This film is held by the BFI (ID: 453860).


The passing out parade of the first Nigerian women's police. Also shows the policewomen on duty.

The commentator introduces 'this historic parade at the Southern Police ground' from 26 April 1956. The film shows the women marching at Ikeja, while crowds of African and Europeans watch. The uniformed women are shown in close-up, before R.J.P. McLaughlan, Inspector General of the Police, reviews the parade (his last in his present role). The commentator notes that the women are unarmed, but adds that 'whether on parade or off, they are more than capable of holding their own with the men'. Further shots of the crowd follow ¿ the large crowd 'reflected the keenness of the interest which the people of Nigeria have in their women Police' ¿ after which the best male and female recruits are called forward. The male recruit is awarded a baton ¿ 'symbolic weapon to be cherished' ¿ while the woman receives 'a morocco leather case bearing the Police badge in silver'. The women lead the parade off, before the film cuts to scenes of the women police in action. First, a policewoman attends to a small (staged) cycling accident. Next, a policewoman stops traffic and helps schoolchildren across the road. The commentator concludes that 'there can be no doubt in anyone's mind, that the women's section will be a credit to the Nigeria Police'.



The Colonial Office’s annual report for Nigeria in 1955 explained that ‘approval was obtained during the year for the employment of Women Police’. There was an initial intake of twenty women, who embarked on a six-month recruits’ training course at the Southern Police College, after which they were posted to Lagos (Annual Report, 1955, 134). Nigeria’s First Women Police depicts the passing out parade of this initial intake.

Nigerian female leaders of the Women’s Party had proposed in December 1944 to British Police Commissioner King that women be employed as police constables ‘because they would be better able to prevent prostitution and to deal with female criminals’. King replied that ‘I find it quite impossible to visualise women police in action in Lagos’, arguing that the women would be unable to cope with ‘the screaming and swearing prostitutes… and the rest of the unsavoury fraternity’. A further oft-repeated argument, outlined by King, was that the people of Northern Nigeria would not accept female officers ‘because of the status of women there’ (Igbonovia, 1987, 31-32). While this correspondence illustrates the inherent discrimination and opposition to the introduction of policewomen within Africa, it also indicates, as Nina Mba argued, the collective efforts of women to improve their position and acquire rights within colonial Nigeria. Indeed, Mba argued that the establishment of women police in Nigeria came only ‘after persistent efforts by women’s organisations’ (Mba, 1982, 65).

The training programme for women recruits varied slightly from that for their male counterparts, as ‘in place of instructions in musketry, arms and riot drill, the woman studies social welfare’ (Annual Report, 1957, 157). This gender-specific distinction extended to the duties performed once qualified. Cyprian O. Okonkwo, writing in 1965, explained that ‘policewomen can be seen in large towns assisting in directing traffic, working in juvenile welfare centres, and assisting schoolchildren to cross busy roads’ (Okonkwo, 1966, 3). In the Gold Coast, a female force had been established in 1952, primarily to deal with female and juvenile offenders, and historians have noted the continued deployment of policewomen within these areas. For example, Mangai Natarajan recently argued that ‘police administrators in Africa believe that women cannot handle regular patrol duties and so they are used in service-orientated functions relating to women and children’ (Natarajan, 2008, 36).

Nigeria’s First Women Police was produced by the Federal Information Service Film Unit – formerly the Nigerian Film Unit – using both European and African crew members. Although its specific distribution is unknown, these Federal film productions were widely shown throughout the country. For example, Brian Larkin has illustrated the activities of Majigi – mobile film units – within Northern Nigeria, where programmes would include ‘films made in the Northern Region for a Hausa audience, others aimed at all of Nigeria, and films made in London for an imperial audience’ (Larkin, 2008, 87). Larkin noted the popularity of these programmes, stating that 30,000 people attended performances in Kano City during September 1957, while outside of the city there were, on average, 60,000 viewers a month. Furthermore, the Police also arranged film shows. In Lagos, these were accompanied by lectures from members of the Federal Information Service and British Council, while fortnightly films were also shown at the Refresher Course School at Kaduna, through the Northern Region Information Services (Police Report, 1955, 54).



Nigeria’s First Women Police serves as a historical record of the introduction of policewomen in Nigeria. In its representation of this event, the film ostensibly demonstrates the gender equality now within the force, and more broadly within Nigeria, but its emphasis on the female recruits, also indicates the continued distinctions along gender lines. As a celebration of the work of the modern police, the film serves, in part, to legitimise both the police force and the colonial rule it served to protect.

Throughout the film, the commentator emphasises the common ground between the male and female recruits. The men and women ‘take the same examination’ and ‘when it came to their turn to pass the saluting base it was obvious whether on parade or off, they [women] are more than capable of holding their own with the men’. He stresses the increased opportunities and rights now offered for women – indicating the perceived social advancements within colonial Nigeria – but he also notes differences between the male and female recruits. ‘They receive identical training’, he states, ‘except that the women, who patrol unarmed, don’t learn the weapon drill’. At the presentation ceremony, the male recruit receives a baton – ‘a symbolic weapon’ – while the woman receives ‘a morocco leather case’. The final sequence most clearly illustrates this continuing gender division. As the policewomen attend to a ‘small’ cycling accident and then help schoolchildren across the road, the commentator explains that the women give ‘services of humanity and authority to all who need them’. ‘Policewomen will’, he adds, ‘carry out every task assigned to them with smiling efficiency, bringing a human touch to their many and varied duties’. In contrast to the violent and physical duties performed by the male recruits, the women provide ‘smiling efficiency’, ‘a human touch’ and ‘humanity’.

The film thus clearly reveals the gender-specific roles allotted to the female recruits, and ultimately, in its emphasis on the female recruits – indicated in the title – within a mixed passing out ceremony, divides the force along gender lines. The camera reveals the women literally on display, watched by large crowds; this was the ‘biggest crowd ever to attend such a ceremony and no wonder, for the first time women were taking part’. However, while the commentator claims that this large crowd ‘reflected the keenness of the interest which the people of Nigeria have in their women police’, it may equally indicate the curiosity of the public towards this unusual event.

Nigeria’s First Women Police endorses a message of colonial development and authority. It shows the social development of the African men and women, with particular emphasis on the training and ‘smartness’ of the recruits, and clearly advocates British authority within Nigeria as it notes the ‘element of sadness’ in the parade, as the retiring Inspector General of the Police completes his ‘great service to the Police’. Furthermore, the film claims that this Police force is ‘well loved and well respected throughout Nigeria’. The Police were noted for their activities in enforcing colonial rule and in blocking oppositional groups during the 1950s. Historian Etannibi Alemika wrote of the ‘colonial legacy of repressive policing in the society to sustain governability in the face of widespread opposition and legitimation deficits’ and, to an extent, this film serves to endorse and legitimise the Police as an organised national authority (Alemika, 1993, 187). The film was produced by the Federal Information Services Film Unit, which despite the presence of trained local crew, still evidently served to strengthen the work and authority of the colonial government within Nigeria.

Tom Rice (March 2009)


Works Cited

Alemika, Etannibi E. O., ‘Colonialism, State and Policing in Nigeria’, Crime, Law and Social Change, 20:3, October 1993.

Annual Report of the Nigerian Police Force for 1955 (Lagos: Federal Government Printer, 1955).

Colonial Office, Annual Report on the Colonies. Nigeria, 1955 (London: H.M.S.O., 1955).

Colonial Office, Annual Report on the Colonies. Nigeria, 1957 (London: H.M.S.O., 1957).

Igbinovia, Patrick Edobar, ‘African Women in Contemporary Law Enforcement’, Police Studies, 10:1, Spring 1987.

Larkin, Brian, Signal and Noise: Media, Infrastructure, and Urban Culture in Nigeria (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2008).

Mba, Nina Emma, Nigerian Women Mobilized: Women's Political Activity in Southern Nigeria, 1900-1965 (Berkeley: University of California, 1982).

Natarajan, Mangai, Women Police in a Changing Society: Back Door to Equality (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2008).

Okonkwo, Cyprian O., The Police and the Public In Nigeria (London: Sweet and Maxwell, 1966).




Technical Data

Film Gauge (Format):
16mm Film
175 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
LAWS, Geoff
LAGDEN, James F.
Production Company
Federal Information Service Film Production Unit





Production Organisations