Is Nigeria Police Courting Another Youth Resistance Like #ENDSARS?

While Nigerians are expressing concern about perceived corruption in the system, president Bola Tinubu is trying to address the situation by suspending Mrs Halima Shehu as Chief Executive Officer, CEO of National Social Insurance Program Agency,NSIPA for alleged missappropriations /embezzlement of nearly N40 billion and Dr Betta Edu,the new Minister of Humanitarian and Poverty Alleviation who had also been fingered for a fraud of about N585 million and for which an investigation has been instituted and she has been similarly suspended from office pending the conclusion of investigations.
As all the aforementioned sordid events are unfurling during this new political season, the issue of corruption at petty level amongst civil servants and particularly within the police force, where officers are notorious for extorting the public, also seems to be resurfacing.

This is evident in the increasing number of distressing stories and complaints from Nigerian motorists who have encountered police officers forcing them to part with significant amounts of money. This problem appears to be reaching epidemic proportions, particularly in Lagos and environs.

Motorists are reportedly being extorted by the police for various offenses, including driving without a valid driver’s license and violating traffic rules.

Failure to possess a fire extinguisher or caution sign for instance can also lead to significant penalties imposed by the police, typically in the form of monetary fines which go into the pockets of the officers instead of the coffers of government. To elaborate further , the nefarious policemen/women often threaten to impound the vehicle and transport it to their station, where fines as high as N500k may be imposed .

When victims are unable to pay such substantial amounts in cash, the rogue police operatives have Point of Sale (P.O.S.) operators readily available to facilitate fund transfers, after coercing or bullying the victims into complying with the demanded payments.

I was with a friend when his niece ,a victim shared her experience of being defrauded of N30,000. She was coerced into transferring the money via an ATM provided by a man lurking in the shadows at a police check point one early evening in Lekki phase 1, lagos . The incident occurred when she was arrested for driving with an expired driver’s license. It did not matter that the license had just expired and she was a first time offender.

Upon learning that the penalty for driving with an expired license was N70,000, she was advised to pay N50,000 to avoid further inconvenience. Unfortunately, she didn’t have that amount with her. The police officer then suggested using a Point of Sale (P.O.S.) machine, which was available at the scene.

Feeling uneasy about being on the road at night and mistrustful of the policemen who should be ensuring her safety but were, in fact, extorting her, she had no choice but to negotiate and settle for N30,000 with these bad eggs giving the police force a bad name .
The victim later expressed deep sadness, revealing that the most distressing aspect of her ordeal was the apparent age of the police officer who apprehended her, as he seemed older than her own father.

Reflecting on this experience, one can’t help but question the future of our country. If an individual of such advanced age displays such cruelty and dishonesty, it raises concerns about the values being passed on to the next generation of police officers. What kind of future can we expect if unpatriotic attitudes, bribery, and corruption mentalities persist within our law enforcement?

A visit to numerous police stations and posts across the nation highlights the widespread suffering endured by many Nigerians. That is derived from the fact that members of the police force have devised deceitful schemes to extort money from vulnerable members of society, further deepening the anguish felt by citizens.
A motorist had his car impounded and was fined N1 million for allegedly driving on a one-way road. Surprisingly, the fine wasn’t deposited into official police coffers. Instead, it was paid through a P.O.S into the account of a standing-by agent.

I became aware of this extortion when the victim who is a relative sought financial assistance from me to retrieve his impounded car. The incident occurred due to what seemed like a frivolous excuse provided by the police.
For about a decade ,the route from Mile 2 to Apapa Lagos has been consistently obstructed by heavy trucks queuing to transport cargo from the sea ports in Apapa. As a result, drivers have been forced to use the opposite lane intended for traffic from the other direction.
However in December, unscrupulous policemen aggressively targeted this road to seize vehicles traveling in the wrong direction. This would not have been particularly alarming if it were not for the fact that the N1m fine was deposited into a private account of an individual colluding with the corrupt police officer/officers to bilk vulnerable motorists.

What raised concerns was not only the arbitrary fine,but also the fact that it was deposited into a private account belonging to an individual colluding with the rogue police officer/officers involved.
According to him, he received official receipt for only N200k, even though he paid N1m to rescue his vehicle, which he informed me he got information was about to be auctioned.
Even worse is the allegation that the policemen/women often sold same to themselves. These are serious allegations that should compel the IGP to look into the matter which has serious implications with respect to extant rules of public service.

The victim also shared additional distressing experiences, explaining that while attempting to reclaim his impounded car from the police, he encountered another man. This individual had faced a similar situation, with his car being held for about six months for comparable reasons. However, he couldn’t afford the substantial “ransom” demanded .

The victim, unable to gather the necessary funds for the release of his vehicle, which serves as his sole source of income and is equivalent to a family heirloom, has since endured significant economic hardships along with his family while running helter sketer for helper which he eventually found in a ‘big man’ in Abuja. While these cruelties and brutalities of the police have not been independently verified,as the saying goes , there is no smoke without fire. In other words the stories may be hyperbolic, but there is no doubt that heinous crimes are being perpetrated by rogue elements of the NPF.

As earlier stated,it is uncertain whether the road traffic offenses charged against the mentioned victims are genuine or fabricated, but the situation is reminiscent of the issues faced by victims of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a notorious unit within the Nigerian Police known for its extensive history of abusing the rights of Nigerian citizens.

Although the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) has been disbanded, and this followed the regrettable and avoidable civil disobedience and resistance against the excessive actions of that police unit; it was a situation that escalated into riots and various other forms of public disturbances as criminal elements took control, leading to the tragic deaths of many youths.

Allegedly, the army opened fire on them at the Lekki toll gate,causing catastrophic consequences.
Sadly, it appears as if that nefarious tactics have been adopted and ingrained even within the traditional police department, hence the crime of extortion is about to attain an epidemic proportion unless drastic mitigating measures are taken. This is raw intelligence gathered from the streets.

The extortion of our youth and motorists by the police force persists without respite as evidenced by the fact that daily we are bombarded with stories of encounters where these youngsters are apprehended and coerced by police into withdrawing money at gunpoint, often at ATMs.

In some instances, those who resist are initially brought to the police station, where they are first intimidated with feigned criminal charges against them that are frequently baseless. Following the psychological torment and coercion during their detention, they are returned to the ATMs and pressured into transferring funds into specified accounts controlled by unscrupulous policemen.

Countless young Nigerians, who remain constant targets of sophisticated “robberies” by criminal elements within the police force, share similar harrowing stories of daily extortion. As earlier noted, this situation echoes the events that led to the infamous #EndSARS movement, leaving behind a trail of sorrow, tears, and blood.

It is a grim reality reminiscent of the late music maestro, Afrobeat king, Fela Ransome Kuti’s iconic song “Sorrow, Tears, and Blood,” which highlighted the police force’s trademark of cruel practices in the 1980s.

My concern about the unfolding development of negative sentiments about law enforcement personnel, particularly the police force revolves around the growing frustration among the youth. In this piece, I aim to highlight the imminent danger and draw the attention of authorities to the growing discontentment . The goal is to prompt relevant agencies to address by nicking in the bud the potential youth insurrection, which is like a ticking time bomb.

Apart from the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mr Kayode Egbetokun, other key figures in leadership , such as the Director of State Security (DSS), Mr. Mohamed Bichi, and the Presidency, represented by the office in charge of project monitoring headed by Hajia Hadiza Bala Usman, should be attentive and take swift action to prevent a potential recurrence of the #EndSARS protests that significantly tarnished Nigeria’s image in 2020.

The former Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who had engaged in altercations with a correspondent of the international broadcaster CNN regarding whether the military used live ammunition to open fire on youths at the Lekki toll gate, leading to casualties, exacerbated the situation be engaging in the needless arguments .

This disagreement prompted the CNN correspondent, Nima El Bagir to employ geolocation technology, which revealed instances of shooting and killing at Lekki toll gate confirming CNN’s reporting . Consequently, this further harmed Nigeria’s reputation, attracting increased international criticism for a country already grappling with a reputational deficit.
The reality is that the current misery in the society is worse than the situation in 2020, which is owing to the fact that the nation is currently facing additional challenges arising from the difficulties caused by the withdrawal of subsidies on petrol and the revaluation of the naira. These changes, compelled by the ongoing reforms aimed at improving the country’s overall standard of living, is contributing to the current hardships, although the difficulties are expected to be temporary as they have been likened to pains experienced by women during child birth which are initially hurtful , but often followed with rejoicing after the child is born.

Nevertheless, the current rate of misery in the land is akin to sitting on a precarious tinderbox, further intensifying the challenges plaguing the nation, which is why it is crucial to identify and appropriately sanction the extortionists within the police force who exploit their uniform, badge, and firearms, provided by the government, to protect the public.
Instead these unscrupulous elements are engaging in extortion under the guise of law enforcement, targeting the youth generation and hapless motorists.

For the sake of emphasis, taking action against such misconduct is imperative to prevent a recurrence of events similar to #EndSARS debacle .
Incidentally, I had a personal experience during the repairs of the 3rd Mainland Bridge in Lagos before the Yuletide . The exit from the bridge leading to Herbert Macaulay Way in Yaba was temporarily closed. Consequently, to attend a church service I had to drive from Ikoyi through lddo and Oyingbo, known for their popular bus terminals serving various parts of Nigeria, to attend a church.

On my way back from church, I encountered police officers near Ijora, where multiple bridges intersect. I noticed what seemed to be a makeshift police checkpoint. The personnel manning it appeared rag-tag, not wearing proper police uniforms, and unarmed with guns, but instead equipped with batons and long sticks, etc.
So, I slowed down my car to observe them closely as they approached. Particularly, a woman with a big stick came towards my car, possibly to demand a bribe or extort me for imaginary fines that she might fabricate, even if I was fully compliant.

Considering the stories I have heard about ‘rotten eggs’ amongst the men/women of the police force asking for items like a spare tire, fire extinguisher, caution sign, etc in addition to all the necessary documents such as a driver’s license, road worthiness certificate, and insurance cover, I made a quick decision not to pull over completely .

As is commonly understood on Nigerian roads, even the motorists who presented all the necessary documents were still intimidated to part with bribe money or get inconvenienced . Therefore, I chose not to become a victim. However, as I continued, I heard a loud bang on my car hood. The burly-looking policewoman had struck it with the large stick she was wielding and it made a dent.

It was only thanks to my wife’s pleas and the grace of God that I refrained from stopping the car and confronting the disrespectful and troublesome police officer, whom are clearly the ‘nefarious ambassador’ of the police force.
To put the incident into perspective, it is appropriate to recall a joke that revolves around a compliant motorist who, when stopped by a police officer attempting to extort money, informed them that the only extra passengers in his vehicle, besides his wife and three children, was God. In response, the police officer told the driver that he was under arrest for overloading, as having God as an extra passenger constituted overloading.

This anecdote serves as an illustration of the perceived ruthlessness of the police and how poorly Nigerians regard them due to the vile activities of the rogue ones amongst them that need to be disposed off without further delay.

The joke does not downplay the seriousness of the IGP’s imperative intervention to prevent the unsavory situation from escalating into another national crisis, rather it buttresses the case.

Obviously , the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) is mandated by law to be accountable to the citizens and is obligated to uphold the rights of members of the public who are key stakeholders in any and every public institution funded by tax payers. Nigerians also fully understand that as part of their civic responsibilities policemen/women also deserve to be accorded due respect and co-operation in the course of carrying out their duties.

Consider the recent incident involving Seun Kuti, a musician and one of the sons of the late Afrobeat icon Fela Kuti. He faced charges from the police force for assaulting an officer during a dispute on the 3rd Mainland Bridge. The incident, in which he slapped the officer, gained widespread attention through a viral video.

In response, Nigerians promptly criticized Mr. Kuti for his stubbornness and lack of respect towards a police officer who became a victim of his violent and disorderly conduct.
As the legal process unfolded, although opinion was divided, but most members of the public took side with police force because the decorum of the officer despite the aggravation from Mr Kuti. After the fireworks in the court of law justice was delivered to the satisfaction of the public, who are the primary stakeholders in the Nigerian Police Force (NPF).

What the police authorities seem not to understand is that the NPF is analogous to entities such as the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Ltd. (NNPCL) or the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), assuming these public corporations were listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NGX) like Dangote Industries or any other publicly quoted companies,Nigerians would buy the shares and determine how the corporations are managed.

In such a situation there would have been need for them to manage their reputation as Dangote, Flour Mills of Nigeria, LeverBrothers, Lafarge,and other publicly quoted firms guard their reputation jealously to avoid errosion of value when they suffer reputational damage .

When l was working in the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA about 3-4 decades ago, the IGP was Umaru Gambo Jimeta . The image of the police was battered as a fall out of the Anini- the infamous armed robber that defied police arrest saga. As it may be recalled then then military head of state Gen.Ibrahim Babangida had in the course of national security council meeting inquired from the IGP: where is Anini?
It was on national television so , the lGP was embarrassed.
To clean up its sagging image attempts were made to recruit my then colleague on NewsLine magazine program and national news anchor ,Mr Patrick Oke as police image maker , but it did not materialize.

The point being made is that at a point in time , the police force took its image seriously enough to want to hire a major news anchor from
NTA, which was the only national television staton at that time to help burnish her image.

In the recent past, there was another incident involving a female lawyer who was fatally shot by an intoxicated policeman on December 27, 2022. The undisciplined police officer involved was arrested, charged to court , and subsequently sentenced to death by a judge in a law court as punishment for the reckless behavior.

The tragedy occurred when Mrs Omobolanle Raheem, the victim, was heading home after a Christmas Day service when a police officer fired at her family’s vehicle at a checkpoint in Ajah. This horrific incident resulted in the loss of her life and the life of the unborn child that she was carrying .

These unfortunate events occurred prior to the tenure of the current Inspector General of Police (IGP), Kayode Egbetokun, who is a Phd holder and the first in the police force to hold such distinguished academic standing.

As an indigene of of Lagos state , the Inspector General of Police (IGP) is likely responsible for the removal of the unauthorized toll gate erected in front of Kam Selem House , a major police facility in Obalende, near Ikoyi. This toll gate appeared after the access was barricaded to protect the police facility from potential attacks during the infamous #EndSARS riots in 2020.
The blocked road had been serving as a crucial access point for commuters traveling between Obalende, a major bus terminal, and Broad Street, Awolowo Road in Ikoyi, as well as Tafawa Balewa Square, Tinubu Square in Lagos lsland, and the surrounding areas. Motorists, in their desperation to reach their destinations quickly, found themselves subjected to toll collection by the police who only lift the barricade after a fee is paid .

Recognizing that charity begins at home, the IGP probably initiated the process of addressing the misconduct within his own homestead resultingin the disappearance of the illegal toll gate. However, it is crucial for him to broaden this effort to encompass all aspects of the police force and formations nationwide .

This proposed comprehensive approach would aim to restore the tarnished image of the law enforcement agency and proactively avert potential civil disobedience triggered by youth anger . Arising from the above, immediate interventions are necessary to quell the rising discontent by deescalating it.
It is cheering that it is under the watch/supervision of IGP Egbetokun, that two rogue policemen who attempted to extort money from a Dutch tourist who was biking from Europe to Africa got apprehended and dismissed . The incident was captured in a viral video, showing the officers demanding a bribe from the European Motor cyclist along Moniya Iseyin Road in Oyo state . The victim recorded the crime on camera, leading to the arrest and summary dismissal of the corrupt officers by the Oyo State Police Command.

The dismissed police officers, Kareem Fatai and Jimoh Lukman, were recently presented before the press at the State Police Command in Eleyele, Ibadan. This summary dismisal serves as a commendable disciplinary measure, demonstrating to Nigerians and the global community that the NPF will not tolerate such indiscipline.

Such initiatives to eliminate undesirable elements from the force should persist as integral components of the NPF’s efforts to enhance its image.
Indeed, IGP should establish a dedicated unit to oversee police adherence to the Service Act in their interactions with the public, who are not only critical stakeholders but also their employers.

Commendably,the Minister of Interior, Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, has launched an investigation into a similar alleged misconduct by some officials of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) at the Seme border. This move comes in response to a complaint filed by Moyo Okediji, a professor of African art at the University of Texas, Austin, who detailed his unpleasant encounter with Nigerian immigration officers on Facebook.

According to Okediji, he was extorted and robbed of over $500 by NIS personnel when he entered Nigeria through Ghana. The NIS officials stopped him for a search and demanded $40 as a bribe, citing an expired Nigerian passport. The minister took action following Okediji’s complaint, initiating a thorough investigation into the matter.
Hopefully, the perpetrators will be identified and subjected to disciplinary procedures, with appropriate sanctions applied if they are found guilty. In such a scenario, Nigerian law enforcement agencies would appear to be on the path to redemption.
On several occasions, governors, including Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, have taken action against road traffic offenders while traveling in their convoys. A recent incident involved a man who identified himself as a member of the Nigerian army and was apprehended for riding on a bike against traffic.

The incident, recorded in a video that subsequently went viral, led to a verbal altercation between the governor and the military personnel who acted as if he is above the law, sparking divided public opinions on whether the governor’s language during the arrest was justified. Since it is not within his official duties,he now faces accusations of improper conduct, which is regrettable.

Unfortunately,what was initially seen as a promising photo opportunity, resulted in unintended negative consequences due to the fact that the governor took on responsibilities that fall within the purview of the police but which it failed to meet expectations.

However,the governor’s initiative, similar to that of his fellow governors nationwide, that was supposed to be viewed as a commendable step towards holding traffic offenders accountable, has backfired as opinion is divided on whether he did the right thing as there has been public umbrage. But commendably the military high command has apprehended and is in the process of disciplining the army officer who rained abuses on Governor Sanwo-Olu in a video clip that went viral.

As the great philosopher Socrates wisely advised, “Man, know thyself.” This quote actually finds its origins in the scripture of Jesus Christ( Isa in the lslamic world) , specifically in the book of Thomas in the Christian scripture .

It is now an opportune moment for the IGP Egbetokun to embrace this injunction which is a sentiment echoed by philosophers such as Descartes amongst many others.

The lesson intrinsic in the philosophy is that Nigerian Police Force (NPF) should actively strive to understand its duties and obligations to society. By doing so, it can cultivate genuine respect for its stakeholders and employers. In fact,”Man Know Thyself “ should be part of the philosophical teaching
in Nigerian police training schools.
The adoption of such a philosophical doctrine should be an intentional effort of the IGP.
That in my view is what is crucial to closing the integrity deficit currently afflicting the NPF.

Magnus Onyibe, an entrepreneur, public policy analyst, author, democracy advocate, and development strategist, as well as an alumnus of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, Massachusetts, USA, and a former commissioner in the Delta State government, sent this piece from Lagos, Nigeria.

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