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Despite #EndSARS, Unrepentant Policemen Continue Life Of Extortion, Harassment, Intimidation

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

In this The PUNCH piece, 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

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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.

Source: The PUNCH

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