in terms of capability, capacity and compliance. These challenges include undertrained personnel, lack of funding, inadequate equipment, shortage of personnel, dilapidated housing units and offices, poor equipment and vehicles, absence of maintenance budgets and regimes, as well as weak supervision and accountability. It will not be possible to reform the police without addressing these challenges
The pay and conditions that members of the NPF work under are an area for concern. While the pay is considered attractive by many (police recruitment doesn’t seem to be a problem), delayed payment of salary, sometimes by as much as six months, is a widespread and perennial problem that generates strain and undermines discipline. Pensions are either not paid in full or not paid at all. There is inadequate insurance for police officers who lose their lives or are injured during the course of their duties and unable to continue to work. All of these factors drive illicit collection of fines and other behaviour by police officers – particularly as they approach retirement. The practice of illegitimate collection of ‘on the spot fines’ is one manifestation of the failure to pay police officers on time or in full. It is also not possible for a citizen to report a crime without paying for the relevant forms.
Further undermining morale and discipline is the parlous state of police barracks in many parts of the country. Recently, on 23 May, media reported that 25 run down police barracks sites would be demolished across Lagos State due to them having failed structural integrity tests. Police officers live in these barracks, frequently accompanied by their families.
Excessive behaviour by some police officers is widely reported on and an accepted facet of daily life in Nigeria. Abuses of human rights and extortion of money drive a final nail into the coffin of trust between the citizenry and the NPF. Citizens do not believe that the police are there to serve their interests or protect them. The 2020 emergence of the #ENDSARS movement reflected frustration among the youth and middle classes over the apparent lawlessness of certain elements and individuals in the NPF. Established to address the ubiquitous problem of armed robbery, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) soon became notorious for use of excessive force and random targeting of youths based on stereotypes including wearing of dreadlocks, ripped jeans, tattoos, driving of expensive cars, or even the ownership / use of apparently expensive devices such as smart phones. Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission reported that at least 18 people were extrajudicially killed during the Coronavirus pandemic by security forces enforcing the country’s COVID-19 lockdowns. Incidents of police violence are common in the Nigerian media.
Unfortunately, the #ENDSARS protest was put down violently by the Army and it was widely postulated on social media at the time that the order was given by the man who is now charged with improving the security of Nigerian citizens. This unfortunate narrative, whether accurate or completely false, generates speculation as to how the security forces will operate under the new President.
Police involvement in political activity is further damaging to their reputation and standing. We have seen incidences of police involvement in electoral activity in several locations across the country during this year’s elections.
Police officers also are hired by private citizens who have the means for the purpose of providing private security details and protection of lives and property. This practice and its impact on professionalism is examined below.
All of the above factors are widely commented upon in open sources, regularly feature in the mainstream media and even more so on social media platforms in Nigeria and among the diaspora.
Following President Buhari’s statement in January 2023 as he launched the Roadmap to Police Reform, the Police Reform and Transformation Office (PORTO) Programmes Officer, said an extensive reform process of the police force had begun but pointed out that it will be a protracted process, taking up to five years to effectively implement. This assumes that the programme will be adopted by President Tinubu. Unfortunately, we have seen numerous examples of politicians killing the initiatives of their predecessors and then developing their own, equivalent proposal with their personal stamp on it. In Nigeria, completion of a predecessor’s legacy projects is not good for political standing.
Nevertheless, if President Tinubu is determined to improve security and stability in the country as stated in his address to the nation, the professionalisation of the NPF is a matter of priority. So, what areas might he focus on?
Generating capacity and capability to enable the police to conduct effective and professional investigations has been the core of several failed police reform strategies. Provision of adequate equipment and resources is vital. This will only be achievable if the funding is not only allocated to, but actually spent on, closing the intended gaps.
Training in both investigative techniques, human rights compliance and good governance are other areas that would generate dividends in terms of NPF performance. Development of more advanced crime scene procedures, forensic techniques, laboratory facilities and perhaps most importantly, an effective and durable national crime database are all areas worthy of critical examination.
Areas recommended by Sharkdam Wapmuk, an Associate Professor at the Nigerian Defence Academy, have included:
- Rebuilding trust. For the government to regain the trust of Nigerian citizens, special measures must put in place to address shortcomings in the policing system and the military. Critically, governance must be sincere and transparent.
- More inclusive oversight. The Judicial Panel of Inquiry set up at state level to probe police brutality should include critical stakeholders nominated independently of the government. If the panel were to serve a similar function to the Truth and Reconciliation Committees in South Africa, its impact would be much greater. This could also generate a fundamental shift in the relationship between the police and the people, which should be a symbiotic relationship, but which currently is more confrontational than cooperative. This would be assisted by tying police structures to the communities they serve (see below)
- Independent investigations into police abuses. To end police impunity, the government needs to establish an independent body that includes representatives of civil society organizations and charge it with responsibility to consistently investigate and report excesses and crimes committed both by the police and other security bodies. The mandate of these investigations should be wide-ranging and cover the full gamut of security forces illicit and illegal activity.
- Holistic police reform. There are many good police officers. Yet good men and women recruited into the police force can easily turn bad due to poor remuneration, poor conditions of service and weak or corrupt leadership.
- Focus on citizen security. Reform of Nigeria’s security architecture is long overdue. There should be training and retraining of the security agencies on issues of citizen protection, human rights, relations with citizens, and building community trust.
One other area of reform that has been postulated in the past, but which died at birth, was the restructuring of the NPF into autonomous state or regional police forces with their own organic command and control structures. The creation of federal agencies that support local forces would enhance the delivery of crime solutions.
Worryingly, experience of police reform in other West African nations does not offer encouraging signals. In Liberia, police reform has been underway for 20 years. Progress has been hindered by underfunding and a lack of political will to correct the problem as well as competing interests between different parties engaged in the process. In Cote D’Ivoire, the efforts to drive police reform have struggled with the challenge of generating effective oversight and transparency as well as very challenging dynamics between vigilance committees, everyday citizens, police, and youth gangs. These are relevant lessons that should be taken into account when any plan for police reform is undertaken in Nigeria.
The ‘Privatisation’ of Government Security Forces (GSF)
Not only the police, but all GSF organisations hire their personnel to influential and wealthy organisations and individuals. The Supernumerary Police Force (SPY) was established to provide warranted police officers to support commercial enterprises and fee-paying individuals. They carry a police warrant card and are trained at the force HQ training schools. However, the levels of training received are tailored to their roles, which are essentially to act as a deterrent security force deployed to protect the ‘client’.
Typically, all the other agencies and organisations have also hired out their assets in similar roles. The Army provides defensive deployments for oil and gas operators in the Niger Delta – as does the Nigerian Navy. The Navy also provides armed detachments for vessels operating in Nigerian waters and on its navigable waterways. These deployments are at the discretion of force and base commanders and have become a very lucrative sideline for the bodies concerned. Even the DSS has provided private security detachments for high-net-worth individuals. There is significant competition among the relevant bodies for this money-making business and contracts are much sought after.
The commercialisation of the security forces ought to be forcing standards of performance to increase. However, the opposite is sometimes the case and there are instances where such detachments have refused to comply with corporate standards in areas such as the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights (VPSHR) if the unit commander feels they increase the risks his personnel are faced with. This frequently means the commercial enterprise cannot meet its own governance and compliance standards.
President Tinubu will need to look very closely at this widespread practice and delivery a policy decision that provide robust and enforceable guidelines for commanders in all the various security organs of the state. The challenge is that the operating environment is so hostile in some areas that removal of armed teams will leave organisations and individuals vulnerable. This then generates a new problem for the Presidency to consider and address.
Illicit Involvement in Oil Theft
In early June, the President directed Service Chiefs, heads of security, and intelligence agencies to “crush” oil thieves. His intention to issue this directive was known as early as January of this year. It is driven by his understanding that no amount of police reform or investment in the armed forces will change the security environment in Nigeria unless the economic conditions that currently prevail are addressed.
Nigeria depends heavily on revenue from crude oil, such that 80% of Federal government’s revenue, 95% of export receipts and 90% of foreign exchange earnings come from oil exports. However, huge losses occur due to the illicit activity of a complex ecosystem of criminals and facilitators.
The semi-industrialised criminal enterprises have impacted so heavily on the oil and gas sector that the International Oil Companies, primarily Shell – the largest operator in the country – have taken a strategic decision to divest from their onshore assets. The knock-on effects have included increased unemployment, a lowering of environmental performance standards as local start-ups buy the licences and assets, a reduction in transparency and governance and increased tension between communities.
There have been repeated and enduring allegations of security forces’ involvement in the illicit theft of hydrocarbons from pipelines in the Niger Delta and elsewhere in the country. Some of this commentary is entirely speculative. Some of it is apparently supported by evidence. On 16 June 2023, the notable activist and former leader of one of the factions of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, Alhaji Asari Dokubu, claimed that more than 99 per cent of oil theft in the country was carried out by the army and navy. Perhaps significantly, the allegation was made after a meeting with the President in Abuja.
There have been several well documented instances where senior officers have been identified in media reports as having been heavily involved in the so-called ‘bunkering’ of crude oil and condensate. However, the only people to have been prosecuted to date have been very junior members of the security forces.
It must be stated that the security forces are not the only alleged actors in the issue of oil theft. Others include:
- National and international oil company executives
- Oil company employees
- Militant organisations
- Local political and community leaders
- Local youths
- Judicial officials
- Political actors at all levels.
The impact of the illicit oil ‘industry’ in the Niger Delta has had a crippling effect on the economy, ravaged the local environment, driven intercommunal conflicts, and exacerbated poverty which in turn drives further criminality.
President Tinubu has pledged to address the problem of oil theft and return the revenue streams that previous fed the Federal budgets. He has vowed to employ new technologies, including the use of drones and aerostat systems, for sustained and enduring surveillance. However, deploying surveillance is worthless unless the response is in place to interdict criminal activity when detected. To achieve this, a root and branch restructuring of the security apparatus in the region will be necessary.
The challenge the new President faces is that the tentacles of the illicit trade are so far reaching and so influential that he will make powerful enemies as soon as he orders the first prosecutions of persons of note. The strategy risks igniting a new insurgency in the region as powerful former militants who currently enjoy lucrative opportunities either through illegal activity or through winning multi-million dollar contracts to address the problem (….or both) fight to protect their revenue streams. As has been shown above, the human terrain in the oil bunkering industry is diverse, complex and heavily integrated into the organs of state that are key to defeating the practice.
The trade routes through which the stolen oil pass are well documented, and it is likely that any successful solution will require international cooperation. This would, of necessity, mean:
- Sharing of intelligence. This would require a patient and methodical gathering of raw information and its processing into actionable intelligence that can stand the test of evidence in court.
- Provision of technology. This will require foreign powers to share some assets that are potentially in high demand in other parts of the globe.
- Interdiction of cargos on the high seas. This will require robust rules of engagement and must be compliant with international maritime law and UN regulations such as the Safety of Life At Sea (SOLAS)
- Embargoes of trade. As we have seen with the recent issue of ‘dark tankers’ evading sanctions on Russian oil exports, trade embargoes are very difficult to enforce.
- Support for judicial processes and the prosecutions of offenders. Preparation of evidence and provision of legal support to prosecution teams will be a significant ‘force multiplier’. This might include extradition agreements that are robust and implemented.
To create a new security paradigm for the oil and gas sector, the President is going to have to make some very courageous decisions and be prepared to manage the fallout from potentially prosecuting powerful, well-connected, and ruthless individuals if that is where the evidence leads.
Informal security structures
Nigeria has witnessed an expansion of informal security structures in the last decade. These are not the formally registered security companies that provide guard services and technical security installations, but organisations more akin to militias or even vigilante organisations.
These bodies have arisen due to the perception that the government security bodies are ineffective or even disinterested in dealing with crime affecting ordinary Nigerians. Examples of such bodies include:
- Hunters working as military auxiliaries and trackers during counter-terrorism operations in the north-east and counter-kidnapping operations elsewhere in the country.
- Various vigilante groups in different parts of the country. These bodies have largely emerged spontaneously in response to chaotic security situations. Poorly trained and only loosely led, they are prone to committing human rights abuses and are vulnerable to exploitation by politicians and other elites. In some cases, their activities have aggravated intercommunal tensions, increasing the risks of conflict.
- The Western Nigeria Security Network – also known as Amotekun – which was created in the six states of the south-west geopolitical zone in response to rising crime levels. Its aim is to complement the operations of the security forces rather than replace them. Controversial but well equipped and organised, the body was challenged by the Federal government, but remains in existence and operation to date.
- Ethnic militias such as The Oodua People’s Congress (Yoruba) and the Arewa Peoples’ Congress (Hausa). These bodies frequently drift across the divide between protecting the community and imposing the will of powerful actors in the community, often acting as political enforcers in election campaigns and polling days.
Nigeria’s security challenges are primarily homegrown and internal matters, elevating the importance of citizen engagement in delivering improvements in security and stability. Yet this vital aspect of securing Nigeria’s urban centres, rural heartlands and the interconnecting network of roads and railways rests upon a relationship with the security forces that is, at best, apathetic and more accurately described in many areas as toxic.
In almost every instance, Nigeria’s security forces operate from a position that is essentially founded on a deficit of trust. Many threat assessments and risk analyses include security force violence against citizens as a component of the security problem. Remedying this and building trust with citizens will be a top and ongoing priority of any national security strategy.
Any new security paradigm must be multi-faceted, agile, properly resourced and supported by the judiciary. It will only succeed if it is built on foundations of:
- Expanding access to government services
- Social development
- Job creation
- Reform of the NPF
- Modernisation of the Armed Forces and their removal from roles that should be performed by the NPF
- Removal of the need for informal security structures – i.e. close the security gaps these bodies rose to fill
- Address the issue of herder-farmer land use with a legislative posture that supports the needs of both communities
- Effective judicial action against the ‘big men’ behind the organised crime groups
- Expansion of and improved accessibility to an effective criminal justice system for ordinary citizens
- Establishment of transparency and oversight of security forces activity
Can President Tinubu successfully implement a new security paradigm for Africa’s most populous nation? Much depends on him being able to demonstrate quickly to the population that his plan is not just genuine, but more importantly, effective. Without citizen buy-in, any new strategy is likely to fail before it gets started. Perhaps the most immediate need of most Nigerians is some relief from the grinding poverty that effects so many of them. Any uplift in the standard of living and the quality of life for ordinary Nigerians will gain the goodwill needed to support the longer-term planning and implementation of a significant shift in the security dynamic in the country.
His inauguration speech indicated that he understands not only the problems faced by Nigerian’s citizens, but also the underlying issues that drive such widespread insecurity and high levels of crime. We shall monitor and evaluate his progress in addressing and resolving them over the coming months; it is hoped that he can succeed.