Harry Odiakaose is a Nigerian based in Poland, who is from Igbodo in the Ika North-East Local Government of Area of Delta State. He tells MATTHEW OCHEI how a team of Inspector-General of Police X-Squad allegedly arrested and attempted to extort N10m from him, even though he did nothing wrong. IGP X-Squad is a police internal accountability mechanism that seeks to ensure that police officers are accountable for their actions and inactions, by dealing with cases of unprofessional conduct by the police against members of the public
You were arrested by a team of the Inspector-General of Police X-Squad, how did it happen?
I don’t even know why I was arrested. I was driving along Lagos-Asaba Road, and on getting to Koka Junction, they overtook my vehicle and asked me to pull over. Immediately, I pulled over. They asked me to get down from the car and open the boot, and I did as I was directed. They searched the car thoroughly and couldn’t find anything incriminating. After that, they asked whose car it was and I said it was mine.
They said I could not afford such a car and I explained to them that I was based in Europe, Poland precisely, for 13 years before returning to Nigeria last year. This is the second time I would come to Nigeria since I left the country in 2006. Then they said I was a kidnapper or ‘G’ guy or ‘Yahoo’ guy (fraudster). They ordered me to get into the car and they took me away.
What did they say was your offence?
They said I was driving a ‘big’ car – Lexus 350. Therefore, anybody driving a so-called ‘big’ car in Nigeria is a kidnapper or ‘G’ guy.
What happened after your arrest?
They took my car key and papers. I was taken to a mango tree where they made allegations against me and forced me to write a statement. They took me to Ibusa Police Division but kept me under the mango tree and threatened not to allow me to go until I transferred money to them.
How long did you spend there?
I spent the whole day there; if not for the intervention of a human rights activist who helped me, it would have been a different story.
Were you tortured?
No, but they threatened me and forced me to make a statement and admit that I was a kidnapper. But my brother, who is a civil servant at the state fire service, was beaten till he was almost unconscious, even after he showed them his identity card.
How many of you were kept where you were taken?
We were two in the vehicle – a friend, Oge and I. We were arrested together.
What was the condition of the place?
It was under a mango tree at the station. They asked for the name of the primary and secondary schools I attended and other things, which I told them. I showed them my travelling papers and everything. Then they asked me to give them N10m and I asked them where they expected me to get N10m from and what offence I committed that attracted such an amount of money. After so much argument, they reduced it to N500,000, saying it was for my bail and that I should transfer the amount to them.
Were your relations notified?
In the process, I managed to call my girlfriend and explained what I was going through to her. She was the one who contacted the human rights activist who rescued me from the hands of the IGP X-Squad. She said the activist had helped many people who were unjustly arrested by the police.
So what happened after they demanded the money?
My brother came and tried to plead with them. He showed his ID as a fire service official, thinking that they would listen to him. They asked him to stay aside and give them some room. After some hours, my brother went back to them to continue to plead; that was when they started beating him.
Did you give them any money?
No, I didn’t give them anything because the activist got involved in the matter. When they came, the police refused to talk to them and the man (activist) started making calls.
So why were you released?
The activist said the Commissioner of Police in the state, Hafiz Inuwa, directed that I should be released without paying money.
What can you say about the attitude and conduct of the policemen who arrested you?
Oh! If I had the opportunity, I would say a lot. The attitude of the policemen was even worse than what I would expect from kidnappers. What they did was evil; it was wickedness at the highest level. They are supposed to protect us, not extort money from us. There is no difference between the policemen and kidnappers. How could you accost someone on the road because he was driving what you called a ‘big’ car? What they are doing in Nigeria is not good. This is not how police behave in other countries. In Nigeria, they say the police are your friend but from what I see in Nigeria, I can’t call such people my friends. When they see a young guy driving, they start humiliating and extorting money from him. This is not the best way to police the area.
So, are you against having police checkpoints?
No, I am not against it. But it should be conducted professionally and they should respect people’s rights. When they stop someone and find something incriminating on the person, the person should answer for it but they should not be forcing people at gunpoint to say they did what they did not do or demanding money from members of the public. If after searching people, nothing incriminating is found on them, they should be allowed to go their way. They searched my car and even looked through my phone and they did not find anything incriminating, then they should have allowed me to go.