Nigeria: Security and corruption

Is corruption truly endemic in the country and how does it affect security?

Nigeria’s Security System: A Crisis of Corruption?

By Cassie Blombaum, Guardian Global Resources

Piracy and terrorism may fill the headlines of Nigerian-related news, but only one issue has been described as the “disease” that is destroying the West African nation from within: corruption.

Corruption is a universal issue, to be sure. But what makes Nigeria unique is that it appears to permeate every facet of society. From the lack of transparency in government finances, to accusations of voter fraud and back-door-deals conducted by foreign energy giants to win lucrative contracts, Nigeria has earned the unfortunate reputation of ranking among the most corrupt nations in the world. All of these aforementioned unscrupulous acts tarnish the image of a country on the economic rise. However, it is the reports of malfeasance inside Nigeria’s security forces that are perhaps the most alarming.


Corruption in Nigeria’s security apparatus can take many forms, some of which, whilst unusual, may seem relatively harmless. Guardian sources on the ground, for example, note that when entering ports, local officials often demand “money, beer and cigarettes” in order to complete the necessary paperwork to allow vessel entrance. Other instances of bribery appear far more outrageous. Case in point: in 2010, the Nigeria-based non-profit organisation, Intersociety, published a report claiming that in under 18 months, local police “raked in” 9.35 billion Naira (approximately US$55.2 million) after exacting fees at checkpoints across the country. These seemingly innocuous – if unnerving – instances of gift-giving aside, there has been considerable concern regarding an even greater problem at stake, and one that could threaten to upend the entire security of Nigeria. Indeed, not content with earning a little cash from innocent passers-by on the side, some Nigerian security forces have outright been accused of ‘turning the other way’ in the face of major illegal activities, including oil thievery. Others have even been suspected of working alongside the very criminals they are charged with detaining.

The connection between alleged criminals and security forces is not exactly ‘hush hush’. With every weekly barrage of articles regarding successful operations led by local security forces, comes the editorial piece chastising the government for its perceived inability to ‘watch the watchers’. This is particularly noted within the southern-based Joint Task Force (JTF), an organisation dedicated to the oversight of Operation Pulo (the Ijaw word for Oil) Shield, a security strategy implemented by Nigerian authorities in early 2012 as a means to combat general criminal activities, including vessel robberies and the bunkering (theft) of crude oil along the creeks of the Niger Delta. More recently, the JTF boasted of having recovered vast quantities of stolen oil, an exercise it conducted after orchestrating raids against alleged “pirates” in the Niger Delta. Despite these successes, questions remains as to whether Operation Pulo Shield, or the JTF for that matter, has actually been effective. For their part, authorities argue that the Operation has led to the destruction of “854 illegal refineries” between January – March 2014, alone. These accomplishments also follow the reported success stories of Operation Pulo Shield in 2013, when JTF members claimed to have demolished a total of 1,951 illegal oil refineries and arrested 1,857 individuals in connection with oil theft and general acts of maritime crime in the Niger Delta. Why then, given the size of these arrest figures, does oil theft, piracy and other acts of criminal activity, continue to rise? The significant numbers publicised by authorities may suggest that either the success rate has been grossly overstated, or that criminal acts, such as oil and vessel theft, are simply resumed in an almost hydra-like manner by individuals who have been freed from incarceration, or by those who have not yet been arrested. However, a more likely – and controversial – scenario is that some members of the JTF simply refuse to destroy the South’s criminal outlets, as doing so would lead to a considerable loss of ‘pocket money’.

This was the point made by former JTF Commander Johnson Ochoga. Amid a welcoming ceremony for his successor, Major General Bata Debiro, on 11 January 2013, Ochoga decried what he saw as the deceitful behaviour of some of his former colleagues, before cryptically adding: “I’ll not say we don’t have bad eggs; but to those soldiers, every day is for the thief and one day is for the owner”. Perhaps indicative of the politicisation within the Nigerian security apparatus, like his predecessor, Maj. Gen. Debiro’s tenure would be short-lived. His successor, Maj. Gen. Iliyasu Abbah, would follow a similar route, having enjoyed only 2 months as the Commander of the JTF’s Operation Pulo Shield, before being replaced by Maj. Gen. Emmanuel Atewe in March 2014. Not shying away from sharing his views on the subject of corruption, current JTF Chief Atewe, also noted in July 2014, that criminals frequently offer “huge sums of money” to JTF personnel in order to prevent them from “carrying out their lawful duties”. Going further, Maj. Gen Atewe scandalously announced that one officer was offered 25 million Naira (US$ 152,765) to look the other way in the face of oil thieves. It remains to be seen how long Atewe will retain his position.

Unfortunately, questions of crookedness do not only extend to the oil-rich South. The North, which has been ravaged by militants linked to the Islamist extremist organisation, Boko Haram, has also been rife with allegations of police and military corruption. Here, extremists have been accused of completely infiltrating the local security system, as well as Nigeria’s intelligence organisation, the State Security Service (SSS). Sources close to the government indicate that Boko Haram has apparently invested millions of Naira to penetrate all of Nigeria’s northern-based security agencies, and as a result, has obtained critical counter-terrorism information allowing it to remain one step ahead. Anonymous sources have also claimed that Kabiru Sokoto, a suspect – who later escaped police custody – in the deadly 2011 Christmas Day bombing of a Roman Catholic Church in Madalla may have actually been set free by Boko Haram-linked police officers. Whilst Sokoto was eventually detained, rumours of secret alliances between Boko Haram members and security officers have not gone to rest. To be sure, as early as January 2012, President Goodluck Jonathan, himself, confirmed that Boko Haram had secret backers among government and security officials. If even Nigeria’s head of state can admit to the problem of Nigerian corruption, can this issue be solved?


Rectifying the issue of corruption is a task easier said than done. The problem is pervasive – so much so, that Nigerians themselves have helped found non-profit organisations, such as Intersociety, and have established creative websites and social media accounts with the aim of bringing to light the problem of malfeasance. The grassroots response, although commendable, can only go so far. Unless leaders can institute a top-down approach to real change, reformists will be met by roadblocks. Of course, even aggressive counter-corruption leadership will prove difficult, as some analysts argue the issue is actually a hangover from the colonial area, when Nigerians perceived public property as merely controlled by the British elite, and not a collective right. In effect, it is argued, the Nigerian populace began to view the “looting of public property” as a norm, rather than a “crime against society”. Whilst the legacy of imperialism is no doubt a contributing factor to the country’s ongoing struggle against graft and other unscrupulous practices, Nigeria has been independent for nearly 54 years. The problem, then, could also be one of culture and a shared sense of suffering of the Nigerian system. Indeed, a Guardian source perhaps summed up the contentious issue best following a recent visit to Nigeria. There he described an encounter aboard a ship that began to deliver free oil samples to smaller approaching vessels. According to the source:

“Whilst in the Lagos anchorage, every single small boat which came alongside – surveyors, chandlers, agents, etc. – brought with it a collection of empty plastic jerry cans which were hoisted aboard and filled directly from one of the ship’s cargo holds using a rope and a bucket. This was almost a daily occurrence and was done with goodwill on both sides. When I suggested to one individual who was struggling with a full drum of fuel that it was a large sample, he simply smiled and said, ‘This is Nigeria!’ 


Previous Article
Next Article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *