Recently in Lagos State, an illegal raid carried out by some policemen led the state government to request for their redeployment. But that illegal raid may just be a drop in the ocean of such raids perpetrated by the law enforcement agents who, it is believed, still harass and arrest residents for “wandering” at night. However the Lagos State government wants an end to this, as it seeks to restore the city’s lost nightlife. In this report, Saturday Tribune’s duo of TUNDE ALAO and CHUKWUMA OKPARAOCHA take a critical look at the development.
In 2005, when the Lagos State Police Command expunged wandering from its criminal code, Lagos residents heaved a huge sigh of relief, believing that the days of extortion by the rank and file of the Nigeria Police Force had gone forever.
The Lagos State government may, however, be set on a collision course with some security agents operating in the state which prides itself as “the Centre of Excellence.”
This is because, while the Lagos government wants a 24-hour activities to drive its economy, where day or night wouldn’t be a barrier, some persons in the police apparently see night (and sometimes evening), as the time they can make arrest residents with various charges ranging from ‘wandering’ to ‘robbery attempt’ and other charges a lot of people believe are not just spurious but ludicrous.
Taking a look at the way things were in terms of security in the state (and the nation as a whole) a Lagos-based civil rights activist, Miss Tayo Akindele, had this to say: “It is only in Nigeria that people who never knew each other but met at bus stops or public places for the first time get arrested and charged for robbery, as if that particular crime could be planned within minutes of their coming together.”
Thus, Miss Akindele’s comment seems to further buttress the question many people have been asking, including those who have at some point fallen its victim, “What constitutes wandering?”
To the elderly ones, night life in Lagos was full of fun as a result of social activities that included buying and selling of goods. At that time, visiting cinema houses, specifically in odd hours was a common practice. This was a time in Lagos’ rich history when people, especially young men and women spent a considerable length of time, moving from one cinema to the another at night.
“At that time, there were various film houses located across the metropolis, and they included Sheila, Corona, King and Royal all located in Central Lagos, in Idioro, we had Rainbow Cinema, while in Ebute Metta, there were other cinema houses, where young men and women went to watch movies,” said Chief Tokunbo Adeyemi, an octogenarian and retired civil servant, who spoke with Weekend Lagos on the subject matter.
Chief Adeyemi who nostalgically reminded Saturday Tribune of Lagos’ “good old days,” further said, “while we the youths went to cinemas at night, the elderly ones would attend all night social events and parties without any form of molestation by security agents. Indeed, in those days, Lagos’ economy didn’t discriminate between day and night. Those were days that the economy was truly in good shape, as workers even did shifts in their workplaces, with those on night duty walking from their homes to their places of work at night.”
“Most of the manufacturing industries were doing three shifts in a day. A good example of this was the textile industry, which had quite a number of companies doing morning, afternoon and night shifts. At that time, it was only on very rare occasions that the police would arrest people arbitrarily.
“Unfortunately, things started taking a bad shape during the Second Republic, when the nation’s economy started nose-diving and unemployment began to creep in. Soon, different kinds of crime began to spring up in the country, including in Lagos, where the police began to arrest and harass people indiscriminately for “wandering,” thus killing Lagos’ once buoyant night life,” he added.
However, with the influx of people from every part of the country and even beyond into Lagos, the city began to witness (and is still witnessing) remarkable population growth that eventually made accommodation a huge challenge to the residents, especially those who are without any means of livelihood. This development turned public places and infrastructure, such as abandoned or uncompleted buildings, under bridges and other similar facilities into the abode of some residents.
Truly, this development began to pose serious challenge to the city’s security, as criminal activities began to be on the rise on daily basis, thus making the police to swing into action, and indiscriminate arrests soon became the order of the day. This eventually culminated in the now infamous “night wandering” harassment of innocent residents.
Another resident of the state, Chikelu Onuoha, would not forget his experience in a hurry, as he claimed to have been harassed and eventually arrested by some police officers for “wandering” at night.
“Ironically, indiscriminate arrests in the name of checking crimes and criminal activities have become the veritable opportunity for money making,” he noted.
Narrating his experience, Onuoha said, “Friday, May 20, 2016, is a day I cannot forget in a hurry. I was about to go to my house which was on Odunlami Street in Lagos Island. But upon realising that time had gone I decided to stay with my friends at Surulere.
“Around 11 pm, three of us strolled to the next street to find some noodles to eat, because we were hungry, we expected to get some to eat, because it is not uncommon for one to find cooked noodles sellers still operating very late. While we were waiting to be served, a police van appeared from nowhere and parked by our side. A police officer jumped out of the vehicle demanding to know what we were doing outside at that time of the day?
“As one person in our group, Samson, was trying to tell him that we lived on the next street and that we were merely trying to find something to eat, two others, a sergeant and corporal, also got down from the vehicle and started to forcefully drag us into the van.
Onuoha further revealed that the police succeeded in taking them to their station where they were detained for hours until they had to part with N15000 before they were eventually released.
Onuoha’s experience is perhaps a child’s play compared with Mr. Leke Ayinde’s, another resident who was practically dragged out of a pub where he had gone to watch a football match between two foreign clubs.
“We were at a beer parlour watching a football match between Real Madrid and Wolfsburg during the last European Champion League, when suddenly a police vehicle parked in front of where we were.
“Without any question, they asked us to enter their vehicle, claiming that we were wandering all about. Meanwhile, we were all watching the match because there was no light in the neighbourhood that night and it was just 8 o’clock in the evening.
“We were taken to Alakara Police Station where they asked us to pay N5,000 each, while some others could only raise between N2,000-N3,000. Not until the money was paid before we were eventually allowed go. Those of us who couldn’t pay had to stay in the cell till the following morning before we were eventually allowed to contact our relatives to help raise the money,” he said.
Saturday Tribune also recalled hearing a woman who in hushed tones rained curses and expletives on a group of police officers spotted driving in front of her shop recently.
This was at Area 1 Estate in Adura area of Alagbado, where a group of policemen was seen patrolling the entire neighbourhood in their black van.
After the van had vanished into a corner known to have diverse games centres where young men often came to play all sorts of video games for a token, the woman, a cooking gas seller, began raining a series of tirade on the “men in black.”
When asked why she did that, the middle-age woman pointed out that it had somehow become habitual of the officers to ‘carry out raids’ on such games centres, and sometimes local pubs, where “arrested” people would be made to pay some money before they would be released.
“Don’t mind them (police officer), that is what they usually do. They have turned indiscriminate arresting of people into serious business. Only recently, they came to a shop close by and arrested every one found relaxing in it. I was later informed that they collected N20,000 from each of those arrested, including minors, before those arrested could be released. I know of a woman who had to beg around to raise the money to bail her son who was among those arrested. Now they are back again, does this not call for one to raise curses on them? she rhetorically asked.
She further disclosed that many of the games centres in that neighbourhood had been practically run aground by the actions of the security agents, as a lot of those patronising them now keep such centres at arms length.
This idea was supported by an operator of a games/viewing centre in the estate who revealed to Saturday Tribune that sensing that his business was about to crumble due to the actions of the security agents, he had to be ‘settling’ them on his own so that they wouldn’t bother him anymore.
Speaking strictly under the condition of anonymity, the youthful business operator said, “My shop had been raided by the police twice. On each occasion, nobody saw it coming as my customers were glued to what they were watching or playing. Soon after the second raid, I started recording a continuous drop in the number of those who patronised me. It was then someone advised me to be settling the officers so that they would leave me alone, and this is what I have been doing. Since I started settling them, they have not been coming to harass my customers again. But I had to go through hell to win many of my customers back again.”
Cases like these appeared rampant perhaps until three weeks ago when the excesses of the police got the attention of the Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, who had to ask the Commissioner of Police in the state, Mr. Fatai Owoseni, to ensure that over 120 policemen attached to Lagos State Task Force on Environmental Sanitation (Task Force) were redeployed from Lagos.
The affected operatives of the Task Force were said to have engaged themselves in what the government described as “illegal duty.”
It will be recalled that on that fateful Friday, the Task Force operatives, led by a Superintendent of Police (SUPO), were said to have arrested some people for the usual offence of wandering. Among the victims was a lady that was said to be “highly connected.”
This highly connected lady was said to have made a phone call to her father, who in turn, made a call to another highly placed government official, and within 15 minutes, the lady was released. She was however intelligent enough to get the numbers of few of the officers who had ‘arrested’ her in the first place, and forwarded her ordeals and those of other victims to some popular blogs.
“This infuriated Governor Ambode, who stated that the arms and ammunition and other security gadgets he was providing were meant to fight criminals and not to oppress innocent residents,” said a top government official who spoke with the Saturday Tribune in confidence.
“We want to return safe night life in Lagos and it is the responsibility of law enforcement agents to secure life and property of the people and not to oppress them under a ‘phantom’, and archaic law of wandering,” the government official further noted.
The Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Steve Ayorinde, it will be recalled, had in a statement, following the incident, said the governor had sent the redeployment request to the state Commissioner of Police, Mr Owoseni.
He said, “Governor Akinwunmi Ambode asked for the redeployment following raids carried out in different parts of the state by officers of the Task Force.
“The governor has sought an immediate redeployment of several of the Task Force officers from the unit, and possibly from the state, over what the he calls unacceptable conduct.
“The request became necessary in order to check mate the recurrence of the unauthorised raid and indiscriminate arrest of citizens who were out to have fun on Friday nights.”
Ayorinde said preliminary investigation showed that the raid was carried out with the knowledge of a high-ranking member of the Task Force, but without the approval of its chairman.
He noted that such a conduct was not in tandem with the vision of the state government and was, therefore, condemnable.
“Their conduct is also unbecoming of officers who are expected to protect the citizenry and ensure that citizens and visitors find every part of the state safe and conducive enough, not only on Friday nights, but every day,” he said.
Ayorinde, who apologised on behalf of the government, said the state would not condone acts of high-handedness, extortion and disregard for human rights.
The image maker in charge of the state police command ,Dolapo Badmos said that the police in the state does not condone such alleged extortion .
“ Why is everything about the police?
Extortion is not allowed under the present leadership of the Nigeria Police Force .You people should commend us for what we are doing,” she said.