THE recent nasty experience of a Nigerian, Mr. Harry Odiakose, during an encounter with men of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) provides yet another indication that much more needs to be done to sanitise the force than is currently being done. According to reports, Odiakaose was arrested by a team of the Inspector-General of Police’s (IGP) X-Squad on suspicion of being a fraudster simply because he rode in a ‘big car.’ Ironically, the X-Squad is supposed to be a police internal accountability mechanism that seeks to ensure that police officers are accountable for their actions and inactions, by dealing with cases of unprofessional conduct by the police against members of the public.
The hapless citizen was reportedly picked up, together with a friend, at Koka junction on the Lagos-Asaba road, with his captors affirming that he could not have acquired the ‘big car’ in which he rode, a Lexus 350, through honest means, and all efforts to explain to the policemen that he was quite well-to-do, having been based in Poland, Europe, for 13 years before returning to Nigeria last year, proved abortive. Said Odiakose: “They said I was a kidnapper or G guy or yahoo guy (fraudster). They ordered me to get into the car and they took me away. They said I was driving a ‘big car’ and that anybody driving a so-called ‘big car’ in Nigeria was a kidnapper or ‘G’ guy. They took my car key and papers. I was taken to a mango tree where they made allegations against me and forced me to write a statement. They took me to Ibusa Police Division but kept me under the mango tree and threatened not to allow me to go until I had transferred money to them.”
That was not all: the policemen allegedly forced the victim to make a statement admitting that he was a kidnapper, and beat up his brother, an officer of the state fire service who showed up to prove his innocence, to stupor. The victim was quizzed, among other things, over the primary and secondary schools he attended, and then allegedly asked to pay N10 million, which was eventually reduced to N500,000 after a lengthy argument. And were it not for the efforts of an unnamed human human rights activist who stepped into the fray, Odiakose’s ordeal would have lasted much longer. Eventually, following interventions by the said activist, the state Commissioner of Police, Mr. Hafiz Inuwa, reportedly directed that he should be released without paying any money to anyone.
Naturally, Odiakose’s story represents just one out of many others that never became public knowledge. In Nigeria, harassment and extortion of citizens by policemen are routine, and have been for years, in spite of efforts by the police high command to sanitise the force. Although a police commissioner warned not long ago, quite rightly in our own view, that the practice of extorting money from citizens while armed furnishes the essential ingredients of armed robbery, policemen have continued the practice with abandon, scoffing at the laws of the land. This is unfortunate, not least because it makes Nigerians, including those returning home to invest in the economy, to lose faith in their country. Pray, how do you conclude that a person is a fraudster merely because of the brand of vehicle that (s)he rides? We recall with indignation the case of Olayinka Peter Oladeji, a professional footballer who was harassed by policemen at Lekki Phase 1, Lagos, last year after being labelled a fraudster because of his dreadlocks. The famous hip hop artist, Paul Okoye, who rescued Oladeji from his ordeal, was surprised to see him playing against Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League only a few months later. Oladeji plays for Czech Republic First League outfit, Slavia Prague.
To be sure, the NPF has an uphill task on its hands in proving to Nigerians that the popular slogan, “Police is your friend,” is meant to be taken seriously. While, admittedly, there are a crop of decent, disciplined and God-fearing policemen at every division of the NPF, the cold fact is that the dark deeds of the bad eggs in the force tend to overshadow the activities of these few good ones. As we have said in previous editorials, the way to go is constant training and re-training, and swift punishment of transgressors. In this regard, the policemen who subjected citizen Odiakose to harassment and torture must be given their just deserts, and in record time.
Said Odiakose: “I am not against police checkpoints. But checks should be conducted professionally and they (policemen) should respect people’s rights. When they stop someone and find something incriminating on the person, the person should answer for it. But they should not be forcing people at gunpoint to say they did what they did not do, or demanding money from members of the public. If after searching people, nothing incriminating is found on them, they should be allowed to go their way.”
This declaration is not an unreasonable one. It is in fact solidly anchored on the laws of the land.