Increasing Cases of Police Extortion  

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Despite series of campaigns geared towards making the Nigeria Police a better institution, its personnel constantly indulge in dishonourable and unlawful conducts,  which seemingly makes the crusade a mirage, writes Davidson Iriekpen 

Nnamdi Amadi (not real name) was heading to his office in Apapa when at Alaka Bus-stop, he suddenly started hearing strange sound from his vehicle, a Toyota Rav4. Not wanting to take chances, he quickly decided to pull over from the road to check what happened. By this time, the car had come to a complete stop. After trying to check what the problem was, the car refused to start. Disappointed, he pushed the car to under the bridge at Iponri, and called a mechanic. 

After examining the car, the mechanic informed him that the problem was from the engine. Frustrated, Amadi noticing that it was already past 5p.m. quickly arranged for a tow truck to move the car to his residence at Jakande Estate, Oke-Afa in Isolo.

Because of the heavy traffic usually experienced between Cele Bus-Stop and Jakande Estate after 3p.m. and the number of police checkpoints on the route, the tow truck operator, one Mutiu, charged N15,000. After much negotiations, a N12,000 deal was struck.

From Iponri to Lawanson and Cele Bust-stop, there were three police checkpoints. At every checkpoint, the police would demand N1,000 from Mutiu as bribe. At Ago Junction, the police there again demanded N2,000 bribe but after much pleadings, the operator parted with another N1,000. At Pako Bus-stop, the policemen there demanded for N2,000 but got N1,000.

By the time the tow truck operator arrived Jakande Estate, he had parted with N5,000 as bribe to the police, who in the first place, were not supposed to mount such checkpoints for extortion. 

This made the tow truck operator very sad and dejected. Though to him and his colleagues, giving bribes to the police each time they are on the road is not new, it was not to the extent he experienced it on that day, because out  of the N12,000 he charged for his services, he was left with N7,000. 

Mutiu’s experience is not new to many Nigerians. It is a daily occurrence across the country. Millions of persons who go out to eke a living are daily forced to part with one form of bribe or the other to 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.

While Mutiu was narrating his ordeal to this reporter and his colleagues, one of them equally narrated his experience in the hands of unscrupulous officers.

“I went to Ejigbo Police Station recently to report that my niece was missing. After taking my statement, the officer said I should give them N20,000. When I asked what the money was for, they simply told me it was for them to commence work and type the radio message to other stations. I was shocked.

“When I screamed ‘N20,000 just like that to officers whose duty it is to investigate the whereabouts of my niece,’ one officer interjected, ‘Oga, na so we dey do am.’ You can imagine what would be the fate of people with reported cases of missing persons who do not have money to give as bribes.”

Tyrannic Extortion 

For many Nigerians, the police have unreservedly failed to discharge its mandate of ensuring public safety. Exactly 89  years after its establishment, members of the force have emerged as predators, rather than protectors, and the Nigeria Police has become an icon of unbridled corruption, unprofessional conduct, and violence in the country.

Particularly common on the list of the groups the police extort most are commercial and private vehicle owners in the country. The bribes are either for expired or lack of driver’s licence vehicle documents, overload, tinted glass permit, driving against the traffic (one-way) or beating traffic light.

Most embarrassing are policemen who willfully extort motorists or others even when they have not contravened the law.  This is the category the tow truck operator falls into. Tow truck operators, tipper drivers and delivery van drivers are constantly harassed and extorted at checkpoints. Many observers believe that this is why their charges are high and some products expensive. They believe that the amount given as bribes are built into the final cost of services or products for the end users to pay.

There are also policemen who take delight in begging. As soon as they stop motorists, he or she is greeted with: “Anything for boys?; Wetin you eat/chop remain for us? Or We dey here oh.

Extra-judicial Killings

Nigerians are inundated with reports of how commercial and private vehicle owners or even motorcyclists are shot and killed because they refused to part with as little as N50 or N100 bribe when they are at police checkpoints or accosted by policemen on patrol. Some are either delayed or arrested and detained on trump-up charges when they refuse or insist on not parting with any bribe. Most times, when these extortions are taking place, the officers are fully armed. In some cases, they threaten to shoot when one makes any attempt to escape.

Touts as Extortion Agents

In Lagos these days, it is common to see ‘area boys’ and miscreants openly collecting ‘owo olopa’ (money for police) at T-junctions and roundabouts while they (the police) cool off under the shade. Most policemen who are in the habit of doing these prefer the suburbs where they perpetrate their evil acts. Many analysts believe that most times they influence their postings to the suburbs where they can make money unchecked.

Massive Impunity 

In Apapa, it is common to see police officers openly demanding bribes from truck and tanker drivers day and night. This impunity has been elevated to an industry. The officers choose the amount to collect, ranging from N1,000 to N5,000. Before a truck driver enters the port, he would have paid more than N20,000 starting from Ijora.

“Seeing the 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,” Bassey Okon, who has been a victim of police extortion, recounts his ordeal in the hands of the Nigerian police.

Corrupt Institution

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.

Legions of Cases 

Sources close to the police said it has 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 the police with their acts, which not only breaches the law, but works against the constituted authority and rules of the service

Last September, the X-Squad arrested nine policemen and traffic officers in the Ikotun and Igando suburbs of Lagos for extortion and put them on an orderly room trial. Despite  efforts to weed the police of elements with unbridled act of corruption, the nefarious activities are still on the increase.

Sometimes the policemen who are in the habit of carrying the despicable acts elevate it to a most bizarre proportions. Recently, two of such acts were caught on camera in Lagos and Imo States squeezing bribes out of Nigerians. These pictures were posted on the social media and they grabbed the headlines. 

The two incidents were such an epic shameful drama that the authorities in both states did not waste time in arresting the suspects for investigations and orderly room trials. Unfortunately, the absurdities are so frequent that only the most embarrassing enjoy public attention.

As the Lagos State Police Command acknowledged, five operatives of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad approached and harassed a businessman, Immanuel Ibe-Anyanwu, on April 9, after he had left a bank. According to the victim, the officer that first accosted him dragged him to meet with his colleagues where he was framed for attempting to snatch the officer’s identity card.

Inane grilling about his business address, what he came to do at Okota, and why his banking transaction was not done at Ikoyi, his company’s base, ensued. Ibe-Anyanwu’s explanations fell on deaf ears. His attempt to reach the spokesman for the Lagos State Police Command, Chike Oti, through a phone call was thwarted, as the policeman he handed over his phone to cut off the call and seized the phone. However, it was returned when he told them that the bribe they asked for could only be arranged with it.

They obliged, providing an opportunity for him to run to the bank’s convenience, from where he made a quick Facebook post that went viral and also re-established contact with Oti, who promised him police rescue.

In Owerri, the Imo State capital, four journalists fell victims of the dubious antics of greedy policemen while they were returning to Lagos from an Online Media Practitioners Association of Nigeria conference. Operatives from the State Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (SCIID) stopped their car on their way to a park to board a Lagos-bound vehicle. They duly identified themselves as journalists. The police searched their vehicle and found nothing incriminating. Still, they were labelled suspects in a phantom crime and taken to the SCIID office.

Unashamedly, the team leader told the journalists: “When you come to the police, you bring kola; when the police come to you, you give kola.” Finally, they demanded a N10,000 bribe for them to be freed. 

One of the journalists who narrated his ordeal, said they got a stern warning to either pay or risk being levelled with  criminal allegations. As the amount was not on them, he was advised to use his ATM card to withdraw the money from the bank, which he did. But the bribe was not paid without recording and posting it on the social media, from where it went viral. 

The then Imo State Police Commissioner, Chris Ezike, was so embarrassed by the narrative that he did not wait for any formal complaint from the victims before he ordered the arrest of the officers involved. An orderly room trial has begun.

Accounts of police threat to incriminate citizens and lead them at gunpoint to the ATMs to withdraw cash to regain their freedom are legion. 

One Eragbai 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 N50, 000 or follow them to Ejigbo Police Station. They pushed us into a waiting bus 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.”

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, 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.

Last December, four  attached to Ijanikin Division in Lagos State Police Command were arrested for robbery for allegedly robbing one Theodore Ifunnaya of 350,000 CFA (about N221,508). It was learnt that the suspects subjected the victim to tortuous search and interrogation, where they discovered the sum of money with him. They were alleged to have bundled him into their patrol vehicle to Ijanikin police station where they seized his money and invited a bureau de change operator to exchange the CFA currency into naira equivalent.

It was gathered that having satisfied that they had subdued their victim with threats, they allegedly released him and gave him N2,000 out of his money, to enable him locate his Lagos residence. It was further learnt that the victim, after regaining freedom from his alleged police captors, told his family all he went through, which led to a complaint to Area ‘K’ Commander, ACP Hope Okafor. The area commander was said to have intervened by recovering the stolen money and arrested the erring policemen for interrogation.

Intervention by the Judiciary

While some who are courageous to stand their grounds by refusing to do the biddings of unscrupulous policemen go away scot free, or probably expose them with pictures on the social media, there are millions who are unenlightened that suffer untold frustrations in the hands of the men in black uniform who are supposed to protect them.

This phenomenon explains why many innocent Nigerians are languishing in overcrowded cells, especially those who are incapable of bribing their way to freedom. The Nigerian Prisons Service says that out of a total prison inmate population of 72,194, some 49,390 or 68 per cent are awaiting trial as of April 9, 2018.

So alarming has the situation become that the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, recently had to intervene by directing the chief judges of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to compel chief magistrates to conduct an inspection of police stations or other detention centres within their territorial jurisdiction. Onnoghen said he was perturbed by several complaints he received, concerning “horrific” incidents of police brutality, inordinate arrest, detention and extortion of innocent Nigerians by security agents.

In a statement he issued, the CJN maintained that such incidents have assumed frightening proportions in recent times to warrant the intervention of the judiciary. He bemoaned that magistrate courts across the country are currently overwhelmed with cases of such brutality, inordinate arrests and detention of citizens.

The statement read: “I have observed, and received several complaints of the horrific incidents of police brutality, inordinate arrest, detention and extortion of innocent Nigerians by officers across the country. These incidents have assumed frightening proportions in recent times. The magistrate courts are currently overwhelmed with cases of such brutality, inordinate arrests and detention of citizens.

“As we approach election year, it is imperative that we curb these excesses through the instrumentality of the statutory powers of the courts. The Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) has given magistrates oversight functions over police stations in their jurisdictions.”

Besides, Justice Onnoghen stressed that section 34 (1) of the ACJA empowered chief magistrates or any magistrate designated by the Chief Judge of a state, to conduct an inspection of police stations or other place of detention within his territorial jurisdiction other than prison, on monthly basis. According to him, section 34 (2) of the Act further provided that during such visit, the Magistrate could call for, and inspect the record of arrest; direct the arraignment of the suspect; where bail has been refused, grant bail to any suspect where appropriate if the offence for which the suspect is held, is within the jurisdiction of the magistrate.”