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Relationship Matters


Lagos Police Station Where No Motorist Can Be Innocent

Police on patrol
It was a public holiday they all looked forward to. And as the weeks faded into days, they prepared themselves, packed their bags, prepared enough edible items that could last them for the duration of their journey.

Fortunately for the Ayanfes, the holiday was a Thursday, which marked the beginning of a long weekend, hence, they converted their trip from mere family treat to a vacation, which was to run from Thursday to Sunday. They had their plans well laid out and they had really prepared for it, both psychologically and financially.

Eventually, the day they had all been waiting for came. At about 10am, they left their house in Orisunbare, in Shasha, Akowonjo Local Government Area of Lagos State, and were heading to a resort centre in Osun State. With a slow music in the background, the Ayanfes traded comic banters, cracked jokes and revelled in the loving atmosphere.

They all appeared to be in a good mood, having been deprived of such a quality family time in the past because of work. While the man, Gbenga, took the position of the driver, his wife, Esther, sat beside him while their two children rolled from one side to the other on the back seat, playing and wishing they could get to their destination in less than no time.

But that joyful moment was soon cut short when they were stopped by some policemen from the Shasha police station in Afonka Sreet, at an illegal checkpoint along the Shasha – Orisunbare Road. It was an unpleasant experience that they would likely not forget in a hurry. Not only did they spend their vacation at the police station, they went back home with pockets of frustration and anger.

According to Mr. Ayanfe, what started as a friendly chat between them and the policemen soon snowballed into an argument. He explained that one of the policemen walked up to the car and asked for everything he could possibly ask for, which he produced. Trouble started when he was asked to produce the receipt of his number plate.

“I gave him everything he wanted but I was surprised when he asked me to produce the receipt of my number plate. I felt it was a joke, so I even teased him, saying ‘Oga how do you want me to get the receipt of a number plate that I have been using for years?’ Besides, there is no special receipt for number plate. It comes with other documents from the Road Safety office. But he got angry. In fact, he slammed the butt of his gun on my bonnet and said I should come out. At that point, my little girl started crying, because of the way they held their guns.

“My brother, it was like a dream. For God’s sake, where was I to get the receipt of my number plate? It was even the old number plate which I had been using since I bought the car about three years earlier. I didn’t know what to say. One of his colleagues came around and asked what was happening. I was shocked when he told the other man that I was rude to him and that I said he didn’t know his job. I was shocked. My brother, I was lost. I screamed, and reminded him he was lying against me. I was even trying to explain to the other policeman but he told him to take me to the station.”

Still confused and not knowing what to do, Ayanfe recalled that he brought out his identity card to show that he is a responsible citizen, but his explanations fell into their deaf ears. Knowing the journey ahead of him, he said he came out of the vehicle and requested to meet their boss, who was seated in a blue van with no number plate.

He said his surprise took a new dimension when the boss said he should go and clear himself with those he had problem with or they should go to the station to settle it.

“At that point, I knew there was trouble because I have always known that police station is the worst place to go to in Nigeria. They make people miserable there because it’s their terrain.

“In spite of all the persuasion, they insisted that we should go to the station. So, one of them ordered my wife to go and sit at the back while he would sit in front. Initially, she objected, but this policeman said he would deal with her if she didn’t oblige. I had to plead with her to go and sit at the back, because they were brandishing their guns as if they were ready to shoot. So, we went to their station at Afonka.”

Ayanfe explained that their ordeal in the hands of the policemen at Afonka, Shasha, took a turn for the worst when they got to the station and they deflated the car tyres and he was told to write a statement on why he was driving a “stolen car.”

If not for the intervention of Ayanfe’s friend, a lawyer, whom he had to call to rescue him, he said he could have spent the night at the station, even though he left the place around 6pm. “They delayed us and told us to either produce the receipt or stay till someone would come and bail us,” he explained.

Not only did the Ayanfes miss their anticipated vacation, they went back home deflated, sad and discomfited.

Ayanfe’s story is just a brief reflection of what residents of Shasha, Egbeda and Ikotun areas of Alimosho Local Government said the policemen from the Afonka police station have been subjecting motorists and okada riders in these areas to.

Some residents pointed out that instead of harassing innocent victims to make money, these policemen should rather invest their energies in tackling the numerous criminal activities in the area. Some of them even pointed out that a policeman in the division had been tagged ‘I’ll shoot you’ because he was always threatening to shoot anybody who disobeys his orders or tries to claim to know his or her rights.

Some road users who spoke to our correspondent maintained that the policemen from the Afonka division had become “notorious and brazen” in the way they harass citizens, especially motorists and okada riders.

A commercial driver, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of being harassed, lamented that there was a limit to the extent to which people in the area could defend their basic rights because of the way the policemen brandish their guns and threaten people.

They added that they would rather go through the suffering, delays and even part with money than lose their lives, considering the increasing rate of accidental discharge or extra-judicial killings by policemen.

The Ayanfes could have missed a vacation for falling into the trap of the Shasha policemen, but beyond the appointment that Mrs. Nwaoji Beatrice missed occasioned by her encounter with these policemen, she got a query and three days suspension from her boss at her place of work.

Beatrice recalled that she was to join her boss for a meeting with some guests somewhere on Lagos Island, hence, she said she left her house early enough and headed for the Island. According to her, the appointment was slated for 12pm, but because of traffic congestion and any unforeseen issues, she left the house around 9am.

She said, “It was an all-important meeting, so I left my house at Idimu around 9am. I knew I would not be late even if there was traffic. But when I got to Egbeda, I met these policemen. They were about five. They all raised up their guns and told me to pull over. I was scared. It was a narrow road, and there was a little space to my left, so I just had to quickly swerve, because it was close to a corner and I didn’t see them on time.

“While I was trying to pull over carefully so as not to end up in the gutter, one of them shouted at me to answer them before they would deal with me. I was surprised they were that hostile. When he came to me, he said, ‘madam wetin dey worry you na. You no wan park abi, you think say na play we dey play here? I was surprised at such a foul language.

“I challenged him to talk to me with respect but the situation got even worse. He asked for my papers, which I gave him. And then he asked for my driving licence, I gave him the photocopy that I had. He rejected it and said he needed to see the original.”

Beatrice explained that in spite of her pleas and the explanation that she had a meeting Lagos Island, he insisted on seeing the original licence. She added that the policeman, assisted by some of his colleagues, told her to either go back home or call someone to bring it for her.

“I was confused and I knew there was no time to waste. Then, he told me we should go to the station if I was undecided. He told me to open the door but I refused. But when he pointed his gun at me, I had to open it. He said I should settle but I had just ₦5,250 on me. I offered him ₦4,000 but he said he would collect not less than ₦10,000. I didn’t have that kind of money to waste and I didn’t even have it at that time, so I had to call someone at Ikotun to go to my house, meet my house help and bring the licence for me.

“It took some time before the person brought it, so, I left there around 11am. I called my boss but he didn’t pick. Eventually, I was late to the meeting and my boss didn’t take it lightly with me.”

These and many more examples give an insight into the activities of what has become a norm in the Nigeria Police. While armed robbers, cultists, land grabbers and ritualists perpetrate their criminal activities and put the people under intense fear, those who are paid to protect them seem to have added theirs to the whole debacle.

Mr. Niran Komolafe would not mind sharing how he spent several hours at this same Afonka police station for claiming his rights. It was on a Friday evening while he and his wife were on their way to a programme. Akomolafe said the policemen stopped them somewhere in Shasha and because he didn’t feel safe, more so that the policemen wore sweaters, covering their names and identity numbers, he was reluctant to stop.

Due to his reluctance, he said one of the policemen pointed his hand to his head, indicating that something must be wrong with his head.

“The signal was that my head is not correct, which he didn’t hide. I took an exception to being insulted. So, I stopped, pulled over and asked what he meant by that. He asked if I wanted to beat him. He then said he would deal with me. So, he asked for my proof of ownership, and I challenged him to lift his sweater so I could see his name and number. He flared up and called me names. He wanted to open the rear door so he could enter my car, but I locked the door. My wife even tried to talk to me but he told her to shut her mouth, saying, “in their village, women don’t talk when men are talking.” And these are people with guns.

“It was getting late, so I called one of my friends in the Force who wanted to talk to him but he refused to take the phone from me. Eventually, they took me to their station at Afonka, where they delayed me for about two hours before one of their senior officers asked for my proof of ownership of the car, which I showed him, and told me to go.

“I even tried the number of the Divisional Police Officer written on the board but the number was not available. Sometimes, I wonder if the police hierarchy has lost a firm grip of its men, because they would even tell you that if you like you could call the Inspector General of Police and that nothing would happen.”

These and many other frustrations are what Nigerians, especially motorists go through in the hands of policemen who are paid to protect lives and security on daily basis. Motorists and okada riders in the area confided in Saturday Punch that they sometimes live under the fear of harassment by these officers. And because of the killings by policemen here and there, they said they could not challenge them or claim to be acting on their rights.

“One of them even told me that ‘who tell you say you get right. C’mmon, start the engine and drive to the station,’” a motorist who operates in the Shasha and Akowonjo area told our correspondent.

The motorist added, “I was once their victim. They stopped me and asked for everything you can imagine. Eventually, they said I didn’t have the reflective sticker. And I had but it has bleached. I had to part with some money so they wouldn’t take me to their station, because that would be the worst.”

Also, an okada rider said that going to their station was the worst thing that could happen to anybody because of their brutality.

When our correspondent visited the police station during the week, it was not a fancy site to behold. In fact, it looked like a den, filled with fierce-looking policemen. While some roamed about with their guns on their shoulders, some sat under the tree, all looking very intimidating.

There were some persons hanging around the station, standing in their twos and threes, all wearing a sad look, while some others sat inside a makeshift waiting room in the premises. Findings showed that unlawful arrests and detention are few of the activities that go on in the station.

At intervals, some people would come in a bid to bail their relatives, and while some would go back home happy, others would go back frustrated. In fact, when our correspondent entered the station, the way some complainants were being attended to by the officers on duty gave some impression of their hostility.

Our correspondent gathered from a source that one of those in the cell was being detained because his motorcycle, which was on hire purchase, was stolen, and that he had since been detained even when the owner said he had forgiven him.

The source said, “In fact, the boy who rides the okada came to report the case at the station by himself that the motorcycle was stolen, but he ended up being locked up. When the owner of the motorcycle was called, he said he wasn’t interested in any case and that he had let go. The owner even promised to buy another one but the police are saying that the family of the boy should come and bail him. The money is what the family of the boy is looking for at the moment. If he had known the owner would forgive him, he wouldn’t have gone to the police to report.”

Notably, this kind of experience is what obtains in many other locations and police divisions across the country. While policemen are paid from taxpayers’ money to protect their lives and properties, findings showed that some of these men have swapped this national assignment with something else, geared towards putting citizens under pressure, intimidation and fear.

In some other climes, the appearance of a policeman or the patrol vehicle gives comfort and a sense of cover to residents, but in Nigeria, especially in recent times, some people have said that sighting policemen unsettles them and puts them under fear of imminent brutality or attack.

“It is either they drive you off the road with their rickety vehicles and sirens, or they extort, harass and intimidate you, or they take you to their station and come up with false allegations, not to even talk of the scourge of accidental discharge,” a resident of Shasha told our correspondent.

Even though the IGP, Mr. Solomon Arase, has banned checkpoints on roads, the policemen seem to have converted the stop and search strategy to a money-making venture and a golden opportunity to harass people. From Gowon, Pen Cinema, to Ikeja, these are very evident, as observed by our correspondent.

When confronted with the allegations of activities of the men in his division, the Divisional Police Officer, Mr. Sirajo Salisu, who was initially reluctant to comment on the issue “because only the PPRO talks to the press,” said anyone who was being harassed by any of the policemen from his division should call him to complain.

He explained that he had just been transferred to the station and that since he came he had been making efforts to ensure there was discipline.

He pointed out that it was not impossible for some other officers from different formations to operate within his jurisdiction without his knowledge.

“Anyone who is being harassed should copy my number on the board and call me. I’m always available. The Police Public Relations Officer is in charge of matters relating to the press. He will speak to you,” he added.

Also, the PPRO, Lagos State Command, Mr. Joe Offor, said he would investigate the matter and get back to our correspondent which he had yet to do as of press time.

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