Protectors or Predators? The Embedded Problem of Police Corruption and Deviance in Nigeria

Published date01 April 2015
Date01 April 2015
Subject MatterArticles
/tmp/tmp-187u6o96P1UFb8/input 513142AAS47310.1177/0095399713513142AgbiboaAdministration & Society
Administration & Society
2015, Vol. 47(3) 244 –281
Protectors or Predators?
© The Author(s) 2013
DOI: 10.1177/0095399713513142
The Embedded Problem
of Police Corruption and
Deviance in Nigeria
Daniel Egiegba Agbiboa1
The Nigeria Police Force is widely perceived by the public as the most cor-
rupt and violent institution in Nigeria in a way that is not evidently insincere.
In light of the generalization and banalization of police corruption and devi-
ance, it is surprising that few works have addressed this problem that most
directly affects the aggrieved Nigerian public. This article critically examines
the embeddedness and ramifications of police corruption and deviance in
Nigeria. The article is historically anchored and foregrounds colonial and
military administrative policies that inculcated a strategy of corruption by
coercion in the Nigeria Police Force.
Nigeria police force, corruption, deviance, colonial, military
Good policing is the bedrock for the rule of law and public safety. The long-
term failure of the Nigerian authorities to address police bribery, extortion, and
wholesale embezzlement threatens the basic rights of all Nigerians.
—Human Rights Watch (2010)
1University of Oxford, UK
Corresponding Author:
Daniel Egiegba Agbiboa, Queen Elizabeth House (QEH) Doctoral Scholar, Oxford
Department of International Development, University of Oxford, St. Antony's College,
Oxford, OX2 6JF, UK.

Historically, cases of corruption and deviant conducts have punctuated the
development of police institutions worldwide, but especially in developing
countries (Ahire, 1991; D. Bayley & Perito, 2011; K. Rotimi, 2001). In 2010,
a study by global anti-corruption institution Transparency International (TI)
reported that police in 86 countries were judged the fourth most corrupt public
institution, edged out by political parties, public officials generally, and parlia-
ments and legislature (TI, 2010). The report further stated that corruption was
particularly aplenty in sub-Saharan Africa, the newly independent states of the
former Soviet bloc, the Middle East, and North Africa. In another survey that
took place in three African countries—Nigeria, Zambia, and Kenya—the
African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF) reported that the police were
severely indicted by members of the public as the least useful law enforcement
agency in combating corruption (ACBF, 2007). In the developing world,
police corruption and excessive use of force is a generalized and banalized
burden borne especially by people in the lowest quintile of income—the very
poor and marginalized living in the periphery of society—who often report
that they had paid bribes to police under duress or have been victims of police
abuse (D. Bayley & Perito, 2011, p. 2; Oluwaniyi, 2011; Smith, 2007). In a
study of 23 countries, the World Bank found that ordinary people saw the
police not “as a source of help and security, but rather of harm, risk, and
impoverishment” (World Bank, cited in Power, 2009, p. 52). This perception
of the police is brought into sharp relief when we consider the case of Nigeria,
Africa’s most populous country and oil-rich hegemon (see Figure 1).
The Nigeria Police Force (NPF)—Africa’s largest—has a long and unen-
viable history of selectively preying on the people it was established to pro-
tect (Human Rights Watch [HRW], 2010; Mwalimu, 2009; K. Rotimi, 2001).
According to Alemika (1988), the legacy of the Nigeria Police Force is that
of “arbitrariness, ruthlessness, brutality, vandalism, incivility, low account-
ability to the public, and corruption” (p. 161). Established in 1930, this
unwieldy force has defied every attempt to democratically reform its unprofes-
sional conducts (Hills, 2008; HRW, 2010; Smith, 2007, pp. 149-150). Today,
the popular perception among many Nigerians is that the police force has
failed woefully to fulfill its role as “guardians” of society (Alemika, 1988;
Hills, 2008, p. 216; HRW, 2010; Oluwaniyi, 2011). In over 80 years of exis-
tence, the Nigeria Police Force has become a symbol of unbridled corruption,
mismanagement, and brazen human rights abuses, ranging from “arbitrary
arrest and unlawful detention” to “threats and acts of violence, including
physical and sexual assault, torture, and even extrajudicial killings” (HRW,
2010, p. 2). Visible levels of police corruption and brutality have severely
undermined the legitimacy of the federal government in Nigeria and eroded
public support for the police (Hills, 2008). In short, institutionalized

Administration & Society 47(3)
Figure 1. A map of Nigeria.
Source: OCMT and CLEEN (2002, p. 164).
extortion, a profound lack of political will to reform the force, and impunity
has combined to make the Nigeria Police Force a deeply embedded
Despite the pervasive and systemic nature of police corruption in Nigeria,
there are, surprisingly, very few studies addressing this issue that most
directly affects the aggrieved Nigerian public. The primary aim of this article
is to explore the embeddedness and ramifications of police corruption and
deviance in Nigeria, particularly its intersection with public safety and human
rights. The article contributes to the current body of scholarly literature by
conceptualizing police corruption as a historical and socially embedded prob-
lem. It directly relates police corruption to societal conditions in Nigeria,
particularly to the colonial and postindependence politics of the country,
rather than seeing it as a purely managerial problem, whose solution lies in
simplistic recommendations for internal reform or removal of corrupt indi-
viduals (so-called “bad apples”).

The article is divided into four main sections. The first focuses on the
meaning and typology of police corruption as well as the competing explana-
tions for its existence. The second section provides a historical trajectory of
corruption in Nigeria, with particular reference to the protracted military rule
and its institutionalization of corruption in Nigeria. The third section looks
closely at British colonialism and the (un)making of the Nigeria Police Force.
The fourth section examines the corruptive and deviant conducts of the
Nigeria Police Force, particularly their ramifications for public safety and
human rights. The final section sums up the key points of the article.
What Is Police Corruption?
Any attempt to understand why police corruption occurs must first establish
what it entails and who it implicates (Porter & Warrender, 2009). According
to Roebuck and Barker’s (1974) “loose” definition, police corruption refers
to any form of “deviant, dishonest, improper, unethical or criminal behavior
by a police officer.” Skogan and Meares (2004) articulate the intention behind
corrupt practices: Corruption may be carried out for “personal gain,” includ-
ing bribery and selective enforcement of the law. However, corruption may
also involve “organizational gain” (or the notion of “noble-cause corrup-
tion”), which describes extralegal actions undertaken to achieve laudable
ends. This is what Klockars (1985) describes as the use of “dirty means” to
achieve “legitimate ends.” Most discussion of police corruption goes further
and includes reference to activities that are not necessarily criminal (the
acceptance of gratuities or minor “kickbacks”), activities that do not involve
the provision of services, and activities that do not involve the exchange of
money. Thus, McMullan’s (1961 corruption definition appears to be suffi-
ciently broad to include a range of such activities: “A public official is corrupt
if he accepts money or money’s worth for doing something he is under a duty
to do anyway, that he is under a duty not to do or to exercise a legitimate
discretion for improper reasons” (pp. 183-184). This definition is broadened
by Punch (1985) in two ways. He defines corruption as occurring
when an official receives or is promised significant advantage or reward
(personal, group or organisation) for doing something that he is under a duty to
do anyway, that he is under a duty not to do, for exercising a legitimate
discretion for improper reasons, and for employing illegal means to achieve
approved goals (p. 103).
Punch’s definition recognizes that the particular “ends” of corruption
activity may not involve personal reward but, rather, may be undertaken for

Administration & Society 47(3)
the benefit of a wider group or the police organization taken as a whole
(Newburn, 1999). Second, Punch’s definition includes not only illegitimate
but also “approved goals”—earlier described as “noble cause corruption.”
Perhaps the most inclusive definition of corruption comes from Kleinig
(1996) who explains that “Police officers act corruptly when, in exercising or
failing to exercise their authority, they act with the primary intention of fur-
thering private or departmental/divisional advantage” (p. 166). According to
Kleinig, the strength of this definition is that it enables “many acts and prac-
tices that may never show themselves as corrupt—for example, doing what
one is duty-bound to do solely for personal advancement” (p. 166) to be
included within a definition of corruption. This would clearly cover activities
that would come under the general rubric...

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