Nigeria Table of Contents
In the 1980s, serious crime grew to nearly epidemic proportions, particularly in Lagos and other urbanized areas characterized by rapid growth and change, by stark economic inequality and deprivation, by social disorganization, and by inadequate government service and law enforcement capabilities. Published crime statistics were probably grossly understated, because most of the country was virtually unpoliced--the police were concentrated in urban areas where only about 25 percent of the population lived--and public distrust of the police contributed to underreporting of crimes.
Annual crime rates fluctuated around 200 per 100,000 population until the early l960s and then steadily increased to more than 300 per 100,000 by the mid-1970s. Available data from the 1980s indicated a continuing increase. Total reported crimes rose from almost 211,000 in 1981 to between 330,000 and 355,000 during 1984-85. Although serious crime usually constituted the larger category, minor crimes and offenses accounted for most of the increase. Crimes against property generally accounted for more than half the offenses, with thefts, burglary, and breaking and entering covering 80 to 90 percent in most years. Assaults constituted 70 to 75 percent of all offenses against persons. The British High Commission in Lagos cited more than 3,000 cases of forgeries annually.
In the late 1980s, the crime wave was exacerbated by worsening economic conditions and by the ineffectiveness, inefficiency, and corruption of police, military, and customs personnel who colluded and conspired with criminals or actually engaged in criminal conduct. In 1987 the minister of internal affairs dismissed the director and 23 other senior officials of the customs service and "retired" about 250 other customs officers for connivance in or toleration of smuggling. In October 1988, Babangida threatened to execute publicly any police or military personnel caught selling guns to criminals. Indeed, one criminologist argued that the combination of discriminatory law enforcement and official corruption served to manage rather than reduce crime, by selectively punishing petty offenders while failing to prosecute vigorously major criminals and those guilty of white collar crime.
The public response to official misconduct was to take matters into its own hands. In July 1987, butchers, traders, and unemployed persons in Minna vented their wrath over police harassment, intimidation, and extortion in a six-hour rampage against police and soldiers that was quelled by military units. In November 1989, when a police team raided suspect stores in Katsina market, the merchants feared it was a police robbery and sounded the alarm, attracting a mob that was then dispersed by riot police. As loss of confidence in law enforcement agencies and public insecurity increased, so also did public resort to vigilante action. Onitsha vigilantes killed several suspected criminals in 1979. In July 1989, after a gang of about thirty armed men terrorized and looted a neighborhood in Onitsha without police intervention, residents vented their rage on known and suspected criminals and lynched four before riot police eventually restored order.
Drug-related crime emerged as a major problem in the 1980s. At least 328 cocaine seizures were made between 1986 and 1989, and the number of hard drug convictions surged from 8 in 1986 to 149 in 1989, with women accounting for 27 percent of the 275 total convictions during this period. Drug-induced psychoses accounted for 15 percent of admissions to four psychiatric hospitals in l988. In a related development, the federal Ministry of Health reported in 1989 that about one-half of the drugs available in Nigeria were imitations, leading to a series of counterfeit and fake drugs decrees imposing increasingly higher penalties for violations.
Nigerians also participated heavily in international drug trafficking. One study found that 65 percent of the heroin seizures of 50 grams or more in British airports came from Nigeria, which was the transit point for 20 percent of all heroin from Southwest Asia. Another study disclosed that 20 percent of the hard drug cases in Britain involved ships of the Nigerian National Shipping Line. By the late 1980s, Nigerians were arrested almost daily in foreign countries, and hundreds languished in foreign jails for drug trafficking.
Data as of June 1991
Nigeria Table of Contents