Using the lie detector test to curb corruption in the Nigerian police force
16 Jul 2018

For most people looking to land a job in the Nigerian Police Force, the chances are high that a polygraph exam lies ahead for them.

The Nigeria Police Force (NPF) has announced that successful candidates in the ongoing recruitment into the service will undergo compulsory polygraph tests (lie detector tests) to ensure they are not of questionable character.

The test would be in addition to the general background check, biometrics, medical and physical examination, aptitude, oral and psychological tests; no candidate would be admitted for training at the Police Academy and colleges without undergoing these prescribed tests.

The polygraph is an instrument which measures and records certain physiological data of a subject under controlled conditions in an attempt to detect deception.

It operates on the theory that an individual exhibits certain predictable physiological characteristics every time that they intentionally tell a lie.

While some critics question the reliability and validity of polygraph test results, the use of the polygraph in the workplace reveals that it has gained acceptance by a sizable segment of American business as an effective tool in personnel matters.

This article seeks to determine if the lie detector test is capable of curbing corruption in the NPF.

Polygraph background

The polygraph was developed by John Larson, a police officer and medical student in Berkley, California, and has been in use now for nearly 100 years.

Larson believed that when people lied, they would experience slight, involuntary physiological changes.

If he could detect and record those changes, he could catch the lie.

The instrument measures multiple vital signs to indicate whether or not someone is being deceptive.

The polygraph examiner looks for changes in blood pressure, heart rate and respiration to identify deception.

Possible challenges

The polygraph machine needs a professional operator to operate the machine.

In the hands of a very, very professional operator – it has a very high rate of accuracy in determining the physiological reactions to a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ question.

But in the hands of an unprofessional operator, it has a very high rate of inaccuracy.

The reason is clear enough; the polygraph is not an instrument to detect lies or to affirm truth.

It’s a diagnostic tool that measures certain physiological reactions.

There will be need for an operator to interpret the physiological reactions.

There have been reports that the NPF intends to equip the Police Academy and other training colleges across the country to conduct the lie detector tests.

While this is a welcome development it remains to be seen how the NPF intends to train the Police Academy with the limited resources at its disposal.

According to the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, the police requires one trillion one hundred and thirty billion naira annually, “only two hundred and eleven billion naira was allocated in the 2017 budget.”

This is a huge disparity, but it has been the noxious trend.

What is most worrisome, he says, is that though the budgetary allocations on paper are insufficient to meet the financial needs of the Force, the actual releases are far below what is budgeted.

A lack of sufficient training may render a polygraphist’s test results worthless.

A corrupt examiner?

Because of the subjective nature of determining truthfulness through a polygraph examination, the integrity of the examiner is uniformly recognized by authorities in the field as the most important factor in procuring accurate test results.

Thus, a corrupt examiner may render the whole process worthless.

The NPF intends to use officers who are already serving in the police force to carry out the polygraph exercise.

It is unlikely that these officers had already taken the polygraph test before they were recruited as police officers since the polygraph test was introduced into the system in 2016.

It is also possible that a comprehensive review of departmental staff may not have been carried out over a period of time.

Where weak Know Your Employee (KYE) and internal control measures abound, corporate losses due to corruption and money laundering increase.

Let us take for example, a police officer has been selected as an examiner for the polygraph test, and the person who is seeking to take the test approaches the examiner before the test with a huge sum of money.

If the examiner goes ahead to accept the money, he or she may just interpret the charts from the polygraph results wrongly.

It is possible that no-one will be able to detect foul play since the examination is going to be conducted by in-house staff.

The above scenario could happen — a 2017 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) revealed that the highest prevalence of bribery in Nigeria, at 46.4 per cent, is in relation to police officers.

The threat of corrupt sales agents

The NPF will need to purchase a large number of Polygraph Machines in order for its new anti-corruption policy to come into effect and this may mean hiring the services of a sales agent.

Where the said transaction is done in partnership with a corrupt sales agent, such agreement may negatively impact on the anti-corruption policy of the NPF.

A corrupt sales agent may decide to conspire with some corrupt members of the police force to defraud the police unit by purchasing sub-standard machines and falsifying receipts.

The sub-standard machines may stop functioning after a month or two.

No polygraph tests for current employees

The NPF has said that it will subject successful candidates in the ongoing recruitment exercise to polygraph tests.

This was made known in a statement by the force spokesman, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Don Awunah.

What this means is that the polygraph test is only required for prospective candidates and not police officers who are already working in the police force.

While the above measure may curb corruption in the police force for new recruits, it may not curb corruption among current employees.

A 2016 report by the International Police Science Association, IPSA, and the Institute for Economics and Peace rated the NPF the “worst” globally in terms of its ability to handle internal security challenges.

It will be nearly impossible for the polygraph test policy to solve the above stated problem the reason being that the problem was caused by employees who have been working in the police force long before 2016.


In view of the above, this paper makes the following recommendations:

I.The Nigeria Police Reform Trust Fund bill should be given accelerated consideration in the Senate and House of Representatives based on its urgency and significance for the lie detector test Policy of the NPF. There is need for the Nigerian police to have enough funds to conduct trainings for police personnel who are chosen as examiners for the lie detector tests.

II.The NPF is advised to make use of two examiners for the lie detector test; one in-house examiner and one external examiner. The external examiner may be from another country where corruption is not at a high rate, and must be someone of high integrity and professional competence. This measure may reduce the risk of bribery and corruption in the system. It will also bring more integrity and transparency into the system. The external examiner may also carry out “on the job training” with the in-house examiner while the polygraph exercise is going on.

III.The NPF must make a new policy that mandates that all transactions relating to the purchase of polygraph machines must be conducted in an open and fair manner that recognizes the need for the transaction to be done directly with the seller, and not through a sales agent. This policy may help prevent a situation where a corrupt sales agent connives with a corrupt police officer to defraud the police unit.

IV.An on-going approach to screening should be considered for specific positions, as circumstances change, or for a comprehensive review of departmental staff over a period of time. The NPF should have a policy that mandates that the lie detector test should be taken once in five years by all staff of the NPF. For staff in very sensitive positions, the lie-detector test should be taken every three years. This will enable the lie detector policy to be more effective.

About the author: Ehi Eric Esoimeme is the Deputy Editor-in-Chief of DSC Publications and also a contributor at KYC360. His published work includes two books: ‘The Risk-based Approach to Combating Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing’ and ‘Deterring and Detecting Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing: A Comparative Analysis of Anti–Money Laundering and Counter-terrorism Financing Strategies.’

For more information on Ehi’s books, visit here. His articles can be downloaded here.

You can claim CPD minutes for this content, by signing up to our CPD Wallet