Claims of reform, as made by the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, concerning the Special Anti-Armed Robbery Squad in 2017, will always ring hollow to the public until the police authorities start holding officials accountable for their misdemeanour. This was exactly the powerful message that the Commissioner of Police, Lagos State Command, Edgal Imohimi, seemed to be sending across when he ordered the arrest of four policemen for allegedly extorting money from a Nigerian based in Togo.
Reports have it that Theodore Ifunanya was late last year arrested on suspicion of being an armed robber. This has become the pastime of some criminally-minded policemen, who take advantage of their uniform to intimidate and torture innocent citizens with the intention of ultimately extorting money from them. They would either accuse their victims of being armed robbers or internet fraudsters known as “Yahoo Yahoo Boys” in local parlance. In the case of Ifunanya, after an investigation had exonerated him from robbery, the policemen reportedly refused to refund the 350,000 CFA that was seized from him.
In many cases, the police arrest innocent citizens, especially the youth, and ask them to bail themselves with huge sums of money. They sometimes dispossess their victims of any money found on them or lead them to the bank to withdraw money for them from Automated Teller Machines. This is usually under threat of being framed for robbery if the money is not produced. Since they are usually armed to the teeth while carrying out these illegalities, their actions can only be termed as armed robbery and should be treated as such.
An undergraduate of the Kwara State University, Oluwadara Adedayo, who once had a bitter experience with these SARS officials, nearly lost his life the next time he crossed paths with them. In a desperate bid to escape, he ended up with a broken leg after jumping down from the Cele-Okota Bridge, Lagos. Of course, on noticing what their action had caused, these depraved cops bolted, leaving their victim to his fate.
In an earlier encounter, Adedayo claimed that he was locked up in a police cell at FESTAC Town for no offence that he knew of. Before his eventual release, the poor boy was relieved of N2,000, all the money he had on him, and had to trek all the way home because he had nothing left to pay his way home. Some other young men have had to part with their laptops or smart phones when they cannot come up with enough money to satisfy the greed of their tormentors.
The atrocities of SARS officers in 2017 got to a level where there was a general outcry that it should be scrapped. An outfit set up to confront violent crimes such as armed robbery and kidnapping became a tool for making life miserable for many law-abiding citizens. But, thankfully, the case of Ifunanya would not be the first time Imohimi would be intervening to punish errant policemen. A classic case was that of Immanuel Ibe-Anyanwu, who was accosted by about seven SARS operatives on April 9, 2018, as he emerged from a bank.
In these days of online banking, he was asked the ludicrous question of why he transacted his banking business at Okota instead of Ikoyi where he had his office. In broad daylight, his phone was seized to prevent him from communicating with anybody. Under the guise of using the phone to transfer the bribe they had demanded, Ibe-Anyanwu was able to outfox the policemen and got his phone back. He returned to the bank, ostensibly to get money for the policemen. But once inside, he was able to make some Facebook posts, which eventually led to his rescue. According to reports, as soon as he was apprised of the situation, Imohimi ordered the arrest of the errant policemen for possible arraignment.
A lot of people have lost their lives as a result of the activities of these criminals in police uniform. After gunning down innocent people, guns are placed beside them and the story goes out that they were killed in an exchange of gunfire. Perhaps that could have been the fate of Itan, a medical doctor, who was returning from an emergency round at 1 am sometime in May 2017. After he was detained for three hours, his wife, who feared for his life, decided to take the policemen to an ATM, where N45,000 was withdrawn and given to them instead of the N100,000 they demanded before setting their victims free.
It has become obvious that, no matter the nature of reform in the police, if some people are not made to pay for their wrongdoing, then the impunity will continue. Since only very few can speak out and be heard, a lot more will continue to suffer in silence. It has been confirmed that punishment is the greatest deterrent to crime.
Although policemen get away lightly with many killings of innocent citizens in the United States, a report by CNN online shows that between 2005 and April 2017, 80 officers were arrested for murder and manslaughter charges. Out of that number, 35 per cent were convicted, while the others were either pending or not convicted. The report was quoting a work by Philip Stinson, an associate professor of criminal justice at the Bowling Green State University in Ohio.
In Nigeria, people should be courageous enough to challenge any abuse of their rights by the police by taking such cases to a higher authority or even going to court. Unknown to the government, actions such as what the police are doing could chase away investors, who may consider the country unsafe. The usual practice when such cases are reported is for the police to defend their errant colleagues; rather, such cases should be thoroughly investigated and a policeman that has acted illegally should be made to face the law.