SARS officials threatened to shoot and label me armed robber because I didn’t give N200,000 bribe – Ondo entrepreneur

Akinola Segun is one of the youths who wanted the controversial Special Anti-Robbery Squad of the Nigeria Police Force scrapped following a nasty experience he had with the operatives a few months ago. In this interview with PETER DADA, he shares his experience

How will you describe yourself?

    I am Akinola Segun, an indigene of Ore in the Odigbo Local Government Area of Ondo State. I am 33 years old. I graduated from the Joseph Ayo Babalola University, Ikeji Arakeji, Osun State, in 2010, where I studied Economics. I have other professional certificates in the field of project management, and finance. I am an entrepreneur, an economist and a sports lover.

    What do you do for a living?

    I am an entrepreneur. I am engaged in a lot of businesses as far as they are legal. I import clothes, bags and other fashion items, including mobile phones. I also write proposals for individuals and organisations. I am also involved in bulk purchase of products like ethanol and local gin.

    You were among the protesters of the #EndSARS, what was your reason for joining the protest?

    I was part of the #EndSARS protest because of my experience with SARS. The unit was deadly and had destroyed many talents. I joined the protest because I am a living witness of the wickedness and callousness of SARS operatives in Akure. It was a traumatic experience; having a gun pointed at you is what you will never pray to experience. You don’t know if the guy with the gun will fire at you or not. It was face-to-face with death. The trauma after the experience itself is often lifelong. Up till now, if I see a policeman holding a rifle, I become scared. It is better imagined than experienced.

Can you share your experience with us?

    Yes, I have never been a victim of the criminality of the Nigeria Police until Friday, August 21, 2020. I went for a workshop on Election Violence Mitigation and Advocacy Tool Survey organised by the Independent National Electoral Commission at the Sunview Hotel, Alagbaka, Akure. I was at the workshop with my dad, who was also a participant. After the workshop, I left my dad at the venue and wanted to pay in N150,000 at Wema Bank, but because of the local government election that was to hold the next day in the state, coupled with the slow system of banking caused by the social distancing protocol of COVID-19, I decided that I would pay it in through a PoS terminal later.

    I already had plans to meet my old schoolmate, Igbekoyi Jimmy, in Akure as he wanted us to work on some proposals. So, my friend and I met and after that he dropped me at the Oshinle area of Akure. I was to sleep in another friend’s place at Oshinle, so I wanted to take a bike to his house. Suddenly, I saw  a pickup van stopped beside me and two men, whom I later realised were policemen, asked me where I was heading for and before I could say anything, one of them slapped me and pushed me into the van. I was scared; they asked me to hand over my phone to them after they had identified themselves as police officers; initially, I declined and said they had no right to check my phone.

    So, they just changed the story and accused me of being a cultist and that I was in town to disrupt the local government election. I was shocked and unlocked my phone for them to check. One of the policemen was apparently drunk and went through my phone; he checked my WhatsApp messages, text messages, photo gallery and everything.

    He saw the chats in a particular WhatsApp group that I belong to and said I was working against the governor; I told him I could work for anybody I wanted since politics wasn’t a crime. They insisted that I was sent to disrupt the council election in Akure South. I told them I was not even a resident of Akure. After a while, they drove to a police post around FUTA, put my phone on flight mode, collected it from me and handcuffed me. My younger sister had already called me but I wasn’t allowed to pick her calls.

    It drizzled all through the night and I was in their van, feeling cold. Around 12am, they brought me down from the van and took me to a solitary place inside the police post. Around 5am or thereabout, I was taken back into the van and they patrolled round the town. One of the policemen suggested that I should be shot in the leg and labelled as an armed robber. At this point, I asked them what they wanted; they said I should pay them N200,000, saying jokingly that the deputy governor (Mr Agboola Ajayi) had settled me and that they had gone through most of the chats in the group. I begged and begged. They didn’t know I was having money on me.

    After sometime, I begged them that I would pay N20,000, just for them to release me, because nobody knew my whereabouts and they could have killed me. They said they would drop me at the ‘A’ Division Police Station and tell them I was in town to disrupt the election. I begged them to let me call as my people would be worried, especially my friend, who I was supposed to sleep in his place.

    Finally, after taking me round town handcuffed, one of the policemen checked and saw money on me; he slapped me and said I was just wasting their time; he told the other guys to take me to the ‘A’ Division. I was scared; even if I decided to follow them down there, who would be my witness? The best thing that could eventually happen is that I will be charged and maybe granted bail. I considered the fact that I might be remanded and begged them to take N100,000. They refused and said the least they could take was the N150,000 they saw on me; aside that, the other money on me was N5,000. I begged and they accepted to collect N120,000. I gave them and they drove me to somewhere around Oshinle, dropped me there and gave me my phone; they asked me to board a bike in their presence to where I was going and they left after this.

You said initially that you never knew they were policemen. Were they not in uniform?

They were not. They just stopped abruptly and I didn’t know they were police officers; they only wore vests with the inscription, F-SARS, on them.

How many of them were in the van?

There were four in number.

If you are called upon now to come and identify them, can you still recognise them?

 Sure, I will.

Did they mention their names to you?

 No, they didn’t.

 After the encounter, what step did you take to get justice on what they did to you?

I contacted my lawyer, Temokun, but I just let it go because people advised me that since I didn’t know their names or the number plate of their vehicle, the case was as good as dead, and that even if I could identify them, the police authority would cover it up and it would be difficult to get justice in such a case.

Specifically, what roles did your family and friends play in ensuring you get justice?

Most people do not believe in the justice system of the country; some of my friends advised me to take it up, while others told me it would be an exercise in futility that I should just surrender everything to God; in fact, after the incident, I was sick for almost two weeks and had to be treated at the General Hospital, Ore. So, after recuperating, I just gave up on it. My family members were all afraid, but didn’t talk about getting justice.

Before it happened to you how many people do you know that have had a similar experience?

A lot of people that I know; in fact in Ore, where I grew up, there is a particular SARS officer, who extorts young boys in the town and labels them fraudsters. A lot of atrocities are being perpetrated in Ore by policemen. Right now in Ore, there are people who call themselves community police officers; they have an office inside the Ore Area Command station and they extort motorcyclists and drivers at night. They have a checkpoint at the Tajudeen junction, along Showboy Road. I wonder why the police allow such to happen.

With your experience, how do you view the Nigeria Police?

The Nigeria Police are not doing the job they are meant to do. There is a need for a total reformation of the police. We discovered that most of these police bosses take returns from their subordinates and this has emboldened them to misbehave. They can shoot you and nothing will happen because their superiors will protect them from prosecution.

 What do you think the government should do about the police?

The government should ensure a total reformation of the police. Mental evaluation should be done for applicants before they are recruited into the system. Imagine having someone with bipolar disorder as a policeman; it will end in tears. Also, the government should fund the police adequately and make sure there is synergy between the people and the police.

Where do you think the #EndSARS protest will take the country to?

This protest will either make us or break us. If the government does not listen to the voice of the youth, the country will experience the anger of the youth. And any attempt by the government to sponsor counter protests may not end well. This protest is the right step, because people have bottled up the atrocities of these evil men in police uniform for too long. This protest is an opportunity to speak up.

 Do you think it is the solution to Nigeria’s problems?

    Yes, it is if we protest peacefully, they will know that the power of the people is greater than the people in power.

It was learnt that protesters in some areas were feeding others and even some slept on the road, did that also happen at your own end too?

    Not really, the protest in my area was not that massive, but at least, we have shown the world that we aren’t cowards; enough is enough. We say no to police brutality and oppression.

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