Reforming Nigerian Police: Lessons from Georgia

The clamour to end the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) has dominated the news and social media space in the past few weeks. Nigerian youths are out on the streets, in large numbers, across the country voicing their displeasure over the illegal operations of this “rogue” unit which has been accused of extra-judicial killings, extortion and other unethical conducts. To the youths and many Nigerians, nothing short of justice would be accepted.

Nigerians’ demand for the disbandment of SARS has gone beyond the shores of the country dominating the social media space as those in the Diaspora have joined in the protest using the hash tags ♯EndSARS, ♯EndPoliceBrutality #EndSWAT. Beyond the request for the disbandment, protesters are also demanding for critical reforms in the Nigerian police force, all of which were contained in a “7-point demand” submitted to the federal government

While it is impossible to ask the authorities to scrap the entire police force in view of its importance and constitutional duties of maintaining law and order in the country, it is important that reforms address identified challenges in the system.

To reform the Nigerian police force, Nigeria could take a cue from Georgia, Eurasia under President Mikheil Saakashvili in 2004. Prior to his tenure, Georgia was a textbook example of “predatory policing” where the police did not perform the basic responsibilities of ensuring public safety; instead enrich themselves and their patrons by extorting citizens. Officers demanded bribes, trafficked narcotics and weapons, and worked for political and business elites as a mercenary security force.

Reasons being that the police could not survive on the tiny salary they received. People paid as much as $2,000–$20,000 in bribes for jobs as policemen, earning the money back through an internal pyramid scheme funded by illegal pursuits. Each week, for example, patrolmen paid a fixed amount from the bribes they extracted from citizens for various “offenses” to their immediate supervisors, who in turn were expected to share a cut with their bosses, and so on. Traffic cops were always on the take.

On an hour’s drive, one could expect to be stopped at least twice and asked to pay a small fine, citizens had little or no choice but to pay up, whether they had broken laws or not. The corrupt system created a vicious cycle in which money rarely reached state coffers, salaries were not paid regularly, and police turned to crime to make money. After the Rose Revolution, Georgian society united to demand reform. This is similar to the Nigerian police story.

In order to change the mentality of a broken, cynical, and fearful society at the same time earn their trust; Georgia eliminated redundant agencies and those beyond hope of rehabilitation, disbanded the Traffic Police, firing every one of the thousands of officers who had acted as state-sanctioned highway robbers. They were replaced with an entirely new force of Patrol Police who had no background in law enforcement and thus no ties to old, corrupted elites. Quality was prioritised above quantity.

By reducing the size of the force, jettisoning agencies and ministries, and hiring only qualified candidates, Georgia increased salaries of police officers nearly tenfold, and then enforced zero tolerance for corruption in the system.

We therefore advise the federal government to take a cue from Georgia in reforming the Nigerian police force, that agency is corruption personified with vices no different from bandits.

It is highly commendable how the democratic actions of the Nigerian youths got both the state and federal government to listen and forced swift actions towards the need to reform the entire Nigerian police force. However, protesters have refused to give a nod to some measures rolled out by the federal government and Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu. Beyond the fact that protesters perceive the measures as incapable of addressing their demands, the continued protest across the nation shows the trust gap between the people and the government.

In our view, the protest so far has sent a strong message to the federal government that Nigerians are tired of the abnormalities in the country and more importantly showed the power of the citizens to demand for change. Above all, Nigerians, not just the youths alone, can use the same spirit and energy so far exhibited to force both the federal, state and local governments’ officials to apply accountability, transparency and good governance in the discharge of their responsibilities in line with their oath of office. By so doing, we would have a people-oriented and people-centred administration.

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