Police increasing extortion under Idris

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Scandals that question the integrity of the police are not scarce in the country. In Lagos and Imo states, the recent squeezing of bribes out of Nigerians posted on the social media grabbed the headlines. These episodes should instruct the police authorities that if any moral re-orientation is on, the impact is still hollow.

The two incidents were such an epic shameful drama that the authorities in Lagos and Imo 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.

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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 the nit-wits that the bribe they asked for could only be arranged with it.

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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.

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Earlier theatrics on the same matter in Owerri, the Imo State capital, had four journalists as victims. They were returning to Lagos from an Online Media Practitioners Association of Nigeria conference. Operatives from the State Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department 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. The Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, should imagine the mentality of policemen asking journalists who never committed any offence to bribe them without considering the likelihood of their misconduct being reported.

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One of the journalists, George Williams, said they got a stern warning to either pay or risk being levelled with any criminal allegation. 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 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.

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Accounts of police threat to incriminate citizens and lead them at gunpoint to the ATMs to withdraw cash to regain their freedom are legion. A Lagos-based medical doctor almost lost his life in similar circumstances as he ventured out in the dead of the night to answer an emergency call. 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.

For the same misconduct, the Lagos State Police boss, Edgal Imohimi, removed the officer in charge of the Anti-Kidnapping and Anti-Cultism Squad, State Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department last year. The officer and his colleagues had allegedly demanded N50,000 from a lady for an alleged theft, seized her phone and detained her because of the balance of N20,000.

Imohimi has a lot of work to do with the unbridled indulgence of his officers in these despicable acts. In September last year, 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.

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Last month, Imohimi raised the alarm that “many exhibits, both miscellaneous and vehicular, are now in the hands of unscrupulous policemen; they have diverted and converted them to their personal use. It is a criminal offence…”

An abuse like this or those that went viral on social media are not tackled with homilies or lame internal disciplinary mechanisms. They are dealt with by the strict application of the law. This was how the case of criminal policing that involved Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor – former detectives in Baltimore, United States – was handled in February. They were convicted for stealing $100,000 out of $200,000 in a safe of a drug baron. The so-called orderly room trials in Nigeria have not been able to rein in the bad eggs in the Force. More often than not, they end up with either reduction in ranks or reposting as punishment.

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Therefore, we remind the IG and the 36 state commissioners that taking a bribe is a criminal offence under the country’s law; and not subjecting those with proven cases to court trial is why the sore festers. This means continual public denigration of the police. There is no way these depraved elements that harass, incriminate, incarcerate and kill innocent citizens in an attempt to fleece them can serve public security interests.

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When many IGs’ orders to dismantle road blocks are routinely disobeyed, laptops and mobile phones of citizens are wantonly searched, in violation of their privacy, and pursuit of motorists lead to avoidable fatalities, extortion is at the heart of it all. These abuses are rising on Idris’ watch. A police force that impunity and bare-faced criminal policing underpin its operations will fail abysmally. The IG should get the message.

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