By Ifeoluwa Adediran
Several victims of police harassment recounted their ordeals in the hands of the officers at a press conference in Lagos on Thursday.
The press conference, organised by the Network on Police Reforms in Nigeria, focused on cases of police corruption and abuse across Nigeria and the need to drive a holistic reform in the Force.
Among the excesses of the police force raised by NOPRIN are indiscriminate arrest and detention of young men, violation of human rights, raid of public places by rogue police officers, use of torture to extort information from suspects, and many other oppressive activities of police officers.
Okechukwu Nwanguma, the National coordinator of NOPRIN, said the network has been documenting reports from various states on the violation of human rights and abuses by police officers which are widespread in many states.
Mr Nwanguma said participants at a recent town hall meeting organised by BBC Media Action listed the manners of police harassment to include intrusive bodily searches, unauthorised search of bags, laptops, wallets, and illegal arrests.
The Lagos State police spokesperson did not immediately respond to phone calls and text messages seeking his reaction to some of the allegations leveled against the police officers.
Yinka Badmus, a photojournalist who was arrested on December 31, last year, at his neighborhood in Shomolu because of his “hairstyle” spoke at the conference.
Mr Badmus recalled that he was eating at a place near his home when a plain-clothed police officer walked up to him and ordered him into a waiting police vehicle.
He said he was not told the crime he committed before he was detained.
Mr Badmus said after his arrest, other young men were also arrested along Gbagada but when they got to the station, the police granted some of them bail for as much as N60,000 to N70,000.
“Because I didn’t commit any crime, I didn’t call anyone to bail me,” he said.
“I was arraigned on January 5 and ended up in prison.
“It was when I was in the prison that I heard I was arrested because of my hairstyle.”
Stephen Oguntoyinbo, Mr Badmus’ colleague who has been following the case, said although his friend was released on the orders of the Inspector General of Police, the case had continually stalled in court.
“He got a scholarship in the US to study but he can’t join the class now because he needs to keep appearing before the court,” Mr Oguntoyinbo said.
Another victim of police harassment, Odera Okakpu, a producer and freelance journalist, also narrated her experience.
According to Ms Okakpu, she was arrested alongside her niece, beaten and called names by police officers who were not in uniform and looked unkempt, on December 23, 2018, in her area in Sangotedo at 11:30 p.m.
She said she went with her niece to charge their phones in their neighborhood and were waiting for a taxi to go home when an unmarked vehicle stopped before them.
“The men ordered us into their vehicle and my niece shouted ‘run.’ We thought they were kidnappers. They looked so dirty. The men caught up with us and started slapping, beating us, saying; you no know we be police?” Ms Okakpu said.
After much arguments with the men, she said they were pushed into the vehicle and driven to a police station.
Ms Okakpu said the police officers kept calling them ‘prostitutes’ until they arrived at the police station and added that they were only released after the intervention of a police officer she met online.
The participants at the event decried the illegal arrests of several young persons across the state by the police anti-cultism unit under the pretext of going after cultists.
One of such arrests involved one Peter Onyegbule who was detained for non-payment of electricity bills.
Although, he was beaten when in police custody, Mr Onyegbule was released after the intervention on NOPRIN.
NOPRIN urged the National Assembly to pass the pending Police Reform Bill in order to curb the excesses of the police.