RESEARCH | Politics of Security Sector Reform

Apart from reframing the centralized security structure, Nigeria’s security sector needs greater transparency and better oversight.

RESEARCH | Politics of Security Sector Reform: Violence and the Emergence of Regional Security Outfits in Nigeria

Onyekachi E. Nnabuihe | FAR-LeaF Fellow


A growing deterioration of the security situation in Nigeria is provoking debate about the subsisting federalized but ineffective policing structure. The general deterioration of security is also manifesting in the growth of regional outfits that have emerged to fill the security gap created by a weak and centralized security arrangement. While there is a plethora of literature discussing security governance in Nigeria—with an emphasis on reforms—emergent regional security outfits receive marginal attention. Relying on oral interviews with security experts, including personnel of Amotekun and Ebube Agu, datasets from Nigeria Watch, and relevant secondary sources, this article interrogates the interplay of insecurity, the imperative of security sector reforms (SSR), and suspicion generated by the emergence of vigilante and regional security outfits. The study concludes that Nigeria’s over-centralized security framework has created a vacuum in security provisioning, necessitating the emergence of alternative security outfits. The polemics surrounding the emergence of parallel security organizations underscores the need for SSR. It is nudging the country towards devolution of security functions to the subnational governments.


This article interrogated growing questions of insecurity in the midst of highly centralized security architecture and the emergence of ‘alternative’ regional security organisations Amotekun, Eastern Security Network, and Ebube Agu. Nigeria’s variant of federalism occasioned by long years of military dictatorship led to the concentration of security decision-making in central government. This continues to undermine Nigeria’s security architecture and triggers debates over the devolution of security powers between central government and component states. The politics of the country—predominantly centered on identity groups: communal, ethnic, religious and regional— reflects in its security decision making. This pattern of politics undermines effective security and further underscores the importance of security sector reform.

Furthermore, the birth of Amotekun, ESN and Ebube Agu is symbolic in the sense of nudging a reluctant Nigeria towards a return to the principle and practice of federalism as before the advent of military rule with its centralizing ethos. Instructively, the collaboration of affected state governors in the formation of Amotekun and Ebube Agu for joint protection is an indication of the frustrations the federating units have with the defective federal arrangement. They also call attention to the need for genuine and holistic constitutional review that will lead to a peoples’ constitution and a redefinition of the powers and responsibilities. The various partisan reactions and controversy generated by formation of regional security arrangements demonstrate the mistrust and tension between a central government intent on jealously guarding its sphere of constitutional influence and the state governments struggling to extract concessions on the one hand, and the antipathy and hostilities between rival ethnic formations in the country on the other hand. It also signposts the dearth of politics driven by a vision for collective security and nationbuilding. As Nwolise argued, “The achievements of Amotekun will not be measured by how many enemies of the people its operatives killed, but by how many of its people were prevented from being killed.”57 This overriding vision of collective security should drive the consideration of policy initiatives rather than conspiracy theories. Apart from reframing the centralized security structure, Nigeria’s security sector needs greater transparency and better oversight.

KEYWORDS: Nigeria, Security sector reform, suspicion, Amotekun, Ebube Agu

PUBLICATION DETAIL: African Studies Quarterly | Volume 21, Issue 4| July 2023


The Future Africa Research Leader Fellowship (FAR-LeaF) is a fellowship programme, focussed on developing transdisciplinary research and leadership skills, to address the complex, inter-linked challenges of health, well-being, and environmental risks in Africa.