Corruption, harassment and injustice. Unlawful conduct of the Nigerian police towards civilians

Polemic Paper, 2017

24 Pages, Grade: A.1


Table of Contents


Police and Policing

Theoretical Framework
Neo-Marxist Political Economy Approach
Conflict Theory of Crime

History of the Nigerian Police Force

Police’s Plagues and Corruption Effects

Internal and External Problems of the Police





Robert, Odey Simon


It is quite regrettable that police personnel had for long dropped their core duties for the unusual. Corruption is synonymous with them. Civilians beget undue intimidation, harassment, extortion, injustice and jungle justice, molestation, wanton killing and all sorts of plagues from the police. The police have become irresponsible, extremely corrupt and a nuisance. They treat the poor differently from the rich. What is quite most shocking is the fact that all bids to sanitise the Nigerian Police Force have been futile. This makes one wonder whether the personnel have become above the law, or whether there are no practical measures to address the scourging issues from the police to civilians as well as the society as a whole. These and more have been attested by several studies, scholars and our respondents. Worried by the above issues, which constitute plagues to civilians and the society at a large, this paper rises to examine the plagues, and rouse the attention of the government, police authorities and all to halt these rising issues. It calls on the government and police authorities in particular to permanently check these issues through efficacious and operational legislations against any unethical and unprofessional acts of police personnel, sparing no defaulters. It also recommends that the Police Acts should be reviewed. The conflict theory of crime and the neo-Marxist political economy approach ground the study. The study concludes that police plagues are on the increase because the excesses of police personnel are yet to be checked appropriately and duly. The non-participant observation and intuition are the primary sources employed, while textual materials like journals, textbooks, monographs, serials, newspapers, magazines and the internet constitute the secondary sources.

Keywords: Nigerian Police, Policing, Plagues, Corruption effects, Civilians


This study is aimed at examining the plagues caused by the police on both civilians and the society at large. This paper is worried by the unchecked police plagues/woes on civilians and the entire Nigerian society. The Nigerian Police Force is one of the social and Para-legal and -military institutions charged with the responsibility of enforcing law and regulating public social behaviours of individuals. Behaviours considered inimical to the interest society members are embodied in statutory documents of a nation. In Nigeria, for example, the Criminal/Penal Code Acts of Nigeria both forbid a person from taking the life of another. Anyone who violates this law may be hanged by the order of a court of justice. Acts or behaviours that violate the criminal laws of a country are referred to as crimes. Acts such as child wife/husband beating, which have not been included in the criminal code cannot be referred to as crime. They are rather called antisocial (behaviours). An act could be antisocial but not criminal. A female student, for instance, who got pregnant outside wedlock, cannot be tried in any court, as the act is not criminal, but antisocial. Such antisocial acts are often labelled crimes by the Nigerian Police for several reasons, such as for threat to be bribed, their lack of such knowledge and so on. It is quite regretting that most of the police do not even know where their jurisdiction begins and ends. They are not familiar with the ethics of their profession, besides deliberate abuse of both their professional ethics and general societal norms. Well, this partly because most of them are not educated. Some of them use other people’s certificate to join the force. Also, they lack continuous professional (re)training and welfare packages. Their corruption is an infection of the macrocosmic corruption in Nigeria, particularly the institutionalised corruption (Besong, Dibie and Robert, 2016) perpetrated by the elites.

Similarly, an act may be criminal but not antisocial. For instance, a man who stole a loaf of bread and fed a starving old lonely person cannot be said to have committed a crime but an antisocial. Although the act is illegal, it is however not criminal but antisocial because of the circumstance(s) that made the man to steal the loaf of bread. Many people are more likely to favour an act like this in which an old lonely man was prevented from starving to death (Nkpa, 1994). But in order to make money from such a person, the Police would label the act differently in Nigeria. It is common to hear police officers calling an antisocial deviant/offender a criminal, whereas the law says that one can only be so called when found/proven guilty by a court of law. Illegal arrest and detention is a common phenomenon. Extra-judicial killings, including accidental discharge, rampantly associated with both the police, especially the Mobile Police and the State Security Service, and the military are unjustifiably alarming. Bail is said to be free but only lawyers, whom the police fear, can bail one from the police cell (net) for an antisocial matter reported to/brought before them. Many poor helpless citizens are often easily implicated by police officers and made to rot in jail by the police because they could not afford to pay their illegal bail charges (Besong, 2016). Maybe police force is yet to live up to expectations. In recent times, a few humanitarian lawyers have condemned the commonly obtained bail irregularities in Nigeria, including the criminal bail cash charge and surety terms and conditions (Besong, 2016).

Only a few police officers do not soil their hands, if at all there are some. Also, only a few chief judges and have gone to prison and set free such voiceless poor people, some of the police have forcefully condemned in replacement of the real criminals who are well-to-do or have godfathers and thus set free. Tappan (1966:32) gives a legal definition of crime as ‘an intentional act in violating of criminal law (statutory and case law), committed without defence or excuse, and penalised by the state as a felony or a misdemeanour. On the other hand, Clinard (1966:213) gives a sociological definition of crime as ‘any act which is considered socially injurious and which is punished by the state regardless of the type of punishment.’

Okagbue cited in Aduba and Alemika (2015) notes,

Bail serves to give life to the concept of the right to liberty by acting as a reconciliatory mechanism whereby the applicant’s interest in the pre-trial liberty and the security’s interest in the defendant’s presence at the trial are both accommodated. Bail also serves as means to give substance to the presumption of innocence under which every person who is charged with a criminal offence is presumed innocent until he is proved guilty.

The above definition shows that, the necessity of bailing an accused person awaiting trial is to procure their release by ensuring future attendance in court and making sure they remain within the jurisdiction of the court. It could also be inferred from the above that the kind of rigid bail operation and modalities obtained in Nigeria goes beyond the basis of classical bail requisite conditions, whereby bail now applies to civil cases too, all for corrupt practices and the irregularities that have engulfed the whole system in Nigeria.

Police and Policing

As noted earlier, the police force is one of the Para-military forces charged with statutory policing responsibilities of maintaining law and order, crime control, security services, surveillance, protection of lives and property, and civic duties. In Nigeria, officers of the Nigerian Police Force are known with black and black uniform (up and down), black beret and black shoes uniform pairs/kits, a colour some scholars and Nigerians assert to be why the force is deeply corrupt, perhaps more than any other Para-military forces who had rather learnt from them (Eze, 2014; Besong, 2016). Strong hatred seems to have risen against the police force since the early 1970’s when it began deviant practices against its professional and indigenous cultural ethics, norms, values and goals, as well as the masses. The assertion could be justified by the recent change (or addition) of black and black uniform to black and light blue top. While the Mobile Police Force uses black and army green top with black or red beret, the Traffic Department uses black and yellow, for which they are popularly known as ‘yellow fever.’

Policing is a sequence of decisions starting with behaviour that someone considers being deviant or offensive, and ending with the punishment of the offender (Smith, 1997). A number of choices are available at every stage where cases are dropped, resolved or action taken for various reasons (Yecho, 2014:125). Policing has been a major issue in contemporary Nigeria. This is in view of the fact that the country has been saturated with a crime-problem and the seeming inability of the security agencies to tackle the problem. The inability to combat crime is attributed to many challenges. They include cultural factors like religion, ethnicity (e.g. ethnic solidarity, ethnocentrism, ethnic hate/prejudices, etc.), logistics, poor manpower training, workplace politics, poor job design, attitudinal problems, corruption, political influences, etc. To enhance the quality of policing for the common good of all citizens, certain measures must be put in place, such as standard or near-standard policing, operational/efficacious policing, ethical policing, de-emphasising ethnic considerations in recruitment and orientation/adequate training and re-training of security personnel, the intensification of community civil education for the masses and lots more. On cultural challenge to policing, for instance, members of the public whip up cultural and ethnic sentiments to portray police activities in either negative or positive terms, depending on how they are affected in the course of policing. On the other hand, security operative do sometimes play the ethnic card in dealing with members of the public in the course of their official duties.

The above has been given credence to by Amadi (2005:71) thus:

Noble work attracts noble character. Accordingly, individuals who voluntarily take to this employment should be people of excellent character. Nobel character entails the subjugation of the base instincts that generate human failing, which tend to becloud the mind concerning firm and fair policing. Firm and fair policing mean that the Police [personnel] should carry out their duties without fear or favour, affection or ill-will, and in accordance with the prescription of the law. But a firm and fair police officer does not come out of the blue. He is the person who by training should be physically, intellectually and spiritually attuned to the vocation of policing.

The citizen’s perception of and attitudes toward the police, has significant influence on the quality of policing. Of course, if the public perceives the police in favourable terms and co-operate with them in the course of their duty, the quality of policing will be enhanced. However, if the public holds the police in disdain and withholds co-operation, following the mostly unfriendly attitudes and deeds of the police, this would adversely affect policing and exacerbate the crime problem in the society. The public’s perception and subsequent behaviour towards the police is a function of the latter’s approach in attending to the needs of the citizens, especially as they border on the values and culture of the people, in the course of law enforcement (Yecho, 2014:119/20).

Theoretical Framework

Following the thrust and nature of this paper, it is anchored on two crime theories: the political economy theory– Neo-Marxist Approach and the conflict theory of crime. They are considered most suitable here and thus adopted. This is because they best explain crime situation in Nigeria in relation to our study. They are discussed accordingly hereunder in fair details.

Neo-Marxist Political Economy Approach

The major thrust of political economy is that the production of material value is the basis of social life (Kulukov, 1886 and Nikitin, 1983). All other social activities, including culture and ethnicity, therefore revolve around the material condition of life (Ake, 1981). According to this school, the starting point for the analysis of society is that social life is determined, in the main, by economic production. That is, what is produced, how and who produces it and how the product is shared is of primary concern to the survival of humanity. This is the main source of social conflict, which may come in form of ethnic, political or religious conflicts (Yecho, 2006).

The political economy approach sees policing as resulting from the inherent contradictions in human activities in the course of material production. To appreciate conflict in general and policing in particular, Magubane (1969:51) draws our attention to the role of social structure, urging us to give particular consideration to: the material basis of society, the nature of the social system, the political organisation, the structure of social consciousness, the ideological and socio-psychological orientation of the members of the society, views of the ruling classes [the elites] and various social groups, and the rivalry between the various groupings within the ruling circles. The Nigerian police play a paramount role in the conflict and sow relationship between them and the civilians. Looking back at the history of the Nigerian police, social groupings within the ruling circles and between them and the ruled have been attested to. It is argued by some scholars that the police was formed by the colonialists merely for the elites’ gains (Besong, 2016).

Again, political economy approach maintains that policing should be examined and analysed from the perspective of historical materialism. This is in view of the fact that strategies and processes of policing are unique to particular socio-economic formations. It would therefore be misleading to assume that policing operates independently and devoid of socio historical circumstances. Rather, it operates along with such social variables as economic, ideological/political, religious, and ethnic as well as a host of other factors. The major assumptions of this theory apply to this paper as such.

Conflict Theory of Crime

This originated from the work of Karl Marx. It interrogates unbridled gap between the poor and the rich, the ruling class and the lower class. Here, the police, because of their state fortune and authority bestowed on them, often intimidate, harass, molest, extort, criminalise, indict, mishandle and brutalise the civilians anyhow they like. Even a civil case can simply be tagged a criminal case by the police just to make money out of the intimidated civilians, who are often left with no other option than to only succumb to their wimps and caprices. The state as well as gun power gap between the police and the civilians is a manifestation of societal inequalities and class division frowned at by the Marxists.

In what gives credence to the foregoing, Quinney (1975) argues:

Although law is supposed to protect all citizens, it starts as a tool of the dominant class ends by maintaining the dominance of that class. Law serves the powerful over the weak. It promotes the war of the powerful against the powerless. Moreover, law is used by the state [and its political and intellectual elite] to promote and protect itself.

Indeed, the police who are supposed to protect the citizens turn out to war against them, even when they do not deserve that from them. The Nigerian law seems to protect the police against the civilians, for which they often maltreat and intimidate as well as even kill and maim the civilians with little or no concern. For instance, after any police wanton killing for several flimsy reasons, including ‘accidental discharge’, the police officer is given automatic transfer or leave. Why would a trained police talk about accidental discharge? Was s/he not trained on how to handle guns? Little would one wonder why angry sometimes civilian youths resort to beating up the police.


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Corruption, harassment and injustice. Unlawful conduct of the Nigerian police towards civilians
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This paper is a polemic pamphlet. The opinion expressed herein is solely the author’s own.
corruption, unlawful, nigerian
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Odey Robert (Author), 2017, Corruption, harassment and injustice. Unlawful conduct of the Nigerian police towards civilians, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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