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Thursday, August 24, 2017

Special Report: Police Raids Turn Money-making Venture as SARS Men Abduct, Extort at Will

A special investigative report gathered from the commercial city of Lagos state, have revealed how operatives of the Nigerian Police have turned their raids to money-making venture.
File photo
 
He tried so hard to rise from the hospital bed but the pain wouldn’t let him. Rolling from one side of the bed to another with his swollen, red face and bruises that hurt deeply, Usman Owonifari fought the tears that almost rolled down his face.
 
Since he was severely brutalised by some policemen attached to the Amukoko police divisional headquarters in Ifelodun Local Council Development Area of Lagos State about two weeks ago, the 26-year-old had been confined to the hospital bed, hanging between life and death. It was yet another tale of police brutalising and extorting innocent citizens like commandos.
 
Speaking slowly and with so much effort, he recalled that the incident happened on Sunday, August 6, 2017, when he went to visit his fiancée, Kausarat, at her place.
 
According to him, they spent quality time together, talking and discussing the future of their relationship, and when it was time for him to go, they exchanged banter as she accompanied him to the popular Safejo Bus Stop. Whilst they stood, chatting, suddenly, some men in mufti accosted them and dealt with them the way they had only seen in movies. It was later they got to know their attackers were policemen. It was one incident they wouldn’t forget in a hurry, for the very wrong reasons.
 
Also speaking to our correspondent, Kausarat said, “One of them in mufti suddenly stood between us and held me by the hand. My fiancĂ© was shocked and he even asked if I knew them, and I told him no because I didn’t. That was when other policemen, like three of them, came to us and started harassing us. They hit him very hard, and it was around 8:15 pm.
 
“They dragged us like criminals to one tricycle that suddenly drove down to the spot we were. My fiance kept asking them to show us their ID cards, and that he wouldn’t follow them without seeing their ID cards, but they responded by slapping him some more. It was dark and they wore black dresses so we didn’t really know who they were until we got to their station.

“When we got to their station, one of them was to take my statement, and he started compelling me to say the things I didn’t do. It was just like say after me. But I refused and the policeman started beating me. He really maltreated me; hitting me everywhere, just for me to say the things he wanted, but I stood my ground.”
 
Any attempt to know why they were being so handled earned them more slaps and beating of varying degrees while the policemen continued to frisk them.
 
Owonifari, who then managed to muster some courage and strength, recalled that they were taken to their station at Olatunji Street, located few metres away from Cemetery Road, Amukoko. He said, “Before we could make any form of protest, another police officer in uniform joined them and began to hit me with the butt of his gun. All the while, two other men were putting their hands into our pockets and then they seized our phones.

“When I demanded to know what specific offence we had committed, they continued to beat me and it was at that point one of the other two officers began to slap Kausarat in the face. You can see how swollen my face is. They then took us to the back of the main building.”
 
After serious beating, their cries, pleas and protest seem to have attracted the divisional police officer, but that didn’t save them, as they alleged that the DPO took his men to a corner to ask them what happened and then he came back to ask for their side of the story but left them to their fate as he walked away.
 
Having been heavily battered, they destroyed Owonifari’s phones and asked Kausarat to go home. “Of course I wasn’t going to leave him behind, and when I asked for my phone, one of the policemen said I should rather be grateful that I was released and that if I knew what was good for me I would leave in peace. By that time, they had taken me to the DPO’s office, and then he prevailed on them to give me my phone.”
 
At the end of their ordeal, which was very late in the night, one of the policemen told them that they were arrested because they observed that in the past, some corpses had been found around the place they were picked up, thus, the place had to be raided. “I was shocked because their excuse didn’t add up. The pains I sustained that day were so much that I couldn’t go to work the following day,” Kausarat added.
 
While the policemen had moved on as if nothing happened, Owonifari had been on the hospital bed since then, struggling to stay alive and be back on his feet to continue his job-hunt as a jobless graduate, and that is apart from losing his ATM card, phones and wallet, which he said contained N10,000.
 
Notably, the experience of this intending couple is just a sad reflection of how innocent persons had been subjected to inhuman treatment by policemen, who are supposed to protect lives and property. Instead of doing this, some policemen seem to have launched a major offensive on innocent citizens, basically to extort and dehumanise them, perhaps as part of their own survival strategy.
 
Across Lagos mainland and some crowded areas on Lagos Island, like Obalende and CMS areas, policemen now dot different spots, usually in mufti, harassing motorists, pedestrians, especially those carrying bags; young men driving cars and other classes of people. But once they see certain stickers that depict such persons as prominent or influential on such vehicles, they quickly let go so as not to run into trouble. They then pounce on helpless citizens for their trade.

Police raid now a money-making venture
 
When news broke a few weeks ago that the Nigeria Police Force had dismissed three policemen attached to the Area N Command, Ijede, Ikorodu, for unlawful arrest and for extorting N200, 000 from their victims, one could have presumed that others would learn from that and that an end had come to the era of their brutality of innocent persons, but that appears to be a mere wish.
 
In this particular case, the police accused their main victim (names withheld) of being a Yahoo boy (an Internet fraudster), seized his phone, forced him into their van and whisked him away. Even though he told them he had just finished his youth service programme and wasn’t employed, they demanded that he paid N1m, after beating him thoroughly. They later forced him to pay N50, 000 to bail himself.
 
Also in the course of driving him around, they also picked other persons, seized their valuables and later used the victims’ ATM cards to collect money from their accounts. At the end of that day, June 21, 2017, a Wednesday, they had forcefully collected N200,000 from their victims, without taking them to the station or charging them to court, if at all they committed any offence.
 
Findings showed that these men go about in black vest, with SARS, Police or F-SARS, meaning Federal SARS written on them. For some, it is only the logo of the police around the breast-pocket that identifies them as policemen. Victims are usually at loss as to whether they could be armed robbers, impersonators or abductors.
 
Usually driving around in black, blue or yellow buses, and sometimes rickety saloon cars, and brandishing AK-47, they arrest people for loitering; for “looking like” Yahoo Yahoo boys, for carrying bags suspiciously; having iPhones, as if it is a mark of luxury, having more than one ATM card even if the name on them is the same, and they arrest young men that drive cars with Apple’s sticker, among others.
 
Often without justification, they round such persons up and take them to a desolate place where they dispossess them of their valuables and leave them empty-handed, and of course with a take-home threat never to say a word to anyone.
 
Findings showed that when they arrest their victims, they treat them as commodities as the policemen often place a price tag on them.
 
For the same reason, August 4, 2017 would remain a day to remember by 43-year-old Miss Adejoke Bamisile and her younger brother, Leke. It was a Friday night, and in the spirit of the weekend, they had gone to eat at a restaurant somewhere on Obafemi Awolowo Way, Ikeja, Lagos.
 
But just as they left for their house at Omole Estate, policemen who stood between Allen Roundabout and Kudirat Abiola Way stopped them, and that was the beginning of their travails. Time was around 11pm.
 
Bamisile said, “Brandishing their guns, about four of them in mufti, they ordered us to pull over, which I did. My brother was beside me. I had an iPhone and he had two phones. They told us to come down, searched him and ransacked his phone. And suddenly, they concluded that he was a Yahoo Boy. I was shocked, because he had just flown in from UK where he works as a banker. I mean we were dazed when they said that.

“Meanwhile behind us, people were already making U-turn because people got to know early enough that they were raiding there.”
 
According to her, the policemen would not release them until some of them forced themselves into the vehicle and ordered her to drive to Area ‘F’ at Ikeja.

“I screamed and threatened to sue them, but they said, ‘is it not Nigeria, go and sue now.’ After series of argument, they collected N10,000 from us and released us around 3am. My brother was in shock for about five days because it was strange. If I wasn’t there that day, they would have maltreated him, because to Nigerian policemen, any young man with two phones is a Yahoo boy. It was a sad experience.”
 
A motorcycle rider in Sango area of Ogun State, Mr. Ade (surname withheld) also suffered similar fate in the hands of a policeman on the night of August 5, 2017. He said he had closed from work and was already going home when the policeman, popularly known as AY in Sango police division, accosted him.
 
He said, “He was in mufti and I remember one DPO in that Area Command already told us not to oblige policemen in mufti and with no ID card because they found that some people were already impersonating them. This policeman was armed and it was late.

“He held my motorcycle under the bridge. When he saw that I was making calls, he flared up and said I was threatening him. He pushed me and part of my motorcycle broke. He then called another traffic officer sitting under the bridge to come and check if it truly broke.

“Suddenly, they folded my hands to the back, dipped their hands in my pocket and removed all the money I had made that day. When I protested, he corked his gun and that scared me. He then gave me N200 for my transport, and that was what I took home that day. And I thought to myself that an armed robber wouldn’t do more than that.”
 
While that could be seen as very disturbing, one Salami (surname withheld), who narrated his ordeal in the hands of these men, on Facebook, said policemen from Panti police station, Yaba, arrested him when returning from Ifelodun LCDA. On taking him to the station, he said his family members had to pay N5, 000 to “fast-track” his release.
 
This is one of the issues plaguing the Nigeria police, whereby citizens are arrested randomly and dispossessed of their valuables and told to go home. The worst hit are the under-privileged who no longer feel safe, not only because of the state of insecurity – like kidnapping and robbery – but also for the fear of being victims of these raids, which has somewhat become a money-making venture for the policemen.

“It has become a crime for a young man to use iPhone in Lagos,” lamented Joshua Oladepo, a shop owner at the Computer Village in Ikeja, Lagos. While returning to his Alagbole base from work on the night of July 22, 2017, the motorcycle carrying him was accosted by some men in black bullet-proof vests around 10 pm.
 
He said, “It was dark and there was no street light where they stayed. It was around Moses Adebayo Street in Ojodu. They started shouting at us. Meanwhile, I was carrying a nylon bag containing the few second-hand clothes I bought during the day. Suddenly, one of them slapped me on the back, saying I stole the clothes. They said I should bring the receipt I was issued where I bought the clothes from and I told them second-hand clothes, known as okirika sellers don’t issue  receipts. But they didn’t listen.
 
“As they were beaming their torch on my face and ransacking my pocket, I was able to see SARS written on their vests. The one who checked my pocket brought out my iPhone and said I must be a thief for having iPhone at my age. I told him I’m 38 years old, but that only earned me a slap ‘for challenging’ them.”
 
At the end of the day, Oladepo said the motorcyclist was released, as he was held and was told to pay N50, 000. He quoted them as saying, “Sebi you have money to buy iPhone, how much is N50, 000 that you can’t pay. If you know what is good for you, you would start making calls and if you don’t cooperate, your life is just one shot.”
 
According to him, he had to part with N20, 000 before they released him, as he had to call his wife to raise the money from neighbours that night. “My wife and I left that place around 12:30 am and it was a Good Samaritan that helped us to our area because everywhere had become quiet. We couldn’t pick their names because there was no name on the vests.”
 
While they didn’t bother to ascertain whether he stole the clothes or not, once they got the money they needed, they left, which emphasised the fact that they had turned their power to bear arms and carry out raids to a commercial venture.
 
Findings also showed that policemen attached to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, set up by the police authorities to combat robbery, are most guilty of this act, accosting and harassing innocent persons to make money.
 
It is one menace that reflects the growing assault by policemen on innocent Nigerians.
 
Just a few weeks ago, four policemen from Obada Oko in Ogun State abducted four persons and extorted the sum of N3m from them. The policemen had invaded a hotel in Ikorodu and drove away the owner of the hotel and three other persons.
 
While on the way, a report said two of the abducted persons were able to raise N500, 000, which led to their release, while the hotel owner had to part with N2.5m to regain his freedom. The manner in which the heavily armed policemen, who were not fully dressed officially, whisked their victims away could be likened to extortion, kidnapping and robbery in broad daylight.
 
These and many more have become daily experiences of many people in Lagos and beyond. A similar fate awaits motorists who ply the Akala Road in Ibadan in Oyo State.
 
Just a few days ago, the post went viral of a man who said he was accosted by two policemen on Ogudu Road in Lagos. He gave the names of the policemen, saying the men extorted N15, 000 from him.
 
The victim’s experience, which was posted by a “social media strategist,” and twitter user, Bhadoosky, said, “They pulled me over and asked for my cell phone… I refused to hand it over cuz I felt it was infringement of my privacy…but it was forcefully taken and my messages were viewed along with my account details and other private areas in phone and I was extorted for 100,000 naira. The excuse for this was cuz he saw in my google app that I had more than one gmail log in…so I was tagged a Yahoo boy…I was detained for four hours…and my car keys taken from me…I wasn’t released until I transferred to mAthew’s account a total of 15,000. PLS IS THIS THE WORK OF THE NIGERIAN POLICE???”
 
Meanwhile, a copy of his statement of account showing the transaction was also uploaded on some blogs on Thursday.
 
When our correspondent called Bhadoosky on the phone, he confirmed the story, saying the victim was one of his followers on Twitter, and that the person would like to remain anonymous for the fear of being attacked. He said even though he too had filed several reports in the past over extortion, his complaints were never attended to, neither were the alleged culprits brought to book.
 
Apart from lying against people and planting incriminating items on them to implicate them, one of the problems people have identified is that it is nearly impossible to identify the policemen that harass them. This is because they are usually in mufti, which does not carry their name or Force number. Hence, it is easy for them to get away with their acts.
 
Even though some policemen have been dismissed for engaging in these dastardly acts, the practice seems to be spreading like wild fire, as many persons have continued to lament how policemen extort them.
 
Another set of people they freely harass is young-looking guys and ladies driving ‘big’ cars.
 
No doubt, 22-year-old Adeola (surname withheld) would not forget in a hurry how some policemen in mufti accosted him, seized his iPhone and collected the N10,000 he had gone to collect at the ATM. Funny enough, his offence was having three ATM cards and driving the 2013 Honda CRV, which belonged to his mother. The incident also took place at the Amukoko area of Lagos.
 
Even though he had a valid driving license, the policemen seized his phone, so he wouldn’t communicate with anyone. He said they threatened to take him to the station and make him write statement as an armed robbery suspect.
 
He said, “Since they saw the money in my pocket and knowing that I could not communicate with anyone, they were ready to delay me, so I had to give them all I had,” he said, “adding “I would have reported them, but they wore black vests and had no vehicle, but fully armed. It was around 6:30 pm and I know that it was getting late. They didn’t leave me until it was around 8 pm. I was even wary of them shooting because I had read a lot about stray bullets.”
 
When contacted to respond to the issue of extortion and abduction by policemen, the Lagos State Police Public Relations Officer, ASP Olarinde Famous-Cole, said people who suffer such fate from policemen don’t always report to the nearest police station, but they rather take to the social media to express their anger.
 
He said police had been working to rid the Force of such excesses, but victims of such extortion need to come forward to report.
 
He said, “In most of the complaints that we get, we do not see anybody come forward to make these complaints. They go to the social media. But regardless of that, we have acted, arrested some and they have been punished. The CP has himself paraded some of these persons caught extorting. And you also know that some have been dismissed.

“The challenge is when we do not have people to come physically to the station to report. They could report to the DPO, the area commander, the commissioner or even the PRO, whose phone numbers are in public domain. The social media cannot help them. The minute we start doing these; filing reports, the better for us.”
 
When told that some of these policemen wear mufti and could not be identified either by name or Force Number, especially when such policemen do not have vehicles or mark to show where they came from, he said the way to go about it was to report to the nearest police station.
 
He added, “Every police division is aware of such operations in the area. And even when an officer is coming from another division or area or another state, they are to register their presence with the police there. With that, we can track them through what we call identification parade and that is where we start the investigation from. So, until people come forward to make reports, that is when we can punish erring officers and that would deter them from the act.”
 
Source: Punch newspaper

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