Unspeakable Cruelty: Stories Of Policemen Turning Complainants To ‘ATM’ And Milking Them Dry

May 11, 2019

The police as a security agency is saddled with the responsibility of investigating and solving crimes at no cost to victims, but that is far from the reality in Nigeria, Afeez Hanafi writes

For the over three decades he had spent on earth, Emeka Okpara had no reason to be in a police station over an issue. Reserved and courteous, the Lagos-based businessman always distanced himself from shady deals that could bring his personality under the spotlight and make him a subject of police investigation. Having lived in the country’s commercial hub for over a decade, the Imo State indigene had learnt lessons from the nasty experience some of his friends had with men of the Nigeria Police. And every now and then, he ensured he tied up all the loose ends capable of linking him with the police for the wrong reason.

The electronics dealer was able to hold his head high until one Saturday afternoon when her two kids and his wife’s apprentice got missing. He and his hairdresser wife, Ijoma, had thought that the apprentice took their children to a nearby shop to buy some sweets for them. They later realised that the apprentice, known only as Rose with no fixed address, had abducted their only kids, Chinasa and Chikamso.

In the days that followed, Emeka who resides in Ajegunle – a bustling neighbourhood in Lagos – became a regular face in police offices, shuttling between Ajeromi Police Division and the state police command headquarters in Ikeja.

“My children’s abduction was the first matter that ever took me to the police,” Emeka said, focusing his eyes on an album placed on a table in their living room. The album houses the pictures of missing Chinasa and Chikamso, aged four and two at the time they were abducted. “We have not heard anything about their whereabouts since then,” the father disclosed, his voice fraught with dejection.

“The policemen handling the case at the headquarters in Ikeja collected money from me each time I went there. I was there for about five times and I paid between N5,000 and N10,000 on each occasion. They said the money was meant for mobilisation. I stopped going there when they demanded N50,000 from me. It was like they wanted to turn me to an Automated Teller Machine. They said they would use the money to travel to Delta State to look for my children. That time, I had spent all the money I had. We have resigned to fate now, believing in God that He can still bring those children back to us alive.”

Unfortunately, the police extortion went on at the same time some fraudsters employed various tricks to prey on the couple’s plight, demanding money at every opportunity. In the heat of the search, a man called Emeka on the phone, and claimed he was holding the kids hostage at Oshodi Underbridge.

Emeka stated, “The unknown caller asked me to send N10,000 call credit to him. It was raining heavily that morning. I went out to buy N5,000 call credit and sent it to the caller. The man called back and said he would not release the children if I failed to send the remaining N5,000 call credit.

“I had to borrow N5,000 from a neighbour to buy the cards. After sending it, the man asked me to come to Oshodi Underbridge. He said he was in a car with Chinasa and Chikamso. I rushed there and waited for him in the rain. Each time I called the man, he would tell me to be calm and that he would soon show up. I was at that spot for about three hours waiting for him to show up. Eventually, he stopped picking his calls and switched off his phone.”

Sadly, Emeka is one of many Nigerians who have been forced by policemen to part with money, even before the matters they reported could be investigated and resolved. While a number of complainants had ended up not getting results for the cash they coughed up, others were lucky enough to get value for “the moblisation money” (as such payment is usually tagged) after weeks or months of sacrifice in cash and stress.

Like Emeka, a charcoal dealer in the Iyana Ipaja area of Lagos is another victim who gave police mobilisation fee in futility. An up-and-coming businessman, 33-year-old Bamidele (as he wished to be identified) had got a contract from a Lebanese to supply charcoal worth N3.4m. In a bid to impress his new customer and forge a lasting mutual relationship, he scouted for good hands in charcoal production until he met with one Peter on WhatsApp – a social media platform.

“I was into exportation of charcoal,” he told Saturday PUNCH. “I have people in Ogbomoso, Oyo and Ilorin who help me process charcoal. I met Peter on a WhatsApp charcoal business group which I also belong to. He said he produced high quality charcoal and persuaded me to do business with him. I got an order in August 2018 from the Lebanese to supply N3.4m charcoal. The Lebanese paid me N500,000 in advance and I gave Peter all the money.”

To be sure he was dealing with an upright fellow, Bamidele said he visited Peter’s production centre at Gbede town along old Ogbomoso/Ilorin Road and saw mammoth logs of wood the man had assembled for charcoal production.

He also went to the site together with the Lebanese on a weekly basis to monitor the progress. “In the long run, I discovered that he had collected money from some other people for the same work,” Bamidele said, with a note of disappointment.

He added, “Peter was supposed to supply 700 bags to me in three weeks, but he only supplied 50 bags to me. He said the trees were bad and that if he could get more money, the remaining bags would be ready within the deadline. I borrowed N1m from a microfinance bank and gave him another N500,000.

“After the payment, I didn’t see him at the site again for two weeks and he didn’t pick up his calls. And by that time, the deadline the Lebanese gave me for the contract had elapsed. When I later saw him, I dragged him to the Orile Igbon Police Station, Ogbomoso, which is nearest to his production site. He promised to refund my money and I told the police that he must write an undertaking to that effect. He was supposed to refund N780,000. I told him to give me N280,000 so I could balance the Lebanese while he paid the remaining N500,000 in instalments.

“One Sergeant Alawode is the Investigating Police Officer in charge of the case. His boss asked me to pay N20,000 for them to work on the case, but I could not afford it. I eventually gave them N5,000.”

After paying the sum, the father of one left the police station later that evening hoping that he would recoup all his money from Peter in a couple of weeks with the intervention of the police. He realised a week later that he was daydreaming as the case was turned against him.

“To my surprise, when I went back to the police station, they told me that Peter had earlier reported me at the station for blackmailing him on the social media. I told them I only reported him on the WhatsApp platform where I met him.

“The IPO threatened me to stop asking for a refund or else they would cook up stories to make my case a civil matter and present his allegation against me and make it a criminal case. I was detained till 11.30pm. My life was put at risk as I stood on a lonely and dangerous road waiting for a commercial vehicle to board,” he said.

Desperate to get back the money which he banked on for his business, Bamidele was introduced to a senior officer, who linked him up with one Inspector Kayode at the Zone 11 Command, covering Osun, Oyo and Ondo states.

All the way from Lagos, he travelled hundreds of kilometres to the Zone 11 headquarters in Osogbo in search of help to salvage his only means of livelihood at all costs. “When I got there, Inspector Kayode and his team members asked me to pay N150,000 to transfer the case from the Orile Igbon Division to Zone 11,” he revealed, adding that after negotiating back and forth, they agreed on N50,000.

“I gave them N15,000 cash to start work and transferred another N15,000 to an account Inspector Kayode gave me. I also wrote a statement. That was around October 2018. They collected my phone number and promised to call me. From then till the end of the year, they were just giving me excuses.

“In January 2019, another policeman at the Orile Igbon Police Station called me. He asked me to send transport fare for him to take the case file to Zone 11 in Osogbo. I called Inspector Kayode to inform him but he said it was the normal thing for me to do. I told him to pay the policeman and I promised to refund him when I come to Osogbo. A week later, I called him back to know the development. He said the officer had brought the case file. I asked him why he did not ask me to come, but he said I shouldn’t worry about it.

“He said he had told Peter to pay a substantial amount of the money and pay the rest in instalments. Since then, whenever I call the inspector, he will tell me to come on Friday. If I call him on a Thursday to confirm the appointment, he will tell me he is on a special duty and won’t be available. When I called him last Tuesday, he said they were making moves to arrest the man. What I am interested in is my money and if Peter is not ready to refund me, the case should be taken to court. I have the evidence of payments.”

Bamidele stated that the incident had put him in a financial crisis and caused a huge setback for him, lamenting that his business had crumbled.

“It is my wife that is assisting me to refund the loan I took from the microfinance bank,” he added.

Oluwafemi Adeyele also falls in the endless list of complainants trapped in this kind of frustrating experience with the police. A resident of Lagos Island, Adeyele, had asked two travelling agents, who have an office at Murtala Muhammed Airport in Ikeja, to process an Australian visa and flight ticket for his wife’s friend.

He had known the agents – Oke and Nnana – through his wife, who is based in Dubai, and felt there was no cause for alarm in dealing with them following an assurance by the agents’ close acquaintance, a retired officer of the Department of State Services.

“I went to their office in August 2018 to be sure they were not fraudsters,” he began. “I paid them N2.5m, which I collected from my wife’s friend, for the visa and flight ticket. Eventually, the visa they gave me turned out to be a fake one. I asked them to refund the money but they refused.

“In November, I petitioned the State Intelligence Bureau of the Lagos State Police Command through my lawyer and I met with one Inspector Nasir. He collected N20,000 for mobilisation. On the day the agents were arrested in December, he also collected N5,000 for transport from me. The police recovered N165,000 from them and gave it to me,” he said.

Adeyele stated that Nasir called him some days later, informing him that the case had been transferred to the human rights unit of the SIB.

In what would ever remain one of his shocking moments, the 45-year-old man was told at the unit that the agents had earlier filed a petition against some other people, who also allegedly collected money from them to process the travelling documents.

As such, the agents whom Adeyele regarded as suspects were treated as complainants by the police.

He went on, “I became worried and began to lose trust in the police. I told the officer handling the case at the human right unit that it was unfair that people who collected money from me were not treated as suspects. The officer kept on giving me one excuse or the other and at a point, I became tired. I told him that I wanted the case to be charged to court because my wife’s friend was mounting pressure on me to get her money back. The officer told me to be patient.”

Adeleye explained further that in March 2019, he got a call that the case had been transferred to Zone 2 Command in Onikan, Lagos Island. But to his dismay, the agents had lodged a complaint at the police formation, making them to also be treated as complainants.

He added, “I discovered that they had also filed a petition at Zone 2, stating that some people defrauded them. My lawyer is telling me that I should give the IPO at Zone 2 N20,000, but I didn’t have money. The IPO demanded money from me to verify the visa; I told him I didn’t have.”

According to Adeleye, the matter has not only tarnished his reputation, it has also put him under pressure to find means to refund the money despite coughing up money at various times to the police like an ATM.

Similarly, on November 26, 2018, Olatunji Boye was in the middle of an array of tasks in his office in Egbeda when he was jolted from his seat by a distress call from a stranger around 1pm that day.

The unknown caller had introduced himself to Boye as a kidnapper, informing him that his niece, Temi, was being held hostage.

To drive home his point, the abductor gave the phone to a distraught Temi to speak briefly with her uncle. The caller asked Boye to pay N5m ransom if he wanted his beloved niece released.

That afternoon, beads of sweat formed on Boye’s forehead despite being in an air-conditioned office. The depressing call brought the myriad of tasks the secretary had slated for the day to an abrupt end as he began to run around to secure Temi’s release from the kidnappers’ den.

“It was an unforgettable experience,” Boye said, flashing a wry smile.

Temi had just secured employment with Jaiz Bank and was on her way to Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, to attend a training session which was the last lap to cement her appointment with the financial institution. The training was slated for November 27, 2018.

Halfway into her journey, she was kidnapped along Ondo/Lokoja route along with four occupants of a commercial car she had boarded. “That same day, we reported the incident at the Special Anti-Robbery Squad office in Ikeja,” Boye said.

“A team of policemen who were assigned to handle the case asked us to pay N120,000 for moblisation. According to them, the money was meant for their job which they said included tracking, transport fare to and from Ondo and accommodation fee. With much pleading, they collected N80,000.”

Two days later, there was nothing to show for the payment as Boye and other family members were fast running out of the kind of patience the SARS operatives were urging them to embrace.

He added, “A senior police officer directed us to the officer in charge of Anti-Kidnapping Unit in Surulere. The OC assigned one of his men who immediately tracked the number the kidnappers were using to call us. He found out that the kidnappers were around Owo/Akoko. He gave us two options. He said we could raise funds for them to mobilise to the spot or pay the ransom. He said the lives of the victims might be endangered if they struck.”

Boye told our correspondent that he was weighing the options when some members of the family paid N500,000 ransom the kidnappers eventually settled for.

Although Temi was thankful to God for regaining her freedom after spending six days in the forest, it took time for her to overcome the trauma which was compounded by the loss of the job.

“It was a very bad experience,” the 27-year-old woman stated. “We trekked for at least 10 hours in the forest every day to change our location. Five of us were kidnapped, including an NDLEA (National Drug Law Enforcement Agency) officer, a Customs officer and a retiree. The kidnappers forced us to trek between 2am and 7am. The training I was going for was supposed to start on November 27. I could not meet up with the training and that was how I lost the job,” she added.

Speaking with Saturday PUNCH, the National Coordinator, Network on Police Reform in Nigeria, Mr Okechukwu Nwaguma, described the issue of extortion in the Nigeria Police Force as a systemic issue which cuts across the structure from top officers to the rank and file.

He said, “Extortion by the police is sanctioned from the top. Starved with funds to carry out basic policing operations and duties, senior police officers such as Divisonal Police Officers send their men out to set up roadblocks as means of generating funds. The men demand bribes from complainants to investigate their complaints. The so-called mobilisation fee is part of the system-sanctioned corruption within the police on the excuse of lack of funds.

“Targets are set for junior officers who are required to make returns to Divisional Police Officers and heads of lucrative units such as SARS, Anti-Kidnapping, Anti-Cultism and other sundry units.

“Failure to meet targets or make returns results in being posted to less ‘lucrative’ units. Junior officers do everything, including arresting innocent people and extorting money for bail in order to meet targets.”

Nwaguma urged the government to demonstrate genuine commitment to police reform by implementing the “far-reaching reforms” recommended by various government and civil society committees and panels.

He said the Police Reform Bill recently passed by the Senate would go a long away in addressing the challenges facing the Force when signed into law and implemented.

He added, “The bill provides for a modern legal framework to drive police reform, address the many challenges impeding police professionalism and effectiveness and provide a basis to hold the police accountable for abuse, corruption and unprofessional conducts.

“The bill, among others, seeks to strengthen internal and external public complaints and disciplinary mechanisms for the police so that complaints can be promptly, transparently, professionally, fairly and satisfactorily treated without  complainants being victimised and turned into suspects for being unable to adequately ‘mobilise’ or investigation twisted in favour of the accused for being able to pay more.”

The Force Public Relations Officer, DCP Frank Mba, did not pick up our correspondent’s calls to his line on Thursday or reply to a text message sent to him.

When contacted on Friday, his personal assistant, said he was in a meeting and asked our correspondent to call back later in the day.

The FPRO did not pick up calls to his line some hours later and had yet to reply to another text message sent to him as of press time.


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