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Police extortion was our biggest challenge during five weeks of lockdown, Nigerians lament

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A typical security checkpoint during the lockdown


• We arrested 2,310 lockdown violators, impounded 2,092 vehicles
• We are ready for enforcement of curfew, police say

As residents of Lagos State officially make a debut to the streets today after a five-week lockdown to contain the spread of the pandemic, some residents of Lagos and Abuja, the Federal Capital City, have said that police extortion and harassment was their greatest nightmare during the period, just as they expressed fears that all eyes should be on the security agents during the period of the curfew, between 8:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. 
 
According to some who spoke to The Guardian about their encounters with security agents, it was sometimes hellish even to go and buy food in the market. A lawyer living in Abuja, Dr. Chris Okobah, said: “I was on my way back to my house in Maitama when I encountered a police checkpoint at Wuse 2, by Aguiyi Ironsi/Ahmadubelo way, opposite the gas station. I was flagged down by the police officers at the checkpoint and I obeyed.

“They asked me to produce a pass that authorised me to go out, I told the officers that I went to Next cash and carry to buy water and provisions for my home. The police insisted that he will not allow me to go home if I don’t have the pass, I was held there for 30 minutes. I informed him that I am a lawyer and that I was being detained against my will and illegally too, the policemen did not care. Then one of the defiant officers came and requested that I pay the sum of N5,000, else I will remain there longer than I imagined.

 
“I reminded the policeman that the lockdown was not meant to punish citizens but to prevent the spread of the virus, that preventing people from going out to buy food or medicine as their need maybe could be recipe for disaster as people may end up dying in their houses. But these officers didn’t care. At that point, I dared him to stand in front of my car as I am ready to face the consequences. At that point, he left and I drove off.”
 
Ndubuisi Isichei, a journalist, said: “Despite introducing myself as a journalist along Oworonshoki expressway, Lagos, I was asked to park my car. One of the policemen said: ‘Even if you are press, come and press us too. We need pressing. Police are human beings too, find us something to hold body.’ I was made to part with some money before I was allowed to go.”
 
Another journalist who does not want his name in print, was stopped around Idimu area of Lagos. He narrated his ordeal thus: “We were stopped in front of the Area M police station, they said we are under arrest. I showed them my identity card and told them we are rendering national service like them too, they seized my car and made me part with some money before my car was released to me.”

According to one Isiaka Gbolahan, “I had a harrowing encounter with some policemen at a checkpoint at Egbe bus stop along Ikotun Road on my way back home from where my wife and I went to buy foodstuff at the Ikotun market. Despite showing my ID card as a journalist to one of them, a policewoman, who was among other three policemen, insisted she was taking me to the police station for flouting the lockdown order because according to her my wife was supposed to be at home observing the lockdown order.

 
“She ordered my wife to come down from the front seat as she entered and told me to turn back that she was taking us to the police station, that was despite her colleagues’ advice to allow us go. Even when I told her to give me back my ID card, she said that would be sorted out when we get to the station. It later dawned on me to ask her the reason why she was taking us to the station and that if the government instructed them not to allow people to go to market to purchase foodstuff.
 
“It was later she came down from the car and asked me to open the car boot for her to check if there were food items as I acclaimed before she released my ID to me and told me to go. At the same junction others who were coming from the market were also harassed. While those who know their right where let off the hook, others were made to drop money before they were allowed to go.”
 
The police are not the only agency that is milking Nigerians during the pandemic lockdown. Few days ago, five court officials were arrested by Inspector-General of Police Monitoring Unit deployed to Lagos and Ogun States for parading themselves as officers of Lagos State Environmental Sanitation Enforcement Agency, popularly called ‘Task Force’ for extorting motorists and residents over the use of face mask in the state.

Among the five court officials, who were led by one Henry Akintanmi popularly called ‘Spider’ and deployed to Lagos State Special Offences (Mobile) Court, includes three policemen that were primarily assigned to ensure the safety of lives and property of the five mobile courts and magistrates in the state.

Before the IGP special team led by the former Police Public Relations Officer in Lagos, CSP Ngozi Braide, arrested the Lagos Mobile Court officials, it was gathered that the state government had been inundated with complaints of extortions on Lagos roads by the officials who were said to have allegedly established an illegal task force unit to extort residents in the state.

The United Nations human rights chief had last week warned that countries flouting the rule of law in the name of fighting the novel coronavirus pandemic risk sparking a “human rights disaster”. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, called on countries to refrain from violating fundamental rights “under the guise of exceptional or emergency measures”.

A top official from her office said about 80 countries have declared emergencies due to the new coronavirus, including 15 where the allegations were deemed most troubling.

They were: Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Peru, Honduras, Jordan, Morocco, Cambodia, Uzbekistan, Iran and Hungary.

This was on the heels of reports that security agencies had killed more people than the coronavirus in the first two weeks of the lockdown last month. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) had claimed security operatives killed 18 civilians during enforcement of a total lockdown in major cities in the country over the novel coronavirus. The commission said it got 105 petitions from families of the deceased through their lawyers and carried out investigations in the first two weeks of the lockdown.

Meanwhile, the Lagos State police command said it has arrested no fewer than 2,310 violators of the lockdown directive during the five weeks period. It has also impounded 2,092 vehicles, 1535 motorcycles and 369 tricycles. Spokesman of the command, Bala Elkana, who made the disclosure, said following the measures put in place by Lagos State government on the restriction of movements in Lagos to curb the spread of coronavirus, the command massively deployed its resources across the state to enforce the lockdown order.
 
“Fourteen identified boundaries with neighbouring states were adequately manned. Tactical units were deployed to reinforce the conventional patrol teams.

During the lockdown period, the command successfully arrested 2,310 violators. Some of the violators were arrested in clubs, some organised parties, or engaged in group exercise. 2,185 suspects were charged to court while 125 suspects who are mostly minors, were warned and released. The suspects were awarded various degrees of punishments by the court, ranging from two hours to six months community services and fines between N5,000 and N100,000. Some were asked to write undertakings to be of good conduct/apology letters.”
 
He added: “The battle against coronavirus is not over yet. The command enjoin residents to adhere strictly with the guidelines issued by the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 and Lagos State Government to stop the spread of the virus. The use of facemask is compulsory and social distancing principles must be maintained. Businesses and markets must stick to the opening and closing times allocated in the guidelines. Commercial vehicles operators must not carry passengers more than the number stipulated in the guidelines.
 
“The order restricting non essential inter-states movements is still in force. And the ban on social and religious gatherings has not been lifted. Schools remain closed until otherwise directed by the government. The 8:00p.m. to 6:00a.m. curfew imposed on residents by the government will be strictly enforced. The enforcement teams are fully out to apprehend violators and arraign them in court. We must all take responsibility for our safety and the safety of our communities. Together we can stop the spread of COVID-19.”


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