August 19, 2017

Corruption: Nigerian Police under scrutiny

Corruption: Nigerian Police under scrutiny

Policemen on training

…Menace dates back to 1891

…How poor remuneration, working conditions demean the image of the police

By Chioma Gabriel, Editor Special Features

The police are not here to create disorder, they’re here to preserve disorder—Richard J. Daley

It is a common parlance that the police are your friends. But in a country like Nigeria, the ordinary citizen thinks the policeman is anything but a friend.

Policemen on training

The challenges of Nigeria police are many. Besides poor remuneration, living in a squalor, the presence of a policeman scares a Nigerian rather than gives confidence. About four out of every ten Nigerian will always have a bitter story or a bad experience to share about the police.

Many slang terms, often considered derogatory or offensive, exist for police officers. These terms are rarely used by the police themselves and instead are used by criminals, prisoners, or by the general public

Ask the bus driver, taxi driver, traders, and shopkeepers who are accosted on a daily basis by armed police officers who demand bribes and commit human rights abuses against them as a means of extorting money.

A typical Nigerian would rather not have anything to do with the police. Some call them all kinds of names and would avoid them like a plague.

Right or wrong, the police should be worried if the public has no confidence in them.

Reports abound of high-level police officials who embezzle staggering sums of public funds meant to cover basic police operations. Extortion, embezzlement, and other corrupt practices by Nigeria’s police undermine the fundamental human rights of Nigerians. The police are alleged to frequently extort money from the public at taxi stands, in marketplaces, or from people going about their daily lives. The police stations are extortion camps. Even victims of robbery or other types of crime pay “homage” before their cases are handled.

Popular for its check-point activities,  most extortions occur at police roadblocks, ostensibly put in place to combat crime. These checkpoints are a lucrative venture for the police who routinely demand bribes from drivers and passengers alike.

On many occasions, the check-points were abolished but several illegal check-points abound. Some officers would say theirs are not check-points but ‘stop and search’.

No matter what it is called, the stop and search or the checkpoint is like a two-edged sword. Tail, the officer wins, head the ordinary citizen loses.

Should things continue to be that way?

Only last Thursday, the news media were agog with the report computed by the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS. According to this report, the highest incidents of bribery occurred during encounters with the police.

The report said police officers are the public officials to whom bribes are most commonly paid in Nigeria.

It stated: “Of all adult Nigerians who had direct contact with a police officer in the 12 months prior to the survey, almost half (46.4 per cent) paid an officer at least one bribe, and in many cases more than one since police officers are also among the three types of public officials to whom bribes are paid most frequently (5.3 bribes per bribe-payer over the course of 12 months) in Nigeria.

“At the same time, the average bribe paid to police officers is somewhat below the average bribe size. Although fewer people come into contact with judiciary officials than with police officers over the course of the year, when they do, the risk of bribery is considerable: at 33 per cent, the prevalence of bribery in relation to prosecutors is the second highest, closely followed by judges and magistrates, at 31.5 per cent. The experience of corruption in encounters with public officials whose duty it is to uphold the rule of law can lead to the erosion of trust in public authority,” said the report.

Litany of corruption

The media in Nigeria have reported corrupt enrichment by senior officers in the Nigeria Police Force.

In 2005, former Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mr. Tafa Balogun was sentenced by a Federal High Court, Abuja to a six months imprisonment for concealing vital information to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over his alleged business concerns and interests in some companies amounting to over N17.7 billion.

The former police boss had pleaded guilty to eight of the 56 count-charges directly affecting him and was convicted for six months in each of the charges.

The court verdict was believed to be the culmination of the series of plea bargain being worked out by Balogun’s lawyers and those of EFCC for two months.

He was directed by the court to pay N500, 000 on each of the eight counts charges totalling N4 million.

The court had also directed that Balogun forfeited all his assets while ordering the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) to strike out names of his companies from its register.

The number of properties he forfeited as listed by the EFCC totalled 14. They were located in choice parts of Lagos and Abuja.

In 2012, former Inspector General of Police, Sunday Ehindero faced trial for embezzling money meant for the police force.

An Abuja High Court judge said Ehindero, in his capacity as Inspector General of Police embezzled N16 million, meant for the police

Attempt by Ehindero to quash the charges against him were dismissed by the judge, Mudashiru Oniyangi.

ICPC had said Mr. Ehindero, and a Commissioner of Police in charge of Budget at the Force Headquarters, John Obaniyi, connived to embezzle the funds.

While Mr. Ehindero was retired from the police, Mr. Obaniyi was suspended.

Some of the embezzled funds included N567 million, donated to the Nigeria Police for the purchase of arms, ammunition and riot control equipment, during the tenure of Mr. Ehindero as police chief by the Bayelsa State Government.

The money was deposited in a bank from which it yielded an interest of N16 million. The interest disappeared between Mr. Ehindero and Mr. Obaniyi, according to ICPC.

Ehindero was also later cleared. He was not guilty of the charges.

In 2016, a former Director of Police Pension Fund reportedly moved N24 billion into different accounts.

An investigator for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission witness (EFCC), Mr. Mustapha Gadanya, told an FCT High Court how the ex-director, Esai Dangabar and others scammed the scheme.

Dangabar alongside  Atiku Kigo, Ahmed Wada, Veronica Onyegbula, Sani Zira, Uzoma Attang and Christian Madubuke were standing trial for complicity in the over N24 billion scam in the police pension office.

Gadanya, who was led in evidence by the EFCC counsel, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), told the court that the bank analysis revealed that Dangarbar fixed some amount in the bank to yield turnover.

He said about N320 million was deposited in Skye Bank between May 2008 and July 2009 for his companies. The turnover accrued to the suspect was said to have amounted to N249.8 million and N241 million respectively, which was later sent to the Federal Government after it was discovered.

The marching police officers

In August 2015, one of Nigeria’s anti-corruption agencies alleged that another former Inspector General of Police disbursed millions of naira of public funds in fraudulent payment of air fare for Abuja-based staff of the commission who attended training in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.

In a report that alleged the former IGP’s profligate waste of public funds, the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) revealed that the ex police boss paid N11,750,000 to the staff of the police commission to cover their supposed air flight tickets and airport taxi fares to attend training that took place in the Federal Capital Territory.

The report also alleged that the ex police boss claimed and received payment for two official conferences that took place in Dublin, Ireland, and Orlanda, Florida during the same period. The report alleged that the former police boss had asked the permission of the presidency “to utilize the Abuja-Orlando-Abuja airfare for an upcoming conference.”

The ICPC chairman, claimed that irregular and fraudulent payments in the report showed corruption, abuse of office and fraudulent act through which the former IG allegedly swindled the Police Service Commission. ICPC investigators also alleged that the ex police boss misspent more than N275 million of the commission’s funds.

But the report dated August 6, 2015, did not call for criminal prosecution of the former IGP . It only ordered the officers who received the payment to refund the money to the government.

The former IGP was eventually cleared of all allegations.

New trends in corruption

Police bulletins and releases are replete with reports and allegations of inappropriate behaviour amongst officers.

Allegations of citizens being sexually assaulted or shot for refusing to give bribe abound.

Corruption in the Nigerian police force, from armed officers extorting money at checkpoints to top officials embezzling public funds, has led to the beating and even killing of innocent civilians, according to a report by Human Rights Watch.

Institutionalised extortion, lack of political will for reform and impunity mean Nigerians are more likely to encounter police threatening them and demanding bribes than enforcing law, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a 102-page report.

In major cities in Nigeria, including Lagos and Abuja, Human Rights Watch said armed police set up checkpoints at evenings ostensibly to control high levels of crime, including armed robbery and kidnapping.

“But the checkpoints are in reality illegal and tolls at which officers attempt to force motorists to pay money, but frequently becoming more aggressive.

“Extortion-related confrontations between the police and motorists often escalate into more serious abuses,” the report, based on interviews with more than 145 victims, said.

“The evidence suggests that police officers have on numerous occasions severely beaten, sexually assaulted, or shot to death ordinary citizens who failed to pay bribes demanded.”

But Nigerian police spokesman Emmanuel Ojukwu said the report contained “largely embellished innuendos”.

“Admittedly, the Nigerian Police Force has identified the conduct of some of its personnel in the areas of corruption, extortion, arbitrary arrests, torture and even extra-judicial execution,” he said on the police website.

Discpline of officers

But the new face of the Nigerian police is evidently saying that enough is enough to corruption in the force. On July 24 2017, the Lagos Police command sacked three officers for extortion from the public

The three officers found guilty of illegal arrest and extortion were: Okelue Nkemeonye, Braimoh Sunday and Yusuf Olukoga.

Assistant Commissioner of Police, Abayomi Shogunle of the Public Complaint Rapid Response Unit (PCRRU) in Abuja said the dismissal followed an internal trial at which the men were found guilty, under the Police Act, of corrupt practices and discreditable conduct.

In a major image-makeover effort, the PCRRU sent to the public such messages as: “Remember, Bail is Free, PCRRU says NO TO IMPUNITY and our quick response will put a smile on your face.”

The complainant in his message to the PCRRU, told the horrendous story of how he was abducted by a team of policemen that morning as he came out of a bank to transact business and held all day until about 6 p.m. Not only was he beaten by the policemen, they used his ATM to withdraw money from his account, and transferred money into another account provided by one of them.

According to ACP Shogunle, “Upon the receipt of the complaint, a case with Tracking Number PCRRU637624 was registered and acknowledgement of complaint sent to the complainant. PCRRU Investigation team was dispatched to Ikorodu where all the three dismissed policemen including AP No. 98199 ASP Bayo Obadia who led the team were apprehended. PCRRU preliminary investigation reveals that all the allegations contained in the WhatsApp message actually happened.”

He said the four police officers who were armed on the day of the incident had falsely paraded themselves as operatives of Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) despite not being posted to SARS by police authorities.

On July 9, 2017 ,the Inspector General Of Police, Ibrahim Idris sacked four officers of the Ogun State Police Command over extortion and bribery.

The sacked officers are: Inspr. Mufutau Olaosun, Sgt. Adebayo Temitope, Cpl. Bakare Taiwo and Cpl. Adesoye Ayokunlehin.

Police authorities said the officers were charged, tried and found guilty in an Orderly Room conducted at the Area Command Headquarters, Ijebu-Ode for two offences against discipline as provided for in Paragraphs E (iii) Discreditable Conduct and C (ii) Corrupt Practice, under the First Schedule of Police Act and Regulations Cap. P19. Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.

The Inspector-General of Police, IGP Ibrahim K. Idris, while reiterating his stand on zero tolerance for corruption after the sack of the officers vowed to “flush out those tarnishing police image” from the Force. The IGP also impressed it upon the PCRRU to ensure that all allegations of professional misconduct against the police are promptly investigated and officers found wanting in any proven case be made to face appropriate sanctions as stipulated by relevant laws.

On June 20,2017, the Nigeria Police authorities dismissed two traffic wardens,Shuaibu Suleman and Musa Muktari three weeks after they were found to have extorted N15,000 from a motorist in Abuja.

The Inspector General of Police, said the two traffic wardens, Musa Muktari, Force Number; 394120 GDI and Shuaibu Suleman, Force Number; 10627 GDII, attached to Wuse Police Division, FCT Abuja Command were dismissed from service for corrupt practice. The dismissal of the two wardens came after a motorist (name withheld) filed a complaint to the Public Complaint Rapid Response Unit, PCRRU, Force Headquarters Abuja on May 30.

The complainant stated that while driving his vehicle on May 29, at about 12:30pm along Wuse Market road, he was accosted by the two Traffic Wardens who accused him of “beating traffic light” despite the fact that he did not.

The wardens led him to an Automated Teller Machine (ATM) not far from the scene where he was forced to make a withdrawal of Fifteen Thousand Naira (N15,000) from his account which he gave to the traffic wardens.

One of the wardens forgot his mobile phone in the victim’s car. The extorted N15,000 was recovered from the wardens (N7,500 each, as the money was already shared).

Indeed, complaints of maltreatment and extortion from officers are endless.

And it was never as bad as now, possibly, due to the recession.

Plagued from the beginning…

According to the books, the first police force was established in 1861 by the British colonial administration in the territories known today as Nigeria. The 100-man contingent was essentially a consular protection force based in Lagos, which later became known as the “Hausa Force,” so-named after the ethnicity of the men recruited into the unit. But as the British expanded their reach to the east and north, they formed additional police forces comprised largely of recruits from outside the communities in which they were to be deployed.

Even these early forces were notorious for their abuses and general lawlessness.

In 1891, the consul general of the Oil Rivers Protectorate in what is presently eastern Nigeria expressed shock at the “numerous acts of lawlessness and pillage” by the police, who were commonly referred to in the community as the “forty thieves” in police uniform.

Similarly, the governor of Lagos colony acknowledged in 1897 that the Hausa Force “no doubt behaved very badly in the hinterland by looting, stealing and generally taking advantage of their positions.”

The use of violence, repression, and excessive use of force by the police has characterized law enforcement in Nigeria ever since.

Establishing a National Police Force

The British merged Lagos colony and the southern and northern protectorates in 1914 and named the new colony Nigeria.  The northern and southern regional police forces were later merged, in 1930, to form the colony’s first national police—the Nigeria Police Force (NPF).

The British also established local police forces under the control of traditional leaders. During the colonial period, both the NPF and the local police forces were implicated in numerous acts of abuse and corruption.

In 1952, for example, a member of the Nigerian parliament decried the “old sergeants” in the NPF who, he claimed, were “steeped in corruption.”

Members of parliament also criticized the NPF traffic division during this period for having “exposed itself to bribery and corruption and thus lowered the prestige of the force.”

Good conduct

But despite these ugly reports, it was established that many Nigerian police officers conduct themselves in an exemplary manner, working in difficult and often dangerous conditions.

On April 6, 2017, Inspector General of Police, IGP Ibrahim Idris decorated Mr. Akinbayo Olasunkomi Olasoji, the Area Commander, Mushin in Lagos, with the rank of Assistant Commissioner of Police.

The decoration of ACP Olasoji and eleven other Commissioners was based on special recommendation for exemplary service at the time families of 112 police officers who lost their lives or suffered life threatening injuries while tackling criminality in different parts of the country were given Police life assurance benefits totalling N180million by the IGP.

On February 11 2017, the Police Service Commission (PSC) promoted six senior police officers for rejecting huge sums of money offered as bribe to compromise them in the course of doing their duties.

The Commission in a statement explained that the promotion was imperative because the officers displayed rare and exemplary courage to resist corruption.

Those promoted were: “CSP Sulaiman Muhammad Abdul, CSP. Olusoji Akinbayo, Inspector Sunday Idowu, DSP Mu’awuyya A. Abubakar, Inspector Eheziekia Abiona and Sergeant Ogunbiyi Agbabu.

In a statement, the PSC said: “The Police Service Commission has promoted six senior police officers who have shown rare and exemplary courage to resist corruption. The Commission approved the promotion of CSP Sulaiman Muhammad Abdul to the rank of Assistant Commissioner of Police for his outstanding performance in the fight against corruption.”

Sadly though, eighty-seven years after its birth, members of the force are viewed more as predators than protectors, and the Nigeria Police Force has become a symbol in Nigeria of unfettered corruption, mismanagement, and abuse.

Poor remuneration, bane of Nigeria police

Except something is done to tackle poor remuneration and living conditions of the personnel in the police force, there may never be an end to corruption in the Force

The poor take-home package contributes directly to the alarming rate of corruption in the security organisation and rampant attack on and extortion of civilians by personnel.

A police constable, according to reports earns between N22, 000 and N27, 000, depending on his length of service and accommodation plan; a sergeant earns about N30, 000, after deductions of tax, accommodation allowance and others; while an inspector now earns at least N50, 000 monthly.

Among senior officers (SPO) , an assistant superintendent of police earns a little above 80,000 after deductions have been made.

Severally, the Federal Government has been urged to address the issue of poor salary for police officers and men to boost their morale and bring an end to corruption in the sector .

Compared to what their colleagues in the United States of America (USA), United Kingdom (UK), Ghana and South Africa, earn, the Nigeria police do not earn salary but ‘survival stipend’.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics stated that the average starting salaries of new police officers ranged from $26,600 to $49,500.

“In the US, the city or state where police officers work affects their wages.

As of 2012, the starting salary for officers in the Miami Police Department was $45,929. “New police officers working for the Los Angeles Police Department start out earning $46,583 with a high school diploma.

“Officers who had completed at least 60 credit hours of college and had at least a 2.0 grade point average started out earning $48,462 in Los Angeles. Those who had a bachelor’s degree or more advanced degree earned $50,342.

“Thousands of officers and men of the Nigeria Police receive some of the poorest pay even in the West African sub-region, and the worst hit are the rank and files popularly known as ‘The Force’s foot soldiers’ who spend decades in the line of duty but are hardly promoted, accommodated or paid well.”

In Ghana, the government had increased the minimum wage of an average police officer by 16.7%, from 6 GH¢ per day to 7 GH¢ per day. Ghanaian police officers, for instance, earn more money than their Nigerian counterparts, and receive better training and welfare packages.

In South Africa, the National Salary Data of South Africa said an average police officer earns R142, 900 per year.

In Great Britain, “Police officers receive very competitive pay and benefits packages. Rates of pay vary by force, generally starting at an annual rate of around £23,000, and rising with each year of experience.

But in Nigeria, officers live in squalor within and outside the barracks. They work for months from broken-down vehicles, uncompleted buildings and garages.

While submitting a report on how to improve the welfare of the Nigerian police personnel in 2012, a former chairman of the Nigeria Police Service Commission, Parry Osayande, told the then President Goodluck Jonathan that the police in Nigeria were the worst paid in the West African sub-region.

Reacting to the recent report by the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, a retired Police Commissioner, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav said: ‘’I am not surprised because the level of corruption in that era was so much. It was a period when the issue of corruption was not taken seriously. With that kind of attitude, it is therefore, not surprising that people paid that much in bribes.’’