A report by SaharaReporters has revealed that despite the growing clamour for reforms to make it a people-friendly institution, the Nigerian Police has continued to operate in a manner that suggests it is not ready to turn a new leaf.
Reform of the police was one of the demands of #EndSARS protests that virtually brought the country to its knees in October 2020.
Despite this, the Lagos Police Command has once again come under heavy criticism over its recent operation that led to unlawful arrests and extortion of innocent citizens around Gowon Estate in the Egbeda/Idimu area of the state.
SaharaReporters gathered that a contingent of armed policemen in three Hilux pick-up vans stormed the area around 10 pm on Sunday, February 7, 2021, and raided some places, arresting anybody they could lay their hands on, which included restaurant operators, service boys, shawarma sellers, roast meat vendors popularly called mai Suya and passers-by.
The operation was led by the DPO, Gowon Estate Egbeda, Kabiru Suleiman, in conjunction with the commander of Area ‘M’ Police Division, Idimu, Abiola Haruna Akano.
Among those arrested was one Mr. Wale Alade, an elderly retiree, and his friend identified as Mr. Alex, both of whom were sitting in front of Alade’s house.
Others were Kolawole Joshua, a sales boy selling at a spot around the area, Ezekial, a roast fish seller, and a Hausa selling Suya, whose name was not mentioned.
SaharaReporters gathered that on leaving the spot, the policemen picked up one Mrs. Veronica Kalu and her brother in front of her estate gate at Road 121, Gowon Estate, and bundled them into the vehicle.
It was learnt that Mrs. Kalu was seeing off her brother who had visited her before they were both picked up.
On leaving Gowon Estate, the police team reportedly accosted some commuters who were waiting to board vehicles to their destinations at Egbeda bus stop and bundled them into their vehicles.
Among those arrested at the bus stop was one Markson Peter Godson who operates roast fish spots around Gowon Estate and Karimu Laka, all within the Egbeda area.
Some people were also illegally arrested from other different spots, bringing the total number of people arrested to 25.
They were detained overnight at Area ‘M’ Police Division, Idimu.
Investigation revealed that among the 25 people arrested that night, six people were able to pay for their freedom to the tune of about N60,000 each while the 19 others were sent to State Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department, Panti, Yaba, the following day.
Right from the night of the arrest, many relations of those arrested, including Pius Ehimare, the owner of one of the restaurants whose ward was arrested along with others, visited the Gowon Estate police station, just about 500 metres from the scene of the arrests with the hope of securing their release.
However, they were told that the arrested persons had been taken to Area ‘M’ Division at Idimu, and that the operation was ordered by the Area Commander himself.
“On getting to Idimu later that night, we were told that the area commander had closed for the day,” a source told SaharaReporters.
“We visited again on the morning of Monday, February 8, but nothing much was achieved until 19 out of the 25 initial arrests were taken to Panti, Yaba, preparatory to being charged to court.”
SaharaReporters gathered that the drama took a bizarre twist when those arrested arrived at Panti only to be confronted by policemen who asked them to form groups of three members each, with each group expected to raise N100, 000 to secure their release on bail.
The source said, “While some of them agreed to pay the money, others did not accept the offer or did not have the money to buy their freedom. In the end, some of the detainees were able to pay but ended up paying between N50,000 – N60, 000 to secure their release, leaving behind about seven others who could not afford the money and were subsequently categorised among the people to be charged to court on frivolous allegations of being arrested at dark spots around 3 am.
"It was learnt that a media practitioner who was aware of the fraudulent act of the police officers sent a message to the state Commissioner of Police, Hakeem Odumosu, with a detailed report of the events of the night and the monetary demands of his officers, with a request to the commissioner to wade in and save innocent citizens from the hands of the corrupt police officers.
“The man expressed his disappointment over the action of the police who were bent on punishing innocent people who were arrested on their business premises two hours before the commencement of the midnight COVID-19 curfew and were to be charged to court for being found 'at dark spots at 3 am.
“On getting to court on Monday, February 15, where the detainees were to be arraigned at Yaba Magistrates' Court, a police officer, Mr. Richard Atagah, who brought them to court suddenly announced to us that he was taking the detainees back to Panti because there was an order from above to free the detainees.
“On getting to Panti, the detainees were released without any condition attached to their freedom. Many people have interpreted the 'order from above to release the detainees unconditionally' to have come from the commissioner of police himself following the message earlier sent to him by the media practitioner who was following up the case.
“The arbitrary action of the police on poor and innocent Nigerians who were struggling to eke out a living has raised some fundamental issues. At a time when the detention of suspects in police cells is being discouraged to stem the spread of COVID-19, police authorities at Panti found it expedient to detain many people in cells over a period of time, without concerns about their safety.
“While there are cries of the police being overstretched by security challenges around the country, the police appear to see nothing wrong in adding unnecessary tasks to their list – going round to make arbitrary arrests of innocent and law-abiding citizens on trumped-up charges and asking them to pay exorbitant amounts as bail to secure their freedom.”
Speaking to SaharaReporters, one of the detainees, Markson Peters Godson, said he was bundled into the police van at Egbeda bus stop while he was waiting to board a bus home after closing from office, and that his attempt to find out the reason for his arrest earned him a serious beating from the policemen.
Godson said that his friends spent about N55, 000 to secure his release from Panti.
He said he saw hell at Panti detention centre and almost wished death on himself because of the horrible condition of the place.
Another victim of the unlawful police operation, Kola Joshua, expressed appreciation to the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, suspected to have ordered their unconditional release as soon as the matter was brought to his notice.
He said that for no just cause, he was arrested right from his business premises and detained for about eight days.