They lead us to ATM, collect our phones
Residents of Ajah community in Lagos State are the latest to add their voices to the running allegations of shenanigans leveled against officers of the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS) and Rapid Response Squad (RRS).
Leading the claims are members of the Ogombo Tricycle (keke) Unit of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) who asserted that they work all day and into the night only to be made to part with their hard-earned money by policemen from SARS.
According to them, the vicinity of the long Jubilee bridge has been turned into a goldmine by SARS and RRS operatives. Anybody caught loitering under the bridge pays a price, literally. Only a few who consort with the police or unwary visitors dare stray close to the bridge. RRS operatives are alleged to have turned a barricaded section under the bridge to a makeshift cell where they detain their victims.
Tales of uniform vice
One of the tricycle operators, Peter Nwaokedi Ukachukwu is fed up with the situation. He is one of those who had a firsthand experience of the brutality of the men in black. Ukachukwu who claimed to have been riding Keke for the past five years, avowed that his ordeal at the hand of the policemen in the past 12 months has been twice the tribulation of the past four years.
“This year’s experience has been bad. Every night the RRS under the bridge is fond of collecting a huge amount of money from us,” he said. “The other day I was attacked by one Inspector Mustapha who injured me on my forehead and I had to go to the pharmacy to treat myself.”
What was the bone of contention between him and the police officer? “He asked me to give him N100,” says Ukachukwu. “When I refused, he used the butt of his gun to hit me on the head a number of times. I went to Ajiwe Police Station, opposite Sangotedo, to report him and I was told to go and treat myself and bring the bill. When I did, they said that they instructed me to treat myself at the general hospital. I explained to them that the general hospital is far and the time was not safe to go because the incident happened in the night.”
He continues. “Some few days ago, they came as usual but we refused to give them money because business has been slow somehow. The consequence was harsh. They packed all our operators away, detained and charged them individually for one thing or the other. They were released only when our chairman settled them.”
Another operator, Segun Fabowale, who expresses his bitterness over the situation, claims police’s excessive clampdown was responsible for his failure to pay for the tricycle he procured on hire purchase at the sum N1.2m two years ago.
“It started with just blocking us on the road with their cars and buses, harassing us and our passengers,” Fabowale recounts. “We suggested that they should come to the park if they have to collect any money from us instead of harassing our passengers and risking their lives.
“What we didn’t reckon was the number of policemen that now turn up here every day. None of the group collects less than N2000 daily. We have two teams from Area J. Yet, this didn’t stop them from blocking us on the road. Under the bridge is a no-go zone for us. The police, same police that gave us permission to load is the same police that would signal another to catch us, claiming that we were breaking the law. They would impound our tricycle and collect N5000 as bail.
“I have been on this job for three years. This is my livelihood. I have a daughter at the university. In other to make enough money I sleep in the Keke because I could not go home to my family. They live in my hometown in Ogun State. I bought the Keke on hire purchase of N1.2m and I am yet to pay back for three years because of these side payments.”
Operators of tricycle are not the only victims. NURTW officials also complain. According to Demola Azeez, secretary of the Ogombo Unit of the NURTW, he and his colleagues had been victims a number of times, irrespective of their status and relationship with the police. Since the police could not legally demand money from them, they frame them for cultism on account of the tattoos on their bodies.
He relates his experience. “These policemen come from Panti. They randomly pick us up and forced us into their bus. They didn’t want to know if we had identity cards or not. On getting to their office, we were charged with various offences including cultism and armed robbery.
“We have tried our best to resolve this situation but they have not given us listening ears. Last week, when I went to bail one of my boys from the police station, I saw about five keke operators who were also arrested. I saw traders there too. The IPO said that they were charged for cultism but I disagreed because the boy is our treasurer and he had his identity card to show it. Some of them will collect your identity card and throw it away. “There was a day I was almost picked but I was able to outrun them. Those who could not escape were told to remove their clothes to check if they had tattoos. The kind of tattoo on them determined the crime they will be charged with,” he stated.
Olalere Adebayo, NURTW executive in charge of special duties, also had a story to tell. He corroborates his colleague’s account. “SARS come from Ikota Police station. If you have a small tattoo they will arrest you and charge you for cultism; if you don’t have, the bail will be set at N10, 000; if you have an ATM card, they would escort you to the nearest ATM to withdraw money.”
Adebayo asserts that he recently forfeited a sum of N13, 500 to regain his freedom from the rogue policemen. He narrates: “There are different squads; Alonge Squad, Sunday Squad, and Yellow Squad. Every day we settle more than five teams with a minimum of N2, 000 and we have more teams at the weekend.”
According to him, “If they catch any of our boys with money, they will take the money and send him away.” He further adds: “I was once caught under the bridge while I was drinking my bottled water. They said I was a cultist just because I have a tattoo on my body. I was with N13, 500 and all was taken from me. I was even asked to pay N20, 000 for bail.
Ibrahim Udu, a Keke operator and NURTW member, is the association’s fixer in charge of settling the different police groups that approach the Ogombo Unit.
“They have been a terror to us,” says he. “When they come and I don’t have money to settle them, I would be charged for fighting and disruption of peace. “Sometimes when I try to protest that I don’t have money, they would drag me to a corner and take all the money on me. There was a time one of the squads seized my phone and asked me to raise the money. They did not return to collect the money and so my phone disappeared with them. It was an android phone I bought for N35, 000. I am yet to see the squad till today,” he states.
Reacting to the allegations, Lagos Police Command spokesman, Chike Oti urges the NURTW members to go to the appropriate offices, which include his office, if they have evidence of the alleged action leveled against the police officers.
He reinforces the position of Commissioner of Police Imohimi Edgal, who on resuming office, emphasized the imperative of making police officers accountable for their actions and preferring punishment where necessary.