Nigeria’s House of Representatives resolved last Wednesday to investigate claims earlier in the month by Nigeria’s inspector-general of police, Solomon Arase, that 90,000 police officers have been “lost” to the Boko Haram insurgency since 2011.

Inspector general of Police, Solomon Arase

“Based on the figure I have in my disposal, we have 90,000 widows. So invariably, that can be translated to mean that we have lost about 90,000 officers and men since the commencement of the insurgency four years ago,” the inspector-general reportedly told police officers in Sokoto on 11 November.

The claim was widely repeated and shocked politicians and commentators. “For us to lose that number of policemen is a monumental loss and very unfortunate,” Nasir Ahmed, an All Progressives Congress (APC) representative for Katsina, was quoted saying in the House last week. Ali Patigi, APC representative for Kwara, added: “I will urge that this matter to be thoroughly investigated because losing 90,000 policemen is no mean misfortune for a society.”

So is the inspector-general right? Could the Nigerian police really have lost so many men in such a short time? (Even setting aside the fact that the inspector-general is wrong about the time-frame – Boko Haram began its violent insurgency in 2009, and not 2011 as Arase said.)

How did he arrive at the figure?

From what Arase said, the inspector-general of police made seems like a very simple deduction. Because there are “90,000 widows” of police officers, it stands “invariably” that 90,000 officers have been lost in the past four years of insurgency, he said.

The first problem with this claim is that we do not know the source of the data for the number of widows, nor when nor why they were widowed.

It is also unclear whether these were women widowed in the past four years. And it is not known whether the widows include those whose husbands died of natural causes or in the line of regular duties.

Africa Check sought clarification from the inspector-general’s office of the figures but met a brick wall. Multiple phone calls, text messages and e-mails to the police spokesman, assistant commissioner of police Olabisi Kolawole, went unanswered. (Note: We will update this report if we get a reply.)

What do we know of overall deaths during the insurgency?

In October last year, Africa Check investigated the claim of then President Goodluck Jonathan that around 13,000 people had been killed in the insurgency between 2009 and 2014 and found the claim to be broadly correct.

Since then more people have been killed, of course. According to Amnesty International, a total of 17,000 people have been killed across north-east Nigeria since the Boko Haram insurgency began in 2009.

The Nigeria Social Violence Dataset, run by the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, shows that 33,619 Nigerians were killed in more than 2,300 incidents during ethnic, religious, political, and economic violence across Nigeria between 1998 and the end of 2014. Between the first quarter of 2009 and the last quarter of 2014, 23,888 deaths were attributed to Boko Haram, communal clashes, Fulani herdsmen invasion, and other forms of violence across the six geo-political zones of the country.

All these estimates fall a long way short of the total advanced by the inspector-general for the deaths among the police alone.

What do we know about deaths among the police?

The first thing we know is that from the start of the insurgency in 2009, there have been many cases of militants attacking police stations, particularly in the north east region. One of the first Boko Haram attacks to be widely reported was on a police station in 2009 and since then the attacks against police stations and police personnel have been frequent.

Unfortunately, none of the non-governmental organisations in Nigeria whose activities focus on the police, keeps records of the number of police officers killed since the insurgency started.

But Chino Obiagwu of the Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP) told Africa Check: “I don’t know where [Arase] got the figures [from]. Not even the military claims to have suffered 90,000 casualties.”

And Joseph Otteh of Access to Justice said: “I hesitate on that figure because the police have not been at the forefront of the fight against the insurgency.”

How many police officers does Nigeria have?

Another way to look at the question is how many police officers Nigeria has, and whether it is plausible that 90,000 could have been lost in the past four years.

In 2012, Caleb Olubolade, then Minister of Police Affairs, put the number of police officers in the country at 370,000. According to AFP correspondent Ola Awoniyi, Arase told the House of Representatives’ Committee on Police Affairs on 24 November that the total stood at 323,000 in October, many of whom were support staff.

He said the total comprised of: “Police officers – 305,588; Traffic wardens – 6,541; Civilian supportive staff – 10,876.” If 90,000 police officers were to have been killed, this would amount to almost one in three of the active force.

Conclusion: The inspector-general’s claim about police deaths is wrong

Addressing the United Nations Assembly in September 2014, Nigeria’s then president told the world that around 13,000 people had been killed in the Boko Haram insurgency between 2009 and 2014. Africa Check investigated and found the claim to be broadly correct.

Since then many more people have died. Amnesty International puts the total number of people killed across north-east Nigeria between the start of the insurgency in 2009 and June 2015 at around 17,000.

According to the Nigeria Social Violence Dataset, run by the Johns Hopkins University, 23,888 deaths could be attributed to Boko Haram between 2009 and 2014, but also to communal clashes, Fulani herdsmen invasion, and other forms of violence across the country.

All of these figures – which include soldiers and civilians as well as the police – fall significantly short of the total advanced by the inspector-general. On the basis of the best available evidence, his claim that 90,000 officers had been killed is wrong.

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