Nigeria 2023: Police officers may ‘boycott’ election over unpaid salary arrears

By Ben Ezeamalu
Posted on Monday, 26 December 2022 18:53

Police officers stand by during a June 12 Democracy Day protest at the Gani Fawehinmi Park, in Ojota, Lagos, Nigeria June 12, 2021. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja

Aggrieved police officers across Nigeria are threatening to boycott the 2023 general elections over the federal government's failure to pay their salary arrears for six months.

Several officers who spoke to The Africa Report say the government has not paid the arrears, between January and June, for officers who had been promoted two years ago.

“When [Musiliu] Smith was Inspector General, this was how the matter started. Like play like play the police refused to go to work. They remained quietly in their houses and offices. There is a rumour ongoing now that such a thing will come up again,” a police officer tells The Africa Report.

President Muhammadu Buhari in December 2021 approved a 20% salary increase for the police officers, in response to one of the key demands of the #EndSARS protesters, to begin in January 2022.

The implementation, however, began in July.

Analysts worry that the failure of the government to address the situation immediately could escalate it to officers downing tools, two months ahed of the general elections.

Some people in the system are pocketing the money due to officers. The corruption in the system takes many dimensions.

“Apart from owing them arrears of salaries, some officers, after being promoted, continued to be paid salaries based on their previous rank for about six months,” says Okechukwu Nwanguma, the Executive Director, Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre.

“Some people in the system are pocketing the money due to officers. The corruption in the system takes many dimensions.”

Police strike

Police officers in Nigeria are not allowed to form or belong to a trade union, ostensibly to avoid collective bargaining and labour contract administration.

Section 11 of the country’s Trade Union Act prohibits the police and other law enforcement agencies from forming or joining a trade union.

“It shall be unlawful for persons employed in any of the establishments to which subsection (1) of this section relates to combine, organise themselves, or to be members of a trade union, for purposes of employment, but nothing in this section shall be construed as preventing the setting up of joint consultative committees in the establishments concerned,” the law states.

However, in 2002, junior police officers in most parts of the country embarked on a strike over unpaid back wages.

The Minister of Police Affairs at the time, Steven Akiga, said in a statement that the federal government did not regard the officers’ action “as a strike but mutiny”.

“In recognition of the fact that some policemen have abandoned their duty posts, all sensitive points will be manned by the military,” Akiga added.

Last March, the police rank and file also threatened to go on strike over poor working conditions. Nine officers were later dismissed for “planning, organising, and coordinating” the industrial action.

‘God will help us’

The latest decision by authorities to withhold the police officers’ salary arrears could breed another unrest within the law enforcement agents. While previous discontent had mostly affected junior officers, the current action touches both the senior and rank and file.

  • For instance, a police sergeant who had been promoted to an inspector was supposed to see his monthly pay bumped up by N80,000 ($179). Senior police officers saw a much higher addition to their wages.

An Assistant Commissioner of Police told The Africa Report that the federal government cannot claim ignorance of their complaints because their officials have police officers attached to them.

“This whole episode is a sad reminder of former President Babangida’s comments that the problem of the police is the police,” said the officer who preferred not to be named to avoid victimisation by police authorities.

“It’s my opinion, and strongly too, that the money has gone into the pockets of those who should insist on building a Police Force where integrity, justice and fair play.”

He added that an aggregate summation of the views of police officers he had interacted with showed a stoic belief that the money meant for their salary arrears has been misappropriated.

“The officers insist that they are forced to key into the draconian policy of non-disclosure because an open confrontation will destroy their careers and render them impotent in their responsibility to their families.

“I advocate the junior officers should bring the pressure on because as we approach the very critical period of elections, who knows? Everyone is angry because they believe that this can never happen in the military.”

The police spokesperson, Muyiwa Adejobi, did not respond to requests for comments. He did not answer his phone or respond to text messages.

The spokesperson for Nigeria’s Ministry of Police Affairs, Bolaji Kazeem, did not also respond to requests for comments.

A senior officer told The Africa Report that he would rather not talk about the matter so as not to jeopardise his imminent promotion to the rank of a deputy commissioner of police.

Another officer, an inspector, also declined to speak because his retirement is at hand.

“I have removed my mind from the money so I don’t get hypertension,” says the inspector. “It is God that will help us against the federal government. I’m just waiting for my retirement.”

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