Some residents in Nasarawa state communities are recounting how the Nigerian police and other security officials tortured, harassed and abused them during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Recounting their ordeal, some residents of Kabayi at Mararaba, a densely populated area in Nasarawa State, who spoke to the MAWA Foundation team, gave different accounts of how the police arrested and tortured them during the covid-19 lockdown.
Mr. Samuel Ibam, who operates a business at Kabeyi, while speaking to the MAWA team, narrated how the police arrested and tortured him.
Ibam said he was arrested for opening his provision shop, he explained that the police accused him of violating the COVID-19 lockdown directive, detained him while he was forced to pay the sum of N5, 000 before he was granted bail.
Another resident, Mr. Wilfred recounted how the police arrested him and other residents, forced over 11 of them inside a small vehicle, took them to the station where they were forced to pay the sum of N4, 000 and N5, 000 respectively before they regained freedom.
“We were crammed in a small vehicle, taken to the police station where we were forced to pay N4, 000 and N5, 000 respectively before we were allowed to go,” Wilfred said.
Wilfred told the MAWA team, the arrests were so huge that Kabayi detention cell could not accommodate suspects, forcing the police to transfer some to Mararaba detention cell.
“The arrests were so huge that Kabayi cell could not contain us, some were taken to Mararaba police station where they were detained”
Wilfred alleged that the police were making arrests every day at an interval of 30 minutes, pointing out that over 100 persons were arrested daily.
“They made an average of 100 arrests in a day, they just come and park people in a small vehicle, take them to the station, lock them and start collecting N5, 000,” Wilfred said.
When the MAWA team sought police explanation, an officer at the Kabayi police station denied arrests in the community, but, said officers only stopped them from opening their shops as directed by the federal government.
In the same trend, Aso residents while speaking to MAWA officials accused the police of arresting and extorting monies from them during the lockdown. Some of the commercial motorcycle operators, narrated how some of their colleagues were arrested and taken to the police detention cell and were forced to pay N5, 000 and N7, 000 respectively to bail their motorcycle.
“As we speak now, go to Masaka and other big police station and see a huge number of motorcycles confiscated by the police, if you pay, yours will be released to you a commercial motorcycle operator said”
“But, they have reduced the price to N2, 000 and still many cannot find money to pay and bail their motorcycle, he added”
Another Aso resident, Mr. Haruna, narrated to MAWA how many goods and motorcycles were confiscated by the police while the owners were forced to pay a huge amount of money to bail them out.
“No time have the police made money as they made during the coronavirus, they were just making arrests and extorting money from the people” Haruna said.
Mr. James who did not want his second name mentioned, who said he is a commercial motorcycle operator, told MAWA he was arrested, tortured, taken to the police detention cell, and was forced to pay the sum of N5,000 as a bail condition.
Mrs. Victoria who sells foodstuffs by the roadside told MAWA, she witnessed police officers made lots of arrests while beaten some who attempted to resist arrest, but, said she does not know how much they paid for bail because she did not follow them to the station.
A police officer who did not want his name mentioned told MAWA, their officers made lots of arrests during the lockdown, but denied torturing and detaining suspects.
Asked if they collected money for bail, he said “man must wak” a confirmation that the police collected money.
In a similar circumstance, Police officers enforcing lockdown orders in the Masaka area of Nasarawa state were alleged to have extorted the sum of N10k from a bar owner.
Miss. Mercy, a witness narrated to the MAWA team how police stormed the Angwa mission area of Masaka, arrested a lady who operates beer a palour and forcefully collected the sum of N10k from her after threatening to take her to a detention cell.
Mercy told MAWA that immediately the officers stormed the area, they arrested the lady and seized some of her crates while threatening to take her to the station and detain her for violating the lockdown directive.
She explained that out of fear from the police harassment and intimidation, the lady gave the officers N10k for them not to take her to the detention cell.
“I felt very angry watching police officers took her N10k away for alleged violation of lockdown directive, but there is nothing I can do, immediately she gave them the money, they left the place,” mercy said.
A police officer from the Masaka division who spoke to MAWA over the issue and does not want his identity disclosed, confirmed police harassment in Masaka during the lockdown but said only those who disobeyed the federal government stay at home were harassed.
Some Koroduma residents in Karu Local Government Area of Nasarawa state, who spoke to MAWA Foundation, recounted how police officers arrested and tortured them over alleged lockdown violations.
Mr. Jones who prefers only his first name mentioned narrated how he was arrested, tortured, and was taken to the police station where he was forced to pay N5, 000 as a bail condition.
“I was arrested, brutalized and taken to the police station where I was forced to pay the sum of N5, 000 before I was granted bail”, Jones said.
Another resident, Mr. Mathew, a commercial motorcycle operator narrated how he was arrested together with his bike, taken to the police station, and was forced to pay N4,000 as a bail condition.
“Police arrested me, seized my bike, forced me to pay N4, 000 before I was allowed to go with my bike,” he told MAWA team.
One of the community residents who operates a supermarket and did not want his name mentioned, narrated how police forced him to pay N10,000 in one day for opening his shop.
This is even as he said he provides essential service and was excluded from closing his business. He however added that when he confronted the police to know why he should pay such an amount having been permitted by the government to sell because of the essential services he provides, the officers say they got an order from above to ensure all shops are locked.
“One morning, police officers came to my shop sent everybody away, closed it, and demanded I pay N10,000 before I will be allowed to sell,” he said.
“In the process of forcing my customers out of the shop, they brutalized and wounded some of them”, he added.
A police officer, who spoke to MAWA team, confirmed that residents who violated the lockdown order were arrested, while he dismissed allegations of brutality, describing it as the handiwork of those who are out to destroy the image of the police.
At Uke community, residents who spoke to MAWA Foundation said the officers mounted a checkpoint at the Uke junction after the bridge and were collecting the sum of N500 and N1, 000 to allow for free movement.
One of the community residents narrated how the police officers stopped her mom together with a commercial tricycle (Keke) operator who was conveying her goods to the store, and, demanded she pays one N1, 000 or she returns the goods to wherever she was coming from. Left with no option, she gave the police N1, 000 while they allowed her to move in the goods.
Mr. Bala a community resident told MAWA officials, commercial motorcycle and tricycle riders were the most victims. Adding that some of them who attempted refusing to give bribes were beaten and their bike seized.
“This coronavirus lockdown was a boom time for the police, they made huge money, they were just extorting money from people anyhow they like,” Bala said.
A police officer who spoke to the MAWA team and did not want his name mentioned, confirmed there was a roadblock in the community during the lockdown, but, denied all allegations of extortion by the officers.
Some traders at the Keffi market also gave different accounts of how police officers enforcing lockdown order seized meat belonging to butchers and forced them to pay the sum of N500 before their meat was released to them.
A trader who gave his name as Augustine told the MAWA officials who visited the market that police officers during the lockdown seized goods from traders while forcing them to pay a bribe before they can get their goods back.
Another trader Mr. Ibrahim narrated how police officers stormed the market and seized goods from the traders.
He however said during the raid, meat sellers were the most hit, he explained that the officers stormed the butcher slot and were confiscating their meat forcing them to pay a bribe before they could get their meat back.
“In our presence here, police officers seized a full goat, the owner paid N500 before they released the goat back to him,” Ibrahim said.
In another narrative business owners at Zimbabwe a popular joint at Uke in Karu Local Government Area of Nasarawa state, who spoke to MAWA officials, shared how they contributed N200 three times in a week making a sum of N600 per person and handed it to the police in the form of a bribe for the officers to allow them to operate their businesses.
The business operators say the monies were collected by the union leader and taken to the police, while those that did not contribute were not allowed to operate their business.
A female, who operates a beer parlour business in the area, told MAWA, the police did not stop them from selling throughout the lockdown. She however said those that were harassed were business owners who refused to contribute monies that were taken to the police.
Asked why they were given money to the police, she said “If we did not give money to the police, they will not allow us to sell, they will come and scatter everywhere and pursue our customers and there will be no business”
“Because we do not want that to happen, we decided to mandate ourselves and contributed N600 every week and gave to the police to avoid their problem”
“During this coronavirus, I realized that police can compromise everything for money, as soon as we contributed money and gave to them they asked us to open and sell”, she said.
A police officer who spoke to MAWA and did not want his identity revealed, denied all allegations describing them as an attempt to discredit the good work police did during the lockdown.
This report is supported by the Open Society Initiative for West Africa OSIWA