We Cannot Police Our Way Out of Every Social Problem: A Dialogue with Temitope Oriola



Temitope Oriola is professor of Criminology and Sociology at the University of Alberta (UA). He is also the joint Editor-in-Chief of African Security and a member of the Board of Directors at the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences. Recently appointed as Associate Dean of the Faculty of Arts (UA), he was also a recipient of the Governor-General of Canada Academic Gold Medal.

Oriola has written and published extensively with his repertoire including the following: Criminal Resistance? The Politics of Kidnapping Oil Workers, a book-length sociological investigation of political kidnapping in the English language. Oriola’s research focuses on policing & use of force by police, terrorism studies, and resource-related conflict (involving tactics like political kidnappings).

Publications from his research appear in leading scholarly journals, such as Sociology, The British Journal of Criminology, African Affairs, Critical Studies on Terrorism, African Security, Third World Quarterly, Review of African Political Economy, and Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, among others.  

Oriola regularly contributes to public scholarship through keynote addresses, op-eds, media interviews and expert opinions. A decorated researcher and teacher, Oriola is a two-time Carnegie Fellow, the 2020 recipient of the Kathleen W. Klawe Prize for teaching excellence and 2022 Research Excellence Award recipient in the Faculty of Arts, University of Alberta. He previously served as special adviser on Police Act Review to the Government of Alberta, Canada.

Emmanuel Nwaneri


This conversation took place between Winnipeg, Manitoba in an apartment block, on a Sunday afternoon as Fall was announcing itself in the yellowing leaves outside, and Edmonton, capital of Alberta, the interviewee’s domicile, via Zoom.


Emmanuel: We recently learned that you were appointed Associate Dean of University of Alberta, Faculty of Arts in Edmonton. Can you please tell us how that happened?

Temitope: That is a loaded question. I think part of why that happened was the openness of the process. I believe we are increasingly moving away from an era in which we would just get an email to announce that someone has been appointed to a certain position. In this case, the position was advertised and in theory, anyone who felt they were qualified for the role was free to apply. What I did next was to speak to some of my colleagues in the university to get a sense of the role. I had previously had some administrative experience outside the scholarly association, as the President of the Association of African Studies.

In a nutshell, the increasing openness of the process was the main reason behind why it happened. I have to credit the leadership of the University of Alberta which I’m part of now. If I must single out anyone, I will single out my Dean, Robert Wood, who was a key driver of the process.

Emmanuel: What are your views about policing in Canada? Do you think this is the best we can do here or do you feel there is still room for improvement?

Temitope: The solution to dealing with drunk citizens or homelessness is not to round people up and put them behind bars. The following morning, they are still homeless. You are going to meet them where you picked them up the previous night. 

We have to avoid the temptation of thinking that we can police our way out of every social problem. Homelessness is not a policing problem. It just means that housing that is fit for humans is unaffordable for some of our fellow citizens.

Here in Edmonton, there is an issue of people publicly and openly using hard substances (illegal drugs) in bus stations or train stations, making people feel unsafe. At a train station, where you come across someone rolling up their sleeves and injecting themselves with some hard drug and then dropping the needle right there on the ground, it begins to affect how people navigate public spaces. These are social problems—not policing problems—and therefore require a multi-dimensional social approach. 

A lot of people who end up on the streets in poor conditions would have not been in that situation with proper and correct handling by authorities.

We have to avoid the temptation of thinking that we can police our way out of every social problem. Homelessness is not a policing problem. It just means that housing that is fit for humans is unaffordable for some of our fellow citizens.

We have unfortunately made the police the solution to everything that is not acceptable to our society. I think it is a big blunder…a strategic blunder. The police also have overextended themselves by accepting this role that in fact has nothing to do with policing. As these are avenues for revenue, there doesn’t seem to be a reflection on whether or not these are the types of roles they should be accepting.

We also should be very careful about emulating the United States unnecessarily and trying to police our way out of every social problem.

Emmanuel: Considering the point you raised about the police “overextending themselves”, don’t you think it has worked well in Canada where the crime rate is low, compared to a place like the United States where the levels of crime are still high?

Temitope: The low crime rate in Canada is not simply attributable to the police in this country. For example, on any given Thursday evening if you have about 200 policemen on patrol compared to where you have just 20 policemen on patrol you will be shocked by what manner of crimes will be found just by the sheer number of policemen on the streets.

In other words, crime control is a function of proper enforcement in terms of who you stop and who you don’t stop on the streets. Yes, the police play a role in law and order but even the police will agree with me that they form only one part of the puzzle. There are religious bodies involved, family settings, community centres, schools, sports/recreation facilities all involved in this effort to control crime. There are so many variables involved.

Emmanuel: As President-Elect of the Canadian Sociological Association, there are also a handful of academics from the African part of the world such as Prof. Nduka Otiono who is now in Carleton University. Do you African academics in Canada have a functional platform where you all meet and discuss?

Temitope: Yes, at University of Alberta we have the Black Faculty Collective (BFC) which was founded in 2020 shortly after George Floyd was killed, which was a watershed for all of us. Nationally, thanks to the Principal and Vice-President of the University of Toronto, Wisdom Tettey (who is of Ghanaian nationality), there is a network where we meet and share ideas as academics across Canada .

Yes, we do meet periodically and work on various projects.

Emmanuel: There is a very serious security problem in Nigeria, which has now gotten out of hand. Security of life and property is not guaranteed anywhere in the country. Do you think there is a solution to this problem?

Temitope: The issue of insecurity in Nigeria is a sociological problem. The current administration in Nigeria has allowed this problem to fester due to negligence. My basic argument is that middle to senior level military officials in Nigeria have gotten the impression that the government was not interested in confronting or arresting armed bandits as this was seen as detrimental to their careers in the military. It was an unspoken rule amongst military and paramilitary organisations in Nigeria. You cannot run a country like that. It just does not work, because you run the risk of consuming both those around the elite class and even yourself as the ruling elite.

I do not think that we have had a government that has been as phenomenally irresponsible in Nigeria as this current one.

Emmanuel: There has been a long-running lecturers’ strike in Nigeria, which I’m sure you are aware of. It seems to have no end in sight. What are your impressions on this sad state of affairs?

Temitope: Thank you. It is deeply concerning, especially considering that we all were part of the university system back in that country.

I actually began a Masters program in Nigeria which I withdrew from before moving over here to complete it at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. 

I must say that there seems to be a systematic destruction of young lives, and I believe that if you go back to previous administrations, there were always strikes due to unfulfilled promises.

We now have a situation where the people running the system there do not in fact believe in the system, since almost all of them have their children in schools overseas, from the President down to the Commissioners (Provincial Ministers). There is simply no investment in the children of the masses, which has now created a problem in the quality of reading and writing amongst these young people.

The truth is that we keep having barbers trying to function as brain surgeons. The fact that they both work on the head, does not mean they do identical functions. We don’t have the right people running these institutions. The cluelessness has never been more obvious than now and with all respect, I must say that I worry about my country of birth.

Emmanuel Nwaneri

Emmanuel Nwaneri is a journalist with about 27 years of writing, travel and journalism experience in Nigeria, South Africa and Australia. He moved to Johannesburg in South Africa where he spent 10 years as a writer, journalism tutor and commentator. His time in South Africa afforded him the chance to observe the fast-changing dynamics of a country popularly-known as the “Rainbow Nation.” 

He moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba with his family in 2018, where he has since found interest in the Administrative and Customer Service industries. He actively writes news stories for the New Canadian Media, as well as the highly-respected Winnipeg Free Press.

He is the author of Once Upon A Woman and is working on a second work of fiction.



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