Sunday, April 14, 2024

Anger over endless harassment, extortion by Policemen across Nigeria

BY BRIGHT JACOB

Like a cankerworm eating through its moral compass, the recent cases of alleged police extortion leveled against some officers and men of the Nigeria Police Force has brought to the fore, once again, the need to revamp the police and “flush” out the bad eggs among them.

Penultimate week, the police was in the news again for the wrong reasons after some of its men were sanctioned by superior officers for allegedly obtaining money from hapless citizens by coercion and threats of arrest and imprisonment.

The “erring” police officers were from the Meiran Police Station in Lagos and their radar had been fixed on a phone dealer and engineer, Ibrahim Saliu, who sent his brother, Olaiya Murtala, with some iPhones to his shop.
Murtala ran into the police men and during their routine “stop-and-search”, the policemen noticed five iPhones with him. Of course, with their lips salivating at the prospect of milking their would-be “victim”, they quickly demanded receipt of the phones.

The problem, however, was that Saliu did not give the receipt to Murtala, and so the policemen pounced on the latter and ferried him to the Meiran Police Station.

When Saliu became aware of Murtala’s arrest, he raced to the station to secure his release. What he did not know, however, was that the police were about to put the whammy on him, too.

Saliu reached the station but got the shock of his life after the Divisional Police Officer asked him to identify himself and also tender the receipt of the phones.

He could not, and like a terrible nightmare, the DPO accused him of being a thief and armed robber.

The “rogue” DPO did not stop there. He ordered his officers-turned-henchmen to arrest and detain Saliu, and intuitively the two grown men, Saliu and his brother, perhaps realising the harsh fate that awaits them, began to appeal for “clemency”.

Shockingly, the DPO demanded that he pay N500, 000 to secure his release.

Mercifully, however, it took only a lump sum of N200, 000 to placate the DPO whom the Commissioner of Police for Lagos State, Idowu Owohunwa, (now an Assistant Inspector General of Police), ordered his “immediate removal” for “leadership dereliction and supervisory ineptitude.”

According to the Police Public Relations Officer, Benjamin Hundeyin, who disclosed the comeuppance “All the officers involved have been identified and are currently at the Command headquarters where their orderly room trial has commenced.”

Obviously, the officers at the centre of the extortion allegation had tried to play smart. They knew that if Saliu did a transfer, the transaction would be traced back to them, so they urged him to pay cash, using a Point of Sale machine, but still, the plan backfired

Last month, the Rivers State Police Command arrested four operatives who allegedly assaulted three men and extorted N6.5 million from them.

The policemen were said to have arrested the men from Omoluwabi in the Ogba-Egbema-Ndoni Local Government Area of the state, tagged them internet fraudsters and ferried them to Delta State where they reportedly collected the money from them after detaining them for two days.

It was learnt that the cops arrested the men on July 31, 2023, and released them on August 1, 2023.

The state Commissioner of Police, Emeka Nwonyi, while parading the policemen before journalists in Port Harcourt, said he was working hard to rid the command of bad eggs.

Nwonyi said, “You can see some police officers. They have been in detention for more than two weeks now for an offence. They are not from this command, but we arrested them to show that we are here to purge ourselves.

“I don’t think any other organisation has been more purgative like the police in cleaning up the bad eggs in their system and I want to be challenged on that.”

The police boss did not, however, reveal the identities of the policemen.

Similarly, Nwonyi paraded another set of four policemen, including three Inspectors, arrested for allegedly assaulting a female commuter.

He said the policemen were on a stop-and-search operation when they allegedly assaulted the lady around Arcania Junction, Ada George Road in Port Harcourt.

He said, “Upon receipt of the complaint, the commander of the CP Monitoring Unit swung into action and identified the officers as men of an Anti-Cultism Unit on a stop-and-search led by an Inspector
“They have all been arrested and in custody undergoing interrogation.

“Also, I am appealing to the lady who was assaulted to come to my office and give us her side of the incident for proper investigation to be carried out.”

“It is all in their playbook,” began Oladele Olajide, a public affairs analyst about the activities of policemen who send innocent citizens to prison on a trumped-up charge of armed robbery.

Olajide, who also said Saliu’s predicament was just one of many cases of high-handedness by police officers, added, “They know some people cannot cope with detention, they know that detention is the easiest way to scare the living daylights out of Nigerians.

“And what do these policemen do? They exploit it; using it to force Nigerians to pay illegal fees.

“And while you are even paying, they will tell you that you are lucky that the thousands of naira you paid was able to secure your release, and that given the same circumstances, they would not have let others who committed similar ‘offences’ off the hook so easily like they did for you.”

Apart from how the inglorious encounter between Saliu and the “crooked” policemen panned out, there have also been a series of other well-documented police escapades that involved internet fraudsters.

In the world of cybercrime, some youths who dabbled into the nefarious act and got caught have made damning allegations against police officers who extorted them in exchange for freedom.

According to these individuals who are known in local parlance as “yahoo-yahoo” boys, some policemen who arrested them had not only confiscated proceeds of crime, but also converted the same to personal use.

Most of these officers, with their take home pay which, naturally, cannot afford certain luxury items, are suddenly seen driving state-of-the-art cars, acquiring choice properties in pricey locations and even travelling on business and first class tickets.

Last month, a Delta State-based human rights activist, Joe Israel, had petitioned the acting Inspector General of Police, Kayode Egbetokun, over the alleged extortion, in Rivers State, of the sum of N80 million and a gold necklace worth N4 million, from John Davision, by an Assistant Commissioner of Police attached to the State Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department.

According to Israel, the money was meant for payment of men securing pipeline facilities in the Niger Delta, as Davison is the chairman who oversees one of the units securing pipeline facilities.

The Rivers State Police Command had, however, refuted the allegation, insisting that Davison’s arrest was “rooted in allegations of involvement in cybercrime and ritualistic activities.”

“The matter is still under investigation,” the police had assured.

It is distasteful incidents like the ones highlighted that had compelled the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, in their Corruption Perception Survey released in 2019 reported that the police was the most corrupt public institution in Nigeria.

According to the survey, “a bribe is paid in 54 per cent of interactions with the police. In fact, there is a 63 per cent probability that an average Nigerian would be asked to pay a bribe each time he or she interacted with the police. That is almost two out of three.”

Though the police high command always says it warns its men and officers against extortion as well as corruption and that those culpable would face orderly room trials, stakeholders have continued to wonder whether these actions do not deter policemen scheming to extort citizens.

A senior lawyer, Fred Aigbadumah, said that even though the police orderly room trial was supposed to be an in-house disciplinary measure, some policemen knew how to circumvent it.

“A bribe is paid in 54 per cent of interactions with the police. In fact, there is a 63 per cent probability that an average Nigerian would be asked to pay a bribe each time he or she interacted with the police”

According to Aigbadumah who faulted the “neutrality” of orderly room trial presiding officers, the trials do not expose unscrupulous policemen to the full wrath of the law.

The Notary Public of the Supreme Court also submitted that the trials do not serve as sufficient deterrent to extortion.

“The police orderly room trial is supposed to be a kind of in-house disciplinary measure against erring policemen. But just like everything in Nigeria today, your nexus or connection, or like the common saying, ‘who you know’, has spread around everything.

“So, the objectivity of such orderly room trial or neutrality of the mediators or presiding officers can also be something that is also on trial. Their neutrality and objectivity has a question mark.

“You see, the police try to maintain professionalism using their orderly room trials. They will say ‘let us deal with ourselves internally before blowing it to the outside world’. Because of this, most of the suspects, at the end of the day, are not exposed to the full wrath of the law. The trial does not serve as a sufficient deterrent.

“And to some of them, they don’t see the trial as anything special because they know that once they get there, they will know what to do or who to call. They know the necessary buttons to press and those who are like collaborators with them. They know that whatever happens, such persons must be consulted or deferred to before the final decision.

“So, they cannot be deterred or discouraged,” Aigbadumah said.

Asked whether a new corruption survey conducted today would be positively different for the police, Aigbadumah said it would not.

He argued that there would not be improvement. In his view, policemen operate “within the Nigerian environment” where their “survival instinct” compels them to buy their own boots, uniforms and even the papers they use, things they were not doing in 2019.

For this, Aigbadumah said, “So, when we look at the issue of extortion or corruption, we should look at it broadly. It is not limited to the police, even though I am not giving them any pat on the back for doing well.
“What I am saying is that it is a general epidemic that needs a holistic solution. The police cannot just be stigmatised and be pointed out alone.

“Now, let us look at it; in the same Nigeria where they are saying we should fasten our seatbelts as an austerity measure, we are seeing House of Representatives members, 360 in total, given SUVs worth N130 million each.
“But look at the condition of our roads, they are going to drive those vehicles.”

Asked to proffer solutions to what the police could do to address the reoccurring cases of extortion and corruption within the ranks of the officers and men of the police, Aigbadumah said it was not what the police could do, but rather what the society and the government of the day could do.

He noted that the first thing to do is to allow the police to return to its glory days when it was the number one law enforcement agency in Nigeria.

Aigbadumah also said that the police had to be allowed to work on themselves in-house.

“If you have signed to be in the police, it should be like saying you have temporarily signed to forget about comfort and convenience and let it be service indeed to the fatherland,” he said.

While advocating for a “well-checked” recruiting system, Aigbadumah also said that the welfare of policemen should be given top priority as, according to him, “you cannot be beating a child and say you want to stop him or her from crying.”

Calls made to the Force Public Relations Officer, Olumuyiwa Adejobi, and the Public Relations Officer of the Lagos State Police Command, Benjamin Hundeyin, were, however, not answered.

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