The Justice Reformer

Criminal Justice Reform is a Global Fight

Police Reform is a Global Phenomenon: Reflections on Justice, Security, Economics and Empowerment

Dr. Declan Ihekwoaba Onwudiwe
December 11, 2020


In the wake of police brutality and authorities violating Nigerian citizens’ human rights, Ayodeji Ibrahim Balogun, also known as the famous young musician Wizkid, staged the EndSARS protests in London on October 11, 2020.  Today, Nigeria is boiling, and there are protests in every corner of the country. The government’s army and the police have responded with punitive force, often firing live bullets at protesters. The military’s propensity to shoot peaceful, unarmed civilians will signify a dreary day in the annals of Nigerian history. In fact, in a democracy, it is a violation of human rights to shoot civilian protesters. In such situations, the army could limit its actions against the nation's future leaders to teargas or other non-lethal devices. 

SARS is the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a Nigerian centralized police force unit, and also part of the police force criminal investigation and intelligence arm. It was established in 1992 following the killing of a Nigerian military colonel by police officers. SARS has been disbanded several times due to the same alleged issues that led to the current protests: extortion, cruelty, coercion, the framing of citizens, and intimidation. On October 11, 2020, President Buhari disbanded SARS again after Wizkid led protests in London. In various regions of the country, especially the eastern parts, roadblocks are routine and are facilitated by SARS and other uniformed officers. Youths suffer at the hands of these officers, who regularly collect inducements and seize and harass citizens without regard to due process. Custodial justice is absent in the Nigerian context of criminal procedures. Lives are wasted without accountability. Probable cause is interpreted in many instances, as personal appearances and possessions of private property, like cell phones and laptops, the driving of luxurious vehicles, or dressing immaculately. Indeed, young people are often killed in the process of mounting roadside investigations.   

It must be emphasized that SARS’ initial intent remains an essential policy of the Nigerian justice reform that included controlling kidnapping, armed robbery, and terrorist activities. Notably, the citizens of Nigeria live under failed security shields. The roads are menaced by kidnappers and armed robbers, as well as terrorists. In the east, the conditions of the streets are on par with the SARS menace. For Nigeria to eradicate these problems, it must first restructure its policing style. There must be an acceptance of police devolutions (local police formations), where states can design their own policing parameters and adhere to the federal police systems. To better understand the professional policing philosophy based on the rule of law, the Nigerian police must be educated and trained in the nation’s police academies. They must be accountable to the citizens they protect, and the citizens, with a good demeanor, must also respect police authority. Significantly, the Nigerian police are not treated well by the country. The officers must be paid handsomely. Compensating Nigerian police like their global counterparts and improving their quality of life as professionals—including offering good pensions, disability payments, housing allowances, police technology, and education for their children—would lessen the need for patrol officers to take bribes and engage in other vices.

By allowing local police formations and other police reforms, as articulated in various academic publications (Onwudiwe 2000; 2009; 2012; 20017; Wisler and Onwudiwe 2008), each state would be obligated to develop its professional police to serve its citizens’ needs. Law enforcement officials will undoubtedly become closer to the people they are meant to serve and protect. Decentralizing police forces will also loosen the federal government's control of local matters, which is the primary cause of the country’s problems. Although the United States has its police issues, Nigeria can borrow and integrate the acceptable practices of criminal justice reforms from the United States and other parts of the world.  Human life is sacrosanct and cannot be toiled with in Nigeria. The center (Nigerian government) must bend from its rigid adherence to federalism as currently practiced and embrace egalitarian justice principles to allow local police formations for the nation’s good. A country blessed with diverse cultures, languages, and religions cannot correctly operate under one federal police structure. 

It’s also important to note that police brutality is one symptom of the government’s mismanagement of resources and neglect of its citizens. Notably, some governors erroneously believe that state money is their coinage, and the president has turned a blind eye. Corrupt politicians who embezzle their state funds must be held accountable. The protests may be the only avenue to bring the president’s attention to society's pains.  As the government’s ultimate leader, the president endorses resources to the states in conjunction with the National Assembly.  What do the states do with their respective resource allocations? Why are the environments decayed and characterized by the absence of collective efficacy in most federation states? Can the states develop industries and agricultural sectors for the employment of youths? Why are the roads in dangerous conditions? Why does the country still suffer from power (electricity) deficiency in 2020? Why are young people, with their hard-earned college degrees, massively and shamelessly unemployed? Why are national appointments skewed without a reflection of federal character? These are the issues, in my view, that have germinated the EndSARS protests, and they must be quickly addressed.  These issues are the antecedents of the complaints today.

In closing, Chapter IV of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution expressly guarantees citizens of Nigeria the freedom to engage in peaceful protests, assembly, engagement in unrestricted organizations and protection of interests, and freedom of expression, including the liberty to hold opinions without torture, killing, and terrorization.  It is a violation of the Nigerian Constitution to murder any person by mere suspicion of participation in yahooism (Internet crimes perpetrated generally by unemployed youths) or other offenses.  Such guarantees constitute inalienable rights as enshrined in the document.  On the other hand, the government also retains the right to maintain peace and order for society’s operations and never shoot and kill unarmed citizen protesters. The use of deadly force against peaceful protestors is a dire situation and the president must condemn and prohibit this practice.   

As this piece is being written, Nigerians and their friends in Houston, Texas, are marching peacefully with the notion that all lives matter in Nigeria as Black lives matter in America. In both societies, Nigeria and America, there is a need for criminal justice reform to embrace egalitarian social justice. There is, therefore, a need to organize conferences and workshops among criminal justice experts in Nigeria and the diaspora for the articulation and policy ideas that work. Such an approach could be led by the Center for Justice Research at Texas Southern University in conjunction with the African Criminology and Justice Association. One focus could examine the link between low self-control and police misconduct, police policies and culture, education and training, and conditions that cause police brutality. Nigeria and America could learn from each other and the international community for improvements of their justice systems. Wizkid's gallant efforts and his Thespian international remonstration may lead to improved justice, security, and economic reforms and empowerment of the youths in Nigeria.

Suggested References

Dominique, W., & Onwudiwe, I. D. (2008). Community Policing: A Comparative View. Police Quarterly, 11(4), 427–446. 

Onwudiwe, I. D. (2000). Decentralization of the Nigerian Police Force. The International Journal of African Studies, 1(Winter), 95–114. 

Onwudiwe, I. D. (2009). Community Policing: The Case of Informal Policing in Nigeria. In D. Wisler & I. D. Onwudiwe (Eds.), Community Policing: International Patterns and Comparative Perspectives (pp. 81–102). London: CRC Press, Taylor and Francis. 

Onwudiwe, I. D. (2012). Dimensions of Terror Crimes in Africa and Policing Strategies for Control. In N. Okafo (Ed.), Grounded Law: Comparative Research on State and Non-State Justice in Multiple Societies (pp. 208–231). London: Wildfire Publishing House. 

Onwudiwe, I. D. (2017). Criminological Perspectives on African Security. In M. R. Izarali, O. Masakure, & E. Shizha (Eds.), Security, education, and development in contemporary Africa (pp. 13–43). London and New York: Routledge. 

Dr. Declan Ihekwoaba Onwudiwe

Dr. Declan Ihekwoaba Onwudiwe received his Ph.D. degree from the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida State University. Currently, Dr. Onwudiwe is Professor of Administration of Justice and a fellow in the Center for Justice Research. His research interest focus on policing in a multicultural societies. He is the author of International Patterns of Community Policing.