Additional report by David Orji
For two weeks FIJ staked out the Bariga Police Divisional Headquarters, Shomolu, Lagos, and observed how its officers extort ‘okada’ (motorcycle) riders. On most occasions, they collect N200 a day from each rider.
The Nigerian police force has grown an unsavoury reputation for recklessness and abuse of power, often making arrests and demanding monetary bail, and extorting road users.
In October 2020, Lagos residents began what would become a nationwide protest against police brutality, extortion and the high-handedness of the now-defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). But despite the disbandment of this unit, extortion, illegal arrests and extrajudicial killings continue to plague Lagos and the rest of the country two years after.
On multiple occasions, Lagos residents have told FIJ how they were arrested and made to part with significant sums to buy their freedom.
In late January, motorcycle operators who ply Odunsi road, Odo-Eran, Bariga area of Lagos State, told our reporters that officers attached to the Bariga Police Divisional Headquarters, Shomolu, regularly extorted them.
“Dem dey de for here but no be everyday. Na small time now dem go come, e no go tey, you go see dem dey stay for here,” a rider who simply identified as Samuel told our reporter as he gestured to where the officers usually camped.
“They collect N200 naira per day. My association does not know what is going on. It is an illegal operation that they are carrying out here.”
More motorcycle riders corroborated Samuel’s claims, leading our reporter to visit the area to confirm the allegations.
On January 17, our reporter began a two-week stakeout of the area to interact with more riders and witness how the officers extorted them.
In a bid to establish the true nature of events as it concerned the police in this area, our reporters hit a first hurdle as riders expressed fear and did not want to give their full names, scared the police could identify them through the Nigerian Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), a union the riders belong in.
When our reporter arrived the area, the first point of contact was one Sarah, a trader whose store sat conveniently facing the road, offering her a good view of the daily transactions between the police and these riders.
Sarah confirmed the information and lamented its effect on the riders. “I feel for them because they have families. The little money they make a day is not enough for their welfare, yet the police come to tax them unlawfully,” she told FIJ.
Not long after our reporters began monitoring the area, more riders confirmed they paid N200 daily to the police to avoid being arrested.
One rider said, “If you don pay, you no go pay again till the next day. If you no give them, dem go carry your bike. We de beg dem but they no gree”.
CAUGHT ON CAMERA
During the course of FIJ’s investigation, our reporter captured men in branded police uniforms stopping riders and collecting money.
This was captured on different occasions. The common trait of these officers was that they wore police uniforms without name tags, and sometimes wore mufti.
The riders stopped protesting and queued to pay the illegal levy imposed on them.
Between the point of extortion and the police headquarters in the area, there exists a distance less than 200 meters, suggesting the officers have little worry of repercussions from the station’s leadership.
WHAT THE LAW SAYS
According to section 353-368, Part XV of the Police Act (cap 359), corruption and bribery are frowned upon and punishable with internal sanctions or dismissal.
On integrity, the act reads, “A police officer will not engage in acts of corruption or bribery, nor will an officer condone such acts by other police officers. The public demands that the integrity of police officers be above reproach.
“Police officers must therefore avoid any conduct that might compromise integrity and that undercut the confidence reposed by the public in the Police. Officers will refuse to accept any gifts, presents, subscriptions, favours, gratuities or promises that could be interpreted as seeking to cause the officer to refrain from performing official responsibilities honestly and within the law.
“Police officers must not receive private or special advantage from their official status. Respect from the public cannot be bought; it can only be earned and cultivated.”
FIJ APPROACHES POLICE WITH FINDINGS
On Wednesday, February 2, FIJ approached Adolf Ogwu, the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) of the Bariga Division Headquarters with its findings.
Ogwu expressed shock, but distanced himself from the activities of his officers. He said he had just assumed office, and had already begun to admonish his officers to avoid bribes.
Ogwu said, “At my own level, such information is useful in the sense that we have procedures and if the evidence proves that, I will take it up and default whoever is involved and inform the headquarters.
“Ever since I came to the Bariga Division Headquarters, Somolu Police Station, I have not demanded anything from them. I am not expecting anything from them. Whatever they do is at their own risk; it’s their personal doing, and as such, they must face the full wrath of the law.”
Ogwu said he was wary of the officers leaving the force if he became too hard on them.
“Most of these people are adults. They are old people. You cannot be with them all the time, and there is a way you burden them. There is a way you disturb them and they will run and leave the station for you alone to work, so it’s a stick and carrot thing,” he said.
He referred our reporters to Bulus Hassan, the Station Officer who had been there longer than him.
However, when our reporters sent the findings to Hassan, he acknowledged receipt but refused to disclose the identity of the officers. As of press time, he had not confirmed if any disciplinary action had been taken.
FIJ also contacted Adekunle Ajisebutu, the Lagos police spokesperson, but he referred our reporter to Ogwu, the same DPO that distanced himself from the matter.
Be the first to receive special investigative reports and features in your inbox.