November 26, (THEWILL) – Last August, some law enforcement agents were arrested for extorting money from motorists at Mile 2 in a sting operation approved by Lagos State Commissioner of Police. Has money stopped changing hands between motorists and the police in a notorious black spot in the state? THEWILL asks. Michael Jimoh reports…
“Elo le fun?” a middle-aged bus driver of an 18-seater LT Volkswagen bus from Ojo Army Cantonement through Mile 2 en route CMS asks a young conductor after he hopped on board the vehicle that just drove past a police checkpoint. “Fiber,” he says, clutching some half-folded naira bills in his left hand. In street lingo, Fiber is N500.
As the driver and some half asleep passengers approached the police cordon a short distance away, the bus boy alighted and disappeared from view. The driver moved on with his passengers. Unknown to the passengers seated four in a row, the boy had gone to meet one of the policemen on duty. Nobody saw what transpired between them. But by the time he re-boarded the vehicle, it was clear his meeting with the law enforcement agents had gone swimmingly, prompting his response to the driver.
Bus boys from other commercial vehicles plying the route will similarly hop down and keep an informal appointment with the police officer on duty and then run back to his bus. With that, they are sure of safe and free passage for the rest of the day, undisturbed by police or touts at Mile 2.
Bordering the Mile 2 Estate and covering a swathe of land the size of a small community, Mile 2 Bus Stop is the heart of an artery of highways and routes from Apapa, Oshodi, Orile Iganmu. The longest road links Okokomaiko, Ijanikin (home to a Federal Government College and Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education) to Badagry tapering off at Seme Border. From there, it connects Cotonou in Benin Republic thus making it one of the international routes by land to the West African sub-region.
The half a dozen or so parks at Mile 2 take on this national and international coloration: there is, for instance, Apapa/ Wharf, Obalende/ CMS, Benin/ Sapele, Warri, Cotonou, Ghana and so on. As an important transit centre, therefore, there are also a corresponding number of police checkpoints all around and at Mile 2.
Considered a notorious black spot in Lagos, Mile 2 also has an unenviable reputation as a place where police routinely extort money from motorists, a reputation motorists know so well. On a good day, there is a checkpoint somewhere with two, three or four policemen manning it. A police pickup van is parked nearby with a senior officer lounging in one of the seats, walkie-talkie handy. Two policemen stand on either side of the road, waving motorists down for random inspection – driver’s license, proof of ownership, the vehicle itself, fire extinguisher, boot, spare and so on.
Commercial bus drivers and private car owners step on the brake once they get near them, mentally bracing up for the shakedown that will follow shortly. Some act proactively: a carefully folded N100, N200 note exchange hands discretely and the police wave them on. Headstrong motorists tarry a while, their vehicles parked by the roadside as the officer thumbs through a sheaf of documents, taking forever and sometimes deliberately so.
Word soon got around to the highest quarters of the police command – the CP’s office. Faster than a rifle shot, Idowu Owohunwa put together an intelligent team under the Deputy Commissioner of Police (Operations) comprising tactical teams and provost officers from the state headquarters. With instructions from the police chief himself, the team was to fish out and nab the extortionists at Mile 2.
Benjamin Hundeyin, Police Public Relations Officer for Lagos State, intimated that the Commissioner of Police “has set up an enforcement team with the mandate of raiding spots that have been identified as notorious for such nefarious activities.” The very first was a smashing success.
So, early last August, Nigerians got to know that three policemen, one LASTMA and FRSC official had been caught in the act and were promptly arrested.
Of the sting operation itself, Hundeyin would later confirm that “a total of 15 thugs were arrested in the act while three police officers, one FRSC, and one LASTMA personnel were also arrested for being in cahoots with the touts,” despite warnings from the CP “that any law enforcement personnel, irrespective of their agency, found complicit in extortion racketeering would not be spared as they would be apprehended and dealt with in accordance with the law.”
The arrests followed complaints by motorists – truck drivers particularly – plying Mile 2 axis of extortion by thugs and some law enforcement officers, an area described as the hotbed of extortion by some officers of the Nigeria Police Force, FRSC, LASTMA and thugs.
Between then and now, there have been no cases of extortion by law enforcement agents at Mile 2. It may be as a result of the CP’s warning that the newly set-up enforcement team will sustain the raids and definitely replicate them in other parts of the state where the same issues exist until total sanity is restored.”
It may also be that some of the police officers have learnt a lesson or two from the proverbial Eneke the bird Chinua Achebe made famous in Things Fall Apart.
“Since hunters have learnt to shoot without missing,” it boasted, “I have learnt to fly without perching.”
Nobody expects the police to fly like raptors, but the ones at Mile 2 may have adopted the same survival strategies as Achebe’s adaptive avian, which is why conductors do their discreet deliveries nowadays, making some conclude that nothing much has changed – still the old ways but new tactics.
Despite the recent riot act by CP Owohunwa, there is concern that police extorting motorists in Lagos may not stop anytime soon. In a report in The Guardian of October 31 2018, for instance, the Lagos State Police Command arrested four policemen and three LASTMA officials for extortion. CSP Chike Otti who was spokesman for LSPC at the time said the officials had given an account number to one Waheed Lamidi to pay bribe money.
Inspectors Charles Omokaro and Idara Akai, Sergeants Chidi Mordi and Joseph Bernard were nabbed in the process. Sam Adekunle, Omolaja Ige and Modinat Folashade of LASTMA were also caught.
Quoting a newspaper publication on the bribe, Otti said that “the attention of the Commissioner of Police, Lagos State Command, was this morning, 30/10/2018, drawn to a publication in a national newspaper, captioned “Police as cesspit of corruption”. The reporter drew attention to the underhand dealings of some policemen he ran into on his way to Festac Town. He alleged that the men took him to First Gate of Festac Town, which they have turned to an extortion point.
“Sequel to the information gained from the publication, the CP directed the Area Commander in-charge of Area E, Festac, ACP Yusuf Ajape and the officer in charge of the command’s X-Squad Section, SP Aliu Abubakar, to carry out a covert operation around the aforementioned location leading to the arrest of the following policemen and LASTMA officials.”
Otti went on that the officials “were caught trying to extort one Mr. Waheed Lamidi, whom they gave a Diamond bank account number 0020558133, titled Femi Adebanji to transfer the sum of N75, 000 to when he complained that he had no cash. The CP Lagos has directed that the suspects be brought to the Command Headquarters, X-Squad section, for thorough investigation and appropriate disciplinary action if found guilty.”
It goes without saying that the officials caught and nabbed in the recent extortion racket at Mile 2 will face disciplinary action if found guilty. But will that put an end to what has since become a blight on a police force minded to rebrand and revamp its image?
The answer is anyone’s guess.