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How Citizen Engagement Uncovers Unscrupulous Police Activities in Asaba

Police Activities

It’s the weekend, yet a yuletide season, and you fall victim to suspicion of having in possession an item obtained in a robbery. What do you do? This is a story of public concern amidst low public trust in law enforcement agencies in Nigeria. In this story, the Nigerian Police Force, Asaba.

This story covers the interview of a suspect alleged to at gunpoint robbed a woman (complainant) in Asaba in 2021 when, in reality, the suspect came to Asaba in 2022 for greener pastures. While this story is aimed at covering the true events that happened, it also uncovers how citizen engagement in addressing distress calls on social media can uncover unscrupulous activities going on in Nigerian police stations.

Interviewer: Before the distress call on social media, who are you, and what do you do for a living?

Interviewee: I am Mike by name. A technician with a Lebanese-owned company here in Asaba. I am responsible for repairing and maintaining electrical equipment, especially air conditioners.

Interviewer: That’s interesting. How long have you been working as a technician?

Interviewee: I got into Asaba in June 2022. I was staying in Enugu before then, but on the lookout for greener pastures, yes, I moved into Asaba. Since then, I have been working as a technician with this company for a year, going on two years now.

Interviewer: So when I got notified about your distress call, I reached out to the Asaba A Division complaint centre. The officer at the receiving end, who didn’t provide his name after laying my complaint about a citizen in Delta state police division A Asaba, said I should, if I can’t come in person, call a relative of yours in Asaba to come in and lodge a complaint.

Interviewer: So, about your arrest, could you please provide some more context or information?

Interviewee: Sure. On the morning of December 23, around 11 am, while heading to work, I was approached by some men who turned out to be the local police. They grabbed me by my jeans on offense of which I have no idea. To understand their reasoning behind the arrest, I asked them for an explanation. One of them responded, “I will know when I get to the station.” I found myself growing increasingly anxious and unsure of what was to come. The whole thing feels like an abduction. And, for my own safety and the stories of police brutality against youth, I decided to raise a distress call for anyone outside the four walls of police custody. So I took to X (formerly Twitter), hoping that someone would hear my plea for help. I guess that’s how you get to reach my friend.

Interviewer: Yes, of course. That was a wise decision to make under such circumstances. May I ask how did your friend respond to your distress call?

Interviewee: She was my voice outside police detention, advocating for my release and seeking justice. And then, of course, yourself.

Interviewer: It’s best for readers to know the full story about you. So, can you please narrate the whole story for clarity’s sake?

Interviewee: Ok. I came to Asaba in 2022. I left Enugu, the reason being that I was looking for a greener pasture. So I started looking for a job. I got a job with a Lebanese-owned company in electronics as a technician. As a technician, I am responsible for conducting installations, repairs, and maintenance on electrical equipment, especially air conditioners. Along the line, in 2023, I got sick with malaria. I took a leave to resume on the 20th of December. To start work, I was scheduled to go service the AC for an old client. On my way to work, I was approached by an unidentified man that he needed his AC fixed. I turned and looked at him, asking him, where? He didn’t sound like someone that really needed his AC fixed. Trying to delay me, I decided to take a ride to work from that spot and leave because he didn’t sound serious or convincing when I asked him what was wrong with the AC. Then another one approached me by my right side. He held my jean from the waist. I asked him, “Why are you holding me?” He said they were from the Police A Division, Asaba. I said ok, what’s the problem. He then asked for my phone, and I gave him my phone. I asked again what the problem was. He said, “Ehn, I will know when I get to the station.”

On our way to the station, I started informing my close relatives of my ordeal. On getting to the station, the police sat me down for two hours, waiting for their OC to come around before they could inform me about my case with them. When the OC came, the first thing he did was slap me. I was perplexed. I couldn’t help myself but ask again what my offense was. He said, yes, you are the one that robbed someone at gunpoint in 2021 in Asaba. I told him, how is that possible when I came to Asaba in 2022. I told him I’m from Enugu, he said he knows, that he has been investigating me, that he went to my office where I work to confirm from my employer, but I told him you went to my workplace and got all this information but couldn’t verify when I came into Asaba. Clearly, he doesn’t care about that. He went on to say that the woman that I robbed, that I collected her phone with N130k at gunpoint and then pushed her out of her car. In amazement, I asked, for the woman in question if she was killed in the robbery. They said the woman went for a burial in Abong and that they’ve been calling her, but she’s not picking up. That once she picks, then I can talk to her. I felt relieved a little because alleged robbery case is different from murder case. To cut the story short, I slept in the cell. But before then, I put out a distress call for anyone to help. Knowing that, they were about to restrict my access to my phone because I was not allowed to make calls. At about 8 pm, they asked that I remove my trouser (pant) and only left with my underwear and t-shirt. Wrote a statement, and then they took me to the cell. Then, I was able to get a lawyer brought in by my people, they reached an agreement that I pay the bail conditions set by the police. An agreement to pay for the woman’s phone (Nokia 3310) and tracking fee amounting to 260k in total.

The following day, the complainant came, and I asked her what really happened. She said she sells palm wine, and that she and her driver were at Coker along Asaba expressway to buy and load some goods in their booth, only for them to come to the car and their phones and money were missing. That she was never robbed at gunpoint nor pushed from the car, as the police claimed to have happened in 2021. I said well, I purchased a refurbished phone in 2022 when I came to Asaba, and that was how I got myself into this. Then, I asked her how we would resolve this. She demanded that I buy her a new phone, her driver and the money stolen, totalling 200k. Through my relatives that came around to the station, we paid 100k as discussed with the lawyer, and wrote an undertaking pledging to pay the rest by January. On that note, I was put to the counter.

Interviewer: So, to be sure. The alleged robbery took place in 2021?!

Interviewee: Yes, they said the robbery was in 2021.

Interviewer: But how could they have known about a robbery that happened in 2021 when you came to Asaba in 2022?

Interviewee: Well, that’s Nigeria for you, where information can be unreliable, and timelines can be confusing.

Interviewer: Yes, it seems like a lot of things can be unpredictable here. So, was the accusation that led to this arrest based only on what was alleged by the complainant? What can you say about the investigation?

Interviewee: Yes, the accusation was solely based on the complainant’s allegations. However, I demand that the strange woman appear at the station to testify to the report. Before she came around after several calls, I was stripped of my freedom, locked in the cell, and left only with my underwear and t-shirt till the following morning. I was treated like a criminal, all because of a single person’s accusations. Eventually, the strange woman, who, according to her report, told the police I robbed her at gunpoint, appeared at the division ‘A’ Asaba.

Interviewer: You said, strange woman. What do you mean?

Interviewee: Yes. I said strange, because I had never met this woman since I got into Asaba. And she claimed to have been robbed in 2021, but I didn’t even know her until recently. And I find it strange that she would accuse me of robbing her when I have no recollection of ever meeting her before. Eventually, she opened up to say the robbery was not done at gunpoint. In fact, no one pushed her out of the bus, as the report claimed. She admitted it was when she went to buy goods because she sells palm wine on the Enugu-Asaba highway that her phone and that of her driver were stolen when they packed the vehicle roadside.

Interviewer: So, The complainant’s phone was stolen in 2021; you came to Asaba in 2022, which the police confirmed with your records with your employer. Why the wait before the complainant shows up?

Interviewee: Yes, about that. Here’s what I and others suspect. I received a call from my friend that I should help him check his AC for maintenance as Xmas is approaching. I told him I am at the A division station, he asked who is in charged of the case (officer’s name withheld for security purposes) I described to him and he burst into laughter. I asked him why, and he said that was the usual routine; it was a common plot of extortion in that division. That, it has happened to two of his other friends before, that its a thing for police in Asaba. That, I am lucky they didn’t turn it into a murder case. Here in Asaba, it’s normal for the complainant to not even show up, meaning it’s an imaginary complainant made up to frame people up and then extortion takes place as a bail condition.

Interviewer: Okay. This brings me to the next question. How did you possess a phone reported to be stolen in 2021 when you claimed to come to Asaba in 2022?

Interviewee: Well, I purchased a refurbished phone when I got to Asaba in 2022. I was never a thief or armed robber as alleged but I became a victim of circumstance that if the police had done a thorough investigation into the alleged robbery, they’d have realized that I was never the thief who carried out the theft. But I bought the phone from a vendor who sold it as refurbished. By the way, this is not advisable for anyone who might be reading my story. Always buy from a trusted vendor. Yes, always verify. That was my mistake, though I didn’t have many options at the time.

Interviewer: So, Mr. Mike. Now that you’re by bail condition released. What’s your final words to Nigerians?

Interviewee: My final words would be that no matter how careful you might try to be, Nigeria always has a way of catching up to you. Nonetheless, always try your best to avoid trouble.

Interviewer: Thanks for your time. Merry Xmas, and stay safe.

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