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The Role of Nigeria Police in Ensuring Free and Fair Election ( a Case Study of Oyo State Governorship Election 2019)


The role of the police in the conduct of elections in Nigeria has received considerable attention in the literature. While the police have continued to be blamed for some infractions in the electoral process, little attention has been paid to the constitutional power of security agencies in the electoral cycle. This study examines the role of the police in the Oyo state governorship election 2019. Data were obtained from official publication, textbooks, journals and newspapers. It identifies the police as the lead internal security agency charged with the responsibility of enforcing laws and maintaining order for the proper functioning of the electoral process.

Keywords: Democracy, election administration, the electoral process, security, Nigeria Police Force


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The word ‘police’ came from the Greek word ‘polis’ meaning city and from the Latin word ‘political’ meaning civil administration. Merging the two words shows that the word ‘police’ refer to the civil administration of the city. However, conceptualizing police in this sense would misrepresent the objective of this paper in different ways. First, it could mean a police state, which is not the notion of this paper. Second, the word civil is a concept that has to do with people and government behaving politely devoid of any military or religion connotation. Adopting this concept would also constitute some other nuances not intended for this work because of some imperfections associated with it. For example, we have a civil administration as against military administration, or it may mean cities Police administration only. In this sense, rural areas are not included.

Despite the observed definitional quagmire, this paper benefited from the views expressed by writers such as Shaw (2002), Clarke(1997), Alemika (2011) and others. For instance, Shaw (2002) posits that the ABC of police stands for the protection of lives and property with the prevention of crime and disorder. Shaw (2002) asserts that the ABC of police stands for the protection of lives and property with the prevention of crime and disorder. Clarke (1997) expresses the view that the police are those expected to do the impossible and to do it efficiently within their resources. He stresses the enormous responsibilities of the police and their unlimited powers ranging from the right to know more information about people than the average person needs to know. Alemika (2011) sees the police as the mirror with which the public view the intention and direction of government. He advances the view that the enormous powers of police are tailored towards adequate enforcement of law and order to maintain and sustain public safety and orderly environment. He asserts that a country is useful when the police system is active and commands public confidence. In this manner, the police serve as a lens through which the direction of the government can be assessed.

From the preceding, the police exist for the maintenance of law and order in the society. In this context, the police have shared responsibility with the three principal organs of government. With the judiciary, the police exist for effective criminal justice administration, with legislature he police exist to ensure that the laws and regulations enacted are adequately enforced, and finally, the police are part of the executive arm of government in providing good governance through the provision of public peace and order. As custodian of laws and regulations, the police are meant to ensure the proper order of the society by making sure that everyone obeys the law of the land without prejudice.

There is no gainsaying that the establishment of the Nigeria police force was premised on the needs to promote internal security and socio-political order. It was in this sense that Abba (2014) alludes that the responsibility of modern police transcends the traditional roles of arresting, investigating, and prosecuting offenders to guaranteeing an enabling environment for economic development.

Before the commencement of colonial rule in Nigeria, various ethnic nationalities had different policing arrangements for the maintenance of law and order (Innocent, 1997). The modern-day Nigeria Police Force, however, is of British pedigree. Its history is rooted in the British colonial adventure in the area that constitutes modern Nigeria. Many writers traced the origin of the Nigeria police to the Colonial Constabulary forces established in different West African territories by the British colonial powers as an instrument of pursuing and protecting its commercial interests(Tamuno,1970, Innocent, 1997, Omotola, 2007, Aper,2018). Hence, the Northern Constabulary created in 1888 at Lokoja, the Royal Niger Coast Constabulary formed in 1894 at Calabar, and another colonial Police outfit established in 1896 at Ikeja in addition to the Lagos Colony created in 1861 were all the offshoot of the colonial Constabulary. Major political and administrative developments that took place in the colonial era affected the growth of the Colonial Police. For instance, the emergence of the Southern and Northern Protectorates in early 1900 led to the carving out of some parts of the Royal Niger Constabulary to create the Northern Nigeria Police Force, while some other parts of the Niger Coast Constabulary were carved out to form the Southern Nigeria Police force. (Alemika,2005). Although the Southern and Northern Protectorates were amalgamated in 1914 to form present Nigeria as it were, the establishment of the national Police force took place on 31st April 1930. It should be noted that the colonial overlords established the colonial Police in Nigeria as an instrument of securing and protecting their interest in the area. However, it must be said that it was the era of the first indigenous Inspector General of Police in the person of Louis Okon Edet from 1964-1966 that efforts to indigenize the Nigeria police force were initiated.

This brief history of the Nigeria Police Force aptly shows that as at independence on 1st October 1960, the role of the post-colonial Nigeria Police Force was to ensure safety conditions necessary for internal sovereignty to thrive. Apart from the protective function of people and property through active maintenance of security, peace, and order, the post-colonial Nigeria Police Force is meant to prevent and detect crime, apprehend and prosecute offenders, enforce laws and regulations as well as preserve laws and order in the Nigerian State.

Writers such as Omotola (2007), Oyadiran & Olorungbemi, 2015), Mgba (2017). Afolabi (2018) among others who have examined the role of the Nigeria Police in the electoral process have not painted the police in good form instead they have continued to decry their ineffectiveness. The police have been adjudged to be ineffective, and part of the explanations includes the issues of political influence and corruption which made the members of the Nigeria Police force to be partisan in their electoral responsibilities and functional incapacity to prevent electoral crime. In some cases, the police have been described as the main problem of election security rather than being the solution. (CLEEN, 2010). While some of these issues have received considerable attention in the literature, the argument presented in this study among other things is that though extant electoral laws and guidelines assigned the task of security or policing the electoral process to the police, these legal instruments equally contain provisions that limit the effectiveness of the police. Succinctly put, the Electoral Act of 2015 assigns the issue of security to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), a development that has been undermining the professional conduct of the police in the electoral process.

2.2 Elections in Africa

Elections in Africa in the 21st century, from all indications, seem to have a resilience that is here to stay. Even those countries, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, that have been autocratic or in turmoil, view elections as the threshold to cross in order to legitimize their governments, embark on different policies, and prevent public unrest.

General elections in Africa in 2008, for example, depicted the wide incidence of elections and included: indirect presidential elections held in Mauritius, Rwandan parliamentary elections held from 15 to 18 September 2008, parliamentary elections in Swaziland in October 2008, and Ghana’s presidential and parliamentary elections held on December 7, 2008. In addition, parliamentary elections were held in Angola on 5 and 6 September, 2008 after a ten year postponement due to organizational and logistical problems, and in Guinea-Bissau on 16 November, 2008 (Africa Press Agency, 26 March, 2008). Parliamentary elections were held in Djibouti and Equatorial Guinea on 8 February, 2008 and 4 May, 2008 respectively. In all, by the end of 2008, major elections had been held in at least 10 African countries counting Ivorian presidential elections held on 30 November, 2008 and Guinean legislative elections held in the latter part of 2008, of these, Ivorian and Guinean leaders made clear their dependence on government and international funding for the elections. The number of elections held matter, as it shows the recognition of democratic and non-democratic leaders alike of the legitimacy elections confer, although the quality of these elections would ultimately play a role in advancing democracy in African countries or reversing it.


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