Among the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for transforming the world, SDG16, which focuses on “peace, justice and strong institutions” ranks high, and for obvious reasons. Without peace, justice and strong institutions, society itself may be likened to the Hobbesian State where life is nasty, brutish and harsh; a free-for-all society where anything goes, where justice is for sale, where law enforcement agencies are above the law and easily compromised, and where there is no equality before the law. The implications of this are that impunity would increase while corruption would become entrenched.
According to the UN, the judiciary and the police are among the institutions “most affected by corruption”.
In Nigeria, public perception and statistics support the UN's view of the police and judiciary.
The Challenge of Policing
An April 2015 report by NOIPolls rates the Nigeria Police Force as the most corrupt agency in Nigeria. It found that among other factors, Nigerians blame “weak public institutions (24 percent), poor pay incentive (6 percent), ineffective anti-corruption agencies (5 percent), absence of key Anti-Corruption tools (2 percent) as “responsible for the prevalence of corruption” in Nigeria. The report also cited “findings from a survey conducted by the CLEEN Foundation in collaboration with the McArthur Foundation [which] revealed the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), alongside the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) as the most corrupt of federal government agencies in the country in 2013.” The NOIPolls report, which sought to find out the experience of Nigerians on corruption, found that:
“…regardless of gender, age and geo-political zones, majority of Nigerians (63 percent) claimed they have experienced cases of corruption, either in the form of bribery, illegal business practices, irregular payments etc.”
One of the questions asked was: “In what sector did you experience challenges related to corruption such as illegal business practices, irregular payments, bribery etc.?” To this, a total of 61 percent of Nigerians reported that they had faced challenges relating to corruption in the public sector and of this percentage, 22 percent indicated that these challenges were experienced with the Nigerian Police Force, while 25 percent indicated Ministries Departments and Agencies and other areas.”
Part of the reason why the Nigerian Police is deemed corrupt is the remuneration of the average policeman and dismal work incentive. The salary of low to middle rank policemen has been poor compared to that of their counterparts in other security agencies. In a Premium Times report titled: Inside Nigeria Police Shocking Work Conditions where Officers are Left Homeless, Paid Peanuts, Ibanga Isine reported that “the Nigeria police, especially the rank and file, are the least paid among corresponding security agencies in Nigeria, a failing that fuels corruption.” The writer went on to state that:
“Tens of thousands of officers of the Nigerian police receive some of the poorest pay even in the West African sub-region, and the worst hit are the rank and file – the force's foot soldiers who spend decades in the line of duty but are hardly promoted, accommodated or paid well.”
Incidentally, the poorly remunerated rank and file in the Nigeria Police Force are the ones who typically man checkpoints on Nigerian roads, conduct patrols and have direct encounters with the general public. They and other policemen claim that they resort to bribery not only as a way of making up for their poor income, but for meeting other exigencies such as fuelling their patrol vehicles since some policemen on patrol duty complain that they are expected or directed by their superiors to fuel their patrol vehicles themselves, and it is left to them to get the money to do so however they can. Policemen posted to 'lucrative duty' posts are said to be required to make regular returns to their superiors as a condition for continuing to enjoy such postings.
Generally, poor salary and abysmal work conditions, which include poor accommodation, (many police barracks are an eyesore), inability to access transfer duty allowances or other incentives, hamper the productivity of police officers and makes them vent their frustration on ordinary Nigerians.
Apart from these challenges, top police officers are of the view that the Nigeria Police Force is understaffed and needs to employ more police to effectively checkmate crime in a country of approximately 170 million.
In February 2017, the IGP, Ibrahim Idris, was quoted as saying that henceforth, no fewer than 10,000 personnel will be recruited annually to enhance its operations. In March 2016, a Daily Trust report put the total number of police personnel in the country at 370,000 which approximates to one policeman to 459 Nigerians.
Idris added that the police would continue to accord top priority to training, retraining, promotion, welfare, housing, logistics and other operational needs of its personnel to boost their productivity. As good as Idris's intentions may be, getting started and ensuring that the recruits are properly vetted and trained will be crucial.
Reforming the Judiciary
The perception of many Nigerians – despite the common belief that “the judiciary is the last hope of the common man” – is that just like the police, the judiciary is corrupt. The belief is widespread that litigants or those who appear before the courts can obtain judgment in their favour if they grease the palms of judicial officers. Though this negative view of the judiciary is shared by many, few Nigerians would be able to substantiate it if put to task, yet it continues to be propagated. Chekwas Okorie, national chairman of the United Progressives Party (UPP) opined that the greatest tragedy of modern Nigeria is the rot that has occurred in the judiciary. According to him, Lawyers engage in negotiating bribe with judges. They also compromise cases brought to them by innocent clients if induced by their opponents in litigation.
Nigerian legal practitioners stand accused along with the judiciary, it being alleged that they deliberately stand in the way of justice by coming up with all manner of stratagems to postpone cases involving their clients, particularly those who are wealthy, to secure their freedom. Such allegations imply that judicial officers are either motivated more by pecuniary gain, or that they have sympathy for or are as corrupt as the people facing trial.
On October 7, 2016, a melodrama of sorts played out in Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kaduna and Gombe when the homes of some superior court judges, including justices of the Supreme Court and High Court, were invaded by the Department of State Security Services (DSS), ostensibly to collect evidence linking them to corruption. At the end of the exercise, a large amount of cash in local and foreign currencies totalling over N360 million were said to have been recovered from the homes of three judges: Justices Adeniyi F.A. Ademola, Nwali Sylvester Ngwuta and John Inyang Okoro.
Many lawyers have called for a reform of the sector if the image of the judiciary is to be restored. Edmund Biriomoni, a legal practitioner based in Osogbo, Osun State, expressed the wish for an all-encompassing reform, not just in the police and judiciary, but in other agencies involved in the administration of justice such as the EFCC, the ICPC, and the Nigerian Prisons Service.
State of the Prisons
Another arm of the criminal justice system is the prisons. Part of its functions set out in the Prisons Act is to “take into lawful custody all those certified to be kept by courts of competent jurisdiction.” Prisons are expected to serve as reformatories that allow for introspection and make the inmates better individuals upon release, but with the awful condition of many Nigerian prisons, this hardly occurs. A March 2016 report by Z.O. Opafunso of the School of Management Technology, Federal University of Technology at Akure, states that: “Nigerian prisons are characterized by overcrowding, widespread disease, poor ventilation, poor feeding and poor medical attention.”
A November 2016 report by the British Home Office on prison conditions in Nigeria found that:
“Prison conditions, including unofficial detention centres operated by the security forces, are generally extremely poor. Many prisons have severe overcrowding, shortages of food and water, inadequate sanitary conditions and an absence of, or inadequate, medical treatment. There is also reportedly a high incidence of deaths in detention, as well as reports of torture, extra-judicial executions and extortion by guards. Around 70 per cent of prisoners are awaiting trial, some of whom have spent long periods in detention”
The Home Office report refers to research undertaken by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) at 173 prisons in 2012 as evidence of the poor state of Nigerian prisons.
The 199 page NHRC report focused on the following matters: the facilities at the prisons, access to justice, welfare of detainees, welfare of officers and general information. It reveals shocking statistics about Nigerian prisons.
In terms of capacity, the research revealed that most of the prisons were overcrowded. “Congestion was as a result of the number of detainees that were awaiting trial. Comparatively, in all the 173 prisons audited across the Country, the lockup was 50,645 compared to a capacity of 46,024. For instance, in Bauchi prison, the lockup was 820 as against a capacity of 500; Onitsha prison has a capacity of 326 but the lock up was 755, Enugu Prison had 1,625 lockups as against 638 capacity and Owerri prison had 1,745 lockups, compared to a capacity of 548. Ikoyi prison in Lagos State with a capacity of 1,700 had 2,439 lockups, while Abeokuta New and Akure prisons with a capacity of 510 and 160 had 733 and 707 lockups respectively at the time of the audit exercise. So also Port Harcourt with a capacity of 804 but had a lockup of 2,902, while MSP Oko in Edo State with a capacity of 608 had a lockup of 1,089. Similarly, the MSP Keffi, Nasarawa State, has a capacity of 160 but the lockup was 571.”
The analysis by the zones revealed the following results:
The report also showed the number of detainees with legal or no legal representation:
“In the 168 prisons audited throughout the country, it was discovered that most of the prisons had no record of detainees with legal representation. In the North-east zone, only 797 out of a total of 6677 detainees had legal representation, while in the South-south Zone, 5570 had legal representations. Furthermore, in the North-west Zone, the ratio of detainees with legal representation was 3:2 and 4719 out of 11078 had legal representation in the South-west zone. Similarly, 1,716 detainees had legal representation in the North-central and 1,716 in the South-east zone. In some prisons, there were no records on the number of detainees with legal representation.”
In the North-east zone, about 2,453 detainees, with Bauchi recording the highest with 400 detainees had no legal representation. Others are Gombe and Mubi prisons with 286 and 242 respectively, Yola prison had 228 and 130 detainees in Ganye prison were without legal representations. Also, 556 detainees in the North-central had no legal representation, while 556 detainees in the South-west had no legal representation and 671 in the South South zone. This is despite the fact that legal representation for any one accused of having committed an offence is an important safeguard against the violation of the accused right to fair hearing.”
With reports like this, Sylvester Odion-Akhaine, a lecturer in the Department of Political Science, Lagos State University, may be right in his assessment that “the prison system in Nigeria is dehumanizing.”
The Nigerian Army and its challenges
Like the Police, the army is not free of challenges. Funding for the Nigerian Armed Forces, of which the army is a part, like the police, has been poor for decades and this was reflected in the weapons available for soldiers to quell the Boko Haram insurgency in the north east. One of the reasons the Nigerian military was unable to defeat Boko Haram in the early years of the insurgency was the largely out-dated equipment used by the soldiers. As recent investigations from the probe of arms in Nigeria have shown, some of the monies voted for arms procurement were diverted by officials of government. However, poor or inadequate weapons are not the only challenges confronting the Nigerian military. Since the fight against the Boko Haram insurgency began in Nigeria in 2009, it been accused of arbitrariness and extra-judicial killing by some observers. A June 2015 report by Amnesty International titled “Nigeria: Stars On Their Shoulders:
Blood on Their Hands: War Crimes Committed by the Nigerian Military” alleges that “in the course of security operations against Boko Haram in north-east Nigeria, Nigerian military forces have extra judicially executed more than 1,200 people; they have arbitrarily arrested at least 20,000 people, mostly young men and boys; and have committed countless acts of torture.”
Long before this report, the United States of America had refused to sell arms to the Nigerian government due to the poor human rights record of the Nigerian military. Although Nigerian military authorities denied or described such reports as exaggerated, the allegation of excessive use of force by the military is one some of their countrymen may not consider unfounded as the civilian-military relationship has not been cordial since the days of military rule in Nigeria.
Catalogue of Religious Violence
Nigeria, a vast nation of more than 250 ethnic groups, is not new to ethnic and religious crises. Such crises, which date back to the 1940s – long before the country's independence from Britain in 1960 – had resulted in uncountable deaths of Nigerians and destruction of property and poses a stumbling block to peace and stability in the country.
According to Biriomoni, ethno-religious conflict in Nigeria is mostly due to “the struggle between rival ethnic groups or organisations seeking to maintain or gain control of state power [and to people who use] state institutions to distribute economic and political benefits preferentially to their ethnic brethren.”
Such ethnic or political affiliations explain why, for all the violence that resulted in the death of thousands of Nigerians and destruction of properties, few culprits are known to have been brought to book. It is believed that, apart from weak institutions, many suspects across the country escape prosecution for crimes committed due to their religious or ethnic background. In February 2017, former President Goodluck Jonathan said that religious violence continues to thrive in Nigeria partly because those convicted for their part in past atrocities were never prosecuted. In an address to the United States House Sub-Committee on Africa, Jonathan cited the killings in Southern Kaduna, a perennial flashpoint, and said:
“If, as a nation, we do not kill religious persecution and extremism, then religious persecution and extremism will kill Nigeria. The potential danger associated with the level of conflict going on across the country is so glaring that no sane mind can ignore.”
The former president noted that a major challenge before Nigeria was how to ensure that: “Christians and Muslims co-exist peacefully in Nigeria and practice their religions freely without discrimination, molestation and killings.” He pointed out that though there had been more than 10 incidents of religious violence in Kaduna State alone (including Southern Kaduna) since 1992, on only one occasion – the Zango Kataf disturbance when 14 persons were sentenced to death by a tribunal set up by the Ibrahim Babangida administration – were the culprits punished. Jonathan further explained that the prosecution of the mastermind of the Madalla bomb blast, Kabiru Umar, aka Kabiru Sokoto, a Boko Haram suspect, and a number of his colleagues, by his administration, was part of his effort to ensure that the perpetrators of religious violence paid for their crime.
Jonathan's view is something of a broadside at the Muhammadu Buhari administration, which is seen by some observers as lacking the courage to prosecute Fulani headsmen accused of killing Nigerians.
On the restiveness in the oil-rich Niger Delta, Jonathan said the issue predated Nigeria's independence, as even before the discovery of oil in the area, some citizens of the area had challenged the British colonial administration on the exploitation of palm produce from the region. As a way to halt unrest and religious violence in Nigeria, Jonathan advised that the recommendations of the 2014 Constitutional Conference organised by his administration should be adopted.
The import of Jonathan's message to the United States House Sub-Committee on Africa on recompense is that because people are not prosecuted for crimes committed, others are emboldened to copy them. It is not unlikely that part of the reason for the failure to punish crime is due to ethnic or religious considerations.
Negative Impact of Porous Borders
Another known reason for Nigeria's insecurity is the country's weak border security. In the northern part of the country, Nigeria shares borders with Niger Republic, Chad and Cameroon. Many of these are unmanned or poorly manned, and allows streams of foreigners to make their way into the country and smuggle arms in tow. It is therefore not surprising that Nigeria is one of the countries with a high percentage of illegal arms. According to a statement by Martin Kure Abeshi, the Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Immigration Service in April 2016, there are more than 1,400 illegal routes into Nigeria. Abeshi added that the challenges confronting the agency include poor funding and shortage of personnel, as the number of immigration officers were inadequate to effectively carry out its mandate.
The problem of porous border is not restricted to the northern part of the country as even the borders with Benin Republic and Cameroon, the seaports, not to mention the have proven not to be watertight. The smuggling of illegal arms and stolen goods across these borders are common.
In August 2016, Vanguard newspaper quoted Olatokunbo Ige, Director of United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Africa, (UNREC) as stating during the National Consultation on Physical Security and Stockpile Management (PSSM) in Abuja, organised by the Agency and Presidential Committee on Smalls Arms and Light Weapons, PRESCOM, that Small Arms and Light Weapons, SALW abound in Nigeria and had made their way into hands that posed a danger to peace in the country.
While reliable data on the numbers of these weapons circulating freely in the country is unavailable, analysts have in recent times estimated that of the about 500 million weapons that may be circulating in West Africa in 2010, some 70 percent of these could be found in Nigeria.
Strong Institutions as an Antidote to Crime
Before his emergence as president of Nigeria, the impression many people had of Muhammadu Buhari was that of an anti-corruption czar. To potential voters therefore, having Buhari as president would lead to the eradication of corruption in Nigeria. Since winning the presidential election in 2015, Buhari has made it clear that fighting corruption is one of his administration's priorities. Arrests have been made while huge sums of money have been recovered from people, many of who served in Jonathan's administration or had ties to it. The arrowhead of Buhari's war against corruption is the EFCC, headed by Ibrahim Magu. Magu had replaced Ibrahim Lamorde in an acting capacity. However when the President sent his name to the Senate for confirmation, it was rejected twice. The Senators based their decision on a report on Magu by the Department of State Security Services, saying that he was unfit for the job. The DSS report revealed that Magu had ties with a man who was under investigation for corruption, and also accused him of living above his means. Despite his being rejected twice, the presidency has made no move to replace Magu, as it says he is the best man for the job. This has not gone down well with some observers who have questioned whether there are no other Nigerians with similar, if not better credentials, who can lead the anti-corruption war. Their view is that what Nigeria needs to fight corruption effectively is a strong institution, not strong men.
To the question of whether a 'strong man' or strong institutions are the antidote to crime, Okorie says he would prefer strong institutions because they endure over time while their leaders have definite tenure. Biriomoni, however, believes that Nigeria “needs both strong institutions and strong men.”
Towards Attaining SDG-16
For Nigeria to achieve lasting peace, justice and strong institutions by 2030, its institutions will need to be revamped, and the welfare of officials in the crime and justice departments improved. There may also be a need to restructure the polity to decentralize power and allow the states to implement far reaching decisions on security. At present, Nigeria's security apparatus is federally controlled. This explains why orders given to the Commissioner of Police posted to any state by the Inspector-General of Police in Abuja take precedence over any instructions given to such Commissioner by the state governor, with the IGP being subject to orders from the President. That apart, the states have no constitutionally-backed security organs of their own as calls for state police have been rebuffed by the federal authorities. Not a few Nigerians believe that some of the challenges faced by Nigeria in different areas including security can be fixed by restructuring the system. Unless that is done, stakeholders like Okorie do not “foresee Nigeria attaining any of the targets of the sustainable development goals by the year 2030.”
To Ibekwe, the present structure of the Nigerian State is “unfair, inequitable and lopsided. To ensure peace and justice the Nigerian state must be restructured to ensure “true federalism” since according to him: “Without true federalism the country is doomed.”
However, in line with the dictates of SDG-16, the Nigerian government says that it is working relentlessly to significantly reduce all forms of violence and find lasting solutions to conflict and insecurity. It also says that it is strengthening the rule of law and promoting human rights, which are regarded as key to the peace process. The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami said that the Buhari administration is focused on laying a solid foundation for a sustainable reform of the judicial system where the rule of law takes pre-eminence over and above the rule of man.