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Hausa Constabulary to NPF: Nigeria’s security agencies need to evolve

Hausa Constabulary to NPF: Nigeria’s security agencies need to evolve
May 29
14:38 2024

In today’s Nigeria, hardly a week goes by without a major security breach or crisis making the headlines. The rapid frequency of these unfortunate events indicates that Nigeria’s security architecture has crumbled. The damage from this collapse occurs in real-time, affecting real people beyond mere statistics.

On some days, there are large-scale kidnappings of school children or community members, such as the abduction of 150 people in Kuchi village, Niger state, and over 100 people kidnapped by gunmen in three villages in Zamfara. On other days, it might be the downing of a military jet or helicopter by armed groups equipped with anti-aircraft guns. Additionally, there are instances of complete annihilation of entire companies of soldiers on peacekeeping missions, like the ambush and killing of troops responding to a crisis between Okuama and Okoloba communities in Delta state on March 14, 2024.

Fundamentally, these troubling events suggest Nigeria’s security architecture is structurally flawed and inadequate. It was never designed to protect a large population, and history supports this assertion. The earliest security forces in the modern Nigerian state—the Hausa Constabulary and its derivatives in other regions—were set up to enforce compliance among unwilling monarchs and populations and protect colonial officials. As British suzerainty over what is now Nigeria expanded to include more territories, the need for policing became apparent. Even then, law and order were defined by the British. Consequently, the newly established police were repeatedly used to harass pro-independence politicians.

The Nigerian security services (military and police), which grew out of that arrangement, never outgrew that mentality. And the country’s structural flaws were not addressed at independence. The situation worsened after the military intervened in politics, deciding that to ensure regime security, the security architecture must be primarily designed to be coup-proof, making the protection of national security secondary. This partly explains why the military regimes starved the police of funds and why the Babangida regime dismantled the National Security Organisation in 1986 and splintered it into three agencies: the State Security Service, the National Intelligence Agency, and the Defence Intelligence Agency.


Despite this, the three-lettered agencies, especially the State Security Service (SSS), have not met the expectations of ordinary Nigerians regarding national security improvements. Instead, their focus has remained on protecting the Head of State and the political class in general. The suppression of all kinds of dissent, ranging from demonstrations over police brutality to protests about food prices, which are interpreted as threats to the regime, serves as a demonstration of state power and a deterrent mechanism for potential protesters. This posturing hinders the realisation of a more sustainable and urgent goal: the prioritisation of national security.

Moreover, recent abductions in Kuriga and Kajuru reveal a concerning security trend. Typically, during such incidents, civilian security guards are killed. In Kuriga, however, security personnel were absent, and appeals to the police and military went unheeded, with the military arriving hours after approximately 287 students had been abducted. A similar incident occurred in Kajuru and Kaduna state just a few days later, showing that the current security arrangement is either ineffective or exhausted. Ironically, Kaduna has the most security installations in Nigeria, including the 1st Division of the Nigerian Army, the Nigerian Defence Academy, and many others. The battalions involved in counterterrorism operations in the Northwest are commanded from this division, so it is puzzling why a state with such heavy fortifications experiences so many security breaches.

Part of Nigeria’s national security problem is the reactionary manner in which priorities are addressed. Security personnel usually require an “order from above” to act. Hence, headlines often read, “The president has ordered security agencies to flush out the kidnappers,” which is problematic since the president shouldn’t need to order such basic actions as preventing kidnappings or rescuing hostages.


This reliance on top-down orders is a facet of Nigerian political structure, stemming from the military-era 1976 constitution, which centralised security powers with the head of state and reduced public officials to mere extensions of this power. This system persists due to Nigeria’s culture of prioritising appearance over substance. It also leads to false arrests by police officers who, eager to appear active, arrest innocent people, sometimes for extortion or to fill holding cells, while real criminals are freed under questionable circumstances.

The decades-old preference for using the military has stretched it thin, burning it out from being involved in too many roles. In a proper security environment, the police are the first responders to security breaches. In areas where the police are absent, sister paramilitary agencies (in Nigeria’s case, the National Security and Civil Defence Corps) step in to fill the void. The military should be a last resort only when situations escalate beyond regular police control. However, Nigeria has its priorities upside down, responding to communal clashes and abductions with the military instead of the police. Overusing the military for internal policing duties has led to corruption and diminished its effectiveness in crime-fighting and national security.

Nigeria’s tendency to centralise power has also manifested in the delayed, albeit still not serious, discussions about state police. Its proponents have yet to realise that the devolution of police powers should not only be limited to the state level but must extend to the most fundamental level, the community.

The current security arrangement, which places excessive expectations on a single entity, requires restructuring to align with its intended purpose. Nigerian leaders and policymakers must prioritise these issues and take concrete steps toward meaningful reforms. Delaying or ignoring these problems will only exacerbate the security challenges faced by the country. By addressing them head-on and implementing necessary changes, Nigeria can achieve a more secure and prosperous future.


Nwanze is a partner at SBM Intelligence.

Views expressed by contributors are strictly personal and not of TheCable.

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