Under attack: The travails of the Nigerian Police

1st December 2020

On Wednesday, 23 October 2020, Gabriel Igwe, who worked as a driver at Laterite, an architecture practice in Ikoyi, went to withdraw some cash from an ATM machine in his neighbourhood, Ologunfe-Awoyaya in Ibeju Lekki LGA of Lagos. Unfortunately for Mr Igwe, his decision to make that cash withdrawal happened during the violence that occurred following the attack on End SARS protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate three days earlier.

Mr Igwe was identified as a policeman by someone and was lynched by rioters. Videos of his murder circulated online.

Mr Igwe was not a regular policeman, but had, at a point, been a member of the Supernumerary Police, better known in Nigeria as the Spy Police. The Spy Police was established in 1990 and differs from the regular police in their duties and obligations. However, they are trained with basic skills to help organisations to which they are attached maintain law and order within their organisations. Like Mr Igwe, they are mostly attached to private sector organisations, but to many people, as the rioters who murdered Mr Igwe, they are seen simply as policemen.

The Nigerian Police has a bad rap among citizens, and this bad reputation was the key factor that drove the protests in October, and attacks on police formations by rioters after the protests had been broken up. On 30 October, the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, claimed that 22 policemen were killed during the protests.

Police deaths resulting from such attacks are commonplace in the country. Between 2015-2020, every state in the country has recorded a case of police fatality resulting from an attack on their station or at the discharge of their duties.

Policing in a country of about 200 million people is a difficult exercise. The UN-recommended police-population ratio is 1:400. In Nigeria, it is 1:600. It does not help much that the Nigeria Police Force and the Police Service Commission are currently locked in an egotistical tussle over the right to recruit constables into the force. This is depriving the force of the much-needed manpower to guard fringe communities and rural areas, some of which have just 30 officers policing over a hundred communities.

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