“Seeing police breaks my heart. They must ask for something impossible. How do we co-operate with them when they have made it impossible for that? The actual criminals are easily accessible. Some of these politicians who have looted billions will never be investigated by the police. The only people they harass are the ordinary Nigerians.” Uche Ifeanyi, who has been a victim of police extortion, recounts his ordeal in the hands of the Nigerian police.
The Nigerian Police Force, mounted in 1930, has a protracted record of undertaking dishonorable, crooked, and unlawful conduct. For countless Nigerians, the police force has unreservedly failed to discharge its mandate of imparting public security. Undeniably, eighty years after its establishment, members of the force have emerged as predators than protectors, and the Nigeria Police Force has become an icon of unbridled corruption, unprofessional conduct, and violence in the country.
Welcome To Human Rights Abuses
Many Nigerians — in a bid to make ends meet — are aggressively approached by gun-wielding policemen who, in the course of their duty, extort, harass, and physically abuse harmless citizens. Failure to pay these officials often leads to unlawful arrest and detention.
Tosin Adeleye, an unemployed youth was on his way to Oshodi when he was accosted by a plain cloth man. Not knowing the man before and unaware that the man is a policeman, he made to go but the man grabbed him from behind and dragged him to a waiting white bus. Before he could ask what the problem was, his pocket was searched, and on him was only N500 intended for his transport fare.
According to him, having not found anything incriminating or a considerable amount on him, he was left off the hook after being delayed for over half-hour.
In the gloom, high-level police officials misappropriate mind-boggling sums of public funds meant to cover police operations. Senior police officers also impose an obstinate system of “returns” in which junior officers are forced to pay up a share of the money they ‘obtain by threat’ from members of the public.
Those charged with police oversight, discipline, and reform have for years been unsuccessful in taking effective actions, thus reinforcing immunity for police officers of all ranks who repeatedly commit crimes against the citizens they are assigned to defend.
While police raiding of hotels and drinking spots purportedly to search for suspected criminals has been a habitual feature over time, several Nigerians scowl at the way police approach people on the road, collect their phones and scroll numbers as well as check their wallets, diaries, bags and trouser pockets.
Recently, the media was flooded with a tale of two young men, Kwam Adesina and his friend Innocent Igwe, who were on their way to Computer Village in Ikeja to shop for new phones. They were searched and all the money they had on them (Adesina N25, 000 and Igwe N40, 000) were forcefully ‘obtained’ by the police.
According to the report, after extorting them of the cash on them, the police officers took the boys whom they tagged “Yahoo boys” to an Automated Teller Machine (ATM) along Oba Akran, Ikeja, where they withdrew N40, 000 from Igwe’s financial institution account.
Adesina said, “They said they were going to kill me and that I did not have the right to ask any question. My friend and I went to Computer Village around 11 AM. Unexpectedly, some plain cloth men approached us. They were wielding guns and said they were policemen. They didn’t ask us anything. They just bundled us into a vehicle. I was flabbergasted and I asked them why they were doing that and what our offense was.
“They started beating me. They used stick and gun to hit me. They handcuffed me and my friend. They were just driving us around, saying that we were criminals. They started searching us and when they found nothing, they said we should settle them or they will take us to their station as criminals.
“They collected the N25, 000 I had on me and took my friend’s N40, 000. They collected our ATM cards and asked us to give them our pin. They now drove to a bank at Oba Akran in Ikeja, Lagos and collected N40, 000 from my friend’s account.”
The police frequently round up random citizens in public places, including mass arrests at restaurants, markets, and bus stops. In some cases of barefaced deception, plainclothes police officers faux to be bus drivers, pick up unsuspecting passengers at bus stops and take them at gunpoint to nearby police stations where they insist on money in return for their release.
A student, Olajide Williams, narrated his ordeal in the hands of policemen along Fadeyi road, in Lagos. While he was going home with his friend, some policemen aggressively accosted them, and without asking any question of identity, they were dragged him into a waiting van.
“The uncultured policemen collected our bags and searched. They found a laptop and some books. But on sighting the laptop, they immediately chorused ‘Yahoo Boy’. I made them understand I am final year student and currently working on my project, hence the reason for having a laptop in my bag. All pleas fell on deaf ears as they insisted on taking me to the station. Save for my friend who quickly called his dad, a Customs Officer, we would have been taken to the station and violently tortured.”
Another individual, Tobi Osehinde, is still tending the terrifying reminiscence of the experience he had in the hand of the police on his birthday.
Narrating his experience, he said he decided to hang out with a few friends and while on their way back home in a taxi, about four policemen stopped them and asked them to get out of the taxi.
Olarewaju said the policemen, five in number and obviously intoxicated, asked them to identify themselves. “Unluckily for us, only one out of four of us was with his ID card. They said since we weren’t with our cards, we should pay N100, 000 or follow them to Alausa Police Station. They pushed us into a waiting taxi like regular criminals. We couldn’t argue with them because they were under the influence of alcohol and pointing their guns at us. It was very horrifying. We obeyed as we were scared that anything could happen in the night,” Olanrewaju said.
“My friend who had his ID card on him called the Supervising Officer (SO) of MAN Centre police station, Ikeja, before they could let us go. But not without collecting two thousand naira from us though,” Olarewaju added.
The police often make minute effort to mask their demand for bribes, shamelessly doing so in open corridors and rarely bothering to question those in detention about any alleged crime. Those who fail to pay are often threatened and unlawfully arrested, and at times sexually assaulted, agonized, or even killed in police detention. Many of these abuses are perpetrated as a means to further extort money from ordinary citizens or from fearful family members trying to secure the release of those in police custody.
Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in alliance with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the European Union had of late indexed the Nigerian police as the most corrupt institution in the country. Expectedly, the police dismissed the report as a deceptive misrepresentation of facts, based totally on hearsay, and false. But this is not the first time a survey is showing the Nigerian police as the most corrupt institution in Nigeria. According to research, nearly all surveys conducted in Nigeria since 1999 have ranked the police tops in corruption in the country.
ionigeria investigation, however, reveals that behind many of these abuses is a cycle of corruption driven by senior police officers who siphon off police financial resources at the top and impose a system of amassing unlawful “returns” from the money extorted by junior officers.
The Lagos State Police Public Relations Officer ASP Olarinde Famous-Cole said the police command had not been failing in its duty to reprimand defiant officers and would continue to do so to weed out bad eggs tarnishing the image of police force with their acts which not only breach the law but work against the constituted authority and rules of the force.
He said the Inspector General of Police was carrying out a sensitization campaign to reassure the public that bail is free. And that he had advised members of the public to report any station that collects money to free anyone through the citizen’s complaints numbers.