In the volatile environment of policing in Nigeria, Chief Superintendent Ibrahim Yidi and his officers in the country’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission are taking a new tack. They’re slowly shedding what he calls their “superiority syndrome” and treating citizens and suspects alike with dignity, respect and professionalism. And he’s working to strengthen processes like police recruitment. Yidi undertook the initiatives as a result of a USIP course that takes a unique approach to rule of law reform, a methodology outlined in a guide just published in three languages.


The five-day course, called “Toward a Rule of Law Culture: Exploring Effective Responses to Justice and Security Challenges,” is designed for criminal justice authorities, including senior judges, prosecutors, police officers and prison officials, as well as for defense lawyers, members of oversight bodies and other civil society representatives. Yidi was among almost 70 mid-and senior-level officials and civic activists from 17 countries across the Middle East and Africa who took one of the four pilot courses in the past year at the newly established International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law in Malta. 

"Creating a strong rule of law takes time, because changing deeply rooted attitudes and behavior takes time." – Leanne McKay, USIP senior program officer

The resource guide, published in English, Arabic and French, can be used for a variety of individuals and groups and articulates an approach to promoting rule of law that can be applied in various justice and security initiatives. The rule of law culture course reaches deeper than the typical topics covered in rule of law training for transitioning countries, which most often focus on technical reforms, law enforcement tactics, revisions of rules and regulations or organizational overhauls. Instead, participants explore the roots of crime and violent conflict, including extremism, and “holistic, adaptive, systematic and people-centric” solutions, according to USIP Senior Program Officer Leanne McKay, who developed the course, taught the pilots with colleagues, and authored the accompanying guide. 

The course is multidisciplinary and participatory, with a balance of theory and practice conveyed through case studies, games, videos, role playing and other techniques. Trainers use guided questions to encourage an exchange of knowledge among the participants rather than a one-way conveyor belt feeding them information. Participants learn from each other’s experiences and, by the end of the course, develop an action plan to accomplish some type of change in their own institutions when they return home.

“This training bridged the gap between theory and practice,” one participant said, according to an independent evaluation of the program. “A lot of times this bridge does not exist in trainings.”

Feedback from Citizens and Suspects

Yidi saw the effect of his action plan in feedback from citizens and suspects. He said they told him, “We didn't know police could behave like this – if they all did, we would not have problems like this in Nigeria.”

“My officers realized that acting with integrity and professionalism doesn't stop them from doing their work,” Yidi said in a follow-up interview for the evaluation. 

Yidi had persuaded his supervisor to let him conduct a pilot that would emphasize integrity and professionalism in policing. He began giving monthly lectures for his staff on behavior with the public and with suspects and how abuse of authority and, conversely, respect impacts the effectiveness of their work. He asks suspects how they are being treated and if he hears reports of abuse, he talks to the offending officer. “They feel ashamed,” he says of the officers.

Many police officers “have a superiority syndrome,” he said. “It takes time to change the mindsets.”

A culture that supports rule of law requires the equal involvement of state and society, McKay says. The approach also must factor in what she refers to as “the 3Ps” – people, power and politics. Yidi applied that approach, in part by focusing on the 'people' component of the 3Ps as he mentored and supported his officers based on their needs and those of the public, she said. 

"Creating a strong rule of law takes time, because changing deeply rooted attitudes and behavior takes time," she said in the guide.

Introducing New Ideas

A course participant from Lebanon used techniques he learned to improve his design of an independent and specialized judicial inspection service, and the new body’s recommendations are starting to filter into the system. An official from Tunisia is piloting a communications strategy to bridge differences between local security forces and their publics.

“The course enhanced participants’ knowledge, changed individual perceptions, and encouraged individual efforts to promote a [rule of law] culture,” according to the evaluation. “For some, the course introduced new ideas and tools, provided fresh perspectives, and reinforced existing knowledge. For others, it was a genuinely transformative experience leading to changes in mind-sets and shifts in consciousness, which led to tangible actions and changes in their everyday work.”

Still, the degree to which learning from the course could be applied once participants returned home depended on factors such as the extent to which they truly absorbed the fundamental messages, their authority within their institutions and communities and the broader political and systemic conditions, the evaluation found.

Among the most valuable elements of the course was the opportunity to compare experiences with others from different countries and sectors.

“We start thinking…can I use their method to change and develop my system?,” one participant said. “Is it suitable for my context?” Other participants opined that it was “an eye-opener because the course provided a worldview and challenged me to do more than what I am already doing.”

Participants said the role playing in the course helped them better understand varying perspectives.

One official who took the course commented, “I realized that in Nigeria we just implement laws without understanding the people.”

Viola Gienger is a senior editor and writer at USIP.


Related Publications

On Ukraine, Africa Needs a Clearer U.S. Message

On Ukraine, Africa Needs a Clearer U.S. Message

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

By: Heather Ashby, Ph.D.;  Joseph Sany, Ph.D.

As democracies rally to defend an international rules-based system against Russia’s brutal attack on Ukrainians, the United States should forge an alliance with African partners by committing with them now to resolve the Ukraine crisis in a way that makes that system fairer and more inclusive. One early step is for U.S. and other policymakers to highlight the core of this conflict: The 44 million Ukrainians are fighting to govern themselves freely within their internationally recognized borders — a cause that is viscerally real to billions of people across Africa and the “global south.”

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Global Policy

Africa’s Key to Peace and Stability? A ‘Mighty Private Sector,’ Elumelu Says

Africa’s Key to Peace and Stability? A ‘Mighty Private Sector,’ Elumelu Says

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

By: Fred Strasser

Tony Elumelu, one of Africa’s leading investors and philanthropists, recently brought his message to USIP: For Africa, a strong private sector, spurred by entrepreneurs, is critical to advancing peace, stability and development. While promoting business formation is no substitute for strengthening Africa’s weak infrastructure, governance and institutions, neither are challenging business conditions a reason to delay unleashing the entrepreneurial energies of African youth, Elumelu said.

Type: Analysis and Commentary


How Saving Rhinos Can Cut Poverty—and Even Terrorists’ Funds

How Saving Rhinos Can Cut Poverty—and Even Terrorists’ Funds

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

By: Fred Strasser

By 2030 African black rhinos and elephants could face extinction as poachers and other criminals, including violent extremist groups, sell rhino horns and ivory to largely Asian markets. The trade in protected wildlife, worth an estimated $7 to $10 billion annually, not only endangers these species, it destabilizes communities and impedes sustainable economic development.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

EnvironmentViolent ExtremismEconomics

The Risks of China’s $4 Trillion 'Belt-and-Road' Plan

The Risks of China’s $4 Trillion 'Belt-and-Road' Plan

Friday, May 12, 2017

By: Jennifer Staats, Ph.D.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is gathering 29 heads of state and officials from more than 110 countries in Beijing starting May 14 for the first summit of his high-stakes Belt and Road Initiative. The $4 trillion plan offers the promise of economic growth, stability and increased connectivity for countries around the world. But it also faces—and creates—a host of complications for China and the other countries involved.

Type: Blog


View All Publications