Despite #EndSARS, unrepentant policemen continue life of extortion, harassment, intimidation

Despite #EndSARS, unrepentant policemen continue life of extortion, harassment, intimidation

OLUWATOSIN OMOJUYIGBE writes about the continuous extortion and harassment of Nigerians by personnel of the Nigeria Police Force, who are meant to protect and save lives despite huge protests against their atrocities last year

Taiwo Daniel had hoped to reconnect with his family and friends in Ondo State after having a turbulent 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He was on his way to one of the motor parks in Ibadan, Oyo State, on the morning of March 19, 2021, when the driver of an online hailing ride he boarded was stopped by policemen.

What initially looked like a routine check took a turn for the worse in a twinkle of an eye for Daniel.

The 26-year-old Daniel narrated, “As a legit hustler, I could not bother about who was on the road as long as they were not kidnappers. I felt safer when I saw the policemen. They questioned the Bolt driver and they moved next to me.

“They asked what I was doing for a living and I told them about my design job, and also that I am a prospective MSc student of the University of Ibadan. I only came to Ibadan to further my studies in 2018, but after a series of delays by the institution’s academic union and COVID-19, we couldn’t resume on the expected date.

“I stated all these and presented my passport to confirm my identity. The police officer, who stopped us, said I would have to get to their station so that they could search me and my luggage, and if I’m not found in possession of exhibits, they would let me go. I didn’t refuse, I told the Bolt driver to proceed to the station; the officer entered the car and took a ride with us to their station, which was opposite Fidelity Bank.

“They searched my bags and found my wears, shoes, iPhone and android phone on me. The policeman said he suspected that I was a fraudulent person; I was surprised at his conclusion without evidence. He refused me access to my phones. He took me to a small office and said I would have to write a statement. I pleaded with him, because nothing was on me to be incriminating, or any that I’d ever own. I’ve never extorted anyone or participated in a scam.

“He called three of his colleagues to harass me; they threatened me and boldly told me that I would spend the rest of my life in jail. I was emotionally disturbed, disorganised and lost my calm. While they continued doing this, they prevented me from calling my siblings or loved ones. After a series of threats, one of the officers wrote ‘EFCC case’ with some digits on the statement sheet; I was already seeing myself in unpleasant places, I couldn’t think straight.”

Nigeria witnessed one of its biggest demonstrations in its history in October 2020, when youths marched through the streets and major roads in the country in protest against brutality by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a unit of the Nigeria Police Force.

The former Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, on October 11, 2020, bowed to pressure and disbanded the SARS after days of public outcry and nationwide protests, and announced that members would be integrated into other police units following psychological tests, but the #EndSARS campaigners refused to back down, insisting that the street rallies would continue until the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), issued an Executive Order scrapping the unit.

The protests continued across the country despite Adamu’s announcement. They were, however, ended abruptly after some of the protesters were allegedly killed at the Lekki toll gate on October 20, 2020.

Despite the demonstrations, which took on an international dimension, many Nigerians have falling victims of police brutality and extortion.

At the police station, Daniel continued showing the officers his designs, hoping that luck would shine on him and he would be released to continue his journey, but his hopes were dashed when the officers refused to listen to him and threatened that officials of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission were on their way to take him away.

He stated, “I was scared, because I have read about cases like this on the Internet, but this was my reality. The policeman asked me to bring a sum of N500,000 and I pleaded that I didn’t have such an amount. While being harassed by the police team and for the fear that I might lose everything I had laboured for over the years, I told him that I would ask a friend for N80,000.

“They took me away from the station and headed for a PoS centre. The transaction was declined the first time and the cop thought I was playing tricks. He later took me to the PoS centre directly opposite the police station and forced me to a transfer the sum of N100,000 to the PoS agent. Right now, I’m discouraged and battered. My savings are gone and the emotional wound still lives within me.”

The NPF has been accused of abuse of power and extortion for so long that it was ranked the country’s most corrupt public institution in a 2019 survey and the lowest-ranked police force of the 127 countries profiled in a 2016 index report.

March 20, 2021, was another day a Nigerian, Tunde Abass, had his share of police brutality, while standing up for another citizen, who was being harassed by policemen from the Onipanu Division of the Lagos State Police Command.

Led by the Divisional Police Officer, Francis Ani, policemen from the station harassed a motorist and his wife around the Onipanu area of the state.

However, while Abass was recording the activities of the policemen, the DPO ordered his arrest and that was the beginning of trouble for him.

He said, “I saw a policeman assaulting a motorist, while the man’s wife had a baby in her hands and the baby almost fell when they were preventing the policeman from deflating their car tyres. I was so concerned about their attitude and I decided to go live on Facebook, because people had started gathering and I was shouting that people should go live to record the injustice and impunity of the Nigeria Police Force and that was what led to my arrest.

“I confronted them about what they were doing and reminded them that this was what led to the #EndSARS protest and that they were not ready to make amends and change for the better, but the DPO got angry and ordered one of the policemen to go after me and arrest me.

“When we got to the police station, they tried to force me to write a statement and I told them that I wouldn’t write anything, because they didn’t allow me to have access to my lawyer and that none of my family members knew that I was arrested. I was beaten because I refused to write any statement and I told them that I was under duress and not in the right frame of mind to write anything, but they kicked me in the stomach and said I was proving stubborn; they beat me in my face and that resulted in me suffering bruises.

“Because I refused to write a statement, one of the officers alleged that I said I was coming back to burn the station and that I was one of the people, who burnt the police stations during the last protest, and that I went away with their AK-47 rifles. They started cooking up different allegations.

“I was detained throughout the weekend and taken to the Yaba Magistrates’ Court on Monday on trumped-up charges; on getting to the court, I discovered that they already wrote a statement on my behalf. I was lucky that the charges were rejected and I was returned to the police station.”

Abass is one of many, who ended up in court on trump-up charges.

However, social media protests and hashtags saved Abass from being forgotten in a police cell. When the news of his arrest got to his family and friends, they started an online protest calling the police to release him. The online protest, however, got the attention of the state Commissioner of Police, Hakeem Odumosu, who ordered an investigation into the matter.

Abass was released, while Odumosu ordered the immediate redeployment of the DPO for the illegal detention and harassment, and also ordered that the policemen involved in the torture of the victim should face orderly room trial.

Abass, who still feel the pain from the torture he went through in the hands of the policemen, said, “I have psychological trauma whenever I flashback to when I was in the cell; the attitude and words coming out from the policemen, at least 85 per cent of the police personnel in that station tortured me, because once a policeman resumed duty and heard what I did, they would try to beat or hit me. I’m feeling a lot of pain in my body despite doing a lot of x-rays and scan.

“My outlook on the Nigeria police is impunity and injustice, because police officers see the average Nigerian on the road as a prey to extort. After my encounter with them, I noticed that they are unprofessional and if the government can set up an agency to look into police brutality and extortion, it will go a long way to build the confidence of Nigerians to trust them, because there is a lot of distrust.

“Anytime I see a policeman, what goes through my mind is that maybe he wants to kill me or extort me. I am not satisfied with the redeployment of the DPO, because from history, that is their normal trademark; once a DPO or policeman commits an offence in a particular police station, they transfer him to another station; I don’t see it as a justice. Justice for me is to demote him or sack him.”

Just like Abass, Eniola Daniel, a reporter with The Guardian was covering the demolition of shanties on the right of way of the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway on February 28, 2021, when he was attacked by policemen attached to the Lagos State Task Force on Environmental Sanitation and Special Offences Unit.

Despite identifying himself as a journalist, the policemen seized and smashed his phone, tortured him and dragged him into their Black Maria.

Narrating his ordeal, Daniel said, “I got a call from the company’s security supervisor that the task force personnel were burning tyres and destroying shops along the road; I got to the scene around 10am and started taking shots.

“But in less than three minutes, a man in plain clothes suddenly approached me and started slapping me from behind, other security men bearing arms ran to support him and they were punching me. They dragged me into a Black Maria stationed nearby.

“Before I was dragged, I had brought out my identity card and showed it to them, but that did not move the power-drunk policemen. About 10 minutes in the vehicle, the Chairman of the agency, Shola Jejeloye sent one of the men to open the van and release me and my smashed phone was returned to me, with the instruction that all the shots taken must be deleted.”

Human Rights Watch in a 2010 report cautioned that the long-term failure of the authorities to address abuses by the police would reinforce impunity and lead to more systemic abuses.

Authorities’ failure to address police impunity led to continuous abuse – Rights activist

The Executive Director, Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre, Okechukwu Nwanguma, stated that the failure of the Federal Government and other relevant authorities to address the impunity on the part of the Nigeria Police Force had led to the continuous extortion and brutality of citizens.

Nwanguma noted that as long as there was no commitment on the part of the leaders to implement policies targeted at reforming the police, there would be continuous abuse of Nigerian citizens.

He said, “The immediate trigger for the #EndSARS protest was the atrocities of SARS, but SARS is just a unit of the Nigeria police, which means the problem is beyond SARS. SARS is just a symbol of the larger problem of the police as an institution cultured with violent and corruption.

“The #EndSARS protest started shortly after the new Police Act came into law, which shows that there is a deeper problem with the Nigeria police as an institution; the culture of violence that we inherited from the colonial police has not changed even with democracy, and as long as there is no commitment on the part of the government to implement recommendations of reports and as long as the police are not insulated from political control, these atrocities and brutalities will continue.

“Basically, the problem comes from different levels; the recruitment process into the Nigeria Police Force is flawed; the guidelines for police probation are not followed, which enable criminals and people who are not qualified to find their way into the police; training is absent; welfare is low, which makes them resort to corruption.

“The police don’t have enough funding to carry out basic investigations; so, they resort to extorting money and extortion leads to other activities like torture. Even at the level of leadership, the culture of civility and professionalism is lacking so, it’s a whole lot and unless genuine police reform happens, there is no how we can have a change in police behaviour.”

Nwaguma, who noted that the leadership of the police failed to hold its officers accountable, stated that Nigerians could only enjoy the police they desire when genuine reforms took place.

He added, “Police officers are not held accountable when they commit atrocities and if the IG can give them a go-ahead to do anyhow, so it’s not difficult to know why things happen the way it happens.

“For a true police reform to take place and for Nigerians to have the police they desire, they must have a true government they desire, which is a government that emerges through the will of the people; but as long as we have people like Buhari, who appoints ethnically, we will not have the police we require.

“Unless we have a democratic government that is committed to democracy, have respect for human rights and rule of law, equity and justice, a government that is willing to address the root cause of police violence and crime, we can’t have a real police force.”

‘Negligence, indiscipline cause brutality, extortion’

A Lagos-based security expert, Dickson Osajie, stated that lack of punishment mechanism in the police structure and negligence was encouraging brutality and extortion of citizens by the police.

According to Osajie, the failure of the leadership of the NPF to hold officers accountable for their crimes has encouraged the continuous abuse and extortion of Nigerian citizens.

He said, “It’s quite regrettable to still hear these sad stories because one of the reasons for the #EndSARS movement last year was in respect of police brutality, because police brutality has been a long time challenge in Nigeria and the problem is foundational. Most people just think the police brutality will just be wiped away within a twinkle of an eye after the #EndSARS protest.

“The foundation of the Nigeria police is really faulty based on command negligence and trial discipline, because if we have a policing system in which people are not being held accountable for the offences they commit, the officers will misbehave.

“The police authorities are not hitting hard on the DPOs, because if they do, the DPOs will hit hard on the DCOs, who in turn will hit hard on the men on the field, because if we don’t have a punishment mechanism for the Nigeria police, indiscipline will thrive and it is a shame and regrettable that they didn’t learn from the incident of the #EndSARS that even led to the loss of police stations and lives.

“There is no discipline in the Nigeria police; they don’t have fire discipline. Cocking guns anyhow and threatening to shoot indiscriminately is fire indiscipline. The Nigerian policemen don’t account for their arms and ammunition; if they are being accountable for their arms and ammunition, they won’t be shooting indiscriminately. Their leaders need to go back to the drawing board and look at fire discipline and make them accountable for their ammunition.

“The Federal Government too has a blame to take because the policing system we have now is more of a transaction policing system; we are not having a proactive and responsive policing system, because it has been integrated with our politicians. The police are meant to protect the citizens and not a select few; so, when we have a real structure in place whereby policemen face police duty, there will be no compromise.

“The problem of the Nigeria Police Force is transactional, from the government and our leaders and if they want a better policing system, then they must file a divorce between the politicians and the police so that they will be effective in discharging their duty without bias, fear or favour.”

The security expert, however, urged the leadership of the NPF to organise a yearly retreat for its officers and men, where they would be trained in fire discipline and accountability.

Osajie added, “I want to suggest a yearly retreat for all the police armourers and the retreat should cover fire discipline, recovery of fire and ammunition, and accountability. All the leaders of the Nigeria Police Force should be held accountable. Each unit head should be held accountable whenever their men misbehave and if we don’t do that, the Nigeria police will take a departure from the normal rules and regulations in policing.

“I want the Nigeria police to also look into discipline and punishment; they must not let go of offenders in the police and people who think they can use their arms and ammunition anyhow, because they are police officers. Discipline must be inculcated into the Nigeria Police Force and they must also look at their punishment mechanism and hold police officers accountable for professional misconduct. We shouldn’t be talking of police brutality and extortion in the 21st century and it shows a failure on the part of the leadership of the Nigeria Police Force.”

The Force Public Relations Officer, Frank Mba, when contacted, his telephone number was busy and a text message was sent to his telephone but as of the time of filing this report, he had not responded to the text message.

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