Lawyers, psychologist, security experts lament situation
A year after the #EndSARS protests, it appears that the overzealousness of some cops against armless Nigerians have yet to stop.
Thirty-two-year-old teacher with a private school in Lagos, Yemi (pseudonym), didn’t know he would be manhandled and extorted by some Nigerian cops. His offence was that he drove a Toyota Corolla Sports ’07 car, and the police were not convinced he was the owner despite showing them documents as proof.
He had just finished from his daily extramural class that Wednesday evening and was on his way to buy a few groceries at a nearby mall when he was stopped by some uniform men dressed in black-on-black outfit and held Ak-47 rifles.
Yemi said, “As I pulled over, one of them shouted, ‘Stop there! Bastard, I said stop there! Fraudster!’ I was confused. They asked me who I was and I told them I was a teacher, showed them my identity card and some scripts which I took from the office to assess at home. One of them immediately slapped me and told me to sit on the floor. ‘You dey speak English for me abi? I no blame you! You go hear am today!’ he said. He told me that I was going to the station with them. It was around 7pm.’’
He stated that after what seemed like an hour of harassment, his phones were seized from him and the policemen drove him to a spot around the Third Mainland Bridge from Toll Gate Bus Stop and told him to ‘bail’ himself.
“I was even more confused. I should bail myself? What did I do? I was bleeding from my mouth and nose. I was so scared, because they kept saying they would ‘waste’ me. I wanted everything to be over so I could be free. I had a young wife and a son who would be five months old in November so I didn’t want to die. I gave them the N34, 000 I had in my car, but one said it was too small, that it was like I was mocking them,” he stated.
The teacher said after showing them proof that it was all he had in the car, they agreed to accept it because he was ‘a first time offender.’
“What was my offence? I kept asking myself in my mind. When did owning a car in this country become an offence?” he asked rhetorically.
He further said that one of the armed men suggested they should give him N2, 000 to buy painkillers and laughed at him as they left him there helpless on the road at 10pm.
“One thing that struck me was that before they ran away to join a nearby van stationed around the area, they identified themselves as ‘CP Strikers Reformed Special Anti-Robbery Squad’ and that was what made me bewildered. Was it not the same SARS that the Inspector General of Police disbanded in October last year during the #EndSARS protests? The thought that I would have been killed like a chicken for owning a car ran through my mind. I became scared.’’ Not long ago, a police killed an 18-year-old admission seeker in Lagos and some policemen extorted an undergraduate of the Lagos State University among other reported cases.
In Abuja, a similar fate befell another young Nigerian identified only as Ifeanyi when he was called by a friend who was involved in an accident in Kubwa area and needed help. Thirty-year-old Ifeanyi rushed out of his house at 11pm that Saturday and boarded a taxi to the accident scene when men suspected to be members of the Nigeria Police Force accosted and labelled him and the cab driver robbers.
“I explained to them what had happened. I even called my friend for them to speak to him, but the call did not connect. They searched the vehicle, turning everything upside down, but there was nothing incriminating. Then, all of a sudden, one told me to ‘confess’, so that I could go,” Ifeanyi said.
He stated that after wasting time explaining that he had an emergency and not a robber, the men got angry and began to harass him.
“They nearly stripped me and the taxi man naked and told us to ‘confess.’ They were armed with rifles, if not, I would have fought them. The cab driver was also helpless. I thank God it was late at night, because I don’t want to begin to imagine the humiliation I would have gone through. In the end, I gave them the N10, 000 I was with. They emptied the cab driver’s pockets and went away with what he had at gunpoint. They went with everything. As he drove me out of there, he was crying like a baby. Before we left, they said that if we dared report to anyone, they would look for us and ‘waste’ us,” he added.
The #EndSARS protests
Following different several rights violations by some cops over the years, with senseless brutality and mindless killings of innocent citizens, especially youths, Nigerian youths took to the streets on October 8, 2020, to protest against the acts. Their demand was simply– they demanded the disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad; a unit in the Force.
The unit was founded in 1992 as one of the 14 units of the Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department, established to investigate people involved in crimes such as robbery, kidnapping and other violent crimes. They executed several undercover operations before they brazenly deviated from their goals.
They were accused of conducting illegal stop-and-searches, arrests, detentions, extra-judicial killings, sexual harassment of women and men, brutalisation and extortion of citizens. Some of these accusations were documented electronically in pictures and videos which only trended online and victims didn’t get justice. The protests took place in many states in the South and were later hijacked by hoodlums in Lagos who vandalised government property and looted shops. The highpoint of the protests was the gathering of protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate area of the state where soldiers allegedly purportedly carried out shootings on some youths on October 20, 2021. The development later dovetailed into the setting up of panels of enquiry by some states in the South to hear cases of police brutality by victims.
More agonising tales
Last week, in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital, another young man who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of victimisation, said he was harassed, handcuffed and taken away by men with ‘ARS’ embossed on their uniforms.
He said he was on his way to his office and had his two iPhones with him and was asked to alight from the tricycle he was in and prove that he was not a fraudster.
“They cuffed me, put me in their vehicle, drove a few meters and threatened to kill me. I maintained composure. When they saw I did not budge, they let me go. I was scared. I could have been killed. If anybody had told me that a year after the protest which many are still trying to recover from this kind of situation will continue, I will doubt it,” he added.
Also, in the same city, another young man who gave him name only as Edward said he was asked to pay N150, 000 to a third party account because the cops who stopped him and searched his phone saw SMS alerts from his domiciliary account.
“One said, ‘That is the account he uses to collect money from the United States. Internet fraudster!’ I was unlucky because they took me to their station around 10.30 pm and tortured me. It is a long story. They forced me to transfer N150,000 around 2am and they took me to the roadside around 2.30 am and dumped me there. I was stranded, because I just moved to the city from Port Harcourt and was not familiar with the area,” he said.
An Abia-based car dealer identified only as Victor said he had a nasty experience at the hands of some policemen who he said took him to their station and tortured him to confess to a crime he knew nothing about.
Victor said, “They took me to their station, downloaded a whiteman’s picture on my phone while in their custody and said I was into fraud. It was both amazing and scary. I saw them download the picture, and they asked me who the person in the picture was. They beat me and kept me in their cell for hours without any proper documentation of what I did or did not do.’’
He stated that he had to pay them N50, 000 from the money he had in his account to secure his freedom.
For another young man who identified himself simply as Paul, he escaped death by a whisker as according to him, some policemen extorted him on his way to Anambra State from Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
Paul said he set out on a journey from Port Harcourt to Anambra and was on a 14-seater Rivers Transport Company bus when some cops stopped the vehicle, looked inside and pointed at him to show come down.
“It was initially surprised on how the police would stop a passenger in a government-owned transport firm and begin to ask questions like the EFCC. I showed bus proof of my business, and that was my worst mistake. They told the bus driver to move and leave me since I didn’t want to cooperate. The people in the bus had begun to shout, “Driver, don’t go! Dem go kill am! Don’t go!” I am grateful to the passengers. The cops threatened and I had to accede to their demand for money to let me go.’’
Owerri, the Imo State capital, which has been a hotbed in the past few months, is not left out with cases of extortion by security agents reported by commercial buses and passengers.
A 27-year-old businessman based in Owerri, who gave his name only as Nnamdi, said he met some cops on his way to Anambra State for a business appointment.
He added that the uniformed men stopped the commercial bus he was in and pointed at some young men to alight for a search.
“Before they searched me, I told them to open their hand for me to see. They did and they conducted the search, ’’ he stated. According to Nnamdi, they searched men on the bus.
“When they spotted a Lexus 350 jeep approaching, they corked their guns and faced the direction of the jeep and left us,” he added.
Some victims said that they had been harassed by cops stationed around Owerri-Port Harcourt Road and inside Elele, a village in Port Harcourt, where drivers take to avoid traffic when leaving Port Harcourt for any state in the South-East.
“They torment motorists and torment passengers on that axis,” a victim who spoke on condition of anonymity source who did not want to be named told our correspondent.
Another victim who also spoke to our correspondent on condition of anonymity said, “I have been harassed many times by cops at that Elele axis in Port Harcourt. The cops are still there.’’
Abuja, the nation’s capital, is not left out of the cops’ highhandedness as two months ago, another victim who gave his name only as Mendy said he fell into the hands of the high-handed cops who apprehended him on his way home, humiliated him and extorted some undisclosed amount of money from him.
“I was dismayed when they portrayed me as a Yahoo boy few months back. I am a graphics designer so I strongly rejected their accusation and I got a deafening slap on my left ear for that. The ordeal has left me in trauma,’’ he said. The victims who spoke with PUNCH said they didn’t bother reporting the cases to police stations or the commands to avoid intimidation since they couldn’t identify the perpetrators.
Lawyers, psychologist, security experts lament situation
Commenting on the development, a constitutional lawyer, Mike Ozekhome, SAN, said the entire Nigeria Police needed a total overhauling to enable states have state police and community policing as a centralised police force cannot cater for the needs of the citizens.
He said, “Police brutality has unfortunately become a norm in Nigeria. Whether in the form of SARS, which led to #EndSARS protests in October last year, or in the form of roadblocks extortion, illegal parade of suspects or extra judicial killings, the police remain the same. A leopard cannot change its spots. Call it SWAT, SARS, Rapid Response Squad, Operation Flush, etcetera, it remains the same.
“The truth is that the police needs total overhauling to enable states to have state police and community policing. A centralised behemoth Police Force such as we currently have under sections 214 and 215 of the 1999 Constitution cannot serve us well. It requires total rejigging. It constitutes inhuman and degrading treatment contrary to the provisions of the Constitution for police to brutalise citizens. The citizens can sue. NGOs should mount campaigns and advocacy, while lawyers should take up public interest litigation and class action.’’
Another lawyer based in Rivers State, Selena Onuoha, said she was not surprised that nothing had changed a year after the #EndSARS protests as cops felt they had enormous powers being in possession of firearms.
She said, “No lesson has been learnt so far by the Nigerian government. I say this because of the way the issue was handled with the Nigerian Army claiming there was no shooting and no one was killed or injured. The change of name from ‘SARS’ to ‘SWAT’ was just to pacify the minds of the people because of the agitation. It was also a way of trying to calm the situation. But nothing changed. As a matter of fact, brutalisation, extortion and intimidation of the Nigerian citizens have continued as they were before the protests. The citizens are intimidated at every slightest opportunity by the Nigeria Police because the policemen are blinded by the authority they possess and move with the erroneous impression that the citizens involved would not and cannot do anything. These actions of the police are a breach of the fundamental rights of the citizens as well as criminal offences.”
In his reaction, a retired captain from the United States of America Army, Bishop Johnson, said it did not seem like anything has changed as most of the issues raised in the protest were still being played out in recent times.
“From every indication, as a Nigerian who plies Nigerian roads, it didn’t seem to me like anything has changed since the #EndSARS protests. We have had cases of police officers, some who even call themselves Federal-SARS, are back on the streets. I think it is more like we are back to where we were before the #EndSARS protest. Most of the things the protesters were advocating against have not been addressed. I don’t think the country has learnt any lessons.
Tracing the history of the Nigeria Police Force, he faulted the use of the word ‘force’ as part of its name.
According to him, the use of force in policing is archaic and should be replaced with modern methods of policing.
Bishop said, “If you trace the history of the Nigerian police, it began during the colonial era. The duties of those colonial masters then were to use the police to suppress and malign the indigenous people of Nigeria, subjugate them into compliance with the dictates of the colonial masters. This explains why there is ‘force’ in the name of the Nigeria Police Force. They feel ‘force’ is the best way to police the people. Unfortunately, the use of force in policing is no longer in use now so there has to be a new culture. We would require some radical decisions and moves to be taken. The best way to address this now is to legislate on some of the practices that can be used in policing in Nigeria. If there is the political will to do so, it is not insurmountable.”
He also suggested that the minimum requirement for recruitment into the Nigeria Police should be Ordinary National Diploma and that service in the Force should be made more attractive to attract best hands.
He added, “You have to make the profession more attractive like the other institutions such as the DSS, ICPC, EFCC, and others. A few good, smart and intelligent Nigerians want to join the police. To the extent it remains unattractive; you cannot attract the best hands for the job. Because crime has become more complex, so we need officers who have the broad mind to unravel criminal activities since the criminals have become more sophisticated, the minimum educational requirement for anyone to join the Nigeria Police Force should be, at least, OND so that they would use technology to fight crime.’’
Another security expert, Jackson Lekan-Ojo, blamed the Inspector General of Police, Chairman of the Police Service Commission and Minister of Police Affairs for the level of decay in the nation’s police, advising that everything should be done to avoid the ‘second coming of #EndSARS.’
Lekan-Ojo stated, “The #EndSARS protests nearly brought Nigeria on its knees a few years ago. If this almost brought the Nigerian economy to a standstill a year ago and gave Nigeria a bad image across the globe and we are having reports of ruthlessness by the same men again, then no lessons have been learnt. If they allow a second coming of #EndSARS, it would be uncontrollable, because this time, we are getting closer to the 2023 general elections and there are some disgruntled elements looking for any slight opportunity to cause destruction and mayhem.”
He also faulted the recruitment prices, advising that there should be adequate profiling before admitting anyone into the Force. He added, “You must profile every prospective officer up to his family compound; you must know what he is like back home to know if he is qualified. Most importantly, the minimum educational requirements should be OND for the cops to be able to read and comprehend English properly.’’
For a behavioural psychologist and senior researcher, Remz Research and Consultancy, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, Usen Essien, during recruitment into the police, psychological tests like history of drug use and its association with maladaptive behaviour was crucial as a “predictive of police officers” behaviour during interaction with the public.
He said, “The psychological tests should include but not limited to history of drug use and current drug use. Drug use is associated with maladaptive behaviour and can cause accidental discharge.’’
Essien further stated that armed officers must be tested and certified drug free before given firearms.
According to Essien, the use of personality tests to ascertain which cop should be given firearms and one to be deployed to other units should be greatly considered.
He added, “The mental health status of any prospective cop must be properly checked and the current status ascertained. Candidates need to be checked if they have any undiagnosed mental health disorder including mood disorders. Prejudice- tribal, age group biases, social class biases as needless as they may seem will mean a lot to the armed cops when he has to deal with people who fit into his prejudice. They should possess impulse control, stress tolerance and emotional intelligence not to have troubling emotions and behaviours.’’
Stating that the process of recruitment ended with training, he said there ought to be training and re-training on how to use firearms and when not to use it. He said, “The training should focus on stress management and tolerance. This will help them deal with unarmed people irrespective of the provocation.”
State commands react
The spokesperson for the police in Edo State, SP Kontongs Bello, said all members of the disbanded SARS had been redeployed to other police units in Edo State to work as ‘regular’ police officers and anyone who had any complaint should tender it to the command.
Bello said, “All members of the disbanded SARS have been redeployed to other divisions. If anybody has any issue of manhandling and brutalisation, they should come forward, report and identify such officers. All members of the disbanded SARS for Edo State Command which I speak for, have been redeployed to divisions to do regular police work. There is no new unit. SWAT, as you should know, has not begun. There is not SWAT in Edo and there is no SWAT anywhere.’’
Also, the Abia State Police Public Relations Officer, SP Geoffery Ogbonna, when told that police brutality was still ongoing despite SARS disbandment said, “Which one are members of the disbanded SARS? How will I believe what they are saying when they said they were victimised by members of the disbanded SARS? Where did they report it to? We have places where such cases can be reported other than the media. Refer those people to my office. Thank you.”
When contacted, the Imo State Police Public Relations Officer, CSP Michael Abattam, noted that, “SARS remained banned, but if anybody has a complaint, let that person come to the appropriate authorities with proof and let us know. Whoever is brutalised should let us know. SARS is banned and it remains banned!”
Also reacting, the Rivers State Police Public Relations Officer, SP Omoni Nnamdi, said, “ARS? What should that mean? I don’t know what ARS means. Those allegations are unfounded if they are not verified. I do not know, because no such report has got to me. It is enough to complain (to the media); they should lodge their complaints with the appropriate police authorities so action can be taken, because, as it is , what you are telling me now is new to me. However, I will still confirm if we can run into them. They might not be policemen, they may also be policemen. But let us do something to make sure the situation is arrested.”
On her part, the Federal Capital Territory Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Josephine Adeh, said she was interested in getting to fish out ‘those bad eggs’ from the Force.
Adeh said, “I cannot confirm that these people met with police officers, but with this information that you have given me, I am going to investigate it. I will track them down and would really love it if your informant can see me in my office so I would be able to get more information and track those police officers down. If we can get all the details, we can track these people down to avoid further occurrences of victimisation of others.”
The spokesperson for the police in Lagos, Adekunle Ajisebutu, said a message should be sent to him on WhatsApp for a proper response. He had yet to reply to the message as of press time.
Besides, efforts to get the reaction of the Akwa Ibom State Police Command were abortive as its spokesperson, SP Odiko Macdon, neither picked his calls nor replied a text message sent to his mobile as of press time.
Also, the Anambra State Police Public Relations Officer, Ikenganyia Anthony, could not be reached for a comment as of press time. He didn’t pick his call or reply to a text messages sent to his phone.
The Force Spokesperson, Frank Mba, also didn’t pick his calls nor reply to a text message sent to his mobile as of press time.