Police, lockdown extortion and One Million Boys

Casmir Igbokwe

It was about 3pm. A strange, lanky woman had blocked Ebuka from driving back home. It was at a neighbourhood supermarket where he had gone to buy a few things for the family. Surprised and confused, he demanded to know the woman’s mission. But she kept asking him to park. Before he could fathom what was going on, some policemen arrived at the scene. It was then the woman flashed her identity card to reveal that she was a divisional police officer (DPO). They took Ebuka to their station and that was when trouble started.

At the station were more than 20 other victims, including a pregnant woman. They were all accused of violating the COVID-19 lockdown order imposed on the Federal Capital Territory, Lagos and Ogun states by President Muhammadu Buhari. Ebuka’s protest that he only came out to buy food items for his children who were hungry fell on deaf ears. The police told him he was supposed to sit at home, that buying food was between 10am and 2pm. To cut the long story short, some of them were set free by 11pm after paying some ‘ransom’ of between N30,000 and N50,000 each. The pregnant woman, who started crying at a point, was asked to call her husband to bring N100,000.

The above scenario, which happened last week in Lagos, is a familiar story in different parts of the state and beyond. In some instances, some residents claimed they paid as much as N200,000 each to the police to bail themselves. I deliberately did not mention names or particular crime locations because my intention here is not to put anybody in trouble. It is to draw the attention of the police hierarchy to the way their men are enforcing this stay-at-home order.

The worst now is the extrajudicial killing of people. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), last week, alerted Nigerians to the killing of 18 citizens by security agents. The killings took place in Abia, Katsina, Kaduna and Niger states. The NHRC even gave us an incomplete figure. It didn’t record the killing of two other people in Anambra and one driver in Cross River State. Ironically, as the commission noted, security personnel have killed more people in Nigeria than the deadly coronavirus.

It is unfortunate that some Nigerians have the proclivity to take advantage of people’s adversities. Granted, there is an order restricting movement, which is aimed at preventing the spread of the deadly disease, but how do you explain that the police will probably arrest someone who is alone in his vehicle but turn a blind eye to a fully loaded bus because an officer is inside? Overnight, some security personnel have become commercial drivers ferrying passengers from one location to the other for a fee. It does not matter if the passengers do not maintain social distancing. It does not matter if they transmit the disease to one another.

Be that as it may, using brutal force or extorting money to compel people to observe sit-at-home order is not the best. Law enforcement agents have tried it in some other African countries like South Africa, Kenya and Uganda but it failed. It failed because Africans are not Europeans or Americans. They live a communal life. Many live in slums and overcrowded urban centres. Maintaining social distancing in this circumstance may not work like in Europe and other advanced societies. The security agents will always run into problems with people if they fail to appreciate this fact. They need to mellow down so they don’t alienate themselves from the people they are supposed to protect.

They should rather go after sundry criminal elements harassing people and threatening the peace of various communities in the country. In Lagos, for instance, there is a cult/robbery gang called One Million Boys. They and others of their ilk have capitalised on this lockdown to terrorise innocent residents of Lagos and Ogun states. Their evil exploits are felt in such places as Abule-Egba, Agege, Iyana-Ipaja, Dopemu, Iju-Ishaga, Idimu, Alagbado, Sango, Ifo and many others. They reportedly invade houses, loot shops and unleash mayhem on citizens. In some cases, they reportedly write to inform targeted communities or streets that they are coming. Sometimes, they attack with little or no resistance from anywhere. Some frustrated residents have had to form vigilance groups and keep awake all night to protect themselves. Some youths resort to burning tyres on the road to scare away the marauders.

Happily, the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Hakeem Odumosu, has asked Lagosians to sleep with their two eyes closed. “We have neutralised the One Million Boys since,” he assured residents. He added that they had stepped up surveillance, following the panic generated by the threat letters purportedly written to some communities by the faceless group. Last Friday, Odumosu led squadrons of anti-robbery policemen to some tension-soaked communities to allay residents’ fear. In case of any armed robbery attacks in Lagos, Odumosu said one could call these emergency numbers: 09010512385, 09010512286, 09010512287 and 09010512288.

Generally, the situation we find ourselves in today calls for empathy for citizens. It calls for policing with a human face. The majority of our people live from hand to mouth. The lockdown has affected businesses. The worst hit are the daily paid workers. Many of them are hungry and angry. And when people are hungry, nothing can stop them from coming out to look for food.

Thus, our law enforcement agents should stop the extortion and killing of innocent citizens. The authorities concerned should carry out thorough investigations, prosecute offenders and adequately compensate the families of victims of extortion and extrajudicial killings.

On its part, government should do everything possible to ensure that the palliatives it is sharing get to as many people as possible. The National Social Register of 2.6 million people is too paltry. Though President Muhammadu Buhari has announced an addition of another one million people in the register, the high population of the poor in Nigeria renders the figure grossly inadequate.

In all, lockdown is not punishment. Neither is it imprisonment. It is to protect the citizens from a deadly invader. The earlier security agencies understand it that way, the better for all of us.

 

Re: National social investment paradox

Even at the risk of any counter-motion, let it be authoritatively stated that there’s no coronavirus in Nigeria. If this virus exists, as it truly exists in countries like US, we will all die in droves for lack of capacity to contain the scourge. In Nigeria, it’s all drama signifying nothing but the opening of another Pandora box. What truly exists, and has been existing in Nigeria, is corruptionvirus, which has had a vice-like grip on succeeding Nigerian governments and the society generally. Mrs. Aisha Buhari’s open lamentation of her frustration occasioned by the daily multiplicity of corruption in Nigeria is a way of calling a spade a spade, not a farmer’s tool.

The approach to stemming the spread of coronavirus in countries like China, Italy and USA, where the virus actually exists and lives, is serious and conscientious. It’s the social and economic wellbeing of the people that matter.

In the US, the economic stimulus is programmed in such a way that more money is channelled to low-income earners, the worst hit, as opposed to the high earners. But in Nigeria, the very politicians who are used to stealing their way to political office either give out short shrift or divert the palliative packages meant for the poor and underprivileged. Now, high level government officials who are used to free food and services say the monetary package will only be targeted at Nigerians with less than N5,000 in their account. This must be the mother of executive corruption! The N5,000 yardstick is a huge fraud knowing its worthlessness in Nigeria’s economy today. A mere roadside fruit seller in Nigeria is very capable of boasting of more than N5,000 in his or her account while some lawyers and other professionals who form part of the so-called privileged society may also be hard hit because of the economic lockdown and joblessness.

 – Edet Essien Esq., Calabar South, +2348037952470

 

Thanks, Casmir. Help is an enemy but redemption is a friend. So the Social Investment Programme should teach Nigerians how to catch fish rather than feeding us with fish. Rather than share money, it should sponsor skill acquisition. SIP showroom should be constructed in higher institutions and graduates should not be issued certificates unless they perfect a skill such as fashion, hair dressing, carpentry, etc.

 – Cletus Frenchman, Enugu, +2349095385215

 

The truth of the matter with this country is that some people make fortunes on other people’s predicament. It is a very unfortunate bad habit and we must stop it. Be your brother’s keeper at all times.

– Gordon Chika Nnorom, Umukabia, +2348062887535

 

Casmir, during a war situation with an invisible (but visible under an electronic microscope) enemy like the one we have now, courtesy of COVID-19, welfarism is highly important in order not to dampen the spirit of especially the downtrodden in the society. Competent, compassionate and good-spirited people with fear of God should handle the equitable and fair distribution of all allocated material/financial resources to the populace.

– Mike, Mushin, 08161114572

 

Dear Casy, at Federal Ministry of Health, when Sino coronavirus erupted, the hospitals hadn’t equipment and drugs. Thanks to our health team who are great experts but aren’t provided with the tools to work. Nigerians have never enjoyed any better deal. It has been deceit, lies, mass poverty, mass murders, propaganda and abracadabra. May God save and bless pauperized Nigerians.

– Eze Chima C., Lagos, +2347036225495

 

Dear Casy, thank you so much for your interesting piece on (NSIP). Honestly, Nigerians have been greatly deceived for years. Enough is enough!

– Okey, 08033429133

 

  • First published in the Daily Sun of Monday, 20 April 2020

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