Nigeria SSR Background Note


Key Statistics

Population: 185.9 million (World Bank 2016)

Capital: Abuja

Major languages: English (official), Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba

Major Ethnic groups: Yoruba 21%, Hausa 21%, Igbo 18%, Fulani 11%, Urhobo-Isoko, Efik-Ibibio, Kanuri, Edo, Tiv, Ijaw, Nupe, Bura (2014)

GNI per capita (US dollars): 2,450 (World Bank 2016)

GNI per capita PPP (international dollars): 5,740 (World Bank 2016)

Security Sector

Military: 200,000 (World Bank 2015)

Police Force: 371,800

Small Arms: The estimated total number of guns (both licit and illicit) held by civilians in Nigeria is 2 million; the defence forces of Nigeria are reported to have 179,550 firearms; and Police in Nigeria are reported to have 360,000 firearms (Gun Policy 2015).

Military Expenditure (US dollars): 2091 million (SIPRI MilEx data 2015) Nigeria spends 0.4 percent of GDP on the military; and for every 1,000 inhabitants there are 0.9 soldiers (Global Militarization Index 2016)

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction and General Background

     2. Political Context

      i.             Military rule

      ii.            Democratisation

      iii.           Violent Conflicts

                     a) Niger Delta Conflict

                     b) Boko Haram

                     c) Herder-Farmer Violence

   3. Security Sector Overview 

   4. Sector-Specific SSR

       i.             Security Management and Oversight Bodies

       ii.            Defence Reform

       iii.           Police Reform

       iv.           Judicial Reform

   5. International Support and Coordination

   6. Future Considerations

   7. List of Acronyms

   8. Appendix: List of Presidents of Nigeria 

   9. Footnotes

1.     Introduction and General Background

Nigeria is located on the West Coast of Africa, bordered by Niger, Chad, Cameroon, Benin and the Atlantic Ocean. It is the most populous country in Africa and the seventh most populous in the world. Nigeria encompasses 350 ethnic groups which speak more than 250 languages; in addition to English, the official language. The most populous ethnic groups are the Hausa and Fulani (predominantly Muslim), Yoruba (half Muslim, half Christian), and Igbo (predominantly Christian). Though officially a secular state, the primary division is among the Muslim and Christian groups of the country. Political tensions over the equal distribution of political power and economic prosperity have long been key points of dissension between the two groups. The economic division between northern and southern Nigeria is also increasing; according to the World Bank, despite the growth in GDP, 100 million Nigerians continue to live in poverty.

Oil revenue plays a crucial role in the country’s economic inequality. The Muslim elite which dominates Nigeria’s formal politics benefits from state oil revenue, while the region from which the oil is extracted suffers from the government’s failure to reinvest oil revenue back into regional development. As of 2016, Nigeria’s economy (gross GDP) was the 27th largest in the world, and the largest in Africa.

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2.     Political context

Nigeria is a federal republic comprising thirty-six states and a Federal Capital Territory (Abuja). Consequently, it has a decentralised administrative structure at three levels: national (popularly referred to as federal), state and local government. The states are grouped into six geopolitical zones: North West, North East, North Central, South West, South East and South-South according to geographical proximity and ethnic homogeneity, and are further split into 774 local government areas (LGAs).

Transparency International's 2016 Corruption Perception Index ranked Nigeria 136th of 175 countries, which represents an improvement from 144th the previous year.

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        i.            Military rule

An understanding of security and justice reforms in Nigeria must be situated within the context of the country’s political history, which has seen seriously compromised individual and community safety, security, access to justice, and the security sector governance by civilian oversight mechanisms.  The 50-year history of post-independence Nigeria has included close to three decades of military and authoritarian rule. There was a total eight military regimes between 1966 and 1999; interspersed by a civil war from 1967 to 1970 and a further four years of civilian rule from 1979 to 1983. This long period of military rule was characterised by massive human rights violations and a near complete breakdown of security sector governance; a more presidential rather than democratic governance of the security sector, corruption, and truncation of democratic agendas [1]. Moreover, the involvement of the military in politics drastically compromised both the professionalism and operational effectiveness of the Nigerian military, with the Army's officer corps decimated by repeated coups.

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     ii.            Democratisation

In the immediate post-military era (1999 to 2007), the government was led by an elected ex-military general - Olusegun Obasanjo - with significant support from the military constituency as well as civilians closely connected to military elites. Despite violence marring both the 2003 and 2007 presidential elections, Nigeria is currently experiencing its longest period of civilian rule since independence. The 2007 election marked the first civilian-to-civilian transfer of power in the country's history. The 2015 elections were historic and relatively peaceful, despite the growing insurgency in the north east. The opposition party All Progressive’s Congress won for the first time since the transition from military rule in 1999. The incumbent presidential candidate, Goodluck Jonathan, conceded defeat, thus paving the way for a peaceful handover of power to former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari in May 2015, whose stated priorities on taking office were to improve security; specifically by rolling back the territorial gains of Boko Haram in the North-East, to tackle corruption and to foster economic development.

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   iii.            Violent Conflicts

Nigeria’s diverse ethnic composition, combined with the relatively homogeneous territorial distribution of these ethnicities, has paved the way for numerous claims of self-determination and secession.  In 1967 the Igbo people unilaterally declared independence from Nigeria,  founding the state of Biafra. The existence of the state was short-lived and it ultimately surrendered to Nigerian military forces in January 1970.  Low-level violence has remained a constant feature of life for many Nigerians, however, and recent years have seen an upsurge in conflict-related deaths. The UNHCR estimates that 2.2 million Nigerians are currently displaced.

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Niger Delta

The Niger Delta conflict began in the early 1990s between foreign oil corporations and a number of the Delta’s minority ethnic groups who felt they were being exploited, particularly the Ogoni and the Ijaw. The drivers of the conflict were initially largely economic and environmental. The conflict later took on an ethnic and political dimension; resulting in the militarisation of the entire region. The humanitarian, economic as well as social costs have been substantial, and continue to impact upon the social and economic life of the region. Several efforts have been made by the federal government to resolve the conflict, including the granting of an amnesty and an unconditional pardon to militants in the region in 2009, which included efforts to disarm and rehabilitate of militants. The Buhari administration, for its part, has articulated a ‘New Vision for the Niger Delta ’, including several new infrastructure projects and an additional $97 million in funding towards the militant amnesty programme.  However, sporadic attacks on oil installations have continued to occur, undermining the government’s agenda.

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Boko Haram

Boko Haram , which loosely means ‘western education is a sin’, was established in 2002 in the state of Borno under the leadership of Mohammed Yusuf. The group’s initial stated aim was to impose Sharia law throughout the country, although increasing radicalisation among its members later led to its designation as a terrorist group. Under new leader Abubakar Shekau, the group scaled up its attacks against the Nigerian government, before pledging allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in March 2015. The group then split away in August 2016 after in-fighting among the group’s leadership. At present, the group appears to comprise two main factions, with Shekau retaining a leadership role.

Despite the declaration of a state of emergency in three Northern states in 2013 and the subsequent deployment of federal troops, the abduction of over 200 schoolgirls in Borno in April 2014 – which garnered worldwide media attention - served to highlight the group’s growing threat and the inadequacy of the government’s response. President Buhari, having pledged to defeat Boko Haram during the 2015 election campaign, resolved to strengthen the military response, initiating Operation Lafiya Dole in June 2016.

Initially, the operation resulted in a significant drop off in violence, but a later resurgence compelled the President to replace the operation’s commander in December 2017. The same month, the Nigerian parliament also approved the release of $1 billion from the country’s oil surplus to bolster the budget for Lafiya Dole . Until this point, the Buhari administration had insisted that Boko Haram was all but defeated. While some observers saw this as an acknowledgment on the part of the government that ending the violence would require a long-term commitment, President Buhari’s new year address in January 2018 referred again to the ‘defeat’ of Boko Haram, playing down the ongoing violence as merely ‘isolated attacks’.  

Over the course of 2017, the Nigerian military also shifted its strategy, moving citizens into the main urban centres garrisoned with soldiers, thereby creating ‘fortified settlements’. While this enables the military to protect population centres, Boko Haram retains the ability to operate freely in rural areas, where citizens are almost entirely cut off from government services. A UN report in September 2017 declared almost the entirety of Borno state – apart from urban areas - inaccessible. Moreover, Boko Haram continues to launch attacks against military and civilian targets, carrying out several suicide bombings against the University of Maiduguri in 2017. In many ways, the conflict now resembles a classic counterinsurgency, with government forces exerting tentative control over urban populations, while insurgent forces launch sporadic attacks from rural bases.

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Herder-Farmer Violence

The severity of the Boko Haram insurgency has obscured a third, and increasingly deadly source of violence in Nigeria. Northern pastoralists, predominantly Fulani Muslims, have become more sedentary in recent years, remaining in the agricultural belt of the central states throughout the year. Traditionally, these herdsmen brought their cattle south only during the grazing season, returning to northern provinces thereafter. This change has brought the pastoralists into conflict with the predominantly Christian farmers who own the land. Beyond the religious dimension, the conflict has been driven by an interrelated set of factors, including climate change, urbanisation and the disintegration of traditional dispute resolution mechanisms. In addition to an upsurge in violent confrontations between pastoralists and farmers, rural banditry has also increased, with vigilante groups extorting income from pastoralists in return for ‘protection’. In the absence of state security actors, the conflict has continued to expand in both size and intensity, with the estimated number of deaths from the violence exceeding those caused by the Boko Haram insurgency over the course of 2016.

The government response to the violence has been belated. Following public criticism of the administration, the military launched Operation Karabiner Goro in January 2018, aiming to tackle cattle rustling in Niger and Kaduna states. It remains to be seen whether this operation will improve citizen security or, as in the fight against Boko Haram, lead to a concurrent escalation in the violence.

The violence between herders and farmers, together with the apparently intractable fight against Boko Haram, reflects an uncomfortable truth on the part of the Nigerian state; it remains incapable of exercising a monopoly of violence and of providing comprehensive security for its citizens.

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3.     Security Sector Overview

In addition to the negative effects of a long period of military rule, Nigeria is beset by a number of other security challenges, which pose not only individual and collective threats to peace, security and development in the country, but which will moreover require a determined reform effort towards the security and justice sector.

The country is further characterised by the presence of a host of non-state providers of security and justice, many of which have existed since the colonial period, and which continue to play an important role in delivering local services, particularly traditional justice and dispute resolution systems. Over time, these non-state actors have responded to needs at the local level in the absence of federal capacity. Furthermore, the government’s inability to provide security, infrastructure and social services has driven northern residents in particular to join civil society organizations based on ethnic or religious affiliations.

Although there remains no comprehensive national agenda or policy on Security Sector Reform (SSR), individual reform programmes in the security and justice sector are ongoing. The first of these was outlined by the Obasanjo-led administration in 1999. The reforms focused on civilian governance of the security sector on the basis of the following principles:

a)      Acceptance of the elected civilian president as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and the supremacy of elected officials of state over appointed officers at all levels;

b)      Acceptance of civilian headship of the ministry of defence and other strategic establishments;

c)       Alignment of the goals and conduct of military operations with the political and strategic goals established by the civil authority;

d)      Acceptance of the application of civilized principles to all military investigations and trials; and

e)      Recognition of the right of civil authority (the Supreme Court) to review any actions or decisions taken by military judicial forces [2].

In practice, however, these reforms served to increase presidential, rather than specifically democratic, control over Nigeria’s armed forces. Nonetheless, at the international policy level, Nigeria has recently been active in promoting Security Sector Reform, sponsoring the first Security Council Resolution on SSR, Resolution 2151, in April 2014.

The security situation in certain parts of Nigeria has been dominated by cases of banditry, assassinations, ritual killings, political skirmishes and rape, while other parts have remained peaceful. This situation is seen by many communities as a failure on the part of the Nigerian state to protect its citizens, leading to its displacement by non-state actors. The inability of the security agencies to arrest and prosecute individuals and groups responsible for the spate of violence and insecurity has accounted for an entrenched culture of impunity [3].

The scope of envisaged reforms has however been expanded, as articulated in the cluster ‘Improving Security and the Administration of Justice’ in the chapter on “Changing the Way the Government Does its Work” contained in the 2004 Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper. Among other areas of activity, the cluster focuses on growing the economy to reduce unemployment; providing safety nets for vulnerable groups, including children; and fighting corruption and drug abuse. It pays particular attention to security sector reforms including the training and equipping of security institutions and agencies (judiciary, police, prisons, immigration, customs, and other organs) charged with guaranteeing internal security. An important dimension of this cluster is the ambition to achieve a paradigm shift and change of attitude among security sector personnel, enabling them to view themselves as public servants who should eschew corruption and deliver high-quality services to their customers.

Thus far, reforms have largely been focused on the military (to ensure that they recognise the supremacy of democratic institutions with regard to respect for human rights and the rule of law), on the police (to guarantee public safety) and on the justice sector (to improve access to justice). The Buhari government, like that of Goodluck Jonathan before it, has focused on increasing the operational effectiveness of security institutions in light of the fight against Boko Haram, although this has been achieved at the expense of addressing structural issues – especially corruption and waste - within the security sector.

Nigerian Joint Task Force (JTF) units—composed of military personnel and police—are the most visible presence of government authority on the ground in the North Eastern states. JTFs have become known for their brutality and cruelty, inciting a level of fear among the population somewhat comparable to the insurgents they are combating. Human Rights Watch estimated that nearly half of the casualties attributed to Boko Haram have – in fact – been caused by the Nigerian security forces. There is also a civilian JTF (CJTF) made up of a disparate group of people ‘fighting’ Boko Haram as well as providing security to camps housing internally displaced persons. The group lacks cohesion and has been accused of a catalogue of human rights abuses. In a positive development, however, in September 2017 UNICEF brokered a deal with the group to cease its practice of recruiting children.

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4. Sector Specific SSR

i.  Security Sector Management and Oversight Bodies

Two key issues can be identified which impact the functioning of the Nigerian security sector. The first is the co-existence alongside formal security establishments of non-state security providers which respond to security needs of communities beyond the purview of the federal government. As such, informal arrangements for security provision have been accorded different degrees of legitimacy by citizens and groups. Due to this, the state has lost both a significant portion of its monopoly on the use of force as well as a degree of its legitimacy as a security provider. Despite the return to civilian management and control of the security sector post-1999, decision-making power largely resides with the presidency.

Under President Buhari, control of the security sector remains concentrated around the executive, although a positive step has been taken with regard to anti-corruption, with Nigeria becoming a member of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in July 2016. The administration has since developed and submitted an OGP National Action Plan for implementation between 2017 and 2019, which aims to enhance and streamline transparency and oversight mechanisms. In January 2018, the Ministry of Defence also announced that it will review the Armed Forces Act in the coming year, having faced criticism from regional civil society organisations regarding the lack of effective legislative oversight.

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ii. Defence Reform

In addition to the focus on democratic control, respect for human rights and the rule of law, specific efforts have been made in the following areas: civil-military relations; inquiries into the activities of military officers holding political offices who were alleged to have misappropriated public funds during their tenure in office; establishing legislative oversight of the security sector, especially in relation to defence spending, procurement decisions and general budgetary issues; and the initiation of efforts to create a better partnership between civilians and the armed forces in the ‘new ministry of defence’.

The reform of the Nigerian military has been linked to a wider concern with security sector reform in Africa, with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) adopting the Declaration of Political Principles, promoting multiparty democracy and representative institutions which set guarantees for personal safety and freedom. The Dakar Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance (2001) defines prerequisites for peace and security covering armed forces, police and other security agencies in a democracy. A 2003 Declaration on Sub-regional Approach to Peace and Security stressed a commitment to democratic consolidation and rejection of force as a means to pursue or maintain power [4].

Soon after taking office, President Buhari replaced the incumbent national security advisor, the chief of defence staff, and the service chiefs, acting on his election pledge to put human rights as a priority for the military. In October 2015, Gen. Gabriel Olonisakin – the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) - established a committee to address the reform of the Nigerian Armed forces.

However, the Nigerian security apparatus continues to be hampered by allegations of corruption. In December 2015, former National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki was arrested for allegedly diverting up to $2 billion from the National Treasury, creating ‘phantom’ contracts for a variety of procurement programmes. Transparency International places Nigeria’s military in the second highest risk category for corruption in the security sector. A large part of this inauspicious assessment derives from the fact that the majority of military procurement is not subject to legislative scrutiny, as such funding comes from an ‘off-budget facility’ rather than the MoD budget.  Such practices have permitted the level of corruption seen under military rule to continue unchecked. Addressing this remains the key challenge facing defence reform efforts in Nigeria.

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iii. Police Reform


Early police reforms in Nigeria included the reversals of questionable promotions made during the Abubakar-led regime by the Obasanjo-led administration (see appendix); the establishment of a Ministry of Police Affairs, which has since been abolished, but nevertheless resulted in increased recruitment and staffing of the police service (currently 375,000 personnel from an initial size of 140,000 in 1999); procurement of equipment; the establishment of a Police Service Commission in 2001 [5]; and the introduction of community policing in some states with the support of the DFID-funded Security, Justice and Growth Programme.  The responsibility for the Nigeria Police Force was subsequently passed to the Ministry of Interior. Other agencies with a policing oversight role are now operating with far greater cohesion and coordination, and were involved in the UK-supported Justice for All (J4A) programme (see below). In July 2016, President Buhari appointed a new Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Kpotun Idris.

At the end of military rule in 1999, there were approximately 140,000 police officers in the Nigeria Police Force, amounting to just one police officer for every 820 Nigerians, a number substantially below the United Nations-recommended benchmark of one police officer per 400 citizens. In response to a high level of crime following military rule,  then-President Olusegun Obasanjo ordered the inspector general of the police to undertake a massive recruitment drive, adding 40,000 police officers every year for five years. By 2008, the police force had more than doubled in size in less than 8 years; although the government had failed to increase concurrent funding to train, equip, and manage this enlarged force. A 2008 Presidential Committee on the Reform of the Nigeria Police Force reported that police training had become further overstretched, and that minimal attempts were made to upgrade police training institutions.

A new Nigerian Police Reform and Restructuring Plan 2015-2020 is in place (although details have not been made publicly available), focusing on human resource management; improvements to complaint handling, and an emphasis on improved delivery of policing services. In July 2017, the incumbent Inspector General of Police appeared at a legislative hearing to advocate for a ‘Police Trust Fund’ to secure the funds necessary to enact the reforms identified in the plan. Warning of the consequences of ‘sharply inadequate’ budget allocations, the Inspector General declared a shortfall between the $86 million allocated in the 2017 budget and the ‘conservatively estimated’ $3.1 billion required for an overhaul. Without commitment to increased funding, therefore, the prospect for further police reform appears remote.

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iv. Judicial Reform

The justice sector includes the courts, the legislature, national judicial institutions, Ministries of Justice, Bar Association, legal NGOs and all other institutions including broader traditional justice structures  (consisting of traditional rulers, religious scholars, family heads, emirates, customary and traditional courts, and religious and spiritual leaders). The key challenges facing the formal institutions in the justice sector include delays and backlogs, scarce resources, poor financial and personnel management, and an inability to respond to increasing crime and violence. Key constraints to the poor accessing justice include impunity (and a high prevalence of corruption. This has resulted in the entire justice system lacking legitimacy and  recourse to alternative means, such as traditional justice mechanisms, for fair redress. However, it should be noted that these structures themselves often do not respect human rights, especially those of women.

Justice reform activities began with the appointment of a Human Rights Investigation Commission in 1999 and grew to include the appointment of judges; a project aimed at the decongestion of prisons; the initiation of a national constitutional review process; reviews of legislation and policy frameworks; judicial training; institutional governance capacity building for federal institutions; efforts to improve access to justice for the poor and disadvantaged include improved service delivery at the formal and informal levels; ADR and conflict management; human rights awareness campaigns; and land reforms. More recently, the Criminal Justice Act of 2015, a law approved by the former president, Goodluck Jonathan, presented far-reaching judicial reforms.

Building on this, President Buhari, having appointed a new Attorney General, created the Federal Justice Sector Reform Coordinating Committee (FJSRCC) to oversee the implementation of the proposed reforms. The Committee’s Action Plan, released in 2017, outlined eight core objectives:

  1. Strengthen the coordination structures to make them more effective, credible and efficient
  2. Strengthen the Legal Drafting, Law Review Process and Implementation Processes
  3. Strengthen Public Engagement and Accountability Systems
  4. Strengthen (the ) Enabling Environment for Business and Economic Activities
  5. Facilitate enhancement of skill capacity and advocate a sector whole system of performance, improvement, monitoring and evaluation
  6. Reform the Criminal Justice Administration
  7. Reform the Civil Justice Administration
  8. Reform in Human Rights and the Rule of Law

Each of these objectives translates into a number of sub-activities, with the relevant implementing agencies, budget, timeline and performance indicators all identified. Although parts of this implementation strategy are left empty, the Action Plan nonetheless signifies a commitment to meaningful justice sector reform by the federal government.

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5. International support and coordination

Multilateral engagement has increased in recent years. The United Kingdom, the United States and the UNDP are the main actors supporting the security and justice development process in Nigeria. The Justice for All (J4A) Programme, supported by United Kingdom’s Department of International Development (DFID), ran from 2010 to 2017. J4A saw a wide range of justice-related developments, from the federal level through the creation of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-Corruption (PAC-AC) and National Prosecution Coordinating Council (NPCC), to the regional level with the establishment of networks of Sexual Assault Referral Centres, Police Station Family Support Units and Citizens’ Mediation Centres.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) works in partnership with Nigeria to strengthen government services and institutions. It focuses on law enforcement agencies with a strong emphasis on Community Policing to improve relationships between the Police and citizens. In an effort to enhance the transparency, governance, and effectiveness of the security sector, President Barack Obama launched the Security Governance Initiative at the 2014 US-Africa Leaders’ Summit. As a result of this initiative, a Joint Country Action Plan (JCAP) for Nigeria was launched in January 2018. JCAP is a bilateral support programme which aims to ensure a holistic approach to security sector reform through extensive consultation with government, civil society and international donors.

The UNDP’s work in Nigeria currently focuses on the North-East region, where the impact of the Boko Haram insurgency has been greatest. Programming includes a Norwegian-funded initiative to provide early response to conflict-affected communities and a de-radicalisation programme in partnership with various civil society organisations.

With regard to international military support, the United States has contracted Military Professional Resources International (MPRI), a private consultancy firm, to assist with the reform of the Nigerian military. The UK government also provides a British Military Advisory Training Team (BMATT) which is delivering a long term training package for the Nigerian army. In the wake of government losses to Boko Haram, both the United States and United Kingdom expanded their financial and material support to Nigeria’s armed forces.

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6.     Future Considerations

At the time of writing, the Buhari administration faces a combination of challenges similar to those of its predecessor. In many respects, identifying the areas in need of reform has not been the problem for recent administrations, but rather accumulating sufficient political capital and funding to enact reform. Indeed, tackling corruption at all levels of government, increasing the transparency and effectiveness of justice mechanisms, and enhancing the capacity of the Nigerian military to enable the defeat of Boko Haram are all clearly identified as being the goals of the current government, although recognition of the threat to security posed by the growing herder-farmer violence has been belated. The next Presidential elections, scheduled for 2019, should prove a litmus test to measure the current administration’s commitment to reform, and to assess the progress which has been made thus far.   

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7. List of Acronyms

ADR Alternative Dispute Resolution J4A Justice for All
BMATT British Military Advisory Training Team LGA Local Government Areas
CDS Chief of Defence Staff MPRI Military Professional Resources International
DFID Department for International Development UK NSRP Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Programme
DCAF Democratic Centre for the Control of Armed Forces NPRRP Nigerian Police Reform and Restructuring Plan
ECOWAS Economic Community of West African States NGO Non-Governmental Organisations
EU European Union NPF Nigerian Police Force
IGP Inspector-General of Police SSR Security Sector Reform
JTF Joint Task Force UNDP United Nations Development Project
JSRTs Justice Sector Reform Teams USAID United States Agency for International Development



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8.     Appendix 


President Tenure Reason for Leaving Office     Contribution to the security sector
Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe

1960-1966 (Governor-General of Nigeria)

1963-1966 (President)

Coup d’état On 16 November 1960, Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe became the Governor General of Nigeria, and became the first President of Nigeria with the proclamation of the republic in 1963. In both posts, Azikiwe's role was largely ceremonial. Azikiwe and his civilian colleagues were removed from power in the military coup of 15 January 1966 led by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu. Later, he joined the Nigerian People's Party in 1978, and made unsuccessful bids for the presidency in 1979 and again in 1983.
Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi 1966 (Major-General) Assassinated

During his short regime Aguiyi-Ironsi promulgated the Constitution Suspension and Amendment Decree No.1 – suspending most articles of the Constitution (sections of the constitution concerning fundamental human rights, freedom of expression and conscience were left intact), the Circulation of Newspaper Decree No.2 – removing the restrictions on press freedom put in place by the preceding civilian administration, the Decree No.44, and the Unification Decree No. 34 aiming to unify Nigeria into a unitary state.


Yakubu Gowon 1966-1975 (General) Deposed

Winning this civil war in 1970 was the high point of Gowon's regime. His attempt to enforce his 3R program of reconstruction, rehabilitation, and reconciliation across the country failed. While the idea was laudable, its implementation was challenging and thus most of Nigeria, regardless of the side they were on during the recent civil war, lost faith in Gowon and his administration. His promise to return Nigeria back to civil rule by 1976 was broken and the rapid growth of corruption in his administration further eroded the country's confidence in him.


Murtala Mohammed 1975-1976 (General) Assassinated

The new head of state, Brig. Gen. Murtala Ramat Mohammed, initiated many changes during his brief time in office: he began the process of moving the federal capital to Abuja, addressed the issue of government inefficiency, and, most important, initiated the process for a return to civilian rule. He was assassinated in February 1976 during an unsuccessful coup attempt, and his top aide, Lieut. Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, became head of the government.


Olusegun Obasanjo 1976-1979 (Major-General) Resigned

Obasanjo was appointed as head of state by the Supreme Military Council. Keeping the chain of command established by Murtala, Obasanjo pledged to continue the programme for the restoration of civilian government in 1979 and to carry forward the reform programme to improve the quality of public service. The second republican constitution, which was adopted in 1979, was modelled on the Constitution of the United States, with provision for a President, Senate, and House of Representatives. The country was prepared for local elections, to be followed by national elections, to return Nigeria to civilian rule.


Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari 1979-1983 Coup d’etat

Shagari won the 1979 election. The campaign had the support of many prominent politicians in the North and among southern minorities. Major goals of his administration were: Housing, Industries, Transportation and Agriculture, particularly early on during the oil boom. Despite some successes, these programs were heavily plagued by corruption. Shagari completed the Delta Steel complex in 1982. In transportation, he launched road networks across the country. He also initiated a program to foster the use of mechanical machinery in farming. After the fall in oil price that began in 1981, Shagari initiated an Economic Stabilization Program which key objectives were to limit import licenses, reduce government spending and raise custom duties. However, the result from the stabilization program was minimal.




1983-1985 (Major-General) Deposed

Buhari justified his coup and subsequent actions by citing the troubles of the Second Republic and the declining economy. The regime declared a “War Against Indiscipline” (WAI), which resulted in the arrest, detention, and jailing of a number of politicians, and when the WAI was extended to journalists and others not responsible for the social decay and economic problems, the government’s popularity began to wane.


Ibrahim Babangida 1985-1993 (General) Resigned

Gen. Ibrahim Babangida assumed power following a bloodless coup in August 1985. A transition program was announced in 1986 that was to terminate in 1990 (later extended to 1993), and the military controlled the process. The government created two political parties, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republican Convention (NRC), and produced their agendas for them; freely formed parties were not registered, and many politicians were banned from politics. The 1979 constitution was modified by a Constituent Assembly, and a series of elections were then held for local government councillors, state governors, and legislatures. Although Babangida voided presidential primary elections held in 1992, and all the candidates were banned from politics, a presidential election was slated for June 1993.


Ernest Shonekan 1993 (Interim president) Resigned

Shonekan was appointed as interim president of Nigeria by General Ibrahim Babangida on 26 August 1993. Shonekan's transitional administration only lasted three months, as a palace coup led by General Sani Abacha forcefully dismantled the remaining democratic institutions and brought the government back under military control on 17 November 1993. During his few months in power, Shonekan tried to create a new timetable for democratic return, while his government was hampered by a workers' strike. His administration introduced a bill to repeal three major draconian decrees of the military government.


Sani Abacha 1993-1998 Death

The Abacha administration became the first to record unprecedented economic achievements. But, Abacha's government was accused of human rights abuses, especially after the hanging of Ogoni activist Ken Saro-Wiwa by the Oputa Commission. His regime suffered opposition externally by pro-democracy activists. He however supported the Economic Community of West African States and sent Nigerian troops to Liberia and Sierra Leone to help restore democracy to those countries. During Abacha's regime, he and his family reportedly stole a total of £5 billion from the country's coffers, and in 2004, Abacha was listed as the fourth most corrupt leader in history.


Abdulsalami Abubakar 1998-1999 Transferred power

A few days after assuming office, Abubakar promised to hold elections within a year and transfer power to an elected president. He established the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) which held a series of elections first for Local Government Areas in December 1998, then for State Assemblies and Governors, National Assemblies and finally for the President on 27 February 1999. Abubakar transferred power to elected president Obasanjo on 29 May 1999. During his administration Nigeria adopted a new constitution May 5, 1999, which went into effect when Olusegun Obasanjo became president.


Olusegun Obasanjo 1999- 2007 End of term

In the 1999 elections, Obasanjo ran for the presidency as the candidate of the People's Democratic Party (PDP). Obasanjo succeeded in winning some Western support for strengthening Nigeria's nascent democracy. Obasanjo also won international praise for Nigeria's role in crucial regional peacekeeping missions in Sierra Leone and Liberia. In November 2003, Obasanjo was criticized for his decision to grant asylum to the deposed Liberian president, Charles Taylor. On June 12, 2006 he signed the Greentree Agreement with Cameroonian President Paul Biya which formally put an end to the Bakassi peninsula border dispute. Under Obasanjo the Nigeria's GDP growth rate doubled to 6 per cent until he left office, helped in part by higher oil prices.


Umaru Musa Yar'Adua 2007-2010 Death

After the election, Yar'Adua proposed a government of national unity. In late June 2007, two opposition parties, the ANPP and the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA), agreed to join Yar'Adua's government. On 28 June 2007, Yar'Adua publicly revealed his declaration of assets from May, a disclosure, which fulfilled a pre-election promise he made, was intended to set an example for other Nigerian politicians and discourage corruption. Yar'Adua also elaborated a so-called "Seven Point Agenda", but none of its goals have been achieved.


Goodluck Jonathan 2010-2015 Conceded elections

On 10 February 2010, during his first day as acting president, Jonathan announced a minor cabinet reshuffle. He also promised to continue implementing the Seven-point agenda policy framework of President Umaru Musa Yar’adua. His major initiatives were: the Roadmap for Power Sector Reform, the Youth Enterprise with Innovation in Nigeria (YOUWIN), cleaning up villages affected by a lead poisoning incident, the Transformation Agenda – based on a summary of how the Federal Government hopes to deliver projects, programmes, and key priority policies, from 2011 to 2015 coordinated by the National Planning Commission (NPC), and the review of the Nigeria's foreign policy to reflect a more "citizen-focused" approach.


Muhammadu Buhari 2015-   Buhari ran in the 2015 Presidential election as a candidate of the All Progressives Congress party. His platform was built around his image as a staunch anti-corruption fighter and his incorruptible and honest reputation.  In office, his government has been dominated by attempts to tackle state-wide corruption and the expansion of the military operation against Boko Haram. The next Presidential Election is scheduled for 2019.

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9. Footnotes

[1] Fayemi and Olonisakin, "Nigeria " in Challenges of Security Sector Governance in West Africa, DCAF Publication (2008). 

[2] Alao Abiodun, Working Paper: Security Reform in Democratic Nigeria, The Conflict, Security and Development Group, King’s College, London (2000).

[3] Chinedu Nwagu, “Towards 2015 Election: A security Assessment of the Nigerian Security Situation”  ASSN Quarterly, Newsletter of the African Security Network, July 2014.

[4] E. Remi Aiyede, “Parliament, Civil Society and Military Reform in Nigeria”, (2012). 

[5] The Police Service Commission is the civilian oversight body established under the Nigerian Constitution for the Nigeria Police Force. It has power to appoint, promote, discipline and dismiss all officers of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) except the Inspector-General of Police (IGP). It also aims to ensure that the relationship between the public and the police is one of trust and confidence instead of suspicion and indifference.  

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