The Long Road Ahead for State Police in Nigeria


Insecurity remains rampant in most parts of Nigeria despite billions of Naira spent on security operations and enhancements over the past decade. Cases of killings, kidnapping for ransom, suspected rituals / organ harvesting, gang clashes, herdsmen attacks, ethnic and religious clashes, etc. continue to rise across the country.

With the Nigerian military’s attention fully focused on pushing back against Boko Haram and similar groups, the Nigerian Police Force (“NPF”) has been battling with maintaining law and order across the nation. The NPF is clearly overwhelmed. Compared to the nation’s population and taking into consideration the United Nations’ recommendation of one police officer to 450 people, the NPF’s personnel numbers fall short. The Inspector General of Police admitted in August 2023 that the NPF needs 190,000 additional officers to enable it to discharge its duties effectively but the Government’s ability to do so is hampered by harsh economic conditions - especially insufficient revenue generation and worrying fiscal deficit. In addition to the manpower shortage, the NPF’s rank-and-file suffer from poor pay (and delayed payment in some instances), systemic corruption, insufficient funding, political interference, limited education / skills of its personnel, low morale, poor appreciation, etc.

The escalating insecurity, seeming failure of the NPF to proactively prevent crime and inability of Governors to direct the affairs of state commands of the NPF – being a federal agency – has set the tone for repeated calls over the years for establishment of a police force by each of the states of the federation (in line with true federalism). Despite being described as chief security officers of their states, Governors have often highlighted that they are unable to effectively contribute to security management within their States because the Police Commands in the states answer to the Inspector General of Police, who in turn, answers to the President. The Governors only enjoy an advisory status in relation to security management. Spurred, therefore, by seeming helplessness in taking charge of security in their respective States, the Governors recently proposed the creation of a police force for each of the states in Nigeria. The president and governors have agreed to explore the matter further.

A frequent ask but new ‘body language’

Since return to democracy in 1999, several states have advocated for state police. Bills advocating for amendment of the Nigerian constitution to permit creation of state police have been introduced before the legislative houses, but the efforts were quickly halted. This is the first time in close to 25 years that the Federal Government has entertained the idea and indicated a willingness to continue the conversation. Interestingly, a new bill for creation of state police was presented before Nigeria’s lower legislative house at the federal level) for second reading a few days ago.

Ideologically, state police is consistent with the principles of federalism that Nigeria claims to practice. Granting state governors the ability to set up their own police force aligns with the autonomy each state is supposed to have in managing its affairs and would allow them to coordinate security measures to ensure the safety of residents and their property. It is also widely practised in other countries that operate a federal system, including the United States, India and Australia.

Merits of state police

Key proponents of having state police in Nigeria have argued that the current structure of the NPF is over centralised and creates a bureaucracy that hampers quick reactions to security threats. It is also argued that as states have their peculiar security concerns, terrain and culture, it makes sense for the states to have their own police force that can be shaped by leadership at the local level to become better-suited to the challenges. If the officers are also rotated only within the states, they are more likely to develop a keener sense of the security situation within the state than those that are often transferred across the nation and would require some time to get up to speed with circumstances at their new posts. Local police, possessing a stronger connection with the community, would inherently understand the local terrain, encompassing language, culture, geography, and community leadership. This approach fosters community ownership of policing and security matters. Some have also argued that some states are reluctant to invest considerably in the arming and capacity-building of police officers because the beneficiaries could easily be transferred to other states soon after, thereby depriving the investing state, of the benefits of such superior training and investment.

Concerns regarding state police in Nigeria

Notwithstanding the potential benefits of states’ ownership of their respective police force, many have expressed grave concern about the possibility of abuse by political leaders. Just as the NPF has often being used to perpetuate electoral infractions and similar activities, it is feared that state police can be used by state governors for political purposes and vendetta. Another reservation is that regional leaders could use state police to advance secessionist ideas, thereby undermining national unity. Concerns also exist regarding cooperation among states to combat interstate crimes and violence, particularly when the states are under different political party leadership and exhibit diverse tribal and cultural differences. The inability of several states to pay wages of their civil servants – which will be exacerbated by inclusion of thousands of police officers into their payroll, is also cause for genuine concern.

The long road ahead

The ability of states to establish a local level police force is currently curtailed by the Nigerian Constitution and some other legislation. Specifically, in addition to the political agreements that must be secured by the stakeholders, changes must be made to the Constitution, Police Act, Criminal Code and other relevant statutes to allow for establishment of state police force, as well as control of firearms, which is currently within the exclusive legislative list (and therefore, under the sole control of the federal government).

In view of the requirement for any changes to the Constitution to be approved by at least two-thirds of the 36 state assemblies and possibility of divergent interests / views on how state police should be constituted, it appears that Nigeria is still about 2 – 4 years away from actualising the desire for state police. Even with an unexpected display of collective political will amongst the key players, it is still unlikely that state police can be created quickly enough to tackle the prevailing security challenges.

What we recommend

  1. A comprehensive, inclusive framework should first be established for administration of state police to forestall or mitigate potential abuse, ensure coordination of intra-state and inter-state policing efforts, prevent clashes between state police forces or with the federal security agencies, etc. States’ ability to fund a police force should also be prioritized and made a condition precedent.
  2. In the meantime, as a short / midterm solution, concessions can be made by the federal government to allow governors perform (greater) operational duties and have capacity to give orders to the state security commands within a pre-agreed framework. The states should also be given the ability to: (a) maintain control of security assets acquired by them for use by the NPF (i.e. not to be taken out of the state); (b) procure private contractors (approved by the national security adviser) to work with the NPF especially in relation to tech, logistics and early warning support that the NPF may lack; and (c) retain officers that have been trained by the state governments within the state for at least five years thereafter, unless in exceptional circumstances.