Despite End Of SARS, Police Officers Still Extort, Intimidate Citizens

ODIMEGWU ONWUMERE investigates in this article that in spite of the directive from the police top brass instructing their officers not to check someone’s phone, except the phone is marked as evidence in a legal proceeding, police officials persist in flouting this regulation and believe that nothing will happen. The article however tracks that even after the #EndSARs movement, these illegal demands by police staff to scrutinize the cell phones and personal computers of Nigerian citizens have led to unwarranted fatalities, extortion, unlawful imprisonments, and harassment

On the evening of September 6, 2022, Theophilus Blamoh and two of his acquaintances were strolling the streets of Ilorin, a central Nigerian city, in search of their dinner when a police van approached them.

According to eyewitnesses, a black pick-up truck pulled up beside them with one door open and an individual inside shouted at them to get in. In Al Jazeera’s “Two years after #EndSARS, police brutality in Nigeria goes on,” despite their resistance, two policemen emerged from the vehicle, brandishing their guns, which prompted the trio to comply and enter the van.

Before driving off to the nearby police station, the source said, one of the officers recognized one of the young men as a fellow church member and allowed him to leave.

Blamoh, a 23-year-old undergraduate student of performing arts at the University of Ilorin, informed Al Jazeera that the officers searched their phones but found no incriminating evidence.

“They also checked my account balance and discovered that I had just withdrawn my last 1,000 naira,” he added.  When the police officers’ expectation seemed dashed, they said that one of the officers inquired why they (Blamohs) were not “Yahoo-Yahoo boys” (internet fraudsters), presumably to extort more money from them.

Being brave, Blamoh asked why a law enforcement officer would pose such a question, but that question resorted to them hitting him with the butts of their guns.

This was happening two years after despite a global spotlight on nationwide demonstrations in 2020 demanding an end to police brutality and the disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), known as oppressive police unit for police brutality.

Even as the unit was dissolved, and authorities took steps towards accountability for police misconduct, the story has not changed. Saondo Orshio said he participated in the demonstrations held in Abuja, the nation’s capital, demanding an end to the alleged institutionalized police violence.

Orshio revealed to VOA that he has been persistently subjected to intimidation by officials ever since, and the most recent event took place roughly three months ago, as at the time he filed the report, a year ago.

“I have a vivid recollection of experiencing police violence even after the End SARS demonstrations,” he recounted.

“While in the company of a companion, a law enforcement officer accosted us and confiscated our mobile devices, alleging that we were involved in fraudulent activities and demanded that we bribe him or risk being detained at their facility. He even went as far as threatening to ruin our professional aspirations.”

How Something Happens: What Led To #EndSARs?

EndSARS protests started as a call to end police ruthlessness and extrajudicial killings that have become endemic in Nigeria. When soldiers unlawfully arrested citizens and violated their rights, there was a long history of harassment and unfair treatment by the police.

ThisDay report two years ago titled, What Led to #EndSARS Protests?”

Police officers shot and killed a 27-year-old 500-level Law student at Nnamdi Azikiwe University on May 4, 2020, in a beer parlor. On May 21, a similar incident occurred when the police brutally murdered a boy who was the only son of his parents. He was on his way home from work around eight o’clock when he was pursued by officers from the Nimo unit until he was struck by a moving vehicle. It was believed that his injuries caused his death.

Tina Ezekwe, who was 17 years old and getting ready to take her WAEC exams, was hit by a bullet fired by a police officer who was said to be drunk. The officer shot to disperse a crowd that had gathered after he opened fire on a bus driver who had refused to bribe him on May 26, 2020. Two days after the incident sparked a flurry of social media campaigns calling for justice, Tina passed away.

A 20-year-old motorcycle rider was shot and killed by a police officer in Adamawa on June 2, 2020, for not paying a bribe of N100. On July 9, 2020, a 27-year-old man was killed by a police officer in Imo for not wearing a face mask. On October 3, 2020, a police officer who opened fire on people at an Abuja beer parlor shot and killed Samson John. A young woman was shot in the mouth by a police officer in Lagos on October 8, 2020, for protesting against SARS and police brutality.


What Happened During #EndSARs

It was evident that protesters in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, and some states were subjected to intimidation and violence by security forces and armed thugs, during the protest.

A Lagos-based attorney Kenneth Collins Ajagu registered in VOA’s “Nigerian Activists Say Police Brutality Lingers Two Years After Massive Protests,” saying that the shooting that occurred at the Lekki toll gate in the #EndSARs protest has gone down in history in Nigeria, and for numerous demonstrators, such, it represents suffering and injustice.

According to the source, Amnesty International reported that Nigerian security forces killed up to 12 protesters at the toll gate, and numerous other deaths were recorded nationwide. Ajagu said he was fortunate to leave the site when he did.

“I was present until around noon on the day of the shooting. When I departed, it was still a peaceful gathering, and music was playing. Given what has occurred, everyone is still reeling from the trauma,” he stated.

On October 20, 2020, a video circulated on social media, revealing men believed to be military officers shooting at peaceful protesters in Lagos, causing widespread indignation. Several fatalities were reported.

The UN Secretary-General  said he was intently following the development across Nigeria, right after reports that dissenters had been shot dead and injured, and required “an end to revealed police ruthlessness and abuses.”

António Guterres stated in a statement issued by his spokesperson, “The Secretary-General encourages the authorities to quickly explore avenues to de-escalate the situation. He emphasizes the preparation of the Unified Nations to help public endeavors towards tracking down an answer.”

Torture: An Intrinsic Part Of Police

As earlier reported, Tina Ezekwe, a 16-year-old secondary school pupil passed away as a result of being hit by a police projectile in the Iyana-Oworo vicinity of Lagos. According to reports of November 4, 2020 contained in “Police Brutality in Nigeria: An Unending Nightmare,” the police officer fired to scatter a group that had assembled following the shooting of a commercial bus operator who declined to offer a bribe.

There have been numerous instances of police brutality and senseless killings of blameless individuals over time.

The Nigerian Bar Association denounced the ugly murder of Mrs Bolanle Raheem, one of its colleagues, in Lagos on December 25, 2022, by a police officer who acted recklessly. The perpetrator has been apprehended and is being held in custody until he is brought before the Lagos State High Court to face charges of homicide.

Torture is an intrinsic part of the functioning of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) as documented extensively by local civil society organizations, international NGOs, media investigations and UN human rights mechanisms.

“Police regularly use torture to extort money, obtain information and coerce confessions during criminal investigations,” said Zinat Jimada of Oxford Human Rights Hub.

Although there is significant proof of transgressions, the source said. Involved law enforcement officials are scarcely brought to justice for their offenses.

“Amnesty International’s most recent account of human rights violations by SARS revealed 82 occurrences of torture and mistreatment within a span of three years, but not a single police officer was charged,” reported the rights’ group.

“In lieu of prosecution, these officers were reassigned to different departments, permitted to retire, or even appointed to governmental positions,” Amnesty International carried out .

Police Redirect Superiors’ Order

Several calls have been made by the Inspector General of Police (IG) ordering his subjects to stop subjecting and humiliating citizens, especially, in the name of “phone search.”

Merely a year following the #EndSARS demonstrations, it seemed that the excessive enthusiasm of police officers towards unarmed Nigerians had yet to cease. Yemi (alias), a 32-year-old educator at a private institution in Lagos, had no idea that he would be mishandled and coerced by some Nigerian police, the media reported.

His crime was driving a 2007 Toyota Corolla Sports car, and some police authorities were not convinced that he was the true owner, despite presenting documentation as evidence.

According to the reports, he had just completed his after-school class that Wednesday evening in 2021 and was en route to purchase some groceries at a nearby shopping center when he was stopped by a group of uniformed men dressed in all-black attire and armed with AK-47 rifles. He was taken to the police station and subsequent humiliations were meted.

On October 14, 2020, the then Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, had ordered police officers to stop checking citizens’ phones. For an extended period, police agents had persisted in scrutinizing the phones of Nigerian adolescents at various points or venues. Accordingly, in the process of such encounters at barricades or surveillance rounds, law enforcement officers often forcefully confiscate mobile devices belonging to blameless civilians.

“They search through electronic mails, SMS, in addition to conversations on WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Subsequently, the owner is extorted a sum of money to retrieve their gadget. Any assertion of entitlement or rejection to pay could result in severe thrashing, confiscation of the phone – or both,” continued the source.

Several Nigerians have raised concerns about police officers compelling them to access their bank account details. However, during a press conference on Wednesday, Adamu declared that such practices are now a thing of the past.

“The issue of any Police unit scrutinizing people’s mobile phones, which are considered personal property, or examining the type of vehicle they are driving, or profiling them to determine if they are internet fraudsters, is over. This behavior is not acceptable,” stated the IGP.

Police: Despite Commendable Clauses Of Legislation

In a report dated June 15, 2022, entitled “Police Brutality Rising In Nigeria Despite NPF Act Passed By Buhari Government — Civic Group, RULAAC,” a community organization called the Rule of Law and Advocacy Centre (RULAAC) asserted that the most significant demonstration against this kind of brutality happened during the #EndSARS movement in 2020, which remained peaceful for 12 days. The group further stated that the Police Act of 2020 and the Police Trust Fund Act of 2019 must be comprehended to ensure adequate execution.

The statement mentioned, “Despite the commendable clauses of the legislation aimed at advancing, safeguarding and upholding human rights, instances of police cruelty have not diminished in Nigeria, with horrifying incidents being exposed culminating in the 2020 #EndSARS demonstration. Remarkably, the EndSARS movement emerged after the endorsement of the Police Act.”

Even in July 2022, the spokesperson for Nigeria Police Force, Muyiwa Adejobi repeated the position of its hierarchy in a public presentation entitled, “Police Have No Right To Check Your Phone Except It’s Marked As Exhibit In Court— Nigeria Police Spokesperson.”

Adejobi stated that under no circumstances should a police officer inspect someone’s phone, unless the phone is designated as evidence in a court case. Despite this, Nigerian police officials continue to ignore this rule.

He tweeted that any officer who violates this rule and demands to inspect someone’s phone is not a true officer, but rather a thief. These unlawful requests by police personnel to examine the mobile devices and computers of Nigerian citizens have resulted in unjustified killings, blackmail, illicit detentions, and intimidation.


Nigeria is a signatory to various agreements that affirm the complete prohibition of torture, including the Convention Against Torture (CAT), which mandates that states must take effective measures to prevent torture within their jurisdiction, said ohrh.

Nigeria’s Constitution similarly forbids torture, and the Anti-Torture Act enforces a punishment of up to 25 years in prison for those who commit it. There are legal protections against arbitrary detention and arrest, as well as mechanisms to oversee the Nigerian Police Force (NPF).

The source continues that despite this, the use of torture persists, indicating that Nigerian authorities are indifferent to implementing legal standards. Earlier efforts at police reform, presidential committees and independent panels during successive administrations, have yet to bear no fruit due to a lack of political will to fully adopt the recommendations.

Furthermore, analysts said the NPF has yet to fully grapple with its colonial beginnings as an instrument for brutally subjugating local communities and suppressing opposition to British colonialism. Intentional sabotage by post-independence military administrations during Nigeria’s tumultuous journey to democratic rule compounded this ingrained criminal culture. The outcome is a crippled police force with a woeful human rights record.

However, Mike Ozekhome, SAN, a constitutional lawyer, stated that the Nigeria Police needed to be completely overhauled in order to allow states to have state police and community policing because a centralized police force cannot meet the needs of citizens.

He stated, “Unfortunately, police brutality has become the norm in Nigeria. Whether as SARS, which prompted #EndSARS fights in October 2020, or as road obstructions coercion, unlawful motorcade of suspects or extra legal killings, the police continue as before. Leopards are unable to change their spots. It doesn’t matter what name you give it—SWAT, SARS, Operation Flush, etc.

“The truth is that in order for states to have state police and community policing, the police need to be completely reformed. According to sections 214 and 215 of the 1999 Constitution, we cannot benefit from a centralized, massive police force like the one we currently have.

“It requires complete reconfiguration. It is barbaric and debasing treatment as opposed to the arrangements of the Constitution for police to abuse residents. The public can sue. NGOs ought to mount missions and promotion, while legal advisors ought to take up open interest suit and class activity.”

It is believed that with the above documentations, police do not always go away with their abuses and feel that “nothing will happen.”

Odimegwu Onwumere is Director, Advocacy Network on Religious and Cultural Coexistence (ANORACC). He contributed this piece via:

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