Monday, December 5, 2022
MARKET UPDATE
Advertisement

TheCable

Advertisement
Cable Ads

MOBILISATION FEE: How police charge poor Nigerians N30k, N50k to probe reported cases

MOBILISATION FEE: How police charge poor Nigerians N30k, N50k to probe reported cases
November 15
10:20 2022

Nigeria’s grim poverty profile — with the World Bank projecting the number of poor citizens to hit 95.1 million in 2022 — makes access to justice for many low-income earners herculean. This is worsened by the police force’s many extortionist practices that continue to keep the agency out of reach of the common man. TheCable’s STEPHEN KENECHI went undercover to five police stations in Lagos and documented what it takes to get police help. He reports on how underfunding of the force deprives many of the right to justice.


For a station in a hurly-burly neighbourhood, Pen Cinema Division in Agege was devoid of major activity on the cloudy evening of June 8, 2022, when this reporter walked through its unlatched main gate. At the security post, a few phlegmatic officers sat on a wooden bench. The reporter identifies as a victim looking to report a case.

One officer motions towards the reception desk manned by a slender policewoman of average height, a half-eaten serving of amala sitting on her desk in an uncovered Styrofoam container.

She would spend several minutes pacing back and forth before reemerging with a 20-leaf book that serves as a makeshift entry ledger. This journalist reports a case of non-payment for service rendered to a client but the officer scribbles “stealing” in her note alongside other details. She leads him past the counter towards a dark passageway, showing him to the entrance of the investigating police officers’ (IPOs) office.

Advertisement

The policewoman halts mid-way, her palm stretched out surreptitiously.

“You have to pay for my book. It is ₦3000,” she says.

The officer would decline electronic fund transfer, insisting that the reporter visits an ATM across the road to fetch the sum before assigning him an IPO. She takes the money on his return, crumples it into her knee-long black skirt, and tells him to see one IPO Moses.

Advertisement
police

Pen Cinema Division, Agege

Far from Agege is Abdul Abdul who used to be head honcho in one of Lagos’ police divisions. He would routinely command a team of investigators to smoke out the culprits in tough cases that often spanned murder, manslaughter, fatal road traffic accidents, and armed robbery. But nowadays, the retired ex-divisional police officer (DPO) shuttles between his home and the mosque where he is living out his years, pleading with his maker within intervals to overlook a handful of misdeeds that might have marred his streak of uprightness in a police outfit that has, by several indices, been ranked among the world’s worst. His palms crossed; his back sinking further into his chair, Abdul shakes his head pensively and stares into the nothingness of the evening, bemoaning how “irredeemably deep” Nigeria’s police force had sunken.

Justice, even outside of Lagos, is not free. Reporting cases that require the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) to do an investigation often cost the victim a fortune that has, over the years, found its way into police lingo as “mobilisation fee”. This extortionist practice is pervasive and applies at every point of mobilising the police to act on a case. Yet, it is hardly called out, as victims fear harming their interest in such matters.

The illegal costs sometimes pass for bribes and, other times, for procuring immediate logistic needs.

“I usually don’t identify as a former officer because of the shame the current crop makes us feel. So when the police are criticised in public for obvious vices, I join in sharing my opinion and condemning such like any other layman would,” Abdul says, letting his guard down after seeking to be guaranteed anonymity.

Advertisement

The NPF is a large security agency; its design takes cognisance of Nigeria’s complex nature with 36 state commands and an FCT further grouped into 17 zones and eight administrative organs headed by the inspector-general (IG). This is so that Lagos, for instance, would have a total of 13 area commands covering 110 police divisions/stations.

Citizens groan under weight of failing police force

Enewa Obute was working as a sales attendant at a gift shop situated within Bariga, a Lagos community, when the teenager was subdued and raped by a deliveryman. The assault, her lawyer Sylvester Agih stated, happened in June 2020 on a day Obute attended to customers alone in the absence of her boss. Agih said the accused had muffled the screams of the teenager, taking her to the inner section of the shop which was situated on the upper floor of the building.

“The man forced himself on her, dropped the sum of ₦1000 on the desk, and left,” the lawyer narrated.

On the shop owner’s return, Obute would be conveyed to a nearby hospital where she underwent tests with the case ultimately falling to the police command headquarters in Ikeja after it was transferred from the Bariga division. But the officers meant to probe the matter insisted they lacked the resources to do so.

Advertisement

“The police were supposed to begin an investigation but said they didn’t have the funds to track the rapist. This is even though we had furnished them with the address of the man,” Agih, who works with Gavel, a civic tech NGO, said. “We haggled over it and they eventually took ₦15,000 because we were an NGO.”

MOBILISATION FEE: How police charge poor Nigerians N50k, N30k before probing reported cases

Gavel’s Sylvester Agih

As funds exchanged hands, the police tracked the assaulter but the results were generic, meaning that more legwork was needed to apprehend the suspect. The officers pointed out that they didn’t have a readily fuelled vehicle and other logistic necessities to convey their men to comb the mapped-out locality. At the time, the civic tech NGO Agih worked with had partnered with a sister organisation that, frustrated by police inaction, initiated an intelligence gathering exercise that the assaulter soon got wind of and fled.

Advertisement

The team handling the tracking would demand a fresh sum to determine the suspect’s new hideout. Overwhelmed by trauma, the victim would move to Benue, leaving behind the unsolved rape case.

The NPF’s ICT unit is charged with tracking and suspect interception but Olumuyiwa Adejobi, the police public relations officer, revealed in mid-2022 that the force had just one tracking device at its disposal in the IGP’s office. The same device is used by the NPF to locate bandits, kidnappers, and other criminals but it remained inactive for at least seven months in 2021. IPOs, as a result, are forced to consult private tracking firms, charging victims of such cases between ₦50,000 to ₦100,000 depending on their bargaining strength.

Advertisement

Obute’s case is far from being the first of its kind. In Onitsha, a city located on the eastern bank of River Niger, a bereaved father’s inability to pay ₦150,000 described as fuel money, stopped the police from moving its truck in a 37.3 km drive from Ukpo to Ọzụbulụ to probe the controversial death of a student.

Advertisement

Many such victims quickly resolve that seeking police intervention in certain cases is an exercise in futility.

Imposing policing costs on crime victims

By the time this reporter finished field rounds for this report, he had visited a total of five stations, each time following a valid case of a client evading payment for a rendered service. At the Alakara division in Mushin, another Lagos community, his cell phone is taken before he’s made to wait at the reception desk manned by three female officers. Shortly after, 11 men accused of theft are shoved in, with an officer who led them from behind violently booting the suspects in the torso to hasten movement. Two more cuffed together are nudged in, one drenched in the blood oozing from his head. The suspects, some protesting innocence, are then stripped to their pants one by one and led toward a holding room.

Shaken at the manhandling of citizens who, by law, are still innocent until proven guilty in whatever case is against them, this reporter signals one of the female officers to point out he was still on the wait. He is then ushered into an office labelled ‘DCB’ to see a non-uniformed woman identified as ‘Alhaja’. After Alhaja listened amid multiple interruptions and made the reporter write a statement, she points out he has to pay ₦30,000 for tracking, a task she said the Department of State Services (DSS) would handle.

“DSS tracks for us. If the client is arrested, put the cost in the money you want to recover,” she adds.

Arriving at C Division, Ojuelegba at mid-day on October 10 and recounting the same case to two female and a male officer at the reception desk, this reporter is motioned towards an IPO office to meet with an operative simply identified as ‘OC Surveillance’ who is also quick to point out that ₦50,000 is to be paid alongside subsequent costs to be incurred if tracking the evasive client takes the IPOs outside of Lagos.

She implied other logistic costs would be incurred when she told this reporter: “You have to mobilise”. As the reporter weighed the cost of recovering the money against how much he was looking to recover, the officer, like her Mushin colleague, offered the option of imposing those on the suspect if arrested.

Although debt recovery disputes are a civil matter, the legal basis on which the officers would suggest the imposition of the force’s own investigation costs on a potential crime subject remains unclear as no law in Nigeria justifies the practice of making an arrested suspect pay the cost of a police investigation. At this point, one thing is apparent; the NPF is strapped for resources, hence making suspects foot the bills.

Operation vehicles offer first look into NPF’s funding troubles

The National Bureau of Statistics, as of 2017, put the number of police stations, posts, commands, and headquarters in Nigeria at 5,556. Crime data hasn’t been released since then but the consensus is that the figure would have increased, given the growing need to situate police outfits closer to communities in response to a soaring crime rate.

The Nigerian police typically use pickup trucks and armoured vehicles for many of their domestic operations. Patrol vehicles with a team of officers are usually deployed to predefined locations across communities where they stay on standby daily until contacted by stations for emergency response when such cases arise. Others are often patrolling within a defined locale all day, consuming fuel and ultimately wearing out. An anonymous Lagos policeman who spoke on this stated that such vehicles should be constantly ready to move and fuelled with at least 20 litres of petrol, given the unpredictability of police operations.

Five-year budget for fueling police trucks

Of the ₦786.9 billion allocated to police affairs in 2022, ₦1.7 billion is to fuel operation vehicles. This leaves each station with ₦305,356 as fuel money, a sum translating to about ₦837 per day. If it is assumed that each station exhausts an average of 12 litres daily for operational vehicles alone, then this leaves them with a deficit of about seven litres per day or 2,555 litres for 2022 at ₦180 per litre. Note that this figure doesn’t take into account periods of scarcity when fuel sold for as much as ₦500 in the black market as well as the likely increase in the number of stations and unreleased allocations due to budget cuts, or misappropriation.

In late 2020, it was reported that the former inspector-general of police Mohammed Adamu said he would require a generous budgetary allocation of N24.8 billion to fund the fuelling of the force’s operation vehicles. He estimated that ₦22.5 billion would go to vehicles that are running on a petrol engine while motorcycles are to consume about ₦834.4 million. He added that ₦1.4 billion would cover vehicles running on diesel.

In 2021, the police affairs minister Maigari Dingyadi announced that the government had approved over ₦4 billion in the year’s budget to fuel operational vehicles across police commands, a figure that was described as the first of its kind intended to set a precedent for subsequent gestures in years to follow. An analysis would find that only ₦3.5 billion was set aside in the supplementary budget and ascribed to fuel, diesel, and lubricants as a whole, a figure that is still a far cry from what was considered enough. In light of these shortages, stations are forced to explore illegal alternatives to keep engines running.

Seated within a building close to Area F in Ikeja GRA is Saheed Muktar, a sergeant, who gives details of how officers could sometimes resort to billing themselves to fuel their patrol vehicle out of an already meagre salary.

“We do the same to buy spare parts if the truck is faulty. You can’t solely blame these officers who take bribes,” he said. “There’s a weekly target of about ₦120,000 that you have to meet at the station from the proceeds of each day’s [extortion]. If you fail, you are replaced for being unproductive, so to speak.”

Quizzed further, the officer noted that beyond fuelling, a cut of the fund “goes up” to the DPO and his assistant.

Fuelling is one thing; the adequacy of operation trucks is another. In the 2020 budget, ₦403.5 billion as a total was earmarked for police formations and commands, of which ₦389.2 billion was for recurrent expenditure and ₦14.5 billion for capital projects. In the sum for capital expenditure, ₦572.2 million was marked out for motor vehicles and trucks. If a new pick-up truck sold for ₦19 million in 2020, this budget can acquire no more than 30 operation vehicles for the police force with over 5,550 posts nationwide. The government’s inauguration of 200 buffalo trucks for the police in January 2022, though laudable, was hardly insufficient.

Shortage of police uniforms and accoutrements

In July 2021, the NPF decried the unauthorised sale of police uniforms and accoutrements by non-force parties in a strongly-worded pronouncement issued by Alkali Usman, the inspector-general. It cited Sections 25 of the Criminal Code and 133 of the Penal Code as laws that criminalise the act while directing all commands, formations, the IGP monitoring unit, provost marshals, and X-Squad to ensure the arrest and immediate prosecution of offenders in their jurisdiction. But it would appear this is more of a formality than practice.

Regular NPF personnel buy uniforms, boots, and shoes on their own, often from private artisans. The backstreet route into Ikeja Police College in Lagos doubles as an abode for countless tailors catering to just anybody rich enough to visit their sheds & makeshift workshops to wave a couple of Naira bills, no brows raised.

Tailor Misbahu, a slim middle-aged man, routinely sews police uniforms, with an apprentice to his aid. When asked about his rates, the artisan is apprehensive, first asking if this reporter was a policeman. Another tailor close to the exit gate readily makes the outfits for traders who then resell them to “customers”.

MOBILISATION FEE: How police charge poor Nigerians N50k, N30k before probing reported cases

Tailor Misbahu

The NPF makes use of three main outfits — a black-black, a blue-back combo, and the military-themed camo.

Making a durable camouflage outfit in Q3 2022, Misbahu confirmed, costs ₦22,000. Its designated pair of boots is pegged at ₦15,000. The blue-black and black-black combos cost ₦14,000 each. NPF officers are meant to get at least two sets of uniforms annually, often needing more to look neat, but this is not the case. This, Muktar noted, poses an enormous expense, especially for junior officers whose monthly salaries are no more than ₦80,000.

In Q1 2022, the IGP ordered the resuscitation of quarterly issuance of uniforms and kits to members of the inspectorate, non-commissioned officers (NCO), and constable cadres of the force in a move he said would engender reforms and evolve new people-friendly police.

Vendor taking consignment of uniforms for resale

“Don’t be surprised if a long-serving officer says they’ve never received uniforms from NPF. By the time NPF shares, it never goes around. I buy with my money. Don’t let them deceive you,” says Johnson Adewale, a Lagos police inspector.

In 2022, ₦32.3 billion was budgeted in the appropriation bill as capital expenditure for police formations and commands; to buy or maintain fixed assets like buildings, vehicles, and equipment. In 2021, ₦13.99 billion was set aside for the same. Yet, the interviewed serving officers say they purchase accoutrements like tear gas, torches, whistles, handcuffs, batons, and even bullets from in-house police vendors or the open market — sometimes out of their salary.

Boot vendor at Police College Ikeja barracks

The budgetary allocation for the ministry of police affairs amounts to ₦555.47 billion in 2022 and ₦455.1 billion in 2021 but, with disbursement data not publicly available, a public security pundit with ties to the government, who spoke anonymously, stated that just about 60 percent of such monies are often released.

Meagre salaries, decrepit barracks

On September 7, the police special constabularies in Osogbo, Osun state took to the streets to protest non-payment of their 18-month salaries with placards reading “we’re hungry & dying”. In August, about 1056 special constables protested across Ilorin, alleging that the Kwara state government also owed them for 18 months. The NPF had hedged, arguing that their appointment was voluntary to augment community policing. It added that the officers were at liberty to disengage rather than wilfully embarrass the force.

Police protest in Osun

Nigeria’s per capita income still hovers at $2085 and it’s no new fact that the NPF is underfunded in both operations and salary. As of 2020, a recruit took home ₦9,019 in basic salary. After conversations about police pay during the civilian protests of 2020, the federal executive council approved a 20 percent raise, with implementation slated to commence in January 2022. But it was until August before this took effect, a delay that was attributed to insufficient funds on the police cost line, at which time the NPF was already owing supplementary salary arrears stacking up to six months. Police sources who opened up on this lamented that, although the increase reflected in what was paid in August, the upgrade was below the 20 percent that was promised. An inspector, for instance, noted that they were to earn ₦254,000 but got ₦158,000 instead. Others similarly pointed out unexplained irregularities in the sum paid across states.

Basic Salary of Junior Officers
Rank Old Scale (₦) Old Scale + 20% (₦)
Recruit 9,019.42 10,823.3
Constable – Grade Level 03 43,293.83 51,952.6
Constable – Grade Level 10 51,113.59 61,336.3
Corporal – Grade Level 04 (01) 44,715.53 53,658.6
Corporal – Grade Level 04 (10) 51,113.59 61,336.3
Sergeant – Grade Level 05 (01) 48,540.88 58,249
Sergeant – Grade Level 05 (10) 55,973.84 67,168.6
Sergeant Major – 06 (01) 55,144.81 66,173.8
Sergeant Major – 06 (10) 62,204.88 74,645.9

Conversations with serving officers reveal deep-seated frustrations. Without a sustainable salary, they enter debt and barely have enough to pay bills. Many are forced to extort citizens to augment their monthly pay. As members of the rank-and-file who engage directly with the citizenry, constables at level 3 earned ₦43,293.83 monthly as the basic salary before the new pay scale. A 20 percent bump leaves them at ₦51,952 in basic salary, an increase that hardly improves the current living standard of these officers.

A block of apartments inside Police College Ikeja barrack

Beyond salary, officers don’t have it easier on housing either as barracks, where thousands of constables reside with their families, are often in a decrepit state. For example, a tour of the Police College Ikeja in Lagos showed residential buildings reserved for police operatives bearing cracked walls and rusty roofs. A few decent blocks within the vicinity, this reporter would learn, were renovated by private individuals. Newly posted officers unable to afford the cut-throat Lagos rent make do with these or sleep in stations.

In 2016, two inhabitants of such buildings including a sergeant were crushed to death while others were trapped in a heap of rubbles after the W Block of the barracks within the college came crumbling down.

“We don’t have enough barracks. Available ones are hardly renovated. So before you move in, you pay the previous occupant, possibly for repairs they did. A friend of mine was asked to pay ₦800,000. These are government buildings that are meant to be free and maintained by the police force,” an officer said.

Funds are annually budgeted for capital projects like construction and renovation but how much of these are disbursed remains to be known. Akali Omeni writes in his 2022 book titled ‘Policing & Politics in Nigeria’ that, of the ₦17 billion budgeted by NPF for this purpose in 2018, only ₦6 billion was released.

Repeated budget cuts of this nature leave the force making tradeoffs year after year, amassing a backlog of accommodation-related projects that, in the course of years, become almost impossible to address.

Alausa, a principal district in Ikeja, hosts a major joint where men of the Rapid Response Squad (RRS) in Lagos stop for a quick gulp of paraga, the locally distilled liquor some say helps them forget their worry. There, you will find uniformed men with arms often loitered, queueing for “lucky numbers” at a nearby gambling stall.

The cost of reforming NPF

With the prevalence of insurgency, kidnapping, banditry, and organised crime making a pretty strong case for reforming the NPF to boost its capacity, President Muhammadu Buhari signed the Police Trust Fund Bill in 2019.

The act establishes the Police Trust Fund (PTF) to be financed with 0.5 percent of the total revenue accruing to the federation account, 0.005 percent of the net profit of business firms in Nigeria, government grants, budget allocations, NGO donations, private sector aid, gifts of any kind from any source, and PTF investments.

Also, the ministry for police affairs was created to re-tool the NPF, remodel policing infrastructure, and drive increased commitment to duty among officers by bettering their welfare and condition of service.

Maigari Dingyadi, the minister, during a presidential briefing in mid-2022, said the fund delivered on its 2020 and 2021 budgets, purchasing vehicles, ammunition, bulletproof vests, and other accoutrements for police operations. The minister said the fund gave a “facelift” to police accommodation nationwide. But a juxtaposition of NPF’s needs and how much resources are provided mocks the burden weighing down on the force, so much that each state intervention could become nothing more than a quick fix.

Security is in the exclusive legislative list, hence, policymaking pertaining to policing is a domain reserved for the federal government to preside over while individual states can only influence such. In Lagos, for instance, the chronic resource shortage burdening the force prompted the creation of the Lagos Security Trust Fund (LSSTF) in 2007 which can only do so much, since its funding is largely charity-based, where a significant economic shakeup that impacts the finances of private sector donors could cripple the outfit.

In 2021, LSSTF declared ₦1.4 billion in funds from private-sector donations and spent ₦1.16 billion, but Abdurrazaq Balogun, its executive secretary, didn’t mince words in admitting to the force’s struggles.

“There is a serious resource problem that appears to be unending,” he said at the 15th annual town hall meeting on security in Lagos. “We cannot continue doing the same thing and expect a different result.” He goes on to add: “Our security agencies require more equipment that will support an intelligence-led approach to crime prevention [like] drones, trackers, scanners at gates, and gunshot detection devices.”

Balogun further stated that kitting one police officer with a uniform, a taser, police tactical gear, helmet, bullet-proof vest, push-to-talk on cellular communication equipment, rain gear and other accoutrement costs ₦3 million per head, hence, covering 33,000 officers in Lagos would amount to about ₦99 billion.

Five-year budget for police formations & commands

An evaluation of the PTF Act showed that NPF conducted a priority needs assessment and concluded that the force needs a minimum of ₦1.8 trillion for optimal performance in one year, adding that NPF had yet to receive any actual funding from the PTF as of November 2021 to augment its insufficient budgetary allocations.

‘Funding gaps won’t go away overnight’

Osaigbovo Ehisienmen, an aide to the police affairs minister, explained that effort is still ongoing to furnish the force with arms and ammunition while renovations would still take their course within the six-year timespan of the PTF. He insisted the fund had already intervened in fuel supply for NPF trucks, and that citizens asked to pay mobilisation fees should report such infractions to the police public complaint committee (PPCC).

“Also, at the divisional police level, there are mechanisms where you can lodge complaints. At the state, zonal, and force headquarters level, there are police public complaint bureaus there,” Ehisienmen said.

“But you would agree with me that some of these things won’t fizzle away overnight. It will take a while and will come in the order of priority. We’re hopeful that the fund will generate the desired results.”

That NPF is deeply underfunded isn’t in doubt. What is disturbing, however, is that citizens at the lowest rung of the socio-economic ladder, like Obute, would be bearing the brunt until reforms truly take hold.


Editor’s note: Some names, especially those of the officers who shared intelligence for this report, have been changed to protect their identities.


This is a special investigative project by Cable Newspaper Journalism Foundation (CNJF) in partnership with TheCable, supported by the MacArthur Foundation. Published materials are not views of the MacArthur Foundation.

0 Comments

No Comments Yet!

There are no comments at the moment, do you want to add one?

Write a comment

Write a Comment