Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A New Season of Law and Order in Nigeria

Today’s presenter Okechukwu Nwanguma, project head for campaign operations and periodic reports at the Civil Liberties Organization (CLO) in Lagos, gave a moving and informative presentation that highlighted the need for significant police reform in Nigeria. According to Nwanguma, the role of civil society in creating and sustaining these reforms must be explicitly defined and significantly intensified. This is the only way, he argues, the police system and individual police officers will become less corrupt and more accountable. He insisted that the police are the gateway to fair political justice, and that their reform will have positive and lasting ramifications for all of the nation’s institutions.

Nwanguma began with a detailed and heart wrenching account of police brutality, from colonization (1966) to today. Regional and national police forces replaced the earlier community-rooted enforcers who maintained law and order without the use of excessive physical force. Their replacements were militarized and adopted the mantra of violence, corruption and partisanship they had so strongly abhorred. The Nigerian Police Mobile Force quickly assumed the fitting moniker ‘Kill and Go’.

Initial police reforms began in 1999, and in 2000 the Ministry of Public Affairs designed a reform plan detailing benchmarks to be achieved over the following five years. These efforts aimed to increase the confidence of Nigerians in the police as well as the morale of officers by:

  • Improving resources for officers and stations
  • Recruiting 200,000 new officers over five years
  • Providing better screening and training for its leadership

While such aspirations are novel, the institution still lies beneath a dark cloud of corruption. The Human Rights Watch estimates over 10,000 civilian deaths in police hands after 1999, when reforms were to have been already in motion. Deficiencies within the justice system remain abominable, as there is still only one police lab and one ballistics specialist in a country slightly smaller than Texas. These lapses, as well as articles in the Constitution giving officers the right to hold criminals based on mere hunches of what they might do at a later date, further promote inefficiency and corruption within the force.

Both Nwanguma and today’s commenter Oge Okoye, Assistant Program Director for the Africa bureau at the National Endowment for Democracy, left the afternoon on an optimistic note. They stressed the unbelievable success Nigerian police officers obtain when they change environments. Their failure to implement law and order within their own country illustrates that the potential and the capability is by no means lacking. Should strong democratic reforms be implemented and followed through, police corruption can seriously be curtailed.

Learn more about the Nigerian Police

Learn More About HRW findings

Image Souce

Sponsor: The National Endowment for Democracy
Date: June 18, 2008
Time: 12-2 p.m.
Representative Attending: Elizabeth Caniano

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