THE COVID-19 pandemic may have turned out to be a huge money spinner for officers and men of the Nigeria Police in the Federal Capital Territory, investigations by National Record has revealed.

Our findings indicate that since the commencement of the lockdown of the Federal Capital Territory, Lagos and Ogun states ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari after his first national broadcast on March 29, 2020, the police have laid siege on FCT suburbs and neighbouring settlements of Nasarawa and Niger states. 

Rather than enforce the restriction of movement as a means of containing the spread of the novel coronavirus, the police instead redesigned it into a well-organised system of extortion of members of the public.

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According to victims, the extortion scheme, which commenced on March 30, 2020 when the lockdown kicked off, was initially thought to be the usual opportunistic instinct associated with the police. However, it quickly transformed into a well-oiled revenue drive from which the police are raking in huge income on daily and weekly basis from their men enforcing the government-imposed restrictions.

Areas mostly preyed on by the police are suburbs of Abuja – Nyanya, Karu, Jikwoyi, Kurudu and adjoining settlements of Nasarawa state, such as Mararaba, Kabayi, One-Man Village, Ado, New Nyanya, Gwandara and Masaka, among others; predominantly inhabited by people who work and do their daily businesses in the city of Abuja.

While private vehicle owners are not spared, the most vulnerable and exploited victims of the extortion, however, are commercial motorcyclists, popularly called okada riders, Keke (tricycle) operators, owners of beer parlour and pepper-soup joints and small-time hotel operators.

Narrating their experiences in the hands of the police since the commencement of the lockdown, some of these victims told National Record stories of the bitter experiences they have had in the hands of policemen since the lockdown began on 30th March.

According to an Okada rider, simply identified as Mustapha, the first few days of the lockdown were very horrible for commercial motorcyclists. On the first day, Mustapha, who could barely speak Pidgin English, said, “every ‘corner I go’ (sic), there are policemen, and they will ask for money; you will give them, and after a while, you will meet others again and they will also ask for money,” Mustapha stated, swearing that after moving from Jikwoyi to Karu, he aborted his trip and parked his motorcycle at the Karu Jumma’a Mosque since the money he charged his passenger and the little he had made earlier were not even enough to pay what he was charged by the police at a checkpoint mounted before CBN Junction along Karu-Jikwoyi-Karshi Road.

He said when he sighted another road block just after the Karu Mosque, he asked his passenger to disembark and thereafter, he went and parked his motorcycle. Asked if he was not aware of the lockdown to have stayed at home instead of being out looking for passengers, Mustapha responded with a question: “what will I eat?”

Mustapha said from the following day, Okada and Keke riders decided to build the cost of police charges into the fares the charge for the Nyanya-Karshi route when they realised that the police were not so keen on restricting people from moving about but more interested in extorting Keke and Okada operators.

Corroborating Mustapha’s account of police extortion of Keke and commercial motorcycle operators, another Okada rider, Godwin Abbah, said right from day one of the lockdown, the police were only out to make money and not to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

“The lockdown is a blessing for policemen. Yes, Baba Buhari only declared the lockdown to make the police rich. When the reduce fuel price, we were happy but with the lockdown, we couldn’t make any money. More than half of the money we realise every day goes to the police; yes that is the truth. They charge us anything from N500 to N1,000, especially in the night;” Abbah stated.

A Keke operator, who pleaded anonymity, told National Record that the police extort higher fees from Keke operators than they do from Okada riders. According to the Keke rider who plies the Nyanya-Masaka route, they cross a number of checkpoints between Nyanya and Masaka, especially in the night and before their final destination, they end up paying about N1,500. “We increase transport fare from N100 to N150 per passenger per drop to N300 to N500. With that, you will be lucky if by the end of a trip, you will have N500 balance. Most of the money we make go into police pocket,” said the Keke operator.

He revealed that most Keke and Okada riders chose to operate in the day now than in the night because the degree of extortion is usually higher in the night than in the day. “In the day, it seems they are afraid of something, so at some roadblocks they don’t ask us to pay. But in the night, at every checkpoint, we are forced to drop nothing less than N500, both Keke and Okada.

“It is like we did something bad against police; they will leave cars and be harassing us. Since the last broadcast of the President when he imposed curfew from 6 in the evening till morning, it has been worse at the Mopol Checkpoint boundary between Abuja and Nasarawa, they will waste your time and still collect money;” the Keke rider said shaking his head.

He said because of police extortion, Keke riders have broken the usual single route from Nyanya to Masaka into as many stops as required by the number of checkpoints. “Sometimes we take from Nyanya Bridge to Sharp Corner. Some people will turn back at the U-turn there or proceed but will charge passengers fresh fare to Mararaba and from there to Ado and so on. The police de show us pepper, so we too don de sabi how to cover the money we de give them,” the anonymous Keke operator concluded in Pidgin English.

Of the many stories of extortion told National Record is that which led to an unfortunate clash between soldiers and policemen who mounted a checkpoint at Jikwoyi Phase 2 Junction one evening in the first week of lockdown.

The clash, witnessed halfway by one of our correspondents, occurred after the police officers who mounted the checkpoint at the Phase 2 junction had stopped an Okada rider carrying two passengers, who, unknown to the police, were soldiers but in plainclothes from the Army Post Service Housing Estate in Kurudu. The police allegedly demanded for N2,000 from the Okada rider for violating lockdown as well as carrying two passengers.

By the time our correspondent arrived the scene, there were multiple uniformed soldiers on the scene disciplining the police officers. An eyewitness who had been at the scene from the beginning told our correspondent that the two plainclothes soldiers had pleaded with the police to allow the Okada rider to pass as they were on an errand for their oga (boss) but the policemen refused and asked the soldiers to bailout the Okada man if the errand was so important an urgent to them. It was after the soldiers’ pleas fell on deaf ears that they called their comrades at Kurudu and they promptly responded by not only mobilising some of their boys to rescue them but also dealing with the police officers.

Beer Parlours Too

The experiences of owners of beer parlours or bars and related relaxation businesses since the coronavirus pandemic perfectly illustrate the narrative of the commercial motorcyclists that the police found in Covid-19 a massive money spinner.  

Virtually all joints visited by National Record established that they were being extorted by police officers since the commencement of the lockdown. Of the joints visited, accounts of two operators of joints in Kurudu perfectly illustrate how widespread and entrenched the extortion ring has become. They told our correspondents that they had to close shop at the end of the first week of lockdown because they could no longer afford to pay N5,000 that the police were religiously collecting on a daily basis.

“At the end of the first week, I shut down this place because every evening, the police will come and ask me to pay them 5k. Because of this, I was operating at a loss and so at the end of the first week, I decided to close and wait until after lockdown,” a retired soldier who runs a popular beer parlour in Kurudu stated.

He added that a couple of days after he closed, his customers who had his mobile number started calling him, and not wanting to disappoint them, he began to operate a temporary balcony joint at his residence for some of them. Asked if that was not endangering members of his family, he said he ensured that the basic hygiene advisories and social distance rules were observed as the customers were just few.

The above story was independently confirmed at an equally very popular joint in Azhata, a settlement adjacent to the Army Post Housing Estate in Kurudu. The barman of the joint noted that they reopened a day after the commencement of the 8pm to 6am curfew, although patronage was still very low.

Asked why the place was operating since there was a definite instruction that places like bars and restaurants should remain closed until further notice, the barman said he began operating the joint after the owner and other beer parlour owners had come to agreement with police authorities to be making returns on a weekly basis.

“When the lockdown began, they [police] were charging my madam something like N5,000 a day. Since patronage was low, madam said we should close. But I think beer parlour owners have agreed somehow with the police so madam called us to resume. She didn’t tell us the amount but she said they police will be coming to collect their money by weekend now rather than daily.

“If you visit any joint from here through Jikwoyi to Nyanya, they will be open except those who have not agreed to be making the weekly returns. We also agreed to put in place all the hygiene requirements and not to allow overcrowding; which is not going to be a problem now since the EPL [English Premier League] and the Uefa Champions League are also suspended,” the barman revealed.

Two reviews of the situation by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), apart from media reports from across the country; indicate that dozens of lives have been lost in addition to several incidences of violations of human rights of citizens by security personnel in the course of enforcing the lockdown.

Checks by our correspondents in Nyanya and neighbouring suburbs of Mararaba, Kabayi and One-Man Village as well as Ado, New Nyanya and Nyanya Gwandara also confirm that the police equally have an elaborate extortion scheme in place. However, unlike the weekly arrangement in the FCT, the police in Nasarawa are still operating the daily routine by collecting as from N1,500 to N3,000 daily depending on how big or active a joint is.

Efforts by National Record to get the police to respond to these allegations failed as calls, text message and email to the Force Public Relations Officer (FPRO), Mr Frank Mba, a Deputy Commissioner of Police, (DCP), last week when this investigation commenced were not responded to. Similar efforts to reach the FCT Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Mr Anjuguri Jesse Manzah, a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) on Thursday evening, also failed as he neither picked his call nor responded to a WhatsApp message sent to his number.

Beyond the Extortion

The management of the lockdown and other restrictions on movement by the police and other security agencies has brought upon the public enormous pressures in both human and material cost right form the onset.

Two reviews of the situation by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), apart from media reports from across the country; indicate that dozens of lives have been lost in addition to several incidences of violations of human rights of citizens by security personnel in the course of enforcing the lockdown.

In its first review made public on April 15, 2020, covering 30th March to 13th April, 2020, the NHRC revealed that 18 Nigerians died from incidences of extra judicial killings in the course of enforcement of the lockdown.

In the second review published last Sunday, covering April 13, to May 4th 2020, the NHRC revealed that 11 Nigerians were extra-judicially killed. This brought the total number of Nigerians killed by security personnel to 29 within a month of enforcing the lockdown.

In addition to these unfortunate fatalities, NHRC also noted several types of violations such as torture, inhumane and degrading treatment, undue infraction of right to freedom of movement, unlawful arrest and detention, unlawful seizure and confiscation of properties, as well as sexual and gender-based violence.

Doctors also Complain of Harassment

The criticism of the poor management or enforcement of restrictions and its exploitation for personal gains by security agencies, particularly the police, is not only coming from the general public. Medical doctors in FCT, under the aegis of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), are also complaining of harassment by security agencies.

The FCT chapter Chairperson of the NMA, Dr Ekpe Phillips, threatened yesterday (Thursday, 14th May, 2020) at a press conference that health workers will go on strike if their incessant harassment by security agencies in FCT does not stop. He said despite the directive by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 granting essential workers free movement, security agencies were still harassing health workers.

“There is incessant harassment of health workers in FCT even when they show their ID card. The health care workers are front liners against this war of COVID-19. They should be encouraged rather than being harassed. These cases have been discussed with the commissioner of police and the director of security in FCT.

“We have told them that if they cannot protect the healthcare workers, we have no choice than to sit at home and let the system run by itself,” Dr Phillips said.

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