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How bribe-seeking SARS officers confined Lagos-based writer to toilet for hours

How bribe-seeking SARS officers confined Lagos-based writer to toilet for hours
April 10
14:16 2018
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If Immanuel Ibe-Anyawu had not hurriedly made that Facebook post from where he hid inside a bank’s toilet, he might have ended up in the dungeon of the gun-wielding men of the special anti-robbery squad (SARS).

Ibe-Anyawu’s phone was running out of power, around 2pm on Monday, when he made a post on Facebook: “I was accosted by SARS officers at Ago-Palace, Okota, opposite Zenith Bank. They humiliated me and accused me of being a fraudster. Checked my documents and found nothing, and then said I should follow them back to my office in Ikoyi to confirm my claims. People intervened. I called the PPRO of Lagos State and he asked to speak with them. They took the phone and seized it. They are still holding my documents.

Later one called me aside and asked me to go arrange money. I asked for my phone to let me make a transfer to my ATM account and he gave me. I took the phone and card and went into the bank and have gone into hiding here. I’m updating from my hiding place. They are waiting for me by my car. Phone battery down. Please share.”

Hours later, Ibe-Anyawu’s post had gone viral and a couple of his friends had started calling on the police authorities to intervene.

The victim, a writer, on Tuesday, narrated how it all happened.

“It was past 2pm yesterday and I was at Zenith Bank Okota Branch to submit a document prepared on my company letterhead. I was asked to edit a part of it and resubmit. Because I wanted to conclude the transaction same yesterday, I had to go look for a business center around to type in the edit. Across the bank was one and, as I walked towards it, a young, scruffy-looking man accosted me, saying he was a police officer. His superiors wanted to see me inside a bus waiting around, he said. He was slightly bearded and on mufti, so I was skeptical. I asked for his ID card and he unhooked it from his waist and showed me. The prints were tiny and blurred, so I reached out to collect it and read properly. ‘So you want to snatch my ID card,’ he shouted.

“He took from me the PLANEX-branded envelope containing plain letterheads and other documents, and walked towards the bus, asking me to come along. Right away I made a call to my brother, Ekene Okoro, and briefed him. By the time I got to the bus, the story had changed: that I snatched his ID card from him. They were about 7 armed men, and one of them started interrogating me.

Why did I choose to use this branch of Zenith Bank instead of the one close to my office in Ikoyi? Where is the other director of PLANEX? Why was the document I was to edit not stamped with my company stamp? Dismissing all my answers, he said they would take me to my office in Ikoyi to confirm. That he knew people on that street and had just spoken to them, and they couldn’t identify me. Speak to my office landlady, I said. He ignored me.

“At that point, I stepped aside and called the Lagos PPRO and narrated my experience. He asked me to pass on the phone to them and they took the phone from me, cut the call, and seized the phone. I became scared and started inviting passers-by into the argument and people gathered. One man intervened and begged them a lot and they calmed down, though insisting that they would still take me away anyway. Then they asked to search my car, parked outside the bank premises and I let them.

Finding nothing, they took my ID card and demanded my car key and car documents. I had to corner their leader to a side and beg him, telling him he was like a father to me and should appeal to his men. His men were almost going violent but he kept calming them down. He told me to go arrange some money and I told him I needed the phone to transfer money from the corporate account to my ATM account. I needed the car key too to get the ATM card. On my way to the ATM, the one who arrested me asked me how much I was going to withdraw. I told him N5,000 and he flared up.”

Ibe-Anyawu, instead of returning to the policemen went into the bank, entered the toilet and hid for hours.

The bank was going to close, and he had thought the SARS officers would have left.

“The bank policeman said I should leave the bank, that the bank was not the place for people to hide. So he eased me out of the bank and, outside where my car was parked, I noticed the number plates had been taken away. The SARS bus was no longer around so I assumed they had left,” he explained.

“I got into my car and plugged my phone desperate to reach people. As soon as I started the car and moved, the SARS bus came from nowhere and double-crossed me. I turned swiftly facing the bank gate and blocking it, hooting crazily to draw attention and for the bank security to let me in. The bank security, on the order of their skeptical policeman, refused me entry, leaving me out for SARS to devour. It is a branch I have frequented for over 10 years, visiting there almost weekly. SARS people jumped out of their bus and started banging on my car windows. One attempted to puncture the tyre but that superior asked him not to. My phone was still yet to come on, heightening my fear. It was the longest moment of my life, as I was surrounded by 7 armed policemen who had patiently waited for me for over 2 hours.

They ordered me to wind down but I wouldn’t and a crowd began to gather. They stepped aside, speaking to the bank policeman. The bank policeman later came to me and asked me to wind down, that he had spoken to them, and that I should leave even outside the bank premises where all this was happening. The management had asked him to chase me away, he said, adding that the bank was not the place for me. Shouting through shut windows, I pleaded with him to let my phone come on so help could reach me. He threatened to use force on me if I didn’t leave that very minute. I steered out of the gate and parked in the outside parking lot, still locked up in the car.

“They came back to me again, SARS, asking me to wind down, and I pretended to be making a phone call. One was impatient and wanted to smash the glass. Their superior who had been soft all along got angry and dumped the number plates and documents on my bonnet and stormed out. The others followed him, entered their bus, and they drove ahead and waited. I was scared that they were still waiting along the same road I was to take, so I remained in the car. The bank policeman came back again, fuming, banging on the car and urging me to leave. I had to take the opposite direction amid a slow-moving traffic, driving insanely cutting through the traffic until I found a free road which was in the opposite direction to my house. I fled, literally.”

The erring police officers have, reportedly, been arrested.

But, Chike Oti, the Lagos command police public relations officer could not immediately confirm this when TheCable reached out to him. “Please call me back,” he told our correspondent.

However, Ibe-Anyawu said he has been called by the police authorities to come and identify the men who harassed him. “I am on my way to the Lagos police command in Ikeja. I was called that the men are in custody and I should come and identify them,” he told TheCable on Tuesday.

In December, 2017, Nigerians started a campaign to end SARS and police brutality.

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