The effect of police brutality on a people cannot be examined without first listening to their stories.
In light of the protests against police brutality. I reached out to the tech community to collect stories of those who have had unsavoury encounters with the Nigeria Police Force (NPF).
Nigerian techies are a demographic that have borne the brunt of targeted harassment and brutality. This is because for the most part, they fit the profile of those who unscrupulous elements in the NPF aim to take advantage of. They are young, tech-savvy and (sometimes) look different.
In this article, I report the stories of five Nigerians who have been harassed by officials of the NPF, especially the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad.
Note: One of the stories is from a Nigerian who is a pilot. Faced with the choice of whether to publish his story or not, I decided to.
Feyisayo, 24 (Male) - Product Designer Lead at Cowrywise
Mine was in January 2018. I had decided to get some curtains in Tejuosho market, Yaba, so I took a bus. As soon as I alighted, two men came towards me and said, "Eyys, you, come here!” One was wearing a uniform and the other wasn’t.
I was shocked and thought maybe I’d done something wrong. Before I had the chance to ask, they started dragging me by the trouser towards a danfo bus where four other policemen were. They asked for my phone and kept calling me a fraudster. I brought out my school ID card to show them (I was a student at Unilag then). They didn’t regard it; instead, they pushed me into their bus.
Inside the bus, they started punching and slapping me. One of them made me unlock my phone after which they started going through my messages, pictures, apps, email transaction alerts. All the while, they kept repeating "You’re a yahoo boy". I tried arguing with them that I wasn’t a fraudster, but one of them hit me hard in the head with his fist.
Eventually, they searched my wallet and saw four ATM cards from different banks in there. All the cards were registered in my name, and I kept them as back up. Unfortunately, seeing four cards was all they needed to make up their minds about me being a fraudster.
One of them asked me to open my mobile banking app. I was so shaken I couldn’t even remember my account number. Then another one suggested we go to the ATM so they would check my account balance. They asked for ₦20,000 and threatened to waste me if I didn’t comply. I started begging one of them in Yoruba. I told him that ₦5,000 was all I had. The car had been moving all the while. When I looked outside the window from this hellish bus, we were at Costain (29 KM away from where they picked me).
They finally dropped me off at Costain and gave me one of my ATM cards to withdraw so I could get my things back. Part of me wanted to protest and get them to take me to their station. But they had guns. What if there was no station? I just withdrew the money and gave them. I was grateful I wasn’t with my laptop because it’d have been much worse.
Joseph, 27 (Male) - Pilot
It was an unfortunate day in December 2019. I had just come back into the country and was going to a friend’s party with my cousins. They stopped us around 7-up bus-stop, Ikeja. The NPF operatives asked us to come down, which we obliged. Then they started asking us silly questions like "where are you coming from?" and "what do you have in your boot?"
I answered all their questions without hesitation. Then the leader of the operation called me forward and started searching my pockets. In the process, some of the men insulted my cousins and called them prostitutes. An argument ensued, and one of the officers cocked his gun.
At that point, I stepped between them and told my cousins to let me speak with the officers. While I was trying to talk to the police officers, they grabbed my shirt and requested that I open my phone for them. When I opened the phone, I tried calling my Dad, who incidentally is a policeman.
When they noticed I was making a call, the leader of the policemen started punching and slapping me. They grabbed my phone and were going through it while simultaneously making plans to put me in custody. Eventually, one of the men searching my phone came and told the boss that there was nothing incriminating about the pictures on my phone, so they let me go.
I had to get treated because my eyes were bloody and swollen. I had severe body pain for days. It’s a pity I’m not in the country now; I would have joined the protests.
Yele Bademosi, 29 (Male) - CEO of Bundle Africa and Founder of Microtraction
Yele is the CEO of Bundle, a fast-rising fintech startup and founder of Microtraction, one of the country’s leading Angel investment firms. Yele's story was shared on his Twitter account: @yelebademosi.
On October 2019, I was kidnapped by SARS. I was less than two minutes from my home. They refused to listen to anything I said and took me from Lekki to Ajah, then all the way to Ikoyi, whilst stopping and harassing other young adults. I’m not sure how many cars they stopped and robbed. They took my phones, wallet, house key, my Apple Watch, didn’t care about my ID cards, and claimed I was a Yahoo Boy. All because I had messages on telegram with foreigners.
They demanded ₦1 million from me, made a "fake" phone call to their commander, and said I would sleep in prison. They stopped at the end of Eko Bridge and demanded more money before driving me to somewhere on the mainland near the international airport. I don’t keep a lot of Naira on me as I am long Bitcoin, and only had ₦51,000 in my account, which they asked me to withdraw at a UBA ATM.
They forced me to open my US bank accounts and said I should transfer USD from my Bank of America account to my GTB. I cried and prayed because I didn't know what to do and couldn't understand why and how this was happening. It was one of the scariest experiences of my life.
I couldn’t call anyone, no one knew where I was, and if they harmed or killed me, there was nothing that would have happened to them. It didn’t matter what I had done, or who I was. All they saw was a young man they were hell-bent on taking as much they could from. This all happened between 10.30 PM to 1.30 AM in October 2019.
Daniel, 26 - (Male) - Product Designer at Walletsafrica
It happened in 2018 at Ketu, Lagos. I had just started learning web development. On my way to a presentation I was already late for, I ran into the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) operatives. They stopped me and asked to search my bag. I complied.
When they saw my laptop, they proceeded to search it too. Putting on my laptop, they saw codes on my screen and immediately accused me of being a hacker. They said I used my PC to hack credit cards. I immediately burst out laughing because I thought it was funny. But they didn’t find it funny. They threw me in a bus, seized my phone to prevent me from contacting anyone, and started driving towards CMD Road.
Along that route, they picked up another guy in a blue shirt and tie. He looked like he was going to an interview. They threw the blue file he was carrying into a nearby canal. He almost dove with the file. He begged for them to let him pick up his credentials that were scattered on the floor; they didn’t listen. They threw both of us in the car and drove us to an ATM, where I was forced to withdraw ₦10,000 for them to regain my freedom.
I tried begging for the other guy and I would have paid for him if I had more money. I have no idea what happened to him that day. I hope he’s safe.
David, 21 (Male) - User Experience Designer
I’ll share two experiences that I’ve had with them.
The first time, I was heading to buy food from Chicken Republic around 7 PM when a bus stopped next to me and my friends. Men dressed like civilians but holding weapons came down from the bus and pointed guns at us. One of us tried to run but an officer pointed a gun at him and threatened to shoot.
They said my friends and I raided a place at Bariga — a suburb in Lagos State. I started laughing because I couldn’t even run hundred metres. "How can someone look at me and profile me an armed robber?" While I was still laughing, an officer dragged me by the shirt and pushed me into the bus while the others kept their guns firmly pointed at my friends. They got them to enter into the bus, drove us around for a bit and finally took us to the police station.
On getting to the police station, they asked us to identify ourselves, I tried to introduce myself but they insisted that I shut up and bring an ID Card. I just stepped out to get food so I didn’t think it was necessary to bring ID. I told them I was a designer working at a tech company in Yaba (Hotels.ng). My friends introduced themselves too.
When we were done, they gave us files to write statements and threatened us, saying we were going to spend the night at Kirikiri. At that point, I texted my HR at the office to come to our rescue. I also tried to call my uncle who is a naval captain but they noticed and seized my phone.
We refused to write any statement and tried to buy time for our HR to arrive. When my HR finally arrived, we were asked to pay bail of ₦10,000 each. We paid the money and got out of that case relatively unscathed. We got out around 10 PM; everything happened within 3 hours.
The second encounter was barely a month ago. I was in an uber with my friends. We had just gotten to Maye Street, Sabo when the officers descended on us. They pointed guns at us and told us to come down. They didn’t give any reason and insisted that we enter their cars.
I tried asking what our offence was but the commanding officer said I was very stupid and started dragging me towards their car. I screamed and asked for his ID card. Instead of identifying himself, he pointed his gun to my face and told me to enter the car. I was livid. I shouted even more, daring him to shoot me. He slapped me and dragged me into the minivan, tearing my shirt in the process.
They took my friends and I from that street to the front of the military barracks at Yaba. We were the only ones there and it was late (around 11 PM). There was a car in front of us with its headlights on. The driver of the car we were in horned so the other car would switch its lights off but he got no response. One of them got down to handle the unresponsive driver in the other car.
All the while I’d been murmuring in the car that I was going to call my dad who works with the SSS. It was a barefaced lie but it seemed to get us out of the situation. One of the operatives cosied up to me, telling me that if I cooperated, they’d let me go. They eventually went through our phones for about 10 minutes and told us to get out of the car. We had to get another Uber to take us home.
We are still looking to publish more stories on police brutality in Nigeria. If you want to share your story, you can reach me at [email protected]