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Key findings
  • More than half of Nigerians say they felt unsafe while walking in their neighbourhood (61%) and feared crime in their home (51%) at least once during the year preceding the survey. Experiences of insecurity have increased significantly over the past decade and are particularly common among poor citizens.
  • About one in 12 Nigerians (8%) say they requested assistance from the police during the previous year, while about eight times as many (62%) encountered the police in other situations, such as at checkpoints, during identity checks or traffic stops, or during an investigation. o Among citizens who requested assistance from the police, 51% say it was easy to get the help they needed. But three-fourths (75%) say they had to pay a bribe. o Among those who encountered the police in other situations, 55% say they had to pay a bribe to avoid problems.
  • Almost three-fourths (73%) of Nigerians say “most” or “all” police officials are corrupt, the worst rating among 11 institutions and leaders the survey asked about.
  • Only 15% of citizens say they trust the police “somewhat” or “a lot.”
  • Substantial proportions of respondents say the police “often” or “always” stop drivers without good reason (55%), use excessive force on suspected criminals (46%) and protesters (44%), and engage in criminal activities (28%).
  • Only 13% of citizens say the police “often” or “always” operate in a professional manner and respect all citizens’ rights. o However, 79% consider it likely that the police will take reports of gender-based violence seriously.
  • Only two in 10 Nigerians (21%) say the government is doing a good job of reducing crime.

As the most populous country in Africa, Nigeria experiences the full range of security concerns, from petty to organised crime and communal conflicts to terrorism and cybercrimes (Duerksen, 2021). The Nigerian Police Service is tasked with addressing these problems while upholding the principles of fairness, accountability, and respect for human rights (Asanebi, Theo-Iruo, & Odoh, 2023; Nigerian Tribune, 2022). 

By most accounts, the police have long failed to live up to these standards, earning accusations of brutality, extortion, torture, and other human rights violations in their dealings with the citizenry (Aicher, 2010; Salako, 2022). 

Public anger came to a head in October 2020, when thousands of mostly young Nigerians protested against the police force’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), which was widely believed to arbitrarily arrest, torture, and even kill suspects with impunity. At least 48 protesters died in clashes with security forces (BBC, 2021; Amnesty International, 2021). Although the protests led to the disbanding of the SARS unit, critics say police brutality continues (Salako, 2022; Human Rights Watch, 2021; Uwazuruike, 2021). 

This dispatch reports on a special survey module included in the Afrobarometer Round 9 (2021/2023) questionnaire to explore Africans’ experiences and assessments of police professionalism. 

Findings show that growing proportions of Nigerians report feeling insecure or fearful, and few approve of the government’s performance against crime. 

A majority of citizens who interacted with the police during the past year say they had to pay a bribe to obtain police assistance or avoid problems with the police. Most see the police as corrupt, untrustworthy, and lacking in professionalism, and substantial proportions say the police stop drivers without good reason, use excessive force against protesters and suspected criminals, and engage in criminal activities.  

Richard Kweitsu

Richard Kweitsu is a PhD student in political science at the University of Florida.